Showing posts with label private day trips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label private day trips. Show all posts

Sunday, 12 August 2012

What Kind of Traveller are you?

I am reading a very interesting book by Laurence Sterne called A Sentimental Journey written in 1768 about travelling through France and Italy. At one point in the book he divides “the whole circle of travellers” to one of these types:

- Idle Travellers
- Inquisitive Travellers
- Lying Travellers
- Proud Travellers
- Vain Travellers
- Splenetic (angry) Travellers
- The Travellers of Necessity
- The Delinquent and Felonious Traveller
- The Unfortunate and Innocent Traveller
- The Simple Traveller

I can easily put myself in most of the categories including the Lying Traveller but I think nowadays the traveller category depends on the country and the type of holiday you take.
I am an Idle Traveller when I am lying on the beach by the seaside – you can’t be Idle Traveller for example in Hungary.

I am Inquisitive when served with some strange but delicious dish in the forests of Borneo. But if the dish is overcooked or burned I can be such a Vain Traveller.

During my last visit to Tunisia just before the “Arab Spring” I bought the latest edition of the guide book from a reputable publisher, carefully planning what to see and when. We stayed for a week and time was precious. On a hot day I uprooted the whole family insisting on culture instead of beach, to take them to the nearby Museum. It was listed in my “up to date” guide book and had very good reviews. Reluctantly my family came with me and we followed the guide book instructions only to end up in the red light district! The museum was never in that part of town! The Splenetic Traveller is an understatement of the way I felt at the time.

I haven’t been a Lying Traveller for a long time, since I was a student and forged train tickets to get to the seaside. I am a very Proud Traveller when natives ask me about my country.

I do travel out of necessity when going on long business trips and I have been a delinquent traveller, the last time during Rach’s stag night in Krakow when our drinking session ended with a handsome policeman’s caution. I can proudly announce that I have never ever been a felonious traveller.
Yes I have been an unfortunate traveller when my bunk bed was sold twice and I had to spend all night standing in the corridor as I didn’t have the heart to refuse an oldish lady and her plea that she bought her ticket well before me. Maybe that was my punishment for forging train tickets during my student days?

These days I am just a simple traveller.

Which kind of traveller are you?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Kovačica, centre of Naive Art in Serbia

day tour to Kovacica, readyclickandgo

We crossed the only bridge in Belgrade over the Danube River – the old metal, heavy thing built in 1935.  Once on the other side of Belgrade we continued towards Pancevo city, well known for its accident-prone factories which sometimes pollute the whole of Belgrade. As it was Sunday, the day for the local antiques market, we couldn’t resist stopping for a quick browse for a “good deal”. We didn’t get anything except an old CD for 50p which worked until song number four. Regardless, we considered it a good deal.
Day tour to kovacica, readyclickandgo

Crossing the Danube River means entering the flat Pannonia Plain where you orientate yourself only by the next tree or lonely house.  Considering that the official alphabet in Serbia is Cyrillic and that road signs are rare then that tree or house takes on more importance during your journey. Nature at this time of year (May 2012) generously painted everything in a lush green cloaking the trees and houses from sight. Everything looked the same especially for four city girls.

Day tours in Kovacica, ReadyClickAndGo
Confused and tired by the oppressive heat we decided to stop along the way at Salas, called Sekin Salas which means Sisters Ranch. If you want to experience the real Serbia you should try to stay at one of the many ranches which offer a combination of rural Serbia with good food, clean air and lots of activities – horse riding, fishing, cooking classes…embroidery classes…During our hour stop we managed to meet the loveable Rasha, a ginger corgi who we considered stealing away, but after realising that Rasha has friends on the Ranch – three cats, two goats, a pheasant, an over-protective chicken with eight yellow chicks and two more dogs lazily asleep in the front garden – we decided that Rasha had a better life than we did, so we left him in his natural surroundings.

Rashas Friends, day tours to Kovacica, ReadyClickAndGoAfter refreshments and taking photos of everything that represented the old, disappearing Serbia that was so generously on display in the house, we continued driving towards Kovacica, a place well known for its Slovak naive art.

The Museum of Naive Folk Art is situatedday tours in Kovacica, ReadyClickAndGocentrally on the main street. The Museum itself is very small but very rich in the numbers of paintings they own so the exhibition keeps changing all the time. The first one to strike you is a huge, colourful and lively painting by Jan Glozik illustrating the 200 years since the Slovak people moved from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the eastern border, nowadays Serbia, by order of the Emperor. The painting consists of 200 people representing each year since they moved to this part of the world. If you have a very good eye you can see a self-portrait of the painter incorporated into the maze of colours.

Day tours in Kovacica, ReadyClickAndGoThe left side of the museum has an exhibition of another famous naïve art painter, Martin Janos, whose paintings emphasise the hands and feet and thereby the hard manual work on the farms of the region. The third room is dedicated to the Queen of naïve art, Zuzana Halupova. There are 31 paintings exhibited here, most of them oil on canvas. She, as with Martin Janos, has a leitmotifwhich is that each painting has a girl in a pink skirt somewhere in it. Zuzana never had kids of her own and so she put one in every one of her paintings. She was member of the children’s charity UNICEF and in 1974 she painted the UNICEF Christmas Card which was sold worldwide.  She left more than 1000 paintings to the museum but due to the lack of the space only a certain number can be shown. There are talks about a new, bigger Museum to be opened in a different location.

Outside the Museum there is a courtyard with three galleries, in one of them Day tours in Serbia, ReadyClickAndGoyou can have your own portrait painted. All the galleries are run by local painters who can tell you about local life and how they have preserved their culture and traditions for over 200 years. Mr Pavel Babka, a successful painter who exhibits all around the world and is the owner of the largest gallery, pointed out that even when a painter becomes worldwide successful, he still stays in Kovacica, within very strong Slovak Community.

Day tours to Kovacica, ReadyClickAndGoTo create your own perfect day tour of  Kovačica email Tara at for ideas and we can customise a tour to suit you with a private guide to show you around. See our website for sample sightseeing tours of Serbia.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Day Trip to the Bamboo Temple in Kunming, China

The drive by cab took around half an hour first through the city and then through the countryside up into the mountains. The scenery changed rapidly from high rise blocks to tall, elegant pines. In the middle of them stood a famous Bamboo Temple, one of the iconic sites of Kunming. Once we realised that we were a long way from the city centre we decided to ask the cab driver to wait for us. The small issue was that we didn’t speak Chinese and driver didn’t speak any English. After a lots of “yes, no”, head nodding and finger pointing still unsure if he understood us, we decided to try our luck and visit the temple. If he wasn’t there after an hour we would get a bus or start walking…

The first thing you notice even before you enter the Temple is its serenity. The temple is located in the Ya’an Mountain and surroundd by thick, fresh forest. The birdsong and light breeze of the clean air are the only things you notice.

Once inside the temple you can enjoy a beautifully designed courtyard spread over four layers and decorated with flowers in full bloom. There were a few couples playing mah jong, quietly, immersed in their own thoughts and blending into the peaceful surroundings. We had heard about the very good vegetarian food here but as we didn’t have a guide with us or speak any Chinese we couldn’t get any information…Scared to distort the natural harmony of the Temple, we didn’t talk to each other and instead walked around, enjoying the architecture and taking photos. At the back of the temple, we saw a door which we thought could lead into the kitchen and feeling like intruders we decided not to go through. Then luckily three girls walked towards us with freshly cooked meals in boxes and with chopsticks. We went where they had come from and found a monk, dressed in a kitchen apron holding a huge wok and preparing vegetables. Rice was already ready. Again using our fingers, head and rudely pointing to the dishes we managed to get a meal, a vegetarian freshly cooked meal, for RMB5 which is around 50p. The size of the portion was small compared to an ordinary Chinese meal but bear in mind that most Chinese meals are left unfinished! With the portion which we had at the Bamboo Temple we felt full. It was just the right amount of food and it was tasty! A touch of spice was added – it was like peppercorn…Sitting in a beautiful courtyard, with delicious food in serene surroundings was like a dream experience and as in evey dream, it didn’t last long. We had to go back and check if our driver had understood us and to our delight he was there waiting for us. We gave him a good tip after the journey.

The Bamboo temple in Kunming was built in 1270 after Zen Buddhism was introduced to Yunnan. Since then the temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times. The Bamboo Temple is well known for 500 statues of arhats or holy men who look very realistic in their own individual poses and expressions. Also the temple is known for two 500 year-old cypress trees in the front of the courtyard and for old cynics like me there are bamboos on the premises but behind the temple. If you wish to see a video of the Bamboo Temple In Kunming please click here.

If you wish to book a day tour to the Bamboo Temple in Kunming with your own English-speaking guide, car and driver please email

Saturday, 8 October 2011

A Day and a Night in Yokohama, Japan

Firstly, head to one of Japan’s newest but soon-to-be most popular interactive museums, the Cup Noodle Museum. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the invention of the Cup Noodle a museum dedicated solely to this ever-popular yet much maligned snack opened last weekend in the Minato Mirai district of Yokohama. Visitors can learn about the entire process and make their own in a section of the museum called My Cup Noodle Factory - how to knead and roll the dough, steam and flash-fry the noodles before watching them being dried, then they can design the cups they are packed in, choose the flavours and create their own favourite to take home – over 5000 flavour combinations are possible! The museum is open from 10am to 6pm and costs 500 Yen for adults, and is free for children. 95 billion servings of his noodles were eaten in 2010 and a Japanese astronaut even went into orbit in 2007 equipped with his own supply of vacuum-packed Space Noodles from the factory!

Afterwards, you can wander along to one of 50 venues hosting this year’s Jazz Promenade, a festival on the 8th and 9th October attracting over 2000 jazz musicians and 100,000 fans. Performances take place in some of the city’s formal concert halls such as the nearby Landmark Tower, Memorial Hall, Kannai Hall, Red Brick Warehouse No.1, Minato Mirai Hall, Media and Comunications Center, and Osanbashi Pier Hall in the evenings, in jazz clubs and also on the streets at tourist and shopping spots around the city during the day. Read more about the Yokohama Jazz Festival here

As you make your way back to the station in the evening, look out for artistically-illuminated parks and buildings, part of Smart-Illuination Yokohama which the same weekend, 7-9th October, is displaying energy-efficient LED lighting to stunning effect - environmental science as art! Read more about this unique event here can arrange private sightseeing tours of Tokyo and Yokohama by public transport with your own English-speaking guide – as well as the fantastic Cup Noodle Museum there are plenty of other sights well worth a visit – the 972ft high Landmark Tower is Japan’s tallest building and with the world’s second fastest lifts, the 1930s passenger liner Hikara Maru with its Art Deco interiors, the historic buildings at Sankei-en Park – or you can try your hand at making traditional Japanese pottery at Sakura Kiln,  or learn about Zen Buddhism at Sojiji Temple. Prices are from £165 for a half-day private tour – see

Thursday, 30 September 2010

How to get around Beijing?

by Bus

Until recently you had to speak Chinese in order to use a bus in Beijing, but Chinese Tourism have introduced a Yiktong Card which means “one card pass” in Chinese. It is similar to the Oyster Card used by TfL in London, Singapore’s EZ-Link, and Hong Kong’s Octopus card, and is like a credit card for travel that you ‘top up’ as you use it. In order to get a Yiktong card you need to pay a deposit of RMB20 plus RMB100 for the travel itself and you can top this up at subway stations, railway stations, most post offices and big supermarkets in Beijing. When you leave, you get your deposit back.
Bus fares range from RMB1-5 according to the route and whether the bus has air conditioning or not.

There are many different bus lines and they are categorised by number: the city lines are buses 1 to 122, night buses are 201 to 212, suburban lines are 300 to 949, air-conditioned buses begin with number 8, double-decker buses begin with the Chinese letter – Te which means special.

Little secret tips:
  • If you decide to use public transport to visit the Great Wall of China look for buses which start with the number 9. For example, to go to the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu go to Dongzhimen Bus Terminal and get bus 916 which takes you directly there

There four main bus terminals in Beijing:

Deshengmen Bus Terminal – buses to the Juyongguan and Badaling sections of the Great Wall, and Kangxi Grassland. The fare is RMB8-12.
Dongzhimen Bus Terminal – buses for the Mutianyu, Simitai and Jinshaling sections of the Great Wall. Only bus 936 which operates during the peak tourist season runs directly to the Mutianyu Great Wall, buses for the other sections, 916, 980, 918Z, stop before there and you need to transfer to a minibus. The bus fare is RMB10-16.

Pingguoyuan Bus Terminal – buses 929 and 931 go to the Jietaisi, Tanzhesi and Chuandixiacun Temples, and the fares are RMB15-20.

Beijing Railway Station Bus Terminal – 938 bus to Epoch City in Xianghe, fare RMB10.

Tianqiao Bus Terminal – bus 917 to Hancunhe village, fare RMB10

For more information how to book a Private Day Trip in Beijing on foot, by bus, tube, or by bycle with local guide please check our website at or email

Saturday, 7 August 2010

My best five temples in China

Temples are not just places for tourists, or places or worship - they are the embodiment of Chinese history, culture, tradition, art…

My favourite temple in China is the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai not because it’s the most famous temple but because I had a personal welcome there on my first visit to China twenty years ago. I had a welcome kiss from a Chinese grandpa who looked the epitome of harmony with his grey hair and goatee beard with a big smile and very happy eyes. We didn’t understand each other, we smiled and then inspired by the celebration around us he looked at me and just kissed me on the cheek. My local guide ran up to explain that I had been welcomed to China. The whole experience was the more significant as it happened in the Grand Hall just in front of the Buddha statues representing the past, present and future. Since then I believe that my past life was well spent in China!

The Jade Buddha Temple was founded in 1882 with two jade Buddha statues brought to Shanghai from Burma by sea, a sitting Buddha (1.95 meters tall, 3 tons), and a smaller reclining Buddha representing his own death. These statues are the centrepiece of the small temple, but there are several halls such as the Hall of Heavenly Kings, Great Treasure Hall and the Hall of the 10,000 Buddhas. Its Chinese name is Yu Fo Si, and it's situated in the northwest of the city near the intersection of Anyuan Lu and Jiangning Lu - take Subway Line 6 at Wulian Road Station, get off at Shiji Dadao Station then take Subway Line 2 and get off at Nanjing Road West Station, take bus no.112 and get off at Haifang Road, and walk about 350 meters and you will find the Jade Buddha Temple.

Shanghai has always been a cosmopolitan city and as result you have several active Christian churches and an Islamic mosque where foreign visitors may worship or visit. But what really sets religious Shanghai apart, at least in China, is its Jewish legacy, most powerfully evoked by the reopening of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue as a museum and study centre. A word of advice - before you set off check with the locals if it still exists – a church I headed to one day had actually been transformed into a nice trendy bar with a cross on the top of one of the cupolas!

Less known is the Palace of Peace and Harmony or Lama Temple or Yonghegong Lamasery which is a monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism in Beijing. Building work on the Lama Temple started in 1694 and originally it served as an official residence for court eunuchs. It was then converted into the court of Prince Yong (Yin Zhen). After the Prince's ascension to the throne in 1722, half of the building was converted into a lamasery, a monastery for monks of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism. The other half remained an imperial palace. There are five main halls which are separated by courtyards, the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the Hall of Harmony and Peace, the Hall of Everlasting Protection, the Hall of the Wheel of the Law and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness’s.

The inside of the temple is decorated with yellow tiles which was a colour reserved exclusively for the emperors, but it survived the destruction of the Cultural Revolution thanks to the intervention of Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and was reopened to the public in 1981. The Lama Temple is located in Beijing's Dongcheng District, near the northeastern corner of the Second Ring Road. Lines 2 and 5 of the Beijing Subway both stop at Yonghegong.

If you are visiting the Lama Temple it would be a waste not to cross the road and visit the Confucius Temple too - although the temple is run down and seemingly forgotten by the Chinese Tourist Board. It covers some 20,000 square metres but it's not the largest Confucius temple, that is in his birth place, Qufu. This temple was built in 1302 when the Chinese people used it to pay their respects to Confucius. Today it's almost empty except for the occasional lost tourist clutching a guide book and looking bemused that no one else is there. This temple consists of four courtyards, with the Gate of the First Teacher, the Gate of Great Accomplishment, the Hall of Great Accomplishment and Worship Hall. It's a very tranquil place to spend an afternoon away from busy and noisy Beijing.

The Hanging Temple in Datong is situated more than 50 meters above the ground and is a unique piece of architecture. It was built in 491 by half-inserting the crossbeams of the foundations into the side of a mountain, and for Westerners it may have seemed a miracle but this system of inserting crossbeams into rocks was developed in other parts of China especially on the Yangzte River - when sailors couldn’t use the river for transferring goods they would build wooden rails along the gorge sides and use them to transfer the goods up and down the river when water levels were too high. Today you can only see square holes in some of the gorges and the only remaining building constructed like this is the so-called ‘Hanging Temple’ in Datong – and it is a masterpiece.

The temple was built by a monk who travelled all over China and needed somewhere to rest and pray, and the location he chose was sheltered from flood, snow, rain or sunshine. It’s full of inscriptions, poems and statues of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism made of copper, iron, clay and stone, which are valuable cultural craftworks. Shanxi Province where the Hanging Temple is situated has many others and if you have time you should visit Jinci Temple in Taiyuan, better known as an ‘ancestral temple’ where Chinese people pay tribute to their ancestors. Another worth mentioning in Shanxi Province is the Guandi Temple in Yuncheng.

One very popular temple is the Shaolin Monastery founded in the 5th century, long famous for its association with Chinese martial arts and particularly with Shaolin Kung Fu. It’s situated in Denfang in Henan Province. The temple takes students from all around the world for courses in marital arts, and as a result you find monks sitting under trees and having debates next to students having their training. The most impressive part is the Shanmen Hall above which hangs a tablet simply saying 'Shaolin Temple'. What impressed me were the stones worn away by Kung Fu teachers sitting and meditating. Another impressive part of Shaolin Temple is the Pagoda Forest where old Kung Fu teachers are buried, and the higher the pagoda, the more important was their status within the temple. The school observes strict rules based on training, training and even more training. They have different levels of students who can easily be recognised by the different colours of their track suits. It’s a memorable scene in the training hall when hundreds of students make the same move at the exactly the same time! During the day you can watch performances of Kung Fu students which are punctuated by cries of “Oh my God, UH, Ouch, NOOOOOOOOOO” from the excited audience. At the end you can spend some money in the shop on swords or knives, even bows and spears. But be careful when you buy them – you might not be able to get them into your own country!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

We’d booked a guide and car and driver to take us around Sapa for the day-and-a-half we were spending there, and they picked us up mid-morning for a walk to one of the minority villages where the Red Dao and Black Hmong people live. As we got out of the car, there was a group of a dozen or so colourfully-dressed women from the village with baskets on their backs. They surrounded us and told us pleasantly that if they walked with us, we should buy something from them, which sounded fair enough and I agreed. Three of the women allocated themselves to me therefore, shooed away their rivals and set off with us cheerfully, asking questions and chatting in what little English they knew. They did not say Manchester United when I said where I came from (which virtually everybody else in the world does), so I amended my reply to England which they had heard of. The path was initially a concrete track – the local council had thought that foreigners coming to Sapa to hike in the hills might find the concrete more appealing to walk on than a real mountain track. It drizzled for much of the day, and the guide did not actually say before we set off that the walk was going to take 3 ½ hours, so I was rather dispirited when we stopped for a little sit down as I was really tired, to find out that we were only nearly half-way there. I looked at the three Red Dao village girls who were amiably waiting for us to continue, felt guilty at taking up their whole day on an unnecessary walk, shared out the biscuits my guide had brought for us, and set off again.

The walk was not particularly difficult, on more or less flat terrain but pretty despite the drizzle, with rice terraces and mountains, the odd fellow-walkers, a girl with buffalo, and we went into a farmhouse where two girls were softening a roll of material with an ancient wooden contraption they stood on and rolled with a pumping motion of their feet. There was a hole for a fireplace in the ground, sacks of rice, corn and chillies piled on the earth floor, some puppies and a TV, and the girls looked tired. The village we ended up in was little more than one lane lined with shops selling snacks and water for the tourists who arrive, exhausted, here. One of my Red Dao girls pointed up a hill and said they lived 2 kilometres further on, and I was amazed by their lack of fatigue when I had been fit to drop for a couple of hours. By the time my guide sat me down in a plastic garden chair I was therefore in no state to resist their salesmanship which consisted of them selecting from their baskets what I should buy – a wall-hanging, a pair of matching cushion covers and a scarf, one from each of them – and telling me what I should pay. One of the girls did say, “I say price, you say price” but this prompt to bargain passed me by at the time. I struggled feebly to convert the hundreds of thousands of dong they mentioned into sterling in my head but could only manage the vaguest figure that I still knew was over the odds, but handed over the cash virtually without a murmer, much to their surprise. My guide was slightly disgusted with my profligacy, but scooped me up into before I could do any more shopping and took me to a hot little café for pumpkin soup and ginger tea.

The next day I knew I was in for another walk, but counted on it being shorter. It was indeed shorter, only 1 ½ hours, but all uphill on a concrete path with no shade and in really hot, humid weather. We drove for half an hour to a village in a valley with local radio screaming out from a loudspeaker, and where the guide took me to Mr Lan’s house for a cup of tea. Mr Lan had built an upstairs storey on his house where he had made a dormitory for overnight visitors, he had to just ask the village elders for permission to do so. They made all the men of the village there help build it, and in return, Mr Lan had to throw daily dinner parties for them – no money changed hands. It sounded like a jolly good system. Anyway, we trudged uphill, my guide picked leaves and crushed them with his fingers and put them under my nose until I recognised the smell as coriander or lemongrass or whatever. There were tiny piglets and chicks, geese, kittens, cocky dogs, a baby buffalo, and peasants of all ages from the village at the top, all striding along with a stamina that comes from daily necessity. It was not enjoyable at all, but was too embarrassed to tell the guide I wanted to turn back, and hoped that the next day I might enjoy it in retrospect. Two small village kids at the top took my empty water bottles and bashed them up happily whilst their mother clearly wondered why I was so red-faced and sweaty, and breathed so noisily. The guide took me to another farmhouse in the village – they just say hello and can we come in – and again, it was just a large wooden barn but with electricity. It was lunchtime and the family were eating bowls of rice together at a low table, and paid us little attention. The village was poor and ramshakle like the ones yesterday, not charmingly rustic as the tourist guidebooks imply, and I felt like an intruder. We walked back down to the car and climbed gratefully back in.
But I am still enjoying both walks immensely in retrospect!

For more information please email or check our website at

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Very popular Festival well known as the Ice Festival of China, takes place in Harbin from the 4th January,  when the Opening Ceremony takes place. The temperature drops well below 26 C and regardless of how many layers of clothes you have on, you will feel the cold! If you do decide to visit Harbin, do all your sightseeing between 12 and 3 in the afternoon, and protect your camera from the cold too. And of course try the local dumplings – they are very warming, and known as the best in the whole of China! More information about the Harbin Ice Festival you can find in one of our previous blog .

The biggest festival in the country is the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. The festival traditionally begins on the 1st day of the 1st month in the Chinese lunar calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called the Lantern Festival. Last year (2009) the Chinese New Year of the Ox was on the 26th January, this year the year of the Tiger began on the 14th February, and 2011 will be the year of the Rabbit from 3rd February.

A very interesting Festival is the Dragon Boat Festival which is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th moon in June. Intricately designed and colourfully painted dragon boats are the highlight of the event.

The Qing Ming Festival Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival on the 104th day after the winter solstice - falling on April 4-6 each year. After honouring their ancestors' spirits, the Chinese believe that the temperature rises and rainfall increases, thereby bringing a good harvest - honouring the dead is therefore an important part of the order of the universe.

The Double Seventh Festival, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, is a what we in the west celebrate as Valentines Day. The Double Seventh Day is not a public holiday in China, but it is widely celebrated and enjoyed.

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. In Chinese culture, the full moon is a symbol of peace and prosperity for the whole family, and the number 8 symbolizes wealth and prosperity. In the middle of the lucky 8th month the moon is full - so an auspicious time for celebrations.

All these festivals above are celebrated mainly by the Han Chinese, the largest of the country's ethnic groups of which there are over 50, each with their own festivals - these are some of the most well-known.

Water-Splashing Festival of Dai - regarded as the New Year of the Dai ethnic minority, who live in Yunnan Province. It takes place from the 14th to 16th April (24th to 26th day of the 6th month of the Dai calendar).

Bullfight Festival of Miao - takes place on the 25th day of the first lunar month in Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces. The Miao ethnic minority people are primarily farmers who naturally regard cattle as an indispensable friend - this festival is to celebrate them them.

Adult Ceremony of Jino - this indicates the transition from childhood into adulthood when both clothing and hairstyles are changed. This festival takes place on the 15th birthday for girls and 16th for boys in Yunnan Province.

March Fair of Bai – the biggest trading festival. It takes place from 15th to 21st day of the 3rd lunar month in Yunnan Province, at the foot of Mount Cangshan in Dali.

Nadam Fair of the Mongolians – takes place on the 15th July in Inner Mongolia.

Kaizhai Festival takes place at the beginning of the 10th month of the Islamic calendar in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Xinjiang and Gansu Provinces. According to Islam, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar is the fasting month of Ramadan. After 29 or 30 days of fasting comes the traditional Kaizhai Festival on the first day of the 10th month and it lasts 3 days.

The Muslims of China also celebrate the Corban Festival on the 10th day of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.

As well as these festivals, China also celebrates International Women's Day (8th March), Labour Day (1st May), National Youth Day (4th May), International Children's Day (1st June), People's Liberation Army Day (1st August), Teachers Day (10th September).

For more information please email

or check our website to book private day trips in China at

Chinese New Year

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Chapel of Peace, Sremski Karlovci, Serbia

Around 50 miles north of the capital city of Serbia, Belgrade, on the slopes of the Fruska Gora National Park and on the right bank of the Danube River, is one of Serbia’s most important spiritual and cultural towns, Sremski Karlovci. Since 1713, this place has been the seat of the Serbian Archbishops so don’t be surprised if among the sea of tourists from different countries you come across a group of black-robed Orthodox priests come to visit the ornate 19th century Archbishop’s Residence. Especially famous for its good wines and honey (which both you can taste at various establishments around the town), its local dessert kuglof (a fruity, spiced cake), its beautiful baroque architecture and very nice inhabitants, Sremski Karlovci is also well known for its contribution to history books since it was here that the term ‘round table’ was first used when describing the signing of a peace agreement. The first peace agreement to be so described was signed here in 1699 between the Turkish, Polish, Venetians and Austrians, and it was thrashed out around a round table on a site a little way out of the town which is commemorated by a circular building, the Chapel of Peace, that has four doors, one for each party to the treaty.

According to the caretaker of the Chapel of Peace, a well-informed and talkative chap, this unusual building is beginning to be popular with visitors again since the EC decided to invest in its reconstruction on the condition that it opened its fourth door behind the altar, the so-called Turkish Door. When we came to visit the Chapel of Peace there was no one to greet us except strong winds and closed doors. We, like history-hungry peeping toms, looked through the windows and keyholes trying to catch a glimpse of the past. Suddenly a tall guy appeared in front of us telling us to go to the opposite side of building and he would open the door for us. It seemed strange that he did not tell us to enter the building with him, but later he explained that he only carries the key for the Turkish door as most visitors are from Turkey - as we were Christian we could only enter the building by one of the other doors. Inside there is an altar which covers the Turkish door (the chapel was built by the Catholics of the town), and there used to be an organ but it was damaged by the rather careless builders who restored the building recently. The windows are distinctive - on the first floor they are made in the shape of the Dutch flag and on the ground floor they represent the Union Jack – both England and Holland were the ‘international peacekeepers’ overseeing the peace agreement of 1699. The whole building is painted yellow inside and out, the staircase to the first floor is original but covered in paint stains and refurbishment is ongoing.

The Chapel of Peace is a witness to a significant historic event, but nowadays is sadly underused – it would make a wonderful space for concerts and exhibitions, and is definitely well worth the stroll from the town centre along the quiet residential streets.

For more information please email

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Dazu rock carvings, one of China's most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are situated between Chengdu and Chongqing in the southern part of China, in Sichuan Province, and they are as famous as the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, the Yungang Grottoes and Longmen Grottoes.
There are two ways to reach Dazu, either from Chengdu or from Chongqing. The route is much longer from Chengdu, about 271 km which takes around 5 hours but if you are travelling from Chongqing then it's only around 3 hours.
The carvings at Dazu are a most beautiful form of rock art and symbolise the integration of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the 3 main religions of China. Besides images of the Buddha, the carvings show different people including ministers, military officers, executioners, monks, rich and poor people, and performers. The carvings date from the 9th to 13th centuries.
There are four places to see Dazu rock carvings - the most popular is at Baodingshan, but you can also see them at Beishan, Nanshan and Shizhuanshuan.
Baodingshan is the most visited grotto in Dazu. At the entrance there are nine Dharmapalas (Protectors of the Law) which guard the entrance, carrying swords, spears and fans. To the left you will come across servants with human bodies and animal heads, and they represent humans who have been reincrinated as animals in order to pay off a karmic debt. The most significant carving is the wheel of reincarnation which summarises the Buddhist teaching of reincarnation. The demon Mara who personifies existance holds the wheel in his jaws and arms, and the wheel is also supported by the personification of greed, (an official), evil (a solider), foolishness (a monkey), and lust (a woman). Six Buddha-rays on the wheel illustrate that enlightenment, the goal of all Buddhist practice, will allow the seeker to escape from the eternal cycle of birth and death.
Among other rock carvings, the most imposing one is the Parinirvana, a 31m long reclining statue which illustrates the death of Shakyamuni.
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Saturday, 20 March 2010

Travel guide to Serbia


You may not need visa but you need to register with the Police. Registration is done automatically by hotel staff upon check-in, however if you are staying with friends in a private dwelling, you must register your presence with the police in the district in which you are staying.

Getting there

The main airport in Serbia is in the capital city, Belgrade, and it is named after the Serbian scientist Nicola Tesla. It’s avery small airport and quite close to the city centre. Once you are out of the building don’t let yourself be persuaded by cab drivers to take you to the city centre for 20 euros as that is not a bargain. As the airport is very close to the town (25 min from New Belgrade and 35 min from the old town, depending from the traffic over the Danube) you can get on the shuttle bus service provided by the national airline, still called Yugoslavian Airlines (JAT) or on one of the local buses (LASTA). The JAT shuttle will take you to the city centre and drop you in front of the Hotel Slavija, and the buses will take you to the train and bus stations which are not far from each other. The cheapest option is bus number 95 which stops close to the domestic departures building, but it does take ages to get into town, driving through all the new suburbs of Zemuna and New Belgrade – interesting though! Tickets can be bought before you catch the bus from the newsagent at the airport, and they cost 90 dinars which is less then £1.
You can also fly to Nis, a quaint town in the south that is rapidly gaining popularity.
Trains connect Serbia to all quarters of Europe, the main routes being Budapest, Vienna, Thessalonika, Bucharest, Sofia and Skopje and with the possible exception of routes to the East, they are comfortable, punctual and clean, and overnight trains are a good way of arriving. Trains within Serbia however are a little older and a bit shabby.
The Danube flows right through the centre of Belgrade and many river cruises on the way to the Black Sea from Budapest moor overnight here. It’s an expensive way to get to Belgrade, but you do have time to see Belgrade’s main street and impressive fortress.

Getting around

Very difficult! Most maps, sign posts and other important information is written in the Cyrillic alphabet rather than the western Latin alphabet, and this is the official script of Serbia. You might find it useful to familiarise yourself with Cyrillic letters in order to be able to spell out words – names especially.
The main public transport in Belgrade are the buses which are very frequent. There are thousands of taxis too, they vary in size, comfort and price – sometimes you get a little old Yugoslavian banger, sometimes a much more modern car! You can hail taxis in the street or go to a taxi rank, or call one (or get someone local to call one for you)
Beotaxi, 011/970 (White cab)
Žuti taxi, 011/9802 (Yellow cab)
Pink taxi, 011/9803 (Pink cab)
Hiring a car is very easy but driving on your own around Serbia could be a tricky business especially if you are a first time visitor. Driving is on the right, roads could be bumpy, traffic signs are posted in the official cyrillic letters and fellow drivers are not very patient. If you can’t afford to pay for someone to drive you around then travel by bus.

Where to stay?

In Belgrade I would recommend the Moscva Hotel which has a very long history (it opened in 1908), is very conveniently located in the city centre and has welcomed such distinguished guests as Albert Einstein and his Serbian wife, Mileva. Another hotel with a good location is the Balkan Hotel, not far from the Moscva.
Be aware that prices are higher but the standards not as good as in four or five star hotels in Western Europe. If you are going outside Belgrade I would suggest you stay in small inns which are affordable and professionally run. This Easter I am staying in one very close to the National Park of Fruska Gora., where there is a spa and a few beautiful old monasteries to visit.
Spa hotels are usually too expensive for the level of comfort they offer. The rooms are old fashioned and the hotels themselves usually a little unkempt as there has been not enough money for the government to invest in them (they are mostly state-run). However, the staff are always lovely!
National holidays.
There are too many holidays for the western soul! The number of official holidays comes from the fact that the old communist ones are still kept plus there are several new ones added since those days – so they represent the turmoil Serbia has been through in the last 20 years.
January 1 - 2 (New Year's Day), January 7 (Eastern Orthodox Christmas), January 14 (National Holiday (Orthodox New Year), February 15 (Constitution Day), 2 Apr Orthodox Good Friday, 5 Apr Orthodox Easter Monday, May 1 - 2 (Labour Day).

Working holdays
January 27 (Saint Sava's Day), 9 May Victory Day, 28 Jun St Vitus' Day, 31 December New Year Eve.

Local time
Central European Time Zone GMT+1


Orthodox Christianity is the major religion, the Serbian Orthodox Church became autonomous in 1219. Other important religions are Islam, Catholicism and Judaism.

What is Serbia famous for?

Hospitality – regardless of the hardship Serbians have been through in recent times guests are always very welcome. And always welcomed with open arms.

Spas – the Republic of Serbia is rich in thermal mineral springs whose waters, depending on their chemical make-up, temperature and other properties, make it possible to treat and cure almost any illness for which spas are recommended.
Monasteries - medieval orthodox monasteries such Studenica, Manasija, Žiča, Ravanica are an excellent opportunity to see part of Serbian history. If you are interested in art, there are excellent fresco masterpieces, especially the Beli Anđeo (White Angel) fresco in Mileseva monastery.

Nightlife – Belgrade is one big night club from 10pm until the early morning, especially during the summer time when most of the bars are open on the banks of rivers Danube and Sava. Drink domestic beers as the bars don’t stock a huge amount of foreign beers and they often run out of them. Try the national drink, rakija (raki) which is usually made of plums and is 40% alcohol. Older people swear by its medical attributes.

Festivals - Visit EXIT festival that is happening in the beginning of July, in Novi Sad, on Petrovaradin fortress. The EXIT festival came into being in the year 2000 as an act of rebellion against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, that had for years been keeping Serbia out of touch with the outside. The Belgrade Beer Festival, takes place at Ušće in Belgrade every August. Anotehr famous Serbian Festival the Guca trumpet festival also known as the Dragacevo Assembly is an annual brass band festival held in the town of Guča, near the city of Čačak, a three-hour bus journey from Belgrade.

What to eat?

The main dishes are based on meat, usually pork. There are some vegetarian dishes available, and it’s vegetarian heaven in the weeks before the Orthodox Christmas or Easter when Serbians fast, or eat no meat.
• Gibanica – filo pastry pie with spinach and cheese or just cheese (like spanakopita or tiropita in Greece)
• Pasulj – beans, a national speciality, often cooked for a long time and delicious with cured meat.
• Prebranac - cooked and roasted beans with various spices and vegetables. Completely meat-free
• Punjene Paprike - stuffed peppers
• Roštilj– various meats grilled on an open fire, charcoal grilled.
• Paprikas - stew with paprika, usually made with chicken
• Gulas - stew with paprika with beef
• Sarma - cabbage rolls, similar to dolmades but made with sauerkraut instead of vine leaves
• Riblja čorba - Fish soup using freshwater fish, very good at the barge restaurants along the Danube and Sava.
• Proja - a type of corn bread with white cheese, and a national speciality.
And don’t forget to try domestic product – rakija – ( raki) which is usually made of plums and has 40% of alcohol. Older population swears by it’s medical attributes.

Do not

Talk about war. Especially the recent one. If you have to - talk about WWI and WWII. If you are gay do not show affection publicly – it is still a rarity here.

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Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The best time to travel to China

Did you know that London and Beijing are at the same latitude but the climate of these two cities differ wildly. London is an all year round destination but the best time to visit Beijing is in the spring or autumn, the summers in Beijing being very humid and the winters very cold .Thankfully some might say, the Gobi Desert is slowly moving towards Beijing and influencing the climate - a few years ago Beijing was covered in “red snow” which was a dust brought by strong winds from the Gobi Desert.

China is a vast country almost the same size as the whole of Europe and it's very important to choose a good time to visit it. Most of the travel guide books suggest travelling either in April, May or September, October when hotel prices are usually high. This rule is valid if you are going for longer than three weeks and if your tour starts in Beijing and finishes in Hong Kong. Most people plan to go to China only once in their lifetime and they tend to choose longer tours to keep costs down. But from my experience I would suggest you go for a shorter time, say up to 10 days. This way you can go during November and early December or February and March when the prices are lower and the weather conditions still acceptable. Yes it may get cold but not unbearable. If you wear warm clothes which you can buy cheaply at the local market in any city in China then you will get nice crispy days which are fantastic for taking good photos plus most of the sights are empty and you can enjoy them on your own away from other people. If you are going to the south of China the winters are usually mild and make traveling a pleasure in the southern part of China between the months of November and February.

Whenever you decide to travel to China try to avoid 1-8 May (Labour holidays) or 1- 8 October (Liberation Day) when hard - working Chinese get a one week holiday. Most of the sightseeing spots during this time get swamped with large groups of Chinese people who have a different way of exploring - you can recognize them very easily – they are all dressed in the same color clothes for easy recognition and led by a tour guide with a megaphone whose strength is strong enough to seriously damage your ears. Not to mention that you won't be able to get close to any of the sights and you won't be able to hear your own guide.

If you are going to stay in big cities try to book hotels during the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) as most Chinese try to escape from the city to the countryside during weekends.

Also check if there are any big exhibitions taking place, these usually increase the cost of your hotel stay. This year EXPO takes place in Shanghai from May to October so hotel prices are going to be higher. F1 is also taking place in April in Shanghai and the same will apply.

For more information please check our webiste at or email Tara at

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The best place to see Giant Pandas in China

Since the earthquake in Sichuan Province there are two good places to see pandas – one in the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu itself and one in Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base. Wolong centre was destroyed by the earthquake and by sheer luck only the pandas survived and they’ve been transferred around Chengdu. Some of them are "rented" to zoos around the world.
Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base is located in Bifengxia Town, Ya’an City of south-west Sichuan Province. The distance from Chengdu to Ya’an Panda Base is 140km and takes around 2 hours drive to get there. The drive is very scenic, through forest, waterfalls, river and breathtaking landscapes. The mountain weather is changeable, so wear layers for warmth and rain protection. Wear comfortable/waterproof walking shoes. It can rain anytime of the year, particularly June, July, and August (also sunnier during this period) and snow is most prevalent from November through to March. Although there are more Pandas here, you’ll get to see Pandas more in their natural habitant, than in the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu . You can spend around at least 1.5hrs here - subject to conditions you can have your picture taken with a baby Panda for 1,000 RMB (approx £100) . Also you can do some voluntary work which includes feeding pandas, cleaning the enclosure, monitoring their habits but you have to be in extra good health as the forms which you need to fill in ask for very personal information such as: "Do you have mental issues?" Within the park there is the Ya'an Wild Animal Zoo where you can see golden monkeys, tigers, hawks and so on.
Afterward, take a short drive to see Shangli Ancient Town - situated along the river it’s easy to walk around by yourself. Its very interesting for tourists as it looks like an old traditional Chinese town still unspoiled by the mass market. Within the town you can see traditional shops selling homemade Rice Wine, Foods, Handicrafts etc. I found very nice antiques for a very good price and even if it's fake it does look good on my window sill! The Panda Research Centre in Chengdu is located almost in the city centre, but its much more professionally run and controlled. I had a feeling that the Pandas are in a more sombre mood here and in very limited enclosures. But in this centre you would be able to see Red Pandas which you can't in the Ya’an Centre. For those of you staying few nights in Chengdu I would suggest that you go to see the pandas at the Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base. For those with less time I would suggest you visit the Pandas in the Research Base in the city center of Chengdu. If you haven’t got either the time or the money to go to Chengdu then go to a zoo in China but please be prepared. The Panda enclosures may look very clean, big and well-kept but in order to get to the Panda enclosure you have to pass Siberian tigers and see live chickens thrown to them. Or pass dirty and unkempt monkey cages. By the time you get to see the Pandas you feel a bit sick.
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Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Its Christmas Eve in Serbia!

Tonight is Christmas Eve in Serbia and the last day of 40 fasting days before Christmas. According to tradition, today's lunch is a lenten lunch which usually consists of soup, fish, stuffed wine leaves, beans and salads and during the day we also eat dried fruit, walnuts, red wine and honey. Before lunch the tradition is to bring into the house a branch of an oak tree which symbolises the tree brought by a shepherd and given to Joseph and Mary to make a fire in the stable where Jesus was born. In the villages around Serbia the branch of oak is cut in the forest but in the big cities it's usually bought at the market or in church, and it is burned tonight to represent light and warmth bringing a new beginning. There are lots of traditions which symbolise Jesus's birth, for example, it's good to bring straw into the house to symbolise the crib in which Jesus was born, and to have coins scattered around the house similar to the gold coins given to Jesus by one of the Kings.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day and according to tradition, we go to the midnight liturgy, then in the morning a guest (ideally a young healthy male!) is allowed into the house on this day, bringing the new year. The greeting on the Christmas Day is Hristos se rodi which means Jesus is born - the reply is Vaistinu se rodi which means Verily is born. After returning from the morning liturgy the custom is to serve a Christmas lunch which means the end of the 40-day long fast. The feast starts with prayer, lighting a candle and incense. Lunch is different rotiserie meats, lots of cakes, salads and drinks, and a loaf of home-baked bread in which is hidden a coin - whoever finds it can expect lots more money during the coming year! The custom is to exchange presents and spend the whole day at home, visiting friends and family the next day.
Churches that follow the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas Day on 7th January – Serbian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Jerusalem Church, Egyptian Kopti, some Etiophians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Macedonias and Montenegrians.

Merry Christmas!

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Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas from Belgrade, Serbia!

I am sitting on the 3rd floor of my mum's apartment in the city center of Belgrade and emailing all around the world wishing a Merry Christmas to all my friends scattered around the globe, from Rachel in Nepal who is doing charity work after being dumped yet again, to Elke in Thailand after being made redundant yet again, to Fran in London doing an MSc in Environmental Science after deciding that she had enough of travelling. Out of sheer fun, I wish Merry Christmas to my friends in China even I know they don’t celebrate it. They do the same to me.
I can hear my mum on the phone to her brother in Holland and her best friend just across the river Danube which is just at the end of the number 706 bus in a different part of Belgrade and wish them a Merry Christmas too.
Despite the celebratory feelings we, the Serbian people, don't actually celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. Our Christmas comes a bit later on the 7th January - some people in the West call us the "Eastern Catholics". This is because of our use of the traditional Julian Calendar, under which December 25 falls on the Gregorian calendar's January 7. The Julian calendar, a reform of the Roman calendar, was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and it has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a leap day is added to February every four years. Hence the Julian year is on average 365.25 days long.
The Gregorian solar calendar is an arithmetical calendar. It counts days as the basic unit of time, grouping them into years of 365 or 366 days; and repeats completely every 146,097 days, or 400 years, and which also happens to be 20,871 seven-day weeks. Of these 400 years, 303 (the "common years") have 365 days, and 97 (the leap years) have 366 days. This gives an average year length of exactly 365.2425 days, or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.
Basically, the only difference is that the Gregorian calendar is 13 days behind the Julian calendar.
During this festive time, you greet another person with "Christ is Born," which should be responded to with "Truly He is Born." The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić , which is the diminutive form of the word bog, meaning 'God'.
Most Serbian families celebrate the Christmas/New Year season with a Christmas tree in the house. The decoration of the tree is a very good opportunity to gather family members around, and the main tradition is for the head of the household to go into a forest on Christmas Eve (6th January) preferably before sunrise, or at least before noon, to select a young and straight oak tree and a log cut from it is in the evening ceremoniously put on the domestic fire. A bundle of straw is taken into the house and spread over the floor.
On Christmas Day, (7th January) the celebration is announced at dawn by church bells and by shooting. Huge importance is given to the first visit a family receives that day. People expect that it will bring prosperity and well-being for their household in the ensuing year; this visit is often pre-arranged. Christmas dinner is the most celebratory meal a family has during a year. A special, festive loaf of bread is baked for this occasion, and the main course is roast pork . It is not traditional in Serbia to exchange gifts at Christmas. Gift giving is, nevertheless, connected with the holiday, being traditionally done on the three Sundays that immediately precede it. Children, women, and men, respectively, are the set gift-givers on these three days. Closely related to Christmas is New Year's Day by the Julian calendar (January 14 on the Gregorian calendar), whose traditional folk name is Little Christmas.
I wont be in Belgrade for little Christmas but I am sure I will celebrate it in London with my friends Rachel, Elke, Fran….

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Vietnam Travel Information


There are no compulsory vaccinations for travel to Vietnam, but talk to your GP about whether you should consider Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Polio vaccinations or a course of anti-malaria tablets. If you are on prescription medication, you should carry a note from your doctor stating the treatment, drug name and dosage.

Do not drink tap water. Your hotel may provide bottles of water in your room – if it is in the bathroom it is free, if it is elsewhere, you will be charged for it. When buying water always make sure the seal around the cap is unbroken.

Avoid ice in your drinks, salads and unpeeled fruit, which can all lead to upset stomachs.

Passports, Visas, and Immigration

If you are a British passport holder you will need a visa to travel to Vietnam. You can obtain one from the Vietnamese Embassy in London, and should enclose a passport-sized photograph and the applicable fee of around £38. Please ensure you have a full empty page in your passport and that it is valid for at least six months after the date you are due to exit Vietnam. To download a copy of the visa applicationform, visit
On arrival in Vietnam you will be given 2 forms to complete, a Health Declaration Form which you hand to Immigration, and an Entry and Customs Declaration Card which will be stamped and which you need to keep carefully to hand in on your departure from Vietnam.


When you collect your luggage on arrival at an airport in Vietnam, either from a domestic or international flight, you should make sure you keep safe the baggage receipt issued to you on check-in, and these are inspected when you leave the airport.

The baggage allowance on domestic flights in Vietnam is 20kgs.


The currency in Vietnam is the dong, currently 30,000 dong = £1 sterling, or US$17,500 approx. You cannot obtain dong before you arrive in Vietnam, although there are exchange bureaux at the airport and your hotel will usually have exchange facilities or be near a bank. There are also many cash machines throughout the country. It is very common for prices to be given in US$ and these are accepted very readily by shops, restaurants, as tips, etc. which is very useful if you are concerned about changing too much money into dong as you cannot change it back once you leave Vietnam.


A dollar goes a long way in Vietnam. Tipping is not expected like it is elsewhere in Asia, but it is still genuinely appreciated rather than taken for granted, and you will reap the benefits.


Vietnam is seven hours ahead of GMT.


There is no perfect time of year to visit Vietnam as the country

is so long it covers different microclimates and when it is dry in the north for example, it could well be wet in the south. Always pop a light cagoule or long plastic mac in your luggage. Generally speaking, the climate falls into these 2 regions;
Northern and central Vietnam has cool and wet winters which last from November to April, while summers are hot and humid, and last from May to October with occasional typhoons. Southern Vietnam has fairly constant temperatures, with the rainy and humid season from May to October, and the hot and dry season from November to April.


The standard power source in Vietnam is 220v, 50hz AC with either flat or round two-pronged plugs, similar to those found in Europe, so you can bring those adaptor plugs.


Many hotels now provide internet access free of charge.

Business Hours

Offices, museums and shops tend to open early in Vietnam, between 7am and 8am, and close between 4pm and 5pm on weekdays, with lunch taken between 11am and 2pm. Most government offices are open till noon on Saturdays (Sunday is a holiday), and museums are closed on Mondays. The Post Office is usually open from 6am to 8pm all week, and sometimes even during public holidays. All banks are closed on Sundays, and foreign banks close on Saturdays as well.


Many of the handicrafts on offer in Vietnam are similar to those you would find in China, and may well come from there – silk clothing, ceramics, lacquerware, embroidery and the like. In Saigon the Parkson department stores offer up-market international brands, and at the Binh Thanh and Binh Tay Markets there you can find ‘designer’ bags, watches and sunglasses, usually fakes of course, but cheap as chips if you bargain well!

In the old town of Hoi An there are endless silk shops, and you simply have to pick one you like the look of! It is a good idea to have some clothes tailor-made for you very reasonably in Hoi An – but you might like to check the origin of your chosen silk (Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, etc,) and whether it is 100% silk or with some polyester.

Strings of pearls are also commonly found in markets and souvenir shops but they may be fake – have a close look and if the stones seem perfect, they may be plastic.

You will need to bargain and the golden rule is, unless you would like to buy it, don’t ask the price, as you will then find yourself on the bargaining merry-go-round which is difficult to get off with any dignity. Think about how much you would be prepared to pay for the item, then ask the price. If that is still too high after a couple of minutes, walk away, and if they are keen to sell at your price, they will call you back to agree. Don’t drive too hard a bargain – a dollar to you is probably negligible, but can be a day’s wage for many Vietnamese.

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Sunday, 6 September 2009



2nd part

When you mention Harbin everyone thinks of the Ice Lantern Festival which takes place from 5 January until the end of February. Those dates are very flexible and depend on global warming – sometimes ice starts falling off he sculptures at the beginning of February and you have to be very careful not to get too close to the ice exhibits. The opening ceremony is on 5th of January in the afternoon when the lights are officially switched on, followed by a fashion show, Chinese dancing and music. Preparation for the Ice Lantern Festival begins in December when large ice cubes are cut from the Songhua River and transferred to Zhaolin Park ready for artists from all around China and recently world, to make sculptures of dragons, temples, waterfalls, taking you through Chinese folk tales. The combination of illuminated lights inside the ice block of different shapes give you amazing spectrum of colours and sets you imagination racing.
After a few hours of walking around Zhaolin Park we decided to get some warmth in the restaurant which was actually a tent with a big heavy rubber door to keep the warmth inside. We decided to go to the Tibetan tent which was very cosy and very warm inside. The lights were smouldering, sending us off to sleep. After taking two pairs of gloves, a balaclava and Russian hat, thick woollen scarf and
waterproof jacket (that was just the outside layer of my clothes!), I ordered a nice hot Tibetan Tea. The combination of ginger, green tea and sugar fried in a pan then covered with hot water is very soothing, sending heat through every small vessel in your body. We looked at the menu and between choosing a juicy yak steak and soup back in the hotel-decided to go for soup.
On the way back to the hotel we visited the Ice Sculpture at the World of Ice & Snow Show. This show used to be a part of the Ice Lantern Festival at Zhaolin Park but with the years it has grown so much that the organizator decided to move to the Sun Island. Every year has a different theme – this year was Russia with all the sculptures fashioned in a typical Russian style. Among them were replicas of some of Russia's most famous architecture, such as the East Palace, and Moscow's Red Square.  
So in the middle of the show we could see the Red Square built from ice and illuminated. The Basilica was in the most prominent place and by the time we decided to take some shots our camcorder was so cold it gave up. You have to carry your camera between your skin and vest. Once you decide to take a photo it takes all

your acrobatic skills to get the camera out from underneath all the layers. Once the camera is out you need to free your hands in order to press the button and don’t forget it’s cold, your hands are trembling. When I showed all my photos to my friends they questioned my ability to take straight photos, not realising what I had to endure! 

How to get to Harbin:

The best time to visit the Ice Lantern Festival in Harbin is in January. You can either get there by flying from Beijing to Harbin or by train but please note the train tickets are not confirmed until 10 days prior departure. You need to stay 3 nights in order to see all attractions. There are lots of good hotels around but I would recommend the Gloria Hotel as its centrally located and price is affordable. For more information please email Tara at or check our website at