The pilots were very professional, guiding us through the take off, flight and landing process and taking every safety precaution. It was a bummer my girlfriend was fitted with a heavier / more professional setup so she fell down while running down the slope during take off and had to redo it. It might have been better if the pilots decide based on our body size who should be fitted with which setup. Nevertheless the whole thing went on smoothly, lasting about 10 minutes. Being our first paragliding experience, it was exhilarating and at the same time peaceful, cruising at a high altitude and staring into the greenery below. They also provided a selfie stick attached to an action camera for us to take a video of the whole flight.
The tour then ended off with a sumptuous dinner comprising local seafood delicacies at a nearby restaurant before the 3-hour ride back to hotel.
Sunny, our travel consultant was exceptional in her service – prompt, informative and polite. She maintained regular email contact with me over the 5 months leading up to our tour. Being the first of its kind, you might expect some hiccups in the organisational aspects of the tour. But I was amazed – the preparations appeared to go so smoothly, although I know that Suny would have gone to much effort. When Sunny left to have a baby just prior to our tour, Candy took over the final preparations.
Our tour was scheduled to commence in Dong Hoi, but due to bad weather our flights from Hanoi were cancelled. But Candy made no haste in booking us a soft sleeper cabin on the overnight train and had our tickets delivered to our hotel.
When we arrived early in Dong Hoi, we were met at the station and taken to a hotel for a shower and breakfast. There we met ATA's Product Manager Mr Tran, who would prove to be the most friendly, down-to-earth guy and a great interpreter too! We met up with the rest of our support grew in Son Trach village, on the outskirts of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. We knew that we would be in good hands when we met our crew, particularly since Mr Khanh (the man who first discovered the cave) was to be our main guide. Also present was a National Park ranger and the Director of the Park's Tourism Office plus a team of porters to carry equipment and supplies.
Unfortunately, a heavy storm a few days earlier meant that the normal route in was impassable due to the flooded river, so we had to trek 12 kms over steep mountains and through thick, leech-ridden jungles. The going was slow and we could not reach our campsite by night so had to make camp in the jungle. The crew erected our tents in no time flat and cooked up a hearty meal.
The next day we hiked a short 30 minutes to reach the first cave, Hang En. The cave was absolutely stuning and we spent a couple of hours exploring. However, a raging river bocked our trail to reach Son Doong Cave, which was still a further 2-3 hours hike away. And with another storm looming, we were forced to abandon our quest to reach Son Doong.
Mr Khanh negotiated a shorter route along the valley which was much easier that the previous day's hike. We stopped to drink tea and chat with the locals from Mountain Doong Village before completing our last trek back up the mountain to reach the waiting mini-van.
While it was a shame that we did not reach Son Doong Cave, we did not regret one bit of this trip. The National park is absolutely beautiful and worth the effort to visit while in Vietnam. I wish now that I had been in better shape to tackle a 12 km hike over rugged mountains, and next time I'm leaving the heavy hiking boots behind! Flimsy, rubber sandals is all that is needed!
To sum up: the team at ATA were awesome – I can't recommend them highly enough. The food was plentiful and nourishing. The guides were experienced, professional and always smiling.
Thank you ATA for making our journey a real experience we will never forget!
The next morning, we were welcomed with a delicious breakfast. I can't recall what we ate on any particular day, but it ranged from noodle and vegetable dishes to omelets to banana pancakes. Fresh fruit was always served. The second day we hiked down the mountain to a black Thai village. The terrain was extremely slippery. With hindsight, I would probably have been much better off with a lightweight hiking shoe rather than a heavier boot. We broke for a quick lunch midway through the hike…tuna sandwiches and fresh fruit. Arriving at the black Thai house, we were drenched and the lady of the house helped us figure out how to wash some clothes and helped us hang them to dry. We were offered beer or other softdrinks for about $1 each. Again, we were treated to a wonderful meal, great company, and homemade rice wine. After dinner, we grabbed some more beers and walked down to a rice patty wall where we sat, talked, and enjoyed the night scenery. I felt completely safe in the sleepy village (as well as everywhere else I visited in Vietnam).
After a delicious breakfast, we began our third day of hiking. We hiked through some amazing scenery…limestone cliffs towering hundreds of feet above plush, green rice fields. There was no shortage of activity to witness, from girls working the fields or busy embroidering to men leading their water buffalo to graze. We even got to take about an hour break to watch a local soccer match, complete with water buffalo running through the middle of the field. Another quick lunch included sandwiches and custard apple fruit. The only way I can explain what a custard apple is that it is somewhat of a pineapple-like fruit, but with pudding inside. It was amazing! We spent our last night at a black Thai house where we were again treated with Thanh's wonderful cooking, pleasant company from our hosts, and homemade rice wine.
The next day, we started off with a good breakfast again and had a 3-4 hour hike back to the Homestay HQ. There, we had a refreshing shower followed by a good meal. This village has plenty of shopping available, so definitely save your shopping for the last day.
Mr. Hai was wonderful. We is an entertaining, knowledgeable guide. We were constantly engaged in entertaining dialogue, exploring everything from local customs to Vietnam history and politics. I can't imagine a better English-speaking guide in Vietnam.
Thanh was unbelievable. She led us down slippery trails and through river crossings wearing only her flipflops. Each day, following the day's hike, she would cook the most amazing meals over a wood fire. She was the first one awake, greeting us each day with a delicious breakfast.
Mai Chau is unspoiled. Not once was I approached to provide change or to buy something. The people all seemed pleasantly indifferent to us. Smiles and greetings were exchanged, but I never felt any pressure common in similar tourist situations. The people of Mai Chau seemed to be proud, friendly, and respectful.
Planning the trip was easily done via email. Ms Sunny helped me up until she took leave to deliver a baby. After that, Ms Candy ensured we were taken care of.
I don't know what else I can add. It was simply wonderful!
Visited September 2011
We have come back at home, very delighted with my Vietnam trip: Halong Bay kayaking tour with the Active Travel Asia.
The services on junk's board was very good, and the kayaking tour introduced us too amazing and very quiet landscapes, with an excellent tour guide listening to us.
Moreover the weather was fine! We are very glad to have chosen the 4 days tour with 2 kayaking days : it's better to discover the bay in Vietnam
We would like to come back if we have the opportunity.