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Phat Diem Cathedral and a Happy Bride and Groom
June 29th, 2012

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If you are an enthusiast of cathedrals and churches, Vietnam has a lot to offer. One of the most fascinating Vietnamese architectural masterpieces is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phat Diem, which is located in Kim Son, Ninh Binh Province. The distance from Ninh Binh town is around 30 km and your visit will be another surprising exploration of the many facets of vietnamese culture . The whole complex was projected and built between 1875 and 1899 by the Vietnamese priest Father Tran Luc, better known as Father Sau (Six), who died in 1898 after finishing the main work of the whole complex. He designed a fantastic and unique mixture of traditional Vietnamese pagoda architecture and Gothic style of Christian architecture, although he was never trained as an architect.

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Detailed and very well written informations about the whole complex and history of the Phat Diem Rock Churches you can find on the homepage of the diocese of Phat Diem. On catholic holidays the server of the site is occasionally overloaded and will ask you to log in. Don´t worry about and visit the homepage at a later time.

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I am very thankful to Father Joseph Nguyen Nang, who gave me the possibility to film some video impressions during the mass, which can be visited by tourists on Saturdays. On Sundays the mass is only opened for the local population. Please respect to wear an adequate outfit and enter the cathedral on the correct side. Women have to take place on the left, men on the right side in the nave.

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Phat Diem Rock Church Complex is also a popular location for bridal couples to get photographed in various wedding fashions on different locations. Vietnamese weddings are still nowadays, even if the traditional procedure is usually simplified, a complicated and outstanding expensive affair. The costs for a memorable wedding book are from US $ 100 to US$ 2.000 and more. The shooting of the wedding book shown in the video has been approximately US$ 450. Because of the mentality of keeping ones face within the society the most families are forced to borrow money and get into high debt. Some other families make a good deal of their marriages, but this subject and the wedding customs in general will be another story.

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To recommend you an alternative day trip from Ninh Binh is close to my heart. Please visit the Rosary Cathedral and traditional charity center called Nha Duc An (Orphanage House) of Bui Chu diocese in Xuan Ngoc in Nam Dinh province, which is located nearby in the neighboured province of Ninh Binh. You will be rewarded with unforgettable moments of joy and happiness. If you look more closely, you will also experience moments of sorrow, but I am sure the inspiration of your heart and soul will be a wonderful enrichment for your entire life. Please ask your tourguide to contact the director Joseph Pham Ngoc Oanh before visiting the orphanage. A helpful website to make the best of your visit to any orphanage comes here. Furtheron informations of the charity center and how to contact them, you can find on the homepage of Bui Chu Saint An´s Orphanage.

Some further informations and a video of the beautiful region of Ninh Binh you find here.

Thank you heartly for your attention and enjoy the video of “Phat Diem featuring a happy bride and groom” and the sensitive song “Non avere paura” composed by “Walter Mazzaccaro“. His beautiful album “E`tornato il sole” is available either at Amazon or iTunes.

Make my day and feel free to leave a comment.

Ha Long Festival & Carnival
April 28th, 2012

I love vietnamese festivals and so it was a must to visit the Ha Long festival in 2010, even if it is not a traditional vietnamese festival. Since 2007 the Ha Long Tourism Week is hold and organized by the the people´s committee of Quang Ninh Province. The festival is an equally share of the Halong tourism and trade fair, a marketing campaign to promote Quang Ninh Province and the festivities for the liberation day of the coal-mining Province of Quang Ninh (April 25th), the South Vietnam´s liberation day and National Unity (April 30th) and at last the world Labour Day (May 1st).
During my visit in 2010 the Ha Long Tourism Week was dedicated to the the 1000 year anniversary of Thang Long – Ha Noi.  One of the highlights will be the opening ceremony, that is hold in Tran Quoc Nghien pagoda normally on April 29th (07:30).

Enjoy the video of the colourful temple ceremony and procession.

The most fascinating and impressing highlight of the festival will be the Halong Street Carnival Show that is performed on May 1st . Please be aware that a spontaneous festival trip from April 30th to May 1st won´t be a great idea. All rooms are sold out and even if the Tourism Department of Vietnam firstly threatened to punish price gouting agents, there is no way to find a affordable room. In 2010 Hotel rooms were sold for 500 US and a parking place for a motorbike rised from 3.000 Dong to 50.000 Dong. In the early evening thousands of people came out of nowhere to party the night and as well the night became a party for pocket thieves. The next morning the masses went up in smoke.

Enjoy some impressions of the show and Carnival 2010.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Floating markets in the South of Vietnam
April 9th, 2012

There are hundreds of floating markets all over the Mekong Delta and the tradition of selling agriculture products from one boat to another one lies back for over 100 years. Small boats of farmers with bamboo poles, on which they are displaying their products, sell their goods to traders, who will sell them again. That´s the whole story in a few words. But how to make the best of your floating market trip and how to be sure to find the expected pitoresque and colourful sights which are brightening up the folders and websites of the tour operators and agencies ?

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The video of Cai Be floating market and village, you will find on the bottom of this post, is a good example for visiting one of the three most famous vietnamese floating markets with a maybe disappointing outcome. Don´t get me wrong, it´s fascinating to watch the busy and noisy scenery of all this hard working people in the early morning. As well it´s great to to stroll around the village and to view the daily life of the friendly residents. So what´s wrong about this market ? Definitely nothing, it´s simply a real floating market of these days and unfortunately not the romantic floating market that will default your expectation.

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So why are nearly 70.000 tourists visiting Cai Be floating market every year, which is located in the wider surrounding of Vinh Long ? The distance between HCMC and Cai Be is only 95 Km and therefore it´s the only large floating market that can be reached within a daily tour. But no company will pick you up at 3.30 am to be in time for the main and busiest hours after sunrise. As a matter of fact you will arrive much too late for a real floating market experience.

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If you have only one day for your Mekong tour, the most tour operators offer you a trip to My Tho or a combined one to Vinh Long and Cai Be. Give them a miss and book a tour to Ben Tre and get a beautiful one day glimpse of the Mekong Delta. The experience of cruising on a network of natural canals and cycling on small paths is much better than to be a part of the crowds of My Tho visitors. If you are additional interested in visiting a beautiful and famous pagoda of Vietnam, Vinh Trang pagoda close to My Tho is on your way home to HCMC.

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For a better floating market experience you have to travel to Can Tho, the largest city of the delta. The distance from HCMC is 170 km and it´s a need to stay there overnight. If you are prepared to get out of your bed at 4.30 am you are ready to visit Phung Dien Floating market, which is located nearly 30 km in the wider surrounding of Can Tho. By boat it needs two hours to reach the market and it´s a good idea to ask the hotel stuff to prepare a takeaway breakfast and to take a sweater against the cool morning air along.

Phung Hiep Floating Market ( Nga bay Floating Market – seven rivers Floating Market) is located at the meeting point of seven small rivers and the best place to watch the trading activities of all the farmers coming from the surrounding areas. The real fun is cruising on a small boat ( sampan) between the traders and to bargain for some fruits or just a coffee. As well it´s the best way to make beautiful wide-angle pictures. Please have in mind that the most of the amazing pictures of flower sellers are made in the early new year (Tet -Vietnamese new year) and shortly before the celebrations of important festivals in the country.

After visiting the floating market it´s worth to visit the Phung Hiep village snake market ( part of the main market) which is located close to the floating market. Selling endangered animals is forbidden by the government and therefore the traders don´t display many snakes in the cages. most snakes are hidden at their homes. Additional wild birds of all species, turtles, geckos and much more animals are sold. Around 70 % of the the animals are endangered ones and on the governments forbidden list. But be aware that you will see a kind of market that is different of your western understanding of an adequate animal market and might spoil your day.

A riskless and more relaxing venture is to visit My Khanh, Phong Dien tourist garden. Strolling around the 7 hectares large garden,listening traditional music and having lunch, is quite likely a better entertainment, all the more if you are travelling with your kids. Crocodiles watching is included.

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Cai Rang Floating market is only 6 km from Can Tho and easy to reach. Your alarm should be set on 5.00 am to leave your hotel right in time. Cruising to the market from Ninh Kieu wharf by boat will last 45 minutes. If you are a long sleeper take the short way to the market by making use of a taxi or enjoy an early bicyle ride. It´s easy to rent a sampan at the floating market. Cai Rang Floating market is a big and noisy market and a bit similar to Cai Be market, but you will find much more small boats, floating restaurants and floating gas stations than in Cai Be.

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The referenced floating markets are the most wellknown ones, but there are hundreds of markets all over the Mekong Delta. Some of the smaller ones are Phong Dieng Floating Market (Can Tho), Tra On Floating Market (Vinh Long Province),Nga Nam Floating market in Soc Trang (Soc Trang Province), Long Xuyen Floating Market (An Giang Province), Cho Gao Floating Market (My Tho), Ca Mau Floating Market (Ca Mau province – 360 km south-west of HCMC ) or the floating market of Chau Doc (An Giang Province) located close to the border of Cambodia.

At last if you stay in HCMC and you don´t have the time or chance to visit a floating market in the delta go by taxi to the unknown Tran Van Kieu market on Tau Hu-Ben Nghe canal in District 6. The main hours are from 4.00 am to 7.00 am and you will meet the traders of the traditional markets and many street vendors of Saigon, who are buying their daily range of goods.

Enjoy the video “Heartbeats of Cai Be”. It shows impressions of the floating market early in the morning and typical streetlife scenes of the wonderful people of Cai Be town.

The wistful song “Earth” is composed by David Schombert His album “Quiet Life Vol.1” is published on jamendo.com under the creative commons licence.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Halong Bay Cruises – Tips & General Informations
March 2nd, 2012

Many people asked me why is no Halong Bay video on your pages. The answer is simple. I am a solo traveler, so why should I spend two nights on a romantic vessel and as well it´s not my cup of tea spending the nights drinking beer and singing Karaoke songs. In 2010 I took the opportunity to visit the Halong Bay Festival and during my stay I enjoyed the festival and some parts of this famous and constantly discussed region.

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Actually Halong Bay has a yearly amount of around 6.6 million visitors (source Viet Nam News) and many of them have the embarrassment of choice to pick out the right vessel from around 500 junks. The price range amounts from US$ 30 for a budget one day tour including transport, boat trip, visit of two caves, guide and lunch to over US$ 500 for a two days or US$ 1.000 for a three days deluxe tour per person.

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So how to realize your trip ? The first option is to book a one day tour from Hanoi. If you have not enough time or your budget is to small to stay for two or three days keep in mind that you will need eight hours from Hanoi to travel there and back by bus. The Halong Bay Cruise trip itself is a 3 to 4 hours lasting standard one. You will be one of many travellers sharing a race of junks with a short stop at a swimming village, a very rushed visit of one or two caves or an alternative short break on an island. Anyway if it´s rushed or not you have been there and the opportunity to make some pictures to prove your trip. Provided you have been lucky with the weather and there was no fog preventing all your views.

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For a better experience you can book a two or three day trip on different categories from budget to deluxe. Like always and everywhere you get what you pay. If you stay in a reliable hotel in Hanoi don´t worry to book your trip via the hotel. The stuff of the hotel will help you to make the best of your trip. On the other hand there a hundreds of agencies you can use for cheap cruises, but be aware that they make their money by earning comissions and it is not sure that you will end on the promised junk. It´s a well organized daily business and is realized on the daily capacities.

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The best way to book your tour is relaxed at home directly via a reputable and recommended Cruise company. If you make use of a travel company check the Cruise company of the offered vessel and the weather conditions during the season of your trip. It will be your guarantee for a pleasant and unforgettable stay. Meanwhile there are many fake websites, which are copies of well-known Cruise operators. So be sure that you book your trip on an original site, otherwise your money will be lost.

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There are two different kinds of several day tours. If you book a budget two day trip you will sleep one night on the junk, but forget the idea your junk will anchor lonely and faraway from any civilization. Rather you will be enclosed by many other junks and you may be an involuntarily part of the party on the junk beside you. The better choice is a two or even three nights stay. It´s your decision to stay all nights on the junk or one night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island. Some of the luxury operators have a permission to lay at Bai Tu Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay. Lan Ha Bay is definitely the best choice of all. The trips include beaching and romantic dinners on a private island as well in awesome caves. Furtheron you have the opportunity to swim and cajak in the non polluted sea of this region. Doubtless the most expensive way to enjoy your Halong Bay Cruise and certainly not only an excellent idea for your honeymoon. Finally some bad news. Since May 1st all boats registrated in Ha Long are painted white.

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Enjoy the video “A Glimpse of Halong Bay”. It shows some impressions of an afternoon cruise, the eastern part of Halong city (”Hon Gai”), the well known western part “Bai Chay” and the beach of Tuan Chau Islet, which is situated in the nearer surrounding of Halong City and close to the ferry station to Cat Ba.

The beautiful song “For You” is composed by Vladimir Sterzer His album “Timeless Piano Dreams” is published on jamendo.com under the creative commons licence.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Ho Tram Strip – The New Las Vegas of Vietnam ?
February 23rd, 2012

Ho Tram is situated 130 km from Ho Chi Minh City and 45 km from Vung Tau city. It´s a short trip and you should hurry up to visit the pristine beaches and friendly residents, before it will become a large tourist destination like Mui Ne.

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By car it takes you around two and a half hours to reach it. Remember that it is not possible to drive by yourself, so you have to rent a car and driver. The actual small account of resorts offer a shuttle service from Van Thanh Tourist Area in HCMC. If you are a fan of hydrofoils enjoy a one and a half hour trip from HCMC to Vung Tau and then take a taxi or local bus for the remaining 45 km.

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If you are not a experienced Vietnam traveller think twice before taking the hydrofoil. It could be difficult to locate the bus station or you might be scammed by a taxi driver. Doubtless there are many travellers who are considering to rent a motorbike in HCMC. At first appearance a good deal for the short distance. But please keep in mind, if you are not the holder of a vietnamese drivers licence, your insurance will not pay one buck in case of an accident.

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I know Ho Tram as a wonderful and peaceful place to relax and enjoyed my stays to escape the hustle of HCMC. As well it´s a good starting point to visit Bin Chau Hot Springs. Times are changing and Vietnam becomes more and more attractive for the big players of the world. So Las Vegas comes to Vietnam via the 169 hectare property Ho Tram strip with a planned US $ 4.2 billion investment and as a 9.000 room integrated luxury resort and entertainment destination.

The project is themed on the concept of environmental preservation and conversation. Phase 1 of the project calls for a five-star hotel resort with 1.100 rooms, a championship golf course and Vietnam´s first Las Vegas-style casino. The second phase will include an additional resort, another casino and more restaurants and nightclubs. When the Ho Tram Strip is complete there will be five resorts and a conference center. If you like to get a better idea of the project check out this promotion video or watch the weekly construction progress updates of Asian Coast Development LTD.

The MGM Grand Ho Tram will be opened in the first quarter of 2013 and the whole project will be completed in 2020.

Don´t worry the natural area of Ho Tram and Ho Coc will be furtheron untouched and a perfect place for relaxing yourself. If you actually stay at a simple accomodation there is not much entertainment after sunset apart from enjoying a elementary dinner, playing pool with locals or catching big crabs by using buckets buried in the beach. So some more options to arrange your evening activities are not the worst and generating so many jobs is nothing to worry about.

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Enjoy the video impressions of a wonderful weekend in Ho Tram & Ho Coc and the cheerful song “Doshmy Laraion” composed by Roger Subirana Mata. His album “Secrets” is published on jamendo.com under the creative commons licence.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Hung King Temple – Vietnam history and culture off the beaten track
November 14th, 2011

To gain deeper insight into vietnamese history and culture it´s worth to visit Den Hung Temple Remains. There are a few local tour operators in Hanoi offering trips to the temples during the annual festival. The next will take place in the last week of March 2015. Heed advice to book your tour in time for the festival, otherwise there is no way for your travel company to organize the trip to your full satisfaction. In consideration of the crowds of pilgrims and the security protection of the political leaders on the festival´s main day (31st of March 2015), your trip might become an unpleasant experience. The video you find at the bottom of the post was shot three days after the festival in 2010.

The Hung King Temple ensemble is located on Nhgia Linh mountain in Phong Chau district, Phu To province, 90 km northwest from Hanoi. If you prefer to do the trip by yourself, take the bus to Viet Tri or the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and get off at Viet Tri train station. From there take a taxi and start your time journey far over 4000 years back into vietnamese history and culture. Making use of a travel agency or a personal guide will make your trip much more informative and will enlarge your experience.

Since 2009 the temples are officially designated as a special National Historical relief and in 2000 the 10th day of the lunar march  was found as a national holiday to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the first Hung King Hung Vuong. According to the myth he was the eldest son of the immortal fairy Au Co and declared himself the first political and religious leader of united ancient Viet Nam in 2897 BC. The ruled and covered area Van Lang is nowadays North Vietnam and a part of southern China. The people of the 50 tribes of his country were called Viet Lac. The whole Hong Bang period of all 18 Hung Kings lasted over two and a half thousand years upon 258 BC and established Viet Nam as a sovereign nation.

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The legend says that Huong Vuong´s father was the Dragon Lord Lac Long Quan, son of a mountain god and a water godess. His mother inherited him the magical power to transform himself into a sea dragon. One day he rescued the life of a crane, that was attacked by a Demon bird. When he got on his knees to take care for the crane, it fluttered his white feathers and transformed to a beautiful fairy named Au Co. He immediately felt in love and proposed marriage to her. Au Co happily agreed and after one year she bear a golden pouch, which looked like a giant flower and contained one hundred eggs. Each egg hatched to reveal a perfekt baby boy. The exceptional beautiful babies grew much faster than normal children and within some years they had grown into brave and gentle young men.

Quan preferred to live underwater and Au Co had spent most of her immortal lifetime in the mountains. Missing the mountains of her birth she became more and more homesick. Lac Long Quan felt sad about the situation of his wife and decided to live apart from each other. So it was that fifty sons followed Au Co to the mountains, where they grew corn and rice. The other group stayed at the fathers home and lived by fishing. This legend is taught each vietnamese children in school and that´s why all vietnamese people are known as “dragon and fairy descendants”. “Dong bao” means brothers from the same sack of eggs and is still used as a sentimental term to address vietnamese people to each other. Needless to say there are a few different versions of the legend, which are discussed up to today.

The first of the three main sites of the Hung King temple complex is the lower temple Den Ha,which is the memorial temple for the primal mother Au Co, who is represented on the main altar. The temple was built on the site where Au Co is supposed to have given birth. It was originally constructed many centuries ago by local villagers and repaired during the Le era (18th century).

The main temple Den Trung (middle temple) is dedicated to the founders of the dynasty and all other Hung emperors. It was originally constructed as a place for the kings to rest and to discuss affairs of the state during the late Tran era (14th century). Den Trung was destroyed during the 15th century and has been rebuilt over the last 200 years. According to the legend prince Lang Lieu offered square sticky rice cakes and glutinous rice dumplings to his father King Hung VI, which became the traditional cakes of the nation.

On the summit of the hill is the Den Thuong (upper temple), which is dedicated to the gods of heaven and earth. It is a 15th century reconstruction of the original temple where the Hung Kings prayed to the Sun, Earth and Rice Gods for the peace and prosperity of the nation. Furtheron the temple is dedicated to Than Giong, a legendary hero who defeated the ancient chinese dynasty. The most sacred shrine is an inner chamber at the back of the temple and is only opened during the death anniversary of the Hung Kings for sacrificial rituals. So the pilgrims stick money into the carvings of the thick wooden doors to commemorate their ancestors.

The stone tomb of the sixth Hung King is next to the temple. According to the legend he wanted to be buried there, so that he could overlook and take care of the territory for posterity.

At the foot of the hill is Gieng (well) Temple, where people pray for their loved ones. The temple is dedicated to Princesses Tien Dung and Ngoc Hoa, the daughters of the 18th Hung King, who were said to have taught the people how to transplant rice and deal with floods. According to the myth they used their reflections in the well to comb their hair. Don´t miss the Hung Vuong museum, where over 700 original objects from the Stone Age to the Iron age are displayed.

Since 1460 the Vietnamese people held a annually nationwide festival on the 10th day of the third lunar month to commemorate the anniversary of their ancestor´s death. So the Hung King Festival is a sacred pilgrimage back to the origins of the Vietnamese nation. Nationwide the festival is celebrated in more than 1400 places and in 2011 roundabout three millions pilgrims travelled during the festival to the legendary mountain, which is regarded as the holiest place in the country.

Enjoy the video and the beautiful song “Powrot do korzeni” composed by Mike Verstu.

His album “Asia in the mix” is published on jamendo.com under the creative commons licence.

Feel free to leave a comment.

About my blog and some short thoughts on Vietnam
October 28th, 2011

Thank you heartly for visiting my video blog. For myself it wasn´t easy to overcome my inhibitions. My english is not pretty well, I am a shy person and my internet know-how is poor. I am a cameraman and not a writer, but I will do my best to make your stay here as much informative as possible. So enjoy the videos and kindly indulge my style of writing.

I have been to many countries all over the world and no experience of a country left me with such an extremly positive attitude. However Vietnam isn´t paradise and you have to be well prepared for your stay. Your reward will be a holiday, that will be unforgettable for the rest of your life. It doesn´t matter if you do it yourself or with a travel company, simply spend enough time to get ready for your trip.

If you are a backpacker, flashpacker or make use of a travel company, never forget that you only get what you pay and meantime many vietnamese people feel a bit sick about people, who are too parsimoniously. Be balanced generous. Vietnam is still one of the poorest countries in this world and you spend a small amount of money in comparison with a holiday in your own country. Certainly nobody should waste his money, but be fair and honest. The inflation of Vietnam is high, the normal income is around 50 to 100 dollars, a worker on the countryside earns 25 to 30 dollars, so please don´t try to make your Vietnam holiday as cheap as possible and if it´s a must for your understanding of an adventure trip please don´t complain after.

If you don´t do your homework the probability to become a scam victim is high, so please prepare yourself and always use your common sense. And be sure everybody, foreigners or locals are treated in the same way. A vietnamese friend of mine with whom I visited Halong Bay festival in 2010 had his wallet in the back pocket of his trouser and so it was no surprise, a pocket thief used the unbelievable scurry crowd to take it away. It´s like everywhere, but nevertheless cheatings are an exception. Vietnam is one of the most safest countries in the world with an unbelievable friendly, warmly and extraordinary helpful population.

You sometimes have to pay higher prices than locals, don´t feel scammed or personally hurt. It´s quite normal, the vietnamese simply have less money than you have. Enjoy a pho inside the market hall of Sa Pa. The price is 15.000 Dong and fortunately regulated by the government to guarantee that local people can afford their daily meal. Your price will be a minimum of 25.000 Dong, based on the exchange rate of today I am sure the difference of 50 cents won´t spoil your day.