This South­east Asian coun­try makes its move

The South­east Asian coun­try con­tin­ues to rise in pop­u­lar­ity as a des­ti­na­tion, both for business and leisure

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Garry Marchant

Since the in­tro­duc­tion of eco­nomic re­forms in late 1980s,Viet­nam has be­come an in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion and trav­eler num­bers are steadily ris­ing to this small yet spir­ited young repub­lic with a sto­ried past – from be­ing a sleepy French colony to one of the most bru­tal civil wars in his­tory to to­day’s So­cial­ist Repub­lic of Viet­nam.

The coun­try’s Na­tional Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Tourism put the num­ber of to­tal in­ter­na­tional ar­rivals in the first three months of 2014 at more than 2.3 mil­lion, rep­re­sent­ing a 29.3 per­cent growth over the same pe­riod last year. Its his­tory, balmy cli­mate and nat­u­ral splen­dor – in­clud­ing some of South­east Asia’s finest beaches like Nha Trang and Mui Ne down south – have led an im­pres­sive tourist boom.

With a rapidly im­prov­ing in­fra­struc­ture – lux­ury ho­tels, re­sorts and spas are springing up across the coun­try from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh – Viet­nam’s ap­peal is steadily in­creas­ing among wealthy vis­i­tors. In-de­mand ex­cur­sions in­clude eth­nicmi­nor­ity vil­lage tours in the hill coun­try of Sapa, lux­ury Mekong River cruises and even a com­bined he­li­copter and junk tour from Hanoi to Ha­long Bay.

There are also trips that take in some of the coun­try’s seven Unesco World Her­itage sites, which in­clude the well-pre­served town of Hoi An, a for­mer trad­ing town that dates back to the 15th cen­tury, and what is ar­guably the coun­try’s num­ber one tourist at­trac­tion, the afore­men­tioned Ha­long Bay, which en­com­passes more than 1,600 lime­stone is­lands and islets dra­mat­i­cally dot­ted around the Gulf of Tonkin up north.

As a business des­ti­na­tion,Viet­nam is also show­ing prom­ise. Although eco­nomic growth in the coun­try has suf­fered some set­backs in re­cent years due to sys­temic is­sues and po­lit­i­cal tu­mult, the coun­try is be­gin­ning to open up again.

The gov­ern­ment plans to sell stake in a num­ber of state-owned com­pa­nies later this year, in­clud­ing Viet­nam Au­to­mo­bile In­dus­try Corp and na­tional car­rier Viet­nam Air­lines. Thus the gov­ern­ment hopes to at­tract for­eign cap­i­tal while im­prov­ing the state-owned busi­nesses’com­pet­i­tive stand­ing.

On the ho­tel front, there are sev­eral ma­jor play­ers in Viet­nam. The Fren­chowned Ac­cor group, for ex­am­ple, cur­rently op­er­ates 17 ho­tels in the coun­try, after un­veil­ing the Premier Vil­lage Danang Re­sort in April, which has its own pri­vate beach and is sit­u­ated less than three miles from the Mar­ble Moun­tains. Last July, Viet­nam Air­lines launched a ser­vice from Seoul and Siem Reap to Danang, and the des­ti­na­tion is so popular with Drag­o­nair that it added a fourth weekly flight from Hong Kong last sum­mer.

IHG Ho­tels & Re­sorts also has a grow­ing pres­ence in Viet­nam, with three In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal and two Crowne

Danang and Ho Chi Minh City, while the beach­front In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Nha Trang opened in April of this year.

HO CHI MINH CITY

Viet­nam’s largest city and business cen­ter is a hus­tling me­trop­o­lis of in­tense traf­fic and chaotic street life in­ter­spersed with tran­quil, his­toric cor­ners. A com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tional Asian cul­ture, rem­nants of the French colo­nial pe­riod and a mod­ern, brash air give it its unique character.

French cul­ture is ev­i­dent here in both fine-din­ing restau­rants and open-air cafés, where lo­cals pause for crois­sants, baguettes and strong cof­fee. Some won­der­ful colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture also adds a touch of Euro­pean am­bi­ence.

The his­tor­i­cal Ho­tel Con­ti­nen­tal, for ex­am­ple, was a fa­vorite ex­pa­tri­ate meet­ing place in both the French and Amer­i­can eras. Although re­stored and fully

in 1880, re­tains its orig­i­nal splen­did French colo­nial look.

Sev­eral com­pa­nies of­fer tours of old Saigon, ei­ther walk­ing or on cy­c­los, three-wheel bi­cy­cle taxis with the pas­sen­ger seated in front. They’re re­lax­ing on the quiet boule­vards, more stim­u­lat­ing ex­posed to the chaotic traf­fic at in­ter­sec­tions. How­ever, avoid the reg­u­lar taxi cy­c­los, as driv­ers of­ten make out­ra­geous de­mands for pay­ment.

Dong Khoi is the fash­ion­able for­mer French quar­ter of the city; it is still dis­tinctly Euro­pean with broad boule­vards, green parks and strik­ing French colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture such as the Saigon Opera House, Notre Dame Cathe­dral and the Cen­tral Post Of­fice.

Cholon, a net­work of nar­row streets on the city’s west bank, is its Chi­na­town, with Ho Chi Minh City’s largest mar­ket, tem­ples and pago­das, tea houses and Chi­nese street food.

Mem­o­ries of war are still fresh in Ho Chi Minh City and war tourism is a con­sid­er­able draw, with many Amer­i­can ex-ser­vice­men and women re­turn­ing to re­visit scenes from their early days here.

bat­tle­fields and his­toric sites to land­marks such as the Cu Chi Tun­nels some 40 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City, an im­pres­sive un­der­ground net­work that acted as the base of op­er­a­tions for the Viet Cong’s Tet of­fen­sive in 1968.

When the sun sets in Saigon, the city’s many cafés, bars and clubs spring into ac­tion. Once South­east Asia’s liveli­est city, HCMC is re­gain­ing its rep­u­ta­tion for vi­va­cious nightlife.

The ar­rival of new ho­tels is one of the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of mod­ern Ho Chi Minh City. Once ac­com­mo­da­tion was so re­stricted in the city, one of the few places to stay was the 201-room Float­ing Ho­tel docked on Ton Duc Thang Street.

Now the city is well served with ren­o­vated, in­ti­mate colo­nial-era ac­com­mo­da­tion, plus nu­mer­ous new, five-star ho­tels in­clud­ing the Pull­man Saigon Cen­tre, the group’s third Pull­man­branded ho­tel in Viet­nam, which de­buted in Fe­bru­ary. Each of the 306 rooms fea­tures a Per­sonal Me­dia Net­work de­vice that con­trols ev­ery­thing from room ser­vice or­ders to video-on-de­mand. Floors 25 to 29 are the des­ig­nated ex­ec­u­tive lev­els, where rooms and suites equipped with espresso ma­chines and BOSE Sound

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