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