The number of International tourists to Vietnam in the first week of this year was up 10 – 20 per cent on the same period last year, according to initial estimates.
Doan Thi Thanh Tra, Saigon-tourist’s marketing manager, said the company welcomed more than 1,500 international tourists during the first week of 2011, the Vietnam Investment Review reports.
Last year, Saigontourist served 320,000 international tourists and gained a turnover of VND1.23 trillion (US$61.5 million), a growth of 18 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.
On New Year’s Day, the company received dozens of tour groups.
“This was a great start to the year, having many tourists come via air or boat. We expect more for the entire year,” Tra said.
The company is expected to grow by 15-20 per cent this year.
The number of international tourists to Vietnam via another large tour operator, Fiditour, also increased by 15-20 per cent during the first week.
Nguyen Thi Thuyet Mai, Fiditour’s director of Foreign Affairs and Media, said the company would grow by 20-25 per cent this year.
The company expects to serve 15,000 international and domestic tourists during the coming Lunar New Year holiday, up 30 per cent year-on-year.
Nguyen Minh Man, PR manager of Vietravel, said the company welcomed 50 international tourists on New Year’s Day.
The company has targeted 30 per cent growth in the number of tourists this year compared to 2010, Man said.
Vietravel led the tourism sector in turnover last year with VND1.45 trillion ($72.5 million), and expects to earn VND1.8 trillion this year. Tourism activities in other localities have also been flourishing.
For instance, in the first two days of the year, Halong City received 10,000 tourists from vessels, while central Khanh Hoa Province and the historic Hoi an in central Vietnam welcomed 2,000 international tourists.
According to travel companies, regular promotions and advertisements on Vietnam tourism have been the driving force behind the surge in the number of tourists.
The opening of new of international routes, including HCM City-Istanbul on Turkish Airlines on December 30 last year, Taipei-Danang City on Taiwan’s Transasia Airlines in mid-December, and HCM City-Beijing on Vietnam Airlines in mid-December, has also spurred tourist interest. Vietnam Airlines has seven direct flights to China, and it intends to increase the HCM City-Beijing route from three to four flights per week beginning in April.
Beginning November 9, Vietnam Airlines in cooperation with Vietnamtourist (Vitours) in central Danang City launched charter flights for a three-month period from Hong Kong to Danang on Wednesday and Saturday.
The airline began two charter flights per week from Seoul to Danang on January 9.
It expects to open a direct flight from Hanoi and HCM City to London this year.
Tran Chi Cuong, head of the Tourism Division under the Danang Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, said the city would open international flights including Danang-Japan and Danang-Con Minh (China) to attract more international tourists.
Da Nang received 42,000 international tourists by air last year, up 250 per cent year-on-year.
At least 90 per cent of international tourists come to Vietnam by air, said Doan Thi Thanh Tra.
The additional flights this year will increase the number of international tourists to the country, he added.
Vietnam has become the tourism destination with the highest growth rate in South East Asia, reports released by leading hotels in Vietnam and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) shows.
The reports all show that more and more foreign international tourists choose Vietnam, the country with the highest population in South East Asia, as their destinations.
Manager of Caravelle Hotel, John Gardner said that in the eyes of foreign tourists, Vietnam has become more competitive to the countries in the region which have a strong tourism industry such as Indonesia or Thailand. Though Thailand has been stabilising gradually after political uncertainties, the troubles in other countries have made Vietnam stand out from regional countries as the safest area in the region. The feeling of safety and peace nowadays has become more important for tourists than it was 10 years ago, according to Mr. Gardner.
“With a lot of resorts located throughout the country, Vietnam is ready to serve a wide range of guests, from those people, who want to have a trips where they can associate business with tourism, to those, who want to simply enjoy beautiful landscape and the wonderful natural environment, and relax,” he said.
Previously the favourite destinations in Asia Pacific region for Australian people were Indonesia (mostly Bali), Fiji and Thailand. However, according to VNAT, the number of Australian tourists to Vietnam in 2010 increased sharply by 128 percent, the highest growth rates among the foreign tourists coming from non-Asian markets. Analysts say travelling to Vietnam has become a trend, not a temporary change. A survey on tourism intentions conducted by Visa and the Asia Pacific Tourism Association shows that up to 16 percent of Australian people are planning to travel to Vietnam in the next two years.
Caravelle Hotel, a well known hotel in HCM City, said the number of tourists from Australia has increased two fold. Meanwhile, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi has reported the high 48 percent growth rate in the last 12 months.
Kai Speth, General Director of Metropole Hanoi noted that Australia proves to be the nation which suffered the least impacts from the global crisis, while the value of the Australian dollar has been increasing, which has prompted people to travel abroad more than before. He said that Australia has been highlighted as one of the biggest strategic markets of the hotel in recent years.
“We have been attending all the trade and tourism exhibitions in Australia. Therefore, our efforts to polish our image have been useful, and now is the right time for us to reap success,” he said
Meanwhile, The Nam Hai, a resort of international stature located on the coastal area of the central region has been ranked by Conde Nast Traveler journal as one of the 20 most attractive resorts in Asia. The resort has also reported a sharp rise in the number of tourists from Australia: the number of tourists from the country increased by 69 percent just in the first eight months of the year.
Damien Van Eyk, an Australian, and managing director of Exotissimo, a travel firm which specialises in organising tours to South East Asia, said that there are more and more factors that make Vietnam more attractive in the eyes of Australian tourists. First of all, the two countries are relatively close to each other in geographical position, which means it is very easy to travel between the two countries. Second, verbally transmitted advertisements have been effective: after Australian tourists return home, they have talked much about the beauties of Vietnam to their relatives and friends, persuading them to travel to Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Gardner has pointed out some other factors which have helped attract more tourists to Vietnam. In particular, the infrastructure in Vietnam has become better, and the Australian dollar has been appreciating against the Vietnam dong. This means that Australians can buy more things with their money in Vietnam. Besides, the budget airline Jetstar has been providing regular flights connecting Vietnam’s HCM City with big cities in Australia and all for very competitive airfares.
No longer held down by its past (or its politics), the slender nation of Vietnam makes for easy itineraries, book-ended as it is with two very different cities: poetic, tight-lipped Hanoi and zestful, go-go-go Ho Chi Minh City.
You can fly into one and out from the other, seeing the dialect, temperament and diet change as you move from the south’s rice paddy fields to the centre’s white-sand beaches and the north’s hill-tribe villages and limestone cliffs. It’s still cheap, but has increasingly become a mini China, with a growing nose of business, yet push-cart vendors amid the sports cars.
Despite the surge in attention, there are undiscovered pockets everywhere; to find them, you usually just need to walk a couple of blocks from the main street.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
March and April, September to November
TOP THINGS TO SEE
• Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, particularly when lined with morning exercisers at 5am
• Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in the capital, Hanoi
• Dragon-shaped mountains and blue-green water of Halong Bay
• The citadel and royal tombs along the Perfume River in Hué
• Terraced rice fields, mountains and traditional homes in Sapa
TOP THINGS TO DO
• Eat pho (noodle soup) from a tiny plastic stool at a sidewalk eatery
• Pick one of the many Hoi An tailors to make a shirt, suit or dress
• Boat through the Mekong Delta
• Escape tourist ghettos, where it’s easier to mix with friendly locals
GETTING UNDER THE SKIN
Read Dumb Luck by Vu Trong Phung, a fun 1936 tale of Red-Haired Xuan, a Charlie Chaplin–type character
Listen to the motorbike engines, beeps and street vendor calls from a street cafe in Ho Chi Minh City
Watch a film having little to do with war, Tran Anh Hung’s The Vertical Ray of the Sun, showing life in modern Hanoi
Eat as much local food as you can; the pho, banh cuon (steamed rice rolls with minced pork) and goi cuon (summer spring rolls) are fresher, better and cheaper than Vietnamese restaurants abroad
Drink bia hoi (draught beer), particularly at Hanoi’s infamous ‘bia hoi’ corner in the Old Quarter: a hundred stools, 101 drinkers and cheap beer
IN A WORD
Troi oi! (Oh my!)
Conical hats; cyclos; ao dai (traditional dresses); scooter gridlocks
Hanoi turned 1000 in 2010.
A CNNGo editor gets intentionally lost with his camera walking in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s Hanoi.
Vietnam. Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Hectic, noisy, chaotic, adjective, adjective. Describing Hanoi’s oldest district is somewhat of a waste of breath. No need to ramble on about where exactly to go in the Old Quarter either, as the weaving and winding streets are best explored by aimless wandering. No destination. No pre-planned route. Just left, right, or straight ahead.
There is no road “less travelled” in this part of town. They’re all loaded with scooters, cars, bikes and people so the main bit of advice we’d give is to watch your step but be assertive when crossing the road. Don’t second guess your moves, look both ways, and enjoy the fact that yes, you are standing in the middle of the road with dozens of scooters whizzing by on both sides.
Hanoi is hot in the summer time. We’re talking 30 to 35 degrees Celsius at a very, very high humidity, so for a walking tour take lots of water and expect to sweat. The sweating is worth it, as the view of street life you get by covering the district on foot is fantastic. The neighborhood has over 1,000 years of history coursing through its meandering street veins, pumping with life representing both the past and present.
For those able to stand the heat, one full day exploring should do it. For those with less heat tolerance, taking two days at around four hours each day is recommended. Or simply visit during the cooler Fall or Spring months.
Electrical wires string along many streets in hap-hazard fashion. Much of the infrastructure looks like it is being held together by duct tape.
Old buildings line Hang Dao road, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Rush hour in Hanoi’s Old Quarter is an experience. You must be on your toes at all times as the streets fill with scooters, bikes, cars, and people. The rules of the road are “pay attention and whoever flinches first loses the right of way.”
The sidewalks can be just as chaotic as the middle of the street. Locals stake out their spots with small plastic stools and the wares of whatever trade they’re plying. The ever-present scooters are parked at all angles. Small dogs skitter about. People bargain and negotiate for goods and food, and fans sprout from everywhere.
A family sits and chats in the hot Hanoi summer heat in front of their tombstone business.
The Hoan Kiem lake park is a green, shady spot locals like to use to escape Hanoi’s seemingly ever-present frenetic energy. The northern tip of the small lake borders the Old Quarter on Dinh Tien Hoang road.
One of the Old Quarter’s street markets.
A woman relaxes in the market. Expending as little energy as possible is a common strategy for fighting the heat.
Vendors in the market are mainly women.
A woman barbecues on the sidewalk in 32 degree Celsius heat. Hanoi has a rich street food culture, worthy of a book let alone another article.
Crabs and sea snails ready to be bought.
Locals eating a quick noodle meal.
Various animals roam freely in some parts of the Old Quarter. This scrawny little chicken looked too sad for even a bowl of soup.
An old stuffed deer sneering in a rictus death grimace from a shop window. A sight only seen by walking the streets for hours. Similar random sightings can be expected when least expected.
The Old Quarter has many streets dedicated to specific trades. This was the toy street. Others to be found included streets dedicated to shoes, clothing, tombstones, antiques, and scooter repairs.
These tourists opted for a more comfortable whirl around the Old Quarter. Though it is good to be wary as these rides are often overpriced.
Located 30 kilometres away from Da Nang City, the ancient and legendary Hoi An is one of Asia’s top destinations. Famous Thu Bon River, Cua Dai Beach, rice fields and old streets are adorned with souvenirs. The people are known to be friendly, honest and hospitable.
Hoi An vendors have earned a reputation for treating visitors well and not overcharging. The prices are very reasonable and the “foreigner tax” rarely, if ever, is applied. There are many small scale hotels for backpacking tourists ranging from USD10-12 per night.
Hoi An also offers unique culinary specialties such as Mi Quang, Cao Lau (two styles of vermicelli noodles native to Quang Nam Province), and Com ga (Chicken rice). Ba Buoi’s stall is very famous for Com ga and virtually anybody in Hoi An can show you the way to this stall.
Cua Dai Beach is just 4 or 5 kilometres away from Hoi An. It has many hotels and resorts with traditional style.
The Hoi An RiverSide and Hoi An River Beach are resorts looking over the beautiful Thu Bon River and all boast very beautiful views. Tourists can see farmers working in fields or storks searching for food, soaking in a peaceful countryside area.
In addition, tourists have another choice. They can stay in resorts looking towards the sea such as Palm Garden Beach Resort and Spa, Hoi An Beach Resort, Vitoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa or the Golden Sand Resort and Spa. They all have a modern design.
Cua Dai Beach is seemingly untouched. Its water is so clear that beach goers can see their feet. They can go to the beach all day and enjoy their dinner without having to leave.
Visitors can also see such sights as My Son Sanctuary, Cu Lao Cham Island in Quang Nam Province or Son Tra Peninsula, Ba Na cable car in Da Nang.
Below are some photos on Cua Dai Beach and hotels, resorts in Hoi An:
Like a beautiful painting
Cua Dai Beach has modern hotels and resorts but hold on to its traditional character
Coconut leave umbrellas at Cua Dai Beach
Sunset over Thu Bon River
Enjoy a cup of coffee on a boat, watching fields along its banks
A resort looking towards the sea
Resorts near the river keep their rustic nature
Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam is a metropolis on the move. The commercial hub of Asia’s newest tiger economy teems with motorcycles and scooters; there are 3.15 million of them officially registered, with about a thousand new scooters being signed up every day. They flow along the streets en masse, 24/7, like criss-crossing shoals of fish. From what I can tell, the average occupancy of these machines is about 2.2. Three-up is common; four-up, not unusual. On a couple of occasions, I think I saw five-up including toddlers.
In a tapering 1,500km-long country like Vietnam, a sense of nationhood has been something of a struggle to come by. However, the motorcycle could be riding to the country’s rescue. This is a nation that lives in the saddle. It eats, sleeps, holds neighbourly conversations (at 70kph, with just a few inches separating interlocutors as they buzz down the street), reads newspapers, carries washing machines, walks the dog, transports pigs, chickens and ducks, and works on laptops, all on motorbikes. If you see a pile of furniture tottering down the street, that’ll be someone moving house on their motorbike. Crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City requires faith. Step out and let the stream eddy miraculously around you, and be sure not to panic halfway across and change direction. That could be fatal.
Paddles and pedals: fishing boats in the resort and market town of Nha Trang (Getty Images)
Until crash helmets became mandatory earlier this year, motorcycles were notching up horrific casualties: one thousand motorcyclists a month, apparently. Now, crash helmets are bona fide fashion items. Even when not saddled up, young Vietnamese flaunt them about town, emblazoned as they are with colourful designs. Face masks, too. You find surgical white masks being worn, as well as coloured scarves wrapped around the face, Lone Ranger-style. The women complement the look with elbow-length silk gloves to prevent their arms getting sunburnt. The effect of the gloves, masks and helmets is to transform Vietnamese women into ninja Catherine Deneuves caught in a dash from operating theatre to movie premiere.
The Caravelle Hotel is the place to shake off jet lag. Opened in 1959, with bullet-proof glass, it was the base for The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC and CBS during the Vietnam War. Journalists and armchair strategists covered the closing exchanges from the top floor bar. The hotel overlooks the opera house, the Hotel Continental, where Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American, and the twin spires of Notre-Dame cathedral, legacies of French colonialism whose imprint is still clearly visible on this haphazard city. Every side-street shows the accent of pre-war France in its shutters, balconies and Art Deco flourishes.
Elsewhere, a less romantic, more hard-edged version of Ho Chi Minh City is taking over, as newly minted skyscrapers reach upwards like a graph of soaring capitalist growth.
What should one see? The Reunification Palace, where the president of South Vietnam lived, is a 1966 building eerily reminiscent of the Royal Festival Hall. Its occupation by communist forces on 30 April 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War. The tanks that smashed through the gates that morning are still in the grounds, as tourist attractions. The palace shows, if nothing else, what frightful taste the presidents of South Vietnam had: featureless concrete vistas offset with the most hideous soft furnishings. Goodness knows how it ever past the feng shui man.
Everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City you see war relics – a gun, a tank, a military vehicle, an aeroplane – memorialised into tourist attractions or civic amenities. The War Remnants Museum is a refreshingly harrowing exhibition of the horrors of war, rendered in photographs, installations and military hardware. It makes the grisly Imperial War Museum in London look like Disneyland.
For a people that saw off the French and the Americans within the space of 21 years, the Vietnamese are a remarkably friendly lot, and welcome visitors of all nations, including Americans and the French. If this was England, you’d never hear the end of it: the Vietnamese, in contrast, have a wonderful calm acceptance of the past and seem focused solely on the future. This is a quality that the West secretly admires.
Ho Chi Minh is worth a day or two, but it is good to get out of the city. Two hundred miles to the north-east, you find Ninh Van Bay, the jewel of the 3,260km Vietnamese coastline. Arcs of honey-coloured sand, a warm sea studded with coral reefs, a fan-shaped cluster of islands to keep off tsunamis, a mountain rampart to guard against typhoons, and the sunniest climate in Vietnam… these are what make Ninh Van one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Nha Trang, the main town, spreads out behind the beachfront promenade, where every morning thousands of Vietnamese perform t’ai chi among the topiary.
Hailing a trishaw, I plunged into the massing scooters of the rush-hour traffic to find the beating heart of the town, Nha Trang market. This must rank as among the culinary wonders of the world. There are more varieties of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices and pulses here than you can shake a chopstick at, along with several things in the meat and fish section that would give a society for the ethical treatment of livestock a collective heart attack.
I spent a morning dodging bicycle panniers laden with pomelos, ducking beneath crates of mangos on vendors’ heads, sidestepping porters balancing swing-basket yokes filled with rice, and puddle-jumping between stalls selling fish and seafood kept alive by having water splashed on them. The narrow alleys were filled with delivery men, fresh ingredients, the noise of motorcycles and horns, and customers dawdling or catching up on gossip. You could hear the haggling for miles.
Vietnamese cuisine is a close cousin of Chinese, thanks to China’s occupation of Vietnam for the thousand years up to the 10th century. But the Vietnamese tend to use more fresh herbs than the Chinese, and they love soups and steamed fish. However, once you have covered the basic rice/soup/fish combinations, Vietnamese cuisine goes way off-piste. Very few species of animal in Vietnam escape the meat cleaver, u o wok and burner. Just about every animal in the country has a dish devoted to it, and sometimes a restaurant, too. This flair for gastronomic improvisation is a legacy of war. Faced with destroyed fields and nothing to plough with, Vietnamese cooks were reduced to experimenting with bat, cat, rat, dog, seahorse and the celebrated 18-inch mouse-eating Vietnamese centipede.
“In the Mekong delta [southern Vietnam], you eat a lot of snake, gecko and turtle,” said Trung, my guide. “Cobra is a favourite. The blood is served with rice wine. The heart you knock back in one, while still beating – bang-bang! – and the meat is served both grilled and as a soup.”
Snake is the chicken of south-east Asia. If you’ve travelled in this part of the world, you’ve probably eaten snake several times without knowing it. Since December last year, airport officials at Hanoi have uncovered at least two consignments of smuggled snakes. One was labelled “seafood”. It contained one ton of live rat-snakes.
My rickshaw driver parked outside what looked like a motorbike shop. A palisade of new scooters gleamed outside. Upon closer inspection, the premises resolved into a café. This was Bac Hai, Nha Trang’s premier pho opportunity. Pho, a noodle soup, is Vietnam’s national dish; it may have originated from French pot-au-feu – whose last syllable it shares.
The interior of Bac Hai is as basic as a beer crate. You sit on red plastic stools and eat off metal trestle tables, with what look like betting slips for napkins. The noodles are served in a soup with chunks of beef or pork or sna… sorry, chicken. With lemon and chopped Vietnamese basil, a bowl of pho makes one of the most rewarding ways of spending a dollar.
Every fifth shop in Nha Trang appears to be a coffee shop. In fact, the whole country is on a caffeine high, as you might expect from the world’s second biggest exporter of coffee (after Brazil). Coffee is a Vietnamese ritual. Hot water drips through a tin filter placed on top of a glass. Once the water has seeped through, ice and condensed milk are added and the concoction is stirred and served. It tastes like coffee ice cream and is the perfect antidote to Vietnam’s perennially sweltering climate.
Nha Trang is primarily a market town and beach resort. It is also the birthplace and home of a local cultural icon: Long Thanh, the photographer whose black-and-white images capture the soul of the Vietnamese people, set against moody landscapes. His Hoang Van Thu Street gallery is well worth a visit. Thanh wanders around town and the hinterland taking extraordinary shots of archetypal Vietnamese scenes of bicycles, baskets, rickshaws, women in their conical hats, crones and moments of every day life, images that have merited Thanh more than 57 international shows – and there isn’t a single war-scene among them.
Where to stay in Nha Trang? If you want real value for money, there are hundreds of hotels catering for Vietnamese holidaymakers. Vietnam’s average annual wage is US$600 (£307). Were you to go native in Nha Trang, you could live like a king for a few hundred pounds. But if you want to indulge yourself, the Evason Hideaway at Ana Mandara is the only hotel built directly on the beach (all others are set behind the promenade). It comprises villas, pavilions and walkways set in a formal garden ablaze with tropical plants. You have to watch where you walk, in case you tread in one of the water features with their very hungry goldfish.
“The average room costs US$188 [£99] a night,” said Lionel Valla, the manager. “You can have a one-hour massage for US$45 [£24]. Vietnam is the best value in south-east Asia. And we have a 600-metre beach.”
Even though the Ana Mandara is hemmed between the promenade and the beach, it feels like a calm oasis. If you really want to escape from the crowds, the rickshaw rallies and scooter races, then head to the Six Senses Hideaway Ninh Van Bay, accessible only by boat, seven miles across the bay. Here, you enter a realm that has less to do with Vietnam and more to do with the imagination of its owners, Sonu and Eva Shivdasani. It’s a place you visit if you want to see Vietnam by looking down the wrong end of a telescope.
The Shivdasanis have gone for the natural look. Everything is designed to look as undesigned as possible, and as close to a piece of driftwood as possible: call it low-impact chic. A chair or bathroom sink is not just a chair or bathroom sink: it comes wrapped in a whole sustainable, carbon-neutral, light-footprint philosophy. It is a five-star Robinson Crusoe experience with the mod cons out of sight, and with terrific food, wine and service. I spent three days there, mesmerised by the luminous splendour of Ninh Van Bay; the water, the air, the light, melding colours and sheer lack of motorcycles.
It sounds odd to say that Vietnam seems relatively unspoilt by hordes of foreigners when, during the last century, it was trampled over by the French, the Japanese, the French (again) and Americans. It also had million of tons of bombs dropped on it, as well as horrific quantities of Agent Orange. But a visit during these more peaceful times is a chance to marvel at how this charming country has shrugged at the horrors of the past, drawn a line under them, and is moving forward to make a different type of history – on scooters.
The writer travelled with Qatar Airways (0870 389 8090; www.qatarairways.com), which flies to to Ho Chi Minh City via Doha.
Alternatively, Air France (0870 142 4343; www.airfrance.co.uk) flies via Paris.
To reduce the impact on the environment, you can buy an “offset” through Abta’s Reduce my Footprint initiative (020-7637 2444; www.reducemyfootprint.travel).
Caravelle Hotel, 19 Lam Son Square, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (00 84 8 823 4999; www.caravellehotel.com). Doubles start at US$234 (£123), including breakfast.
Evason Ana Mandara, Beachside Tran Phu Bloulevard, Nha Trang, Vietnam (00 84 58 522 222; www.sixsenses.com/ana-mandara). Doubles start at US$306 (£161), room only.
Six Senses Hideaway, Ninh Van Bay (00 84 58 728 222; www.evasonhideaways.com). Doubles from $844 (£444), room only.
Long Thanh Gallery, Hoang Van Thu Street, Nha Trang City, Vietnam (00 84 58 824 875; www.longthanhart.com)
Red tape and more details
British passport-holders require a visa to visit Vietnam. These can be obtained by post or in person from the Embassy of Vietnam, 12-14 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD (020-7937 1912; www.vietnamembassy.org.uk) and cost £38.
www.vietnamtourism.com; 00 84 4 942 3760
By Rory Ross
The Independent (UK)
August 9, 2008