THERE'S A PALPABLE EXCITEMENT in the air when people talk about Vietnam's potential for tourism. Although the Vietnam War hasn't faded from memory, more and more people are considering a vacation there, and the country is responding with new tourist-oriented projects.
Vietnam is investing capital in the coastal regions and is getting high marks for the quality of its upscale beach resorts and golf courses. U.S. travelers returning from a visit there often remark about the friendliness of the Vietnamese people.
Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism reports investments in construction of a number of resorts and luxury hotels, including a $200 million hotel, the Vina Capital Square, in Da Nang. Mekong Delta provinces will see significant tourist investment, as they're the focus for the country's National Tourism Year 2008.
In 2006, 3.56 million travelers visited Vietnam, an increase of 3.7 percent over 2005. The country is experiencing the fastest economic growth of any nation in Southeast Asia.
Last summer, Vietnam launched the Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail (www.hochiminhgolftrail.com), which assembles Vietnam's best golfing venues in a north-south fashion, pairing them with luxury accommodations. Couplings include Dalat Palace Golf Club and the Sofitel Dalat Palace; Chi Linh Star Golf Club and a night aboard the Emeraude, which cruises the karst seascape on Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Dong Nai Golf Club, or Vietnam Golf & Country Club, with Lam Son Square at the five-star Caravelle Hotel; and the Ocean Dunes Golf Club with accommodations in a beachfront bungalow at the Novotel Ocean Dunes Resort. Guide and transport options are handled through the Exotissimo Travel Group ([email protected]).
"Southeast Asia is a great bargain," says Bruce Tepper, of travel and tourism consultants Joselyn, Tepper & Associates, "especially when you compare it with Europe and the euro's performance against the dollar." Tepper singles out Vietnam as an especially good value in the region. Resources
A National Icon
The Caravelle Hotel (www.caravellehotel.com) is one of Vietnam's iconic properties, made famous during the days when Ho Chi Minh City was still named Saigon. Notable guests have included Bill Clinton, Britain's Princess Anne and movie stars Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser (while they were filming The Quiet American). During the Vietnam War, the Caravelle housed the headquarters of CBS and NBC.
The 335-room property is centrally located in the business, shopping and entertainment district, about five miles from Tan Son Nhat International Airport. It has a variety of room categories, from Deluxe up to a single Presidential Suite. Amenities include high-speed Internet, satellite TV, CD and DVD players and minibar. Views are of either the city or river. Signature Floor rooms are the most highly prized for their special amenities and the Signature Lounge. For families, the hotel offers Two-Bedroom Suites and 27 connecting rooms. The spa has 11 treatment rooms, including VIP rooms. Agent Advice
General manager is John Gardner ([email protected]). Agents with special requests are encouraged to contact Sheena Shee, director of sales and marketing ([email protected]). Both Gardner and Shee can be reached by phone at 011-84-88-243-999.
Among the Caravelle's well-regarded restaurants is Reflections, which serves eclectic fusion cuisine. The hotel's Saigon Saigon Bar, once a favorite watering hole for war correspondents, has been voted "best bar" in the city. It has live music and a bird's-eye balcony view of the city.
The five-star Sofitel Dalat Palace (www.danaoproperties.com) was built in 1922 as the Lang Bian Hotel, anchor of the fledgling colonial resort of Dalat. Situated a mile high in Vietnam's Southern Highlands, about 50 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City, the hotel originated as a retreat for colonial-era French government officials. In more recent years, it has hosted such bold-face names as Robert De Niro and John McCain. Renovations have kept the 1920s style of the hotel.
Last year Vietnam Airlines increased its service to Dalat and now offers daily flights from Hanoi and nine flights a week from Ho Chi Minh City. Part of Dalat's appeal is Vietnam's top-rated golf course, the Dalat Palace Golf Club.
The Sofitel's 43 rooms and suites overlook Xuan Huong Lake, a setting that has made it popular for honeymoons. The six Deluxe Premier Rooms—numbers 103, 105, 107, 117, 119 and 121—are preferred for their lake views and terraces. The most requested premium accommodations are the two Lake View Junior suites (number 101 and 201), which have great views and a convenient location at the center of the building, with access from the central atrium.
Families would do well with the two-bedroom Presidential Suites. Other good bets for families are the four connecting Deluxe Rooms (the only connecting rooms in the hotel) and the three Superior Rooms.
Christmas and New Year's are the busiest times at the hotel. If your clients want to visit then, reserve four months in advance. The Dalat Palace general manager is Tony Chisholm. He's open to hearing directly from travel agents and can be reached at [email protected], 011-84-63-825-444, ext. 3000. Travel agent liaison at the hotel is Tran Quoc Hung, director of sales ([email protected]).
At the hotel's spa, the most popular treatment is the Chocolate Wrap. There are four treatment rooms. Agents can book spa appointments in advance of clients' arrival with spa director Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy at [email protected]
Le Rabelais restaurant in the Dalat Palace is known for its seasonal menus created by chef Didier Corlou. For example, Corlou has added dishes suitable for Dalat's cool winter weather, including wild boar stewed in red wine with deer satay and red berry chutney.
The Nam Hai (www.ghmhotels.com) is an all-villa resort in central Vietnam that has been garnering accolades since its opening in December 2006. It occupies 86 acres of tropical gardens overlooking the South China Sea, along a half-mile of China Beach.
The easiest way to get to Nam Hai is to fly into Da Nang airport, a 30-minute drive from the resort. There are flights from Singapore and Bangkok. The colorful city of Hoi An, an ancient Silk Route trading port rich in history, sightseeing and shopping, is 10 minutes from the resort.
The Nam Hai is the Asian flagship property of GHM, a company with luxury hotels and resorts throughout Asia and the U.S. A member of The Leading Small Hotels in the World, the resort has 60 one-bedroom villas and 40 pool villas containing one to five bedrooms. Each of the latter villas has its own infinity pool.
All villas feature large bedrooms and living spaces, bathtubs, walk-in closets and bathrooms with outdoor area. Each occupies its own landscaped garden with an unobstructed view of the sea and outlying Cham Islands.
If you have clients looking for spacious quarters with great views, book them into the One-Bedroom Beachfront Villa #4010. For an extra touch of comfort, Pool Villa #1010 has the same sea views but also has its own temperature-controlled 50-by-16-foot pool.
Signature dishes at the Nam Hai's main dining room, named The Restaurant, include Tuna Sashimi Lemon and Tikka prawns, cooked in a tandoor (clay oven).
The resort has eight spa villas. The most requested treatment is the Nam Hai Massage, and the most popular masseuse is Ketut Warini. Book treatments in advance by contacting Brenda Ramen, spa director, at [email protected]
Travel agent contact is Le Van Dung, the reservations manager for Nam Hai ([email protected]). John G. Laing is the resort's general manager. Agents can contact him directly at [email protected] Phone number for both is 011-84-510-940-000.