Always destined to be in the wrong place
at the wrong time, and pay the price for it, the Vietnamese could
easily be portrayed as the doomed heroes in a romantic tragedy.
French, American and Chinese troops have all traipsed through their
country in a little over 60 years, yet the Vietnamese have dusted
themselves off and ungrudgingly rebuilt.
Vietnam is an
extraordinary country, and not only for its history. Despite their
past the Vietnamese are impressively friendly and, more
importantly, they approach life with a can-do attitude.
This attitude now
sees the country in the midst of an economic miracle that has
surpassed even that of China. And topping Vietnam's to-do list is
attracting more tourists.
Over the past
five years the country's stagnant tourism industry has creaked into
action, and now that the wheels are rolling its seems they will
only gather pace.
A number of
hotels have opened their doors in recent years, including the
five-star Park Hyatt in Ho Chi Minh City, often informally referred
to by its prewar name of Saigon; several more hotels are planned or
under construction, in both Saigon and capital city
country has also been made easier. United Airlines has recently
started direct flights from San Francisco to Saigon, and Vietnam
Airlines plans the same, an indication of big things to
in tourism is not unexpected; more adventurous travelers have
included Vietnam on their itinerary for years. The country has a
wealth of attractions. From charming Hanoi to teeming Saigon, there
is enduring tradition, ancient culture and matchless
Above all this is
Vietnam's breathtaking beauty; which has meant mainstream tourism
has been a matter of when, not if.
The obvious place
to start any tour of the country is Hanoi.
"Paris of the East" are often thrown around carelessly, but Hanoi
is the real deal. Its combination of colonial charm and ambling
speed make it undeniably romantic.
Sitting in one
the city's flourishing cafes takes visitors back to a bygone age,
and it's easy to wile away an afternoon, as late-model motorbikes
meander past and marketgoers pack the streets. By sundown you're
expecting Humphrey Bogart to storm in and take a neighboring
Hanoi's charm is
firmly rooted in its history. While bulldozers have erased the
colonial past in many of Asia's major tourist cities, such as Hong
Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi has harnessed its past, and
many of its old French colonial-era buildings are still
There are also
many beautiful Vietnamese-style buildings and temples as well as
the decidedly less beautiful but equally interesting socialist
architecture, including the morbid Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where you
can view the late president of North Vietnam himself.
The best way to
enjoy the city's charm is to stay in a hotel that has bags of it:
the Metropole. Combining classical elegance in design with
matchless service, the Metropole has character and at no expense to
the quality of the hotel, which is unrivaled.
For those who
enjoy the culture and history of European cities, Hanoi is easily
their equal and is unsurpassed within Asia.
Hanoi may be
Vietnam's capital, but Saigon is its beating heart, a heaving
metropolis that dwarfs the capital. People and motorbikes make the
city bulge, and the cacophony of car horns along with suited
businessmen hollering into mobile phones is a slice of modern
develops, Saigon leads the way. Many of Asia's cities are
developing at breakneck speed, and Saigon is a fine example.
Shimmering skyscrapers, seemingly constructed overnight, tower over
fruit markets and one-story residences. Communism may be the
system, but capitalism is the religion.
five-star hostelry, in the form of the Park Hyatt, has set up shop
in Saigon, and brought some much-needed quality to the city's hotel
scene. Soon to follow will be InterContinental, which has announced
a 300-room property slated to open in 2009.
Saigon is missing
much of Hanoi's charm, but history buffs will find plenty to keep
them busy. The Vietnam War Museum -- or War Crimes Museum as they
call it there -- offers a unique, if one-sided, view of the Vietnam
presidential palace, where South Vietnamese troops surrendered, is
also a fascinating look behind the scenes of the former south, as
the palace has been left largely "as was" on the day of the
Saigon are other famous war sites such as the Cu Chi Tunnels and
the former Demilitarized Zone.
Vietnam and its
people show no bitterness over the strife of the war, and the era
is now being turned into a big tourist money-spinner, as sights are
developed and money pumped in. Several tour operators have
developed tours tailored around the war.
The energy and
bustle of Saigon can be overwhelming, but for those who like their
cities manic, it will be love at first sight.
Vietnam au naturel
cities, tourism is also on the rise, and much of the new money
being invested in the country is finding its way into new resorts
and spa complexes.
Asia has a
reputation for quality resorts at reasonable prices, thanks to Bali
and Thailand. However, Vietnam is hot on their heels; Bali has
slipped off many travelers' radar due to gross overdevelopment,
while Thailand's political uncertainty is leading many tourists to
have second thoughts. Added to that, Vietnam is a
Vietnam has a
number of top-notch resorts along what is inarguably a stunning
coastline. These resorts offer a high quality of service and
amenities and are more secluded than most other resorts in
Vietnam as a
whole also offers wary U.S. travelers the bonus of security, as the
country suffers from no internal conflict.
One of the most
well-developed areas for resort tourism is Nha Trang, just a
45-minute flight to the north of Saigon. Tourism has been pouring
into the area for years now, and the town and surrounding areas
have seen heavy investment and support a well-developed tourism
One of the
newcomers to the area has been Evason Hideaway at Ana Mandara,
accessible only by boat from its sister hotel on the main
sunshine for most of the year, these beach huts offer perfect
isolation with plenty of water sports on offer, a fully equipped
spa and fantastic scenery and coral to explore, all at half the
price of similar properties in the region.
information, visit www.vietnamtourism.com.
To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail
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