Mui Dinh: When Desert Meets the Sea
Video source: Phú Nghĩa
Video source: Phú Nghĩa
The typical travel route for tourism in Vietnam is from the north to the south, and sometimes the other way around. How is this style of tourism killing Vietnam’s potential as a tourist destination?
I wouldn’t say it’s killing it, but certainly it’s restricting the potential for growth. For many travellers, in particular from Australia and other English-speaking markets, Vietnam is still very much seen as a “bucket list” destination, a once-in-a-lifetime trip not to be repeated. For some it is their first trip to Southeast Asia, though more often than not they’ve already travelled multiple times to what we call “fly and flop” beach destinations like Thailand and Bali.
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Though Vietnam has some very attractive beaches, it is seen more as a cultural travel experience and it struggles to compete with its more established, experienced neighbours. When the potential of new sites or areas is recognised, these are too often monopolised and destroyed by local interests.
What does the current tourist industry look like in Vietnam?
If you look at these source markets, you will see they are filled with competing general sales agents all offering what on the surface seem to be similar types of travel itineraries, and they are all fighting for a piece of the same pie. There are plenty of unique and specialist offerings out there, but these are primarily suited to niche interests and usually don’t receive the same sort of marketing attention. There are real costs associated with all forms of distribution, so products need to pay their way, so to speak, in terms of return on investment.
So, you think it’s primarily a marketing issue?
The issue around effectively marketing and promoting non-generic itineraries is there, but it’s further challenged by the limited knowledge of traditional travel agents. Many of them haven’t travelled to this part of the world, so they stick with what they know and trust, through a tried and tested product.
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Familiarisation or educational trips invariably focus on the main highlights of the country through a north to south trip (or vice versa), so they just don’t have the confidence or knowledge to go beyond this.
Few tourists return to Vietnam for a second trip. Why do you think this is?
There are a host of reasons: the lack of an effective national tourism body to market the destination; the relatively high cost of travel; the cumbersome and expensive visa process; the over-development and pollution of natural attractions; the constant tourist rip-offs; substandard services and a flawed hotel rating system.
What other travel patterns or tours should be created to change this and to encourage more return trips to Vietnam, as it is in Thailand, for example?
There are probably only two main reason travellers would return: to visit an area not previously seen, or for a traditional beach-style long stay. Of the latter, we are seeing the emergence of Danang/Hoi An as a destination for repeat travellers (more so than Phu Quoc, though this is also increasing), though the percentages are still relatively small. This should continue to grow as infrastructure slowly improves.
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As the number of hotels and resorts increases, so will the competitiveness of rates, along with an increase in international carriers adding direct routes to Vietnam.
How can travel agents help tourism in Vietnam grow sustainably?
They can market and develop a range of innovative packages specifically aimed at these returning travellers. These could include (but aren’t limited to): special city stays with unique inclusions, like going to the less-visited central highlands region. This could be easily combined with a Danang or Hoi An beach stay or a stay in the country’s far northwest, like Sapa, Mai Chau which are both easily accessible from Hanoi. Or you could have Mekong Delta overnight cruises as opposed to the commoditised day tours. This could also include the longer Mekong cruises, which have become so popular in recent years. All of this can be combined with the proper promotion of Vietnam’s best beach locations and advice on the best time to visit the various regions. These more often should be included in planned familiarisation or educational trips, ensuring that travel agents broaden their knowledge for use in the sales process.
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Great weekend getaways from Saigon don't have to involve air travel. Beach lovers can sunbathe just 2 hours away from the city. Wild jungle trekking can be done in just 2 days.
Ho Chi Minh City is a place like no other, a seething and densely-populated mess of traffic, people, construction sites, pollution, narrow alleys and towering skyscrapers.
There are quiet spots and there are parks, but sometimes, visitors and expats are seized by an urge to flee the chaos and the noise.
But where to go? Especially if an overseas jaunt isn't financially viable.
Here's a 6 of the lesser-known places that can provide a soul-soothing return to nature or relaxing beach break, all just a few hours from Ho Chi Minh City.
Image source: Vyacheslav Argenberg
The last Javan Rhinoceros in Vietnam, which the Cat Tien National Park was set up to protect, was, sadly, killed in 2010. But there is still a range of interesting and exotic wildlife to see in this national park, 3.5 hours by road from Ho Chi Minh City.
The 720 square kilometer park is home to elephants, sun bears, several species of monkeys, deer, gaur, civets and dozens of bird species. The park can be explored on foot, by bicycle, jeep or kayak. It's also possible to visit the primate and bear rehabilitation centres, both close to the national park headquarters, and stay overnight near Crocodile Lake.
The Ta Lai Longhouse, 12 kms from the park headquarters, is a great base for exploring the national park and the nearby villages, which are home to people from the Ma, Tay and S’tieng ethnic minorities. The longhouse was set up in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and an NGO, and a portion of the profit goes to support the four Ta Lai villages.
The staff at the Ta Lai Longhouse can organise pre-dawn gibbon treks and half-day or longer treks, as well as visits to Crocodile Lake and other parts of the national park.
With or without kids, Ho Tram Beach Resort is a relaxing beach break only two hours from Ho Chi Minh City. The resort is a stylised traditional village, with winding stone paths leading to the various bungalows and villas, two swimming pools, a tranquil pond and the beach.
Relax on the beach, at the spa, the pool or the beachfront bar, or in your room, either on the balcony, in the four-poster bed or in the full-length bath, a standard feature in the jungle-ish outdoor bathroooms.
Ho Tram Beach Resort
The resort is quite isolated, with dining options limited to the in-house open air restaurant, which serves Vietnamese and Western dishes and overlooks the children's playground on one side, and a stream on the other.
Image source: Stu's Explorer Club
For a real back-to-nature experience, join Stu's Explorer Club on a weekend "rumble in the jungle" adventure that involves hiking, swimming, camping under the stars and eating hearty home-cooked Vietnamese meals. You can choose to drive your own motorbike to the Dong Nai forest, or opt for a transfer in a private car.
These jungle adventures are only overnight excursions but they leave you feeling as refreshed as if you've been away from the city for several days. As an added bonus, Stu provides free leech socks!
Image source: Victoria Cruises
Tune into the gentle rhythm of Mekong Delta life with a luxury cruise on your own private sampan. Victoria Cruises has several join-in cruises that explore the waterways of the Mekong Delta. But a most peaceful and private option is a private two- or three-day cruise aboard the Song Xanh Sampan, which usually includes a stop at the historic family home of Huynh Thuy Le in Sa Dec.
The character of The Lover in the book of the same name by French author Marguerite Duras was based on Mr Le. The house, built in 1895, remains much as it was when Duras' mother taught at the local school, with photographs on the walls of the actors who starred the 1992 film, The Lover, as well as the real Mr Le and Ms Duras.
A Mekong Delta cruise usually includes delicious food, cycling along narrow local paths and visits of local cottage industries. ,
For a land-based Mekong Delta getaway, consider a homestay.
Green Village Homestay and Nguyen Shack Homestay near Can Tho, Mekong Riverside Resort near Cai Be and Mango Home Riverside near Ben Tre are all great getting-away-from-it-all choices with comfortable facilities and quiet country settings.
Floating Market In Can Tho
You can use your homestay as a place to loll about in a hammock and recharge your depleted batteries, or as a base for exploring local villages on foot or by bicycle. Most homestays have fishing equipment, and some offer cooking classes and/or cooking demonstrations.
Just 12 kms from Mui Ne is the fascinating fishing village of Phan Thiet, a completely different world to its resort-centric neighbour.
There's no tacky tourist trade here. Phan Thiet is a lively town that's perfect for a weekend of pottering about, eating well and strolling on the beach.
The cost of food and accommodation in Phan Thiet is a fraction of what it is in Mui Ne. So this town, just four hours by rail from Ho Chi Minh City, is ideal for adventurous types who prefer to spend less so they can see more of the fabulous country they're in.
These are just a few examples of great weekend getaways from Saigon. Have you traveled to one of these destinations? What is your favorite spot to escape the city's stress?
About the Author
Barbara and her husband Vu lead street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City's back streets through Saigon Street Eats. Since their first bundle of joy arrived five years ago, Barbara, a former journalist, has become a family travel expert. Follow Barbara's blog here.
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The central highland of Vietnam has been opening to more tourists over the past decade. Foreign visitors have increasingly easy passage to come and explore the region’s attractions. The Central Highlands have beautiful natural features such as relatively untouched forests, waterfalls and spectacular scenery. Moreover, its high altitude offers a slightly cooler temperature than the almost unbearable heat of the southern plains. If you’re in the area, these places are not to be missed.
This freshwater lake belongs to the Pleiku city, which is within the Gia Lai province. This lake provides water for most of the neighboring city’s dwellers. The 230-hectare lake is full of water year round and has a depth of up to 40 metres. Interestingly, the lake is a dormant volcano that has been inactive for millions of years. Also, according to the locals, the shape of the lake looks like sparkling eyes when seen from above, so people called it “the Eyes of Pleiku”. The road leading to the lake is as beautiful as a picture with the green pine groves flanking the path. At the end of the road is a small, romantic house for visitors at the top. You can pause here for a moment and see the lake with its blue water, a pearl in the highland so clear that you can even see the fish underwater.
Image source: dulichpleiku.gialai.gov.vn
Ta Dung is a 21-square-meter lake located in Dak Nong province. The blue, gem-like color of Ta Dung comes from the color of the lakewater. Coupled with the thousand trees there, the scene makes for a beautiful view and draws travelers who wish to enjoy the stunning vistas. Furthermore, there is a garden homestay on the top of the mountain near the lake. Once travelers come to Ta Dung, they can enjoy the natural beauty of not only the lake, but also the sunflowers to other wildflowers blooming around the homestay.
Video source: Gia Lộc
Are you tired of the noise of the city and under pressure from your job? If you answered “yes”, this is the place for you.
Lak Tented Camp is a resort placed on the bank of Lak lake in Dak Lak province. It’s 50 kilometres from Buon Ma Thuot. To get to Lak Tented Camp, you must complete part of the journey by boat. It takes around 10 minutes.
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At Lak Tented Camp, you can fly away from your stressful life to live with nature. The accommodation includes activities that visitors can do such as riding the bicycle around the lake, rowing a kayak, or trekking to the Bim Bip waterfall nearby.
Staying in Lak Tented Camp, your view is a magnificent scene of lake and forest. So how about enjoying a glass of wine with your love in the room next to the lake? It will be a great trip in which you can enjoy the peace that will be as complete as the lake itself.
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This 350-hectare lake six kilometres south of Dalat was discovered in the 1930s. The lake is famous for fresh air, mild atmosphere, and a natural landscape. It has various activities for visitors such as sightseeing, camping, fishing, trekking, and more.
Don’t worry about where you can stay on your vacation on the lake, there are many nice resorts in which to enjoy the trip. For example, there’s the 240-room Terracotta, which has 21 riverside villas and top-notch facilities covered by a pine forest. Another one is Edensee Lake Resort spa, which is designed like a little European village. So enjoy the Dalat red wine with a romantic view with your true love. How awesome it is indeed!
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What’s more, there is a maple leaf forest on the other side of the lake, and you can rent a boat service for around VND300.000 to 500.000. This is perfect for groups of up to 15 people who want to take a boat trip.
Have you ever walked in a volcano? If not, this is a must-try for your holiday in the highland of Vietnam.
The Chu B’luk volcanic cave has been recognized as the longest volcano in southeast Asia with over 100 caves differing in shape and size. Each of the caves is an attraction created from lava millions of years ago. This is in Buon Choah commune in Dak Nong province. The numbers of people who come here to visit have increased more and more. The mystery and wilderness of the cave attract people who want to experience it themselves.
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|2012 Rank||2011 Rank|
|1. Bali, Indonesia||1|
|2. Phuket, Thailand||2|
|3. Hong Kong||3|
|4. Siem Reap, Cambodia
|5. Bangkok, Thailand||10|
|6. Hanoi, Vietnam
Seoul, South Korea
|7. Hoi An, Vietnam
|8. Rajasthan, India
|9. Goa, India
|10. Koh Samui, Thailand
The obvious advantages of their beautiful ancient architecture, amazing culture, tradition and outstanding hospitality have recently attracted lots of international tourists. They still need to sit back and make a game plan to not only get more tourists but also improve the rate of returning visitors.
From the result, although standing among the best travel brands like Bali, Phuket and Hong Kong means that Hanoi and Hoi An Ancient Town are the most visited destinations not only in Vietnam but also Asia. However, the surprising progress of Angkor of Cambodia and Bangkok of Thailand has rung warning bell to the whole Vietnam Tourism which is marking time whilst Cambodia and Thailand have started implementing their strategy to become strong brands in Asia travel industry.
The result also lead to a fact that other well-known tourist attractions within Vietnam such as Ha Long, Da Nang, Saigon - HCMC, Vung Tau, Phan Thiet - Mui Ne and Can Tho should consider their short-term and long-term development strategy as their names were yet displayed in the list.
"The voters took an average 16.22 air trips over the past year and earned an average US$162,134 in household income. They travelled enough to tell the difference between crass and class. Their verdict? Classical is back in fashion and so are authentic destinations."
Relatively unknown and free of mass tourism, the coastal city of Quy Nhon (the capital of Binh Dinh province in central Vietnam) will seduce those who love to travel off the beaten tracks.
Called ‘Pulo Cambi’ by Portuguese Jesuits who settled there in the 1620s, its origins date back to 11th century Champa culture.
Quy Nhon is also known as the birthplace of the eighteenth Vietnamese Emperor, Nguyen Hue. The city experienced a major U.S. military presence and its hinterland was the scene of heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. However, only a half-buried U.S. tank (on the beach, south of the Lan Anh Hotel) reflects this dark parenthesis of history.
Quy Nhon made up the main port for all military forces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region. Almost all the supplies for the area were unloaded from ships moored in the port before being transported by aircraft.
A large number of U.S. Army support units were also based in the city and its suburbs, including a field hospital and a large supply center.
In 1975 the South Vietnam Navy evacuated its soldiers and some civilians before abandoning the strategic city of Nha Trang in May 1975, leaving North Vietnamese tanks and infantry to occupy nearly half of the territory of the Republic of South Vietnam.
Today, things have changed.
Quy Nhon has just begun to capitalize on its huge potential for tourism. At 42 km long, the coast is indeed remarkable with its white sand beaches. Abundant seafood is served in local restaurants at a price that defies competition.
And if historical remnants aren’t Quy Nhon’s greatest strength, we must admit the city and its outskirts still contain some interesting sites worth visiting.
The picturesque Queen’s Beach, in particular, deserves a visit.
Named in memory of last Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai’s wife, Queen’s Beach is accessible via An Duong Vuong Street, with your back to the peninsula.
On the way, a paved road leads to a ledge where you can see the tomb of famous Vietnamese writer Han Mac Tu, one of the great figures of Vietnamese literature. Further on, you’ll come to the famous beach where you can stop for refreshments.
Although not a good place for swimming, Queen’s Beach is interesting because of its many blue, egg-shaped, smooth stones superimposed on the small beach pummeled by waves. That is why Queen’s Beach is also called ‘Egg Stone Beach’.
Continuing on the road along the headland, you arrive at Qui Hoa Beach, very quiet and ideal for swimming. A hospital that specialises in treating leprosy has been built nearby. In its charming garden, you can admire statues of famous French and Vietnamese doctors. Visitors are welcome.
Arguably the best spot for swimming is probably Bai Dai Beach, a beautiful stretch of white, fine sand.
Located on 13.5 hectares, Bai Dai Beach is frequented by few tourists. With a beautiful view of Cu Lao Xanh Island, Bai Dai remains quite wild. Activities available from the beach include kayak trips to neighboring islands.
The Cham towers of Banh It (20 km north of Quy Nhon, at the top of a hill that boasts panoramic views of the countryside) and those nearest to Thap Doi are remarkable for their sculptures. Despite their years, both sites are in good condition and worth visiting.
If you have time, you can also have a look at Long Khanh Pagoda, Quy Nhon’s main pagoda, built in the 18th century and famous for its 17-meter-high Buddha.
- Binh Dinh Province is 1065 km from Hanoi and 680 km from Ho Chi Minh City. You can get to Binh Dinh by car, train or plane. Note that the train stops at Dieu Tri Train Station, about 10 km west of Quy Nhon.
- There is a VND 5000 admission fee to Queen Beach (plus an extra 2000 if you’re riding a motorcycle).
- You can go to the hospital that treats leprosy by turning left at the end of An Duong Vuong Street. The hospital entrance is well marked, a few hundred meters further down the road.