Son Doong Cave
Video source: Ryan Deboodt
Video source: Ryan Deboodt
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.
Image source: baohaiquan.vn
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.
Image source: baomoi.com
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.
Image source: baotuyenquang.com.vn
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.
Image source: zone8.vn
Banner image source: dulich.dantri.com.vn
Unless you have a great plan for this weekend, City Pass advices you to enjoy the first Vietnam International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (VIHABF) 2012 in Phan Thiet City from August 29 to September 3.
Around 50 international balloonists from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, U.K., U.S., China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and of course Vietnam will take part in the festival, performing in hot-air balloons in varied shapes and sizes. Many site-activities such as trade and tourism fair, musical show, performances of kite flying and parachutes, art shows and glowing night show will thrill you and your family and friends during weekend. At night, you will enjoy watching the splendid balloons decorated with lanterns as well as nice musical background.
According to Binh Thuan Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism, there will be nearly 300 accommodations establishments with more than 10,000 rooms and homestay supply available during the fiesta.
Local Insight: On September 1 evening, the city will host a street festival as well as a fireworks display on Vietnam National Day
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.
British sketch artist Richie Fawcett has been living and working in Vietnam for almost three years, but it’s only in this past year that he, and everyone around him, has begun taking his inherent drawing skills seriously. Richie initially ventured to Vietnam to open a variety of bars and restaurants – something he’s spent a fantastic 15 years doing around the world.
Richie soon realised, however, how lucky he was to be in a country where he was surrounded by a visual feast, a photographer’s dream.
As a professional photographer in London in the late 90s Richie had been searching for an alternative way to capture the essence of the street scenes that had always intrigued him. Using a camera seemed far too easy - there was no reason for him to stay in the same spot and analyse a scene for hours on end.
At that point, Richie drudged up his long lost, and virtually unknown, talent and begun sketching his favourite street scenes and cityscapes.
Richie’s time in Vietnam, especially living in central Saigon, is what reignited his interest in sketching. Being able to capture the vibrancy of the people and culture gave him renewed energy to physically realise the way in which people live and work in the rapidly changing urban landscape of Saigon.
Another aspect that has motivated him to start sketching again, is his appreciation for history and the fact at Saigon, especially, is developing so quickly; many of the old historic buildings of central Saigon have been torn down to make way for new developments.
Although the sites of these developments are often left untouched for years, it’s prompted him to capture the life of the city’s old streets before they’re lost forever. A specific instance of this can be seen in Richie’s four original drawings of Ben Thanh Market - North, South, East and West.
These were drawn because there is a building development opposite that will one day obstruct the view of the Museum of Fine Arts – a favourite and, thus, a place in which he has spent countless hours exploring. In fact, he’s spent so much time in and around this building that the staff know him commonly as Waisee . There’s always an exchange of smiles, “Xin chao,” and, “Have a look at what I’m drawing today.”
Richie often gets the same reactions when people catch him drawing a scene: they’re either really excited, “Dep dep dep!” or they im/mediately stop talking, have a seat and stare for ages. It’s a brilliant, and yet disarming, way in which he connects with the community. His connection goes as far as the street sellers who actually stop hassling him after seeing him frequent the same spot hour after hour – they’ve even been known to stop working and sit next to him while he draws.
Richie’s sketches now take an average of 4 - 5 continuous hours. This may seem like a long time, but in the beginning they would take weeks, even months, of dedicated time going back and forth to the same spot each day. The result of this work is a collection of panoramic cityscapes in pencil, pen, ink and Chinese ink wash.
His style of work begins with a skyline, and ends with the characterisation of the people in the landscape. He has a second small pocket sketchbook crammed full of countless individual characters going about their daily tasks.
Since beginning his sketching, Richie has already held a successful solo exhibition at Au Parc titled, ‘Carte Postale de Saigon’ . He has been interviewed for Tuoi Tre TV and has been on the national news, celebrated as a foreigner who appreciates and expresses Vietnamese culture in his own artistic manner. As a result of this exposure, he now has a following of private collectors.
It was on the night of his very first exhibition that he bumped into Patrick Gaveau of City Pass Guide, who happened to be getting a takeaway, but took away an instant interest in Richie’s artwork instead. They im/mediately set a date to meet. The rest, as they say, is history.
Richie went on his first trip to Hanoi during Tet where he managed to produce over 15 panoramic cityscapes in six days. Hanoi has left a fantastic impression on him, and he’ll soon be back to capture the plethora of scenes still available.
He’s currently planning a travelling exhibition, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, exclusively featuring his signature panoramic cityscapes from both Saigon and Hanoi. It will feature both old and new meter-long sketches demonstrating the contrast between two astounding cities in an amazing country.
The exhibition will be shown in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with dates to be confirmed; watch this space for updates.
In addition to numerous individual commissions from businesses and residencies, Richie is currently working on sketching the vibrancy of Vietnamese life for the 11th edition of the City Pass Guide and for their upcoming website and mobile applications.
He looks forward to continued collaborations with City Pass Guide, where he is able to showcase his work while providing invaluable pieces for the premium travel guide company. And to think, it’s all thanks to a takeaway and a chance meeting.
Authors & Editors: Richie Fawcett & Kendra Bernard
Video source: Michelle Phan