By Debbie Ward | January 2016 | 10 minute read
Despite its long white-sand beaches, Vietnam remains primarily a touring destination. Most itineraries will include the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), the heritage centres of Hue and Hoi An and an overnight cruise through the spectacular karst scenery of Halong Bay.
"We sell Vietnam as the gateway to Indochina. Siem Reap is big and a lot go to Luang Prabang in central Laos. Emerging is Sihanoukville on the Cambodian coast, also Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island. More people are finding interest in the Mekong Delta area”
DAVID COOK, SALES MANAGER UK & IRELAND, VIETNAM AIRLINES
Heritage heroes: Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An are UNESCO-listed
Shopping star: Leave suitcase space for silk, laquerware, bamboo bowls and lanterns. Hanoi and Hoi An are top shopping spots
Tee off: Vietnam has many good golf courses of international standard. Combine these with a luxury hotel, spa and beach for a leisurely holiday
Choose cruise: A Halong Bay cruise of overnight or longer is a must, while many Mekong cruises now link Ho Chi Minh City with Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat
History lessons: The history of the Vietnam War can be explored in city museums and the Chu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City
Luxury lovers: There’s a good range of upmarket hotels around Hoi An and Danang and on Phu Quoc island
Dive in: Good dive bases on the Vietnamese coast include Nha Trang, Cham Island near Hoi An and the Six Senses hotel at Ninh Van Bay
Adventure seekers: Northern Vietnam’s hill country around Sapa is featured by many operators for trekking and homestays
Great gateway: Use Vietnam as a gateway to Indochina using Mekong cruises or regional flights from Vietnam Airlines and others
Foodie favourite: Vietnamese spring rolls, noodles and curries all taste better in Vietnam. Suggest a cooking course or foodie tour
This is a key trend for Vietnam, with operators and hotels featuring lesser-visited spots, new twists on old favourites.
Train touring is possible including on the newly-refurbished Reunification Express featured by Regent Holidays and others.
Vietnamese DMC Journeys to the East’s signature tours include Halong Bay by seaplane and the remote Hai Giang mountains villages. Founder and socialite Loan Foster accompanies clients and hosts them at her French colonial villa in Hanoi.
Many authentic experiences focus on food. Regent’s Culture and Cuisine tour includes food shopping, cooking and dinner with a Hue family.
Unusual transport features in TransIndus’s new tailor-made Southeast Asia brochure, with Ho Chi Minh City Vespa tours. Motorbike sidecar sightseeing is offered by the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa.
What the experts say
“Link the historic towns of Hue and Hoi An by taking the road across the Hai Van Pass. There are spectacular views in all directions.”
STEVE JOHNSON, INSPIRED BY ASIA, MANAGING EXECUTIVE
“Our Dreamliner service started at Heathrow last September and the obvious benefit has been an uptake on business class and economy deluxe, which is being well supported by high-end UK operators. We want to encourage ‘niche’ travellers like rail enthusiasts. We’ll be running consumer offers to promote economy deluxe and also agent promotions and fam trips.”
DAVID COOK, SALES MANAGER UK & IRELAND, VIETNAM AIRLINES
Air: Budget carrier VietJet launched flight last October.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is set to expand to receive a further 5 million passengers annually by 2020.
Cruising: Insider Journeys has three new Asia river cruise vessels. Debuting in 2016 is the 11-day Red River Cruise from Hanoi, while the Vietnam Discovery tour now features an overnight on a converted rice barge.
Avalon Waterways UK has launched its first dedicated Asia brochure with departures to April 2017. Agents can now book flights separately if they prefer.
The Amalotus, featured by APT, will relaunch in June with its bottom deck transformed into a spa.
InsideVietnam has a new Magnificent Vietnam itinerary focusing on Hue and recommends a visit between April 29 and May 4 for the huge Hue cultural festival
Khiri Tours’ new Off the Beaten Track Vietnam tour offers neighbouring Bai Tu Long as a crowd-free alternative to Halong Bay. Says Country manager Florenica Allo Moreno: “Bai Tu Long’s landscape’s very similar to Halong.” Khiri also has a new Hanoi Like a Local excursion.
Accommodation: The 163-room Hotel des Arts Saigon from Accor’s MGallery Collection is now open in Ho Chi Minh City, with a rooftop bar and infinity pool. In Hanoi Sofitel is discounting longer stays at the Hotel Metropole Hanoi.
Thailand’s Onyx Hospitality will open the 364-room beachfront Ozo Hoi An in late 2016.
The first quarter of 2016 will see the debut of The Wyndham Legend Ha Long Hotel close to the famous bay of the same name and the Mövenpick Resort Phu Quoc will open on the island in 2017. It claims to be Vietnam’s first integrated destination resort and will include a themed retail village, a water park and amphitheatre.
Where to book it
A ride on a vintage Vespa through Hanoi, hiking rice terraces and bicycle tours of Hue, rural Hoi An, Ben Tre and the Mekong Delta are among special experiences on Wendy Wu’s Vietnam & Cambodia Discovery tour. The 20-day trip also takes in Halong Bay, before heading into neighbouring Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat by tuk tuk. It costs from £2,990pp for a September 30 departure including Heathrow flights.
A new 16-day cruise and tour called Mekong & Beyond from Insider Journeys travels from the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, to Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, including an eight-day Mekong River cruise, on the boutique Jayavarman vessel. From £2,720pp excluding flights.