Luxury hotels and resorts decorate the new Vietnam

Tet celebrations will bring more business

Tran Thi Ngoc Dung, Deputy
Director of Saigon Tourist Travel Service Co.

With a seeming over supply of four-star and perhaps five-star hotelsŚthe news is not all that great for new hotel developers throughout VietnamŚthough it is, or should be, happy news for both tourists and business travelers who have benefited from declining room rates over the past year or so.

New luxury hotels abound now in Hanoi. One of the world's most beautiful cities, and the country's quiet and reserved capitol, has felt the rumblings of a budding construction boom for several years, which has brought world class properties such as the five-star Daewoo Hotel, the beautifully renovated Sofitel Metropole, the Horison Hotel and the Hanoi Hilton to name but a few.

The traveler quickly discovers that Hanoi's pace is decidedly slower as your eye follows the steady stream of bicycles passing the Beaux-Arts magnificence of the former residence of Tonkin. Or travel in a cyclo around Ho Tay (West Lake) which many locals and writers consider the poetic heart of this graceful city. This is a city of tamarind-lined wide French boulevards, beautifully weathered mustard-stained colonial villas, elegant squares and magnificent buildingsŚincluding the stunning refurbished Opera House, reminiscent of a scaled down version of France's Palais Garnier since it was built by the French colonial administrators at the turn of the century.

Also, admire the beautifully restored Sofitel Metropole and imagine the notable Graham Greene writing one of his compelling stories about the former Indochina. Last year, the Australian talented director, Philip Noyce was re-shooting scenes of Greene's classic novel, "The Quiet American," with Michael Caine cast as Fowler, the seasoned correspondent on these same streets and banyan-lined boulevards. And of course, there are cafes of every conceivable description on every street corner.

The stylish Majestic Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.

A summer scene in Hue.

Tourists enjoy cyclo tour in Old Hanoi.

Facade of the Hanoi Horison Hotel.

Anoais resort bungalows, set dramatically on the grounds of the former summer residence of Vietnamĺs last Emperor, Bao Dai.

"Fortunately for us, Vietnam was ranked as the safest country in the Asia Pacific region by an independent international organization (Hong Kong based, Political & Economic Risk Consultancy) in the fall of 2001,ö remarked Jan Hilhorst, general manager at the Hanoi Horison Hotel.

At the Hanoi Horison Hotel, the management has reason to be upbeat with year end occupancy weighing in well above the industry norm, with over a 60 percent average in 2001. The ownership of the hotel is 80 percent Indonesian, and thus Horison is written with an s because of the Indonesian spelling for Horizon. The minority joint venture partner is Vietnamese ľ Hanoi Toserco.

Hanoi is more than 1,000 not 300 years old, like its upstart boasting southern cousin, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) showcases in its own tourism pamphlets. It is in the north, namely Hanoi where the families, guilds and potentates who have given it life reflect on their ancient capital with distinct pride. Visit the ancient quarter and experience a cacophonous symphony of sounds and smells and meander into the many wonderful shops, like The Furniture Gallery on Ta Hien street, or take a cyclo to a few boutique shops found on Nam Ngu, where lacquerware and art- traditional and contemporary is readily available. Hanoi offers a cultural and intellectual renaissance.

"We value the earlier architecture. It is a part of our past as much as our literature, and do wish to lose it through reckless modernization," explained Nguyen Khoa Diem, Minister of Culture and Information.

Vietnam welcomed almost 2 million foreign arrivals during the first 10 months of 2001, 89 percent of the year's target and up nearly 10 percent year-on-year. Revenue for that period was approximately $600 million, or 91 percent of the projected tourism target figure and up 13 percent over the same period last year.

At the Horison, which is managed by Swiss -Belhotel International, is already recognized as one of the leading five-star hotels in Hanoi. The hotel has also quickly gained country-wide recognition in organizing several International ASEAN and national conferences.

"We have been able to host numerous dignitaries, including country presidents at our hotel, but our main asset is our accommodating and well- trained staff," added the soft-spoken Hilhorst.

On most days, the hotel's attractive Marble Court Lobby Lounge is a regular gathering place for many locals and expats in Hanoi.

A majestic view of the Saigon River
The hotel business in Ho Chi Minh City is dominated by SaigonTourist, which has over 60 hotels and 3,500 rooms. This includes the newer Century, New World and the fading stars, the Rex, Continental and the romantic Majestic Hotel with its panoramic view of the Saigon River from the terrace bar.

With the surplus of hotels rooms to fill, including SaigonTourist properties, Ho Chi Minh City, or as the locals fondly call Saigon, a city still very rambunctious and racy compared to the capital, Hanoi, where streetlights are regularly turned off at 10 o'clock.

Both cities continue to embark on any number of ambitious celebrations designed to lure visitors. And the largest festival is about to start in a few weeks. Tet is the largest and most widely celebrated. This festival takes place generally for a week usually between late January and mid-February. It is a complex week long holiday whose themes are renewal, spiritual growth, ancestral reverence and of course, family ties.

So there's now a holiday mood and it helps that SaigonTourist at the end of 2001 revealed it enjoyed an 8 percent increase in overall business. Their Majestic Hotel built in 1925, has undergone a facelift and her quiet elegance and old world French style charm remains intact.

"We are happy that the locals (hundreds of Vietnamese wedding parties) use our hotel for functions and of course, we are seeing far more regional travelers coming here particularly from Japan," said the Majestic's slender and energetic general manager, Tran Hung Viet, as he rushed to his evening Japanese language class.

The Majestic Hotel truly exemplifies old Saigon with all her architectural splendor captured in columned style and arched shapes. From this central location, the traveler can catch all the sights of Saigon on foot or cyclos, which are conveniently parked on the corner of Dong Khoi, near the busy Saigon River.

Cyclos abound in both Hanoi and HCMC, and should be considered a national treasure for the city's tourism growth.

The HCMC cyclo drivers are more often than not, former South Vietnamese soldiers, who do speak English. These pedicabs offer the ideal way to take in the colorful and vibrant sights, sounds and texture of both distinct cities.

"In early May of this year, Hue is staging a 12 day festival with two theatrical performance programs and traditional lanterns on the Perfume River, it will be a huge event and we know this will draw even more international visitors to our Vietnam," added the SaigonTourist's radiant deputy general manager, Tran Thi Ngoc Dung.

There is much natural beauty to be discovered in Vietnam and she offers her charms to anyone who would come. From Sapa's colorful Saturday night love market, to Hoi An's winding ancient streets, with its pitched roofs and cobbled sidewalks, to Long Hai's former summer residence of Bao Dai, Vietnam's last emperor, the ĹNew Vietnamĺ offers all visitors an opportunity to see a most beautiful and intriguing landscape on a new day when its people are poised to begin another chapter in the history of their rich and colorful culture.

ę InternationalReports.net / The Washington Times 1994-2002

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