Spring and Tet (the Vietnamese term for the Lunar New Year) are fast approaching. Central Vietnam’s gorgeous blue skies, spectacular scenery and chilled out beaches are beginning to see the return of the tourists. Forget dusty, noisy, busy Ho Chi Minh City or the hustle of still chilly Hanoi! Hue is shaking off the cold, Da Nang’s rocking and little Hoi An is buzzing. The south-central coast is the place to be!
If I’m lucky enough to get enough time off this year, I’d love to head from Hoi An where I live, up to the mountains bordering Laos, which I’ve heard are stunning and a photographer’s dream when the winter clouds have faded away. Time to check the motorbike, dig out that old map and find a baby sitter for my dogs!
That’s one of the beauties of living in south-central Vietnam – we’re not that far from the border, the mountains or the beach. I bet you urbanites in the north and south are jealous, huh?
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the world’s biggest cave, looks inviting too. It’s located a few hours north west of Hue and well worth the trip. The park also has great river scenery and wildlife. I’m not much for caves; I was once trapped in one so I’m wary about them now. I’ll probably just have a cold beer outside the entrance to the caves! It’s on my ‘to-do’ list.
However exploring the rural background to the coast is still a relatively unknown pleasure to most tourists visiting the cities and the usual tourist sites and something I’d like to see the local tourism bureaus promote more. Why? Well I’m hoping it will promote more environmental awareness of Vietnam’s stunning landscape, which should be preserved and managed better.
Both Da Nang and Hoi An have local and foreign operated tours to the mountain tribes and scenery – a great way to beat the tropical summer heat down on the coastal plains. With the roads improving inland at a steady pace and well outfitted tour groups offering guided motorbike and jeep tours, I can highly recommend a day or overnight tour.
It’s 2015 and time for a new cycle of tourism, yet this year will hopefully bring a new awareness of what service standards should be if Vietnam wishes to raise inbound tourism to 8.5 million international tourists and more than 40 million domestic sightseers. It’s big money, estimated to be around 10 to 12 billion U.S. dollars a year.
So I’m hoping Quang Ngai’s relatively unknown and therefore mostly un-spoilt My Khe beach will get some development to spread the fame of our central beaches as well. Authorities of the Central Highlands provinces are recognizing the need for more infrastructure such as good hotels and decent roads. What’s really needed now is a major training campaign for locals wishing to set up tourism-related businesses and their employees.
Selling the fascination around the center shouldn’t be too hard given the natural attractions we’ve got, yet tourism still seems held back by poor attitudes to service values and provide more opportunities for tourists to spend money in our provinces. You don’t have to over-charge customers, just encourage them to stay longer – and the locals will get their money anyway.
Da Lat has just opened a direct Bangkok route via air yet it is Da Nang that needs to attract these services regularly and consistently. Another opportunity would be flying straight from Phu Quoc up to Da Nang. In Hue, the route to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is still not well publicized and hospitality services are thin around the park area.
Visas, a constant headache for both tourists and expats in Vietnam, need revision even though new categories have just been introduced – I believe the visa exemptions should include visitors from countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, the U.S. and European nations – now is the time to sell Vietnam as a convenient destination, not a frustrating one with visa prices that simply leave Vietnam off the ‘should we go?’ list.
This could be the best year yet for my fabulous south-central coast but only if it’s sold the right way. Already tourism companies are complaining about the way both tourist and expat visas are being managed and it shouldn’t need to be this way. My local Vietnamese friends are justifiably proud of their heritage and land – let’s honor that pride by introducing the stunning Vietnamese beauty to the world.