The Year 2016 ended with the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien congratulating the 10 millionth visitor of the year, Michael Tonge from the UK, on his arrival in Vietnam. Michael was part of a group aiming to spend Christmas and New Year on the island of Phu Quoc off the Cambodian Coast. The Vietnamese Government has announced plans for developing the international airport of Phu Quoc as well as the one in the nearby Mekong Region in its main city, Can Tho. It is keen to improve Vietnam’s infrastructure even further.
These impressive statistics show an increase of 2 million overseas visitors on the previous year. In 2017 the aim is to increase the figures even further to 11.5 million and there are many reasons why it is felt that continued growth is feasible. They include those positive actions by the Government; in addition, it is extending visa exemptions for several West European countries to remove a bureaucratic requirement for holiday makers from those countries. Vietnam holiday packages include the main natural, religious, historical and cultural attractions of Vietnam.
The iconic Mekong River rises in the Tibetan Plateau, travelling through a few countries until it forms a Delta before flowing into the East Sea. The Delta is the most fertile part of Vietnam where daily life revolves around agriculture and fishing; villages depend upon them to live yet the Delta Region is more than a series of villages. The area is over 40,000 square kilometres, 12 Provinces and some conurbations. The Delta is to the west of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) but the real gateway is Can Tho City. As tourist numbers to Vietnam have grown so have the numbers wanting to visit the Delta. The Government is aiming high in the hope that plenty of visitors come to the Country and look to include the Delta in their Vietnam tour packages.
There are plans to focus on ecological tourism, protecting the culture and heritage of the Region and improving the lives of the locals. There is no reason why Vietnam travel should have any negative effect on the environment as it is today. North America, Western Europe and other parts of Asia are being targeted as places where more visitors can be persuaded to take a Vietnam holiday. There are good Vietnam tour operators able to produce itineraries that introduce international tourists to the highlights of the Country, and that very much includes the Mekong.
The Government recognises that there is much to offer, ranging from the coastal region to the chance of homestays within the Delta, perhaps on the banks of one of the narrow channels off the main routes. There are traditions specific to the Delta people, ranging from music to clothes. Whenever there is a festival the locals will dress traditionally and that is certainly a time for celebration.
Can Tho and Phu Quoc, an island off the Cambodian coast, are earmarked for development to cater for what is expected to be an increase in tourists. This development will do nothing to harm the natural environment, places like the Dong Thap Muoi wetlands. Tours taking in the forests and places like U Minh and Nam Can should provide great experiences for tourists.
Domestic flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang and Hanoi open up the rest of Vietnam to those without time to travel the road and rail network yet overland travel is easy and comfortable. Ho Chi Minh City is the commercial hub of Vietnam and there is much to see and do in a city that has high-rise modern buildings but also traditional buildings, temples and museums. Ho Chi Minh and the Mekong certainly merit a few days in a Vietnam holiday package but there is so much more to the country.
Danang is the gateway to the Central Coast and the ancient cities of Hue, the Capital of the Nguyen Dynasty and Hoi An, the centre of the Champa Kingdom centuries before.
• Danang suffered during the Vietnam War but it is a port city that has recovered well. Its location makes it an ideal base for enjoying the central part of Vietnam, a narrow strip from the coast to the neighbouring country of Laos to the west.
• The Citadel at Hue was also damaged during the Vietnam War and the War for Independence from the French earlier. Nevertheless, Hue is worth inclusion in any Vietnam holiday package that passes through Vietnam overland.
• Hoi An was a trading port back as early as the 7th Century and the impact of the Chinese who lived here in the Middle Ages before moving further south provides an interesting contrast to many other places in Vietnam.
Hanoi is today’s national capital and many people with just a short time to spend in Vietnam select Hanoi and two of the North’s gems for a taste of the Country:
• Hanoi is a blend of traditional houses, French colonial architecture and a touch of the modern. There are many highlights and one is just spending time in the narrow streets with markets and street vendors selling their food from their small stalls. There are museums, temples and Hoan Kiem Lake which is on every Vietnam holiday itinerary.
• Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, 2,000 islands and fishing villages on stilts. It is just over 4 hours east of Hanoi.
• Northern Highlands and the SaPa Terraces are due north of Hanoi towards the Chinese border. This is a poor region dependent upon agriculture, especially the rice grown in such places as SaPa.
Tourism figures in Vietnam are increasing impressively. There is no reason why they should not continue to do so. Certainly, the Government is taking positive steps because it realises how much tourism can contribute towards the National Economy. There are good Vietnam tour operators that will advise and put together Vietnam holiday packages to reveal the country to overseas’ visitors. Many, after a first taste, are certain to come back for more; the impressive tourist statistics appear to bear that out.