Fifteen years ago, Vietnam's emerald checker board of lush paddy fields, meandering bays and city rivers crammed with floating markets used to be best suited to backpackers.
These days, however, it is the luxury traveler who is being wooed with new boutique hotels, experiences and tours. For example, the journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay can now be completed by helicopter, offering a bird's eye view of some 3,000 islands threaded with karst cliffs.
Along with Cambodia, Vietnam has been noted as one of the top travel destinations for the luxury traveler in 2012. The twin Asian countries have always been as hospitable as their other neighbors, Thailand and Malaysia, but in recent years they have galvanized their goal of becoming developed countries with a key focus on tourism.
Vietnam's recent announcement that it is investing in Cambodia's domestic companies to the tune of around $6 billion suggests that money will be put towards the improvement of roads, helping to make it more accessible for tourists. Further, Vietnam's own foray into the luxury market has been gathering pace in the past few years.
Once associated with designer knock-offs, night markets and haggling, Vietnam's economic reforms have created a nouveau-riche class that can afford the polished Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana boutiques in Ho Chi Minh City.
One of the key catalysts for Vietnam and Cambodia joining the other Asian giants in luxury tourism is the strident improvement to their infrastructure. "Roads are much better now in the provinces of Cambodia and Vietnam. Luxury hotels combined with a more authentic experiences are what set these countries apart, and also, overland travel is more comfortable, "says David Nguyen, Sales and Marketing Manager of Luxury Travel Group Ltd. He added, "Possibly even more important, domestic flights within and between Vietnam and Cambodia are safe and more reliable then ever." "
Luxe Cambodia is on the rise, with new luxury hotels and resorts opening regularly. Song Saa Private Island in Sihanoukville, and Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra in Phnom Penh have just been opened recently, so high-end travelers have choices for their comfort and accommodation. Teeming with history, marvelous architecture and awash in natural beauty, the largest religious monument ever built, Angkor Wat ranks at the top of every globetrotting luxury traveler's must see list." said Pham Ha, founder and CEO of Luxury Travel Ltd.
Song Saa Resort is located in the warm sapphire waters of the Gulf of Thailand among 61 islands, most of which remain completely undeveloped and deserted. Song Saa Private Island has undergone five years of restoration and rejuvenation of its flora, fauna and coral, to bring everything back to its natural beauty.
Song Saa Private Island is located on Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, two small adjacent islands in the Koh Rong archipelago that are a 30 minute boat ride from Sihanoukville or a 1 hour flight from Siem Reap.
Song Saa Private Island is proof that Cambodia does have world-class beaches and luxury hotels. The seven ocean view villas, each with their own private beach, are decked out with a daybed, sundeck, swimming pool, and, for those who want to wax poetic, a writing desk. Circumnavigate the islands with a mask and snorkel, explore the archipelago in a kayak, or take a nighttime boat cruise to swim in the bioluminescent water.
Richard Parks, Regional Sales Manager of Luxury Travel Ltd. UK, agrees. "There have been vast improvements in the transport and hotel infrastructure, while enterprising locals have introduced many ways to see these beautiful destinations,"
He adds, " Now there are luxury junk cruises around the incredible karst scenery of Halong Bay, tribal homestays and trekking in the North and Central Highlands, cycling holidays along the Mekong Delta and cookery schools in Hanoi and Hoi An. Combine these with beautiful landscapes, beaches, popular cuisine and a tropical climate, and it's a winning formula."
The Central Coast of Vietnam is growing in stature as one the hottest tourist spots in Southeast Asia, with a variety of attractions. With a string of top-class resorts and golf courses opening, the region has been steadily growing in stature as one of the hottest tourist spots in the country and Southeast Asia, but the arrival of a new international standard airport with links to multiple cities in China, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and routes to Bangkok and Hong Kong set to open soon will help put Danang on the global map.
Pham Ha notes, "While some fantastic new properties have opened, the existing ones don't diminish either. In Vietnam, they offer personalized service, privacy and tranquility, while Cambodia not only has stunning scenery in the form of Angkor Wat and the Thom temples, but also now gives you the plush surroundings in which to admire them."
The beauty of Vietnam and Cambodia is that they continue to evolve without diluting their cultural heritage. They achieve that delicate balance between modernity and the past, calm space and clamorous activity, elegance and authenticity. Over the next five to ten years, they look set to add even more offerings for the luxury traveler.www.luxurytravelvietnam.com