Companies invariably gravitate towards the Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City when choosing a destination for their offsite meetings and incentive trips. As major gateways into the country, they are the logical choices. Both have the infrastructure and services to handle the unique needs of event organisers and meeting planners. And, unlike other more familiar main urban centres in Asia, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City still have plenty of hidden delights left for visitors to discover.
But those companies looking for an unvarnished Vietnamese experience have to travel further inland to get a glimpse of the country’s heart and soul.
“Most people do not realise that the centre of Vietnam offers some of the best meeting and incentive facilities,” says George Ehrlich, general manager of Exotissimo Travel Vietnam, whose clients include Essilor, Suzuki, Toyota and Zurich.
The main challenge, he notes, is the dearth of direct international flights to Danang and Hue. “All programmes start either in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, it is not a huge problem. In the meantime, the airport in Danang is being totally rebuilt to handle more international flights.”
Ehrlich adds that large companies, which frequently send groups abroad, are the ones most open to hosting events in central Vietnam. They are looking for special dinners and interesting tours that bring them closer to the “local life”. Cycling tours, which take groups around the countryside of Danang, Hue and Hoi An, are very popular for this very reason.
Danang, of course, is the centre of activity of central Vietnam and is now seeing tremendous developments. The five-star Furama Resort Danang on the landmark China Beach continues to attract visitors. For groups on business meetings, the hotel’s 2,500sqm International Convention Palace has the largest conference hall in central Vietnam.
For cruise groups, it is now also a port of call for cruise liners such as Star Cruises, Seabourn Spirit and Azamara Quest. Danang is also the jump-off point for the must-see destinations in Vietnam and all of them are Unesco Heritage sites.
The former imperial city of Hue, the ancient trading port of Hoi An, the spiritual centre of My Son, and the mystical Phong Nha Caves in Quang Binh province are just a short one- to three-hour drive from Danang.
“Most groups come to Central Vietnam for the culture and history, many of them are from Europe. We tailor a programme for them that combines both meeting and incentive. What makes the region attractive is that the price is normally about 65 to 70 percent of what they would have paid for the same package in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City,” says Hoang Dinh Anh, director of Dinh Anh International Travel.
What’s more, he adds, central Vietnam offers some interesting backdrops for business events like a music show on Trang Tien Bridge in Hue city or a fashion-cum-dinner show at My Son Holy Land.
Aside from must-see attractions, the event organisers can arranged programmes that are more interactive: a cooking class (that includes a trip to the market) at the Red Bridge cooking school, an Amazing Race programme in Hue, or treasure hunts in the markets of Hoi An. There are also different local handicraft lessons that enable your group to get a first-hand feel of the local culture – lantern- and basket-making comes to mind.
“Also what’s important is that there are enough accommodation and meeting room space available to cater to the needs of incentive planners,” says Barbie Takahashi, director of sales and marketing at The Nam Hai in Hoi An.
She adds: “In addition, the charming manners of the central Vietnamese are refreshing even to many international travellers who have been to many countries.”
Carmen Marienberg, general manager of La Residence Hotel and Spa, agrees that the down-to-earth people of central Vietnam are its own unique attraction.
“People might not be as professional and qualified, but they are warm, gentle and friendly,” she says.
Marienberg stresses, however, the need to train meetings and incentives professionals for the skills required to handle the requirements of business groups that are expected to arrive in growing numbers in future.
“Training, training, training. This is our mantra. We need to learn European-style management in order to further develop the destination. Also we also need to educate and train the suppliers that help us put our events together,” she adds.
Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi and Tan Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City are the two major international entry points into Vietnam. Vietnam Airlines is still the main carrier for international and domestic flights, but most regional carriers have flights to either or both cities.
For visitors to central Vietnam, flying straight to Danang International Airport may be a better and convenient option. PB Air and other regional carriers offer international links from Bangkok and Singapore.
Central Vietnam is rainy between August and January while the dry season lasts from February and July. Rainfall is most intense between September and December. Temperatures are high all year round ranging from the mid-20s and mid-30s degree Celsius.
Citizens of selected Asian countries – Asean, Japan and South Korea – can enter the country without a visa.
Visas on arrival for other nationalities can be arranged by DMCs with sufficient notice. For the contact information of Vietnamese embassies worldwide, go to
Vietnamese is the official language. English is widely spoken.
A small number of the population can communicate in French. Chinese is spoken by ethnic Chinese traders.
VIETNAM NATIONAL ADMINISTRATION OF TOURISM
DINH ANH INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL
EXOTISSIMO TRAVEL VIETNAM
Furama Hotel (Danang)
This jewel on the famed China Beach houses the International Convention Palace, a favourite venue for meetings and business events in central Vietnam.
The facility is equipped with state-of-the-art communication technologies such as high-speed internet access, audio-visual systems and modern translation equipment. An environmentally-friendly air-conditioning system has been installed to keep the centre comfortable all year round.
La Residence Hotel and Spa (Hue)
The enchanting boutique hotel on the banks of the Perfume River, overlooking the former Imperial Citadel, is great base for teambuilding activities in Hue.
The nearby Bach Ma National Park offers upseiling, camping and more leisurely bird watching. Groups can also opt for a river cruise down Perfume River, an excursion at Tuan An Beach and have a choice of activities around Hue’s historic sites and garden houses.
Life Heritage Resort (Hoi An)
Located along the Thu Bon River, the hotel’s Heritage Bar has a newly constructed upstairs section to accommodate a group of up to 50 people.
With a small group, the hotel can offer either a sunrise or sunset cruise along the river, a cyclo competition in Hoi An or treasure hunts.
Nam Hai (Hoi An)
Set on landscaped tropical gardens overlooking the South China Sea, this all-villa property features 60 One-Bedroom Villas and 40 Pool Villas ranging from one to five bedrooms, each with its own luxurious infinity pool.
Groups can enjoy tropical spa beside a lagoon and an 18-hole golf course.
Palm Garden Resort (Hoi An)
Built on a five-hectare land with more than 400 palm trees, the resort has complexes of bungalows and suites that intermingle among a grass-covered landscape. Palm Garden resort is famous for its theme dinners that showcase distinct elements of Vietnamese culture.
Pilgrimage Village (Hue)
Pilgrimage Village is a beautiful boutique resort located in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. The charm of this unique Vietnamese property is its tranquility and design, a sense of the past in an updated rustic village setting. The resort offers a harmonious balance of natural environment and local culture, modern art concept and traditional style.
MUST SEE ATTRACTIONS
Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries where Chinese as well as Japanese, Dutch and Indians settled down. Its buildings and street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique destination.
It is still a small city, but it is a well-established place on the backpacker trail. Many visit for the numerous art and craft shops and tailors, who produce made-to-measure clothes for a fraction of the Western price. Several Internet cafés, bars and restaurants have opened along the riverfront. Hoi An is famed for its centuries old cao lu noodle, which is uniquely served here.
Imperial City of Hue on the northern banks of Perfume River, which used to be the royal capital of the Nguyen Emperors, is an important centre of Buddhism in Central Vietnam. Also known as The Citadel, a well-preserved site with 300-year-old pagodas and royal tombs.
Groups can arrange a royal-style dinner complete with traditional robes at the Duyet Theatre of the Imperial City.
My Son Holy Land was the spiritual centre of the Cham Dynasty that stretched from Vietnam to Cambodia between the 4th and 12th centuries. My Son Sanctuary is a large complex of religious relics that comprises more than 70 architectural works. Each historical period has its own identity, so that each has its own architectural style.
China Beach where American GIs used to have their R&R and Cua Dai Beach in Hoi An provide a more idyllic and laid-back atmosphere.
Groups can arrange for a variety of beach activities as part of their incentive or teambuilding activities.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has more than 200,000 hectares of parkland that beautiful limestone formations, grottoes and caves. The area is considered a paradise for researchers and explorers of grottoes and caves.
VIETNAM SAMPLE PROGRAMME
Transfer by coach to Hoi An for a walking tour to see the wooden-fronted houses that once belonged to the town’s prosperous merchants, the Japanese-covered Bridge and the wonderful market. Hoi An is one of the best places in Vietnam to shop for souvenirs at bargain prices including silk, handicrafts, antiques and paintings.
Lunch at a local restaurant. A bicycle ride around rural Hoi An. Along small lanes from small villages through remote and isolated farms, see daily life unfold as the locals go about fishing and rice farming. Exchange a smile or a word of greeting with friendly craftsmen. Experience a different side of Vietnam with a pace and rhythm that is quite different from the rest.
Dinner in a Hoi An street. We have created a colourful and festive dining experience. This exclusive private function will be held in town near the banks of the Thu Bon River. Your group’s arrival will be welcomed by a Lion Dance troupe. Vietnamese dinner will be accompanied by a traditional music show. The staff will be dressed in colourful traditional Vietnamese attire. The evening’s programme will include traditional lantern- and ceramic-making demos.
Overnight at the Furama Danang or the Nam Hai Resort .
Breakfast at the hotel. A trip with the hotel chef to the colourful market of Hoi An to buy ingredients for your cooking class.
Board the Red Bridge boat for a leisurely cruise along the Hoi An River to the Red Bridge Cooking School while witnessing the local river life. The two-hour cooking class ends with the group lunch for everyone to enjoy the work of their own hands.
Option: Visit the capital and religious centre of the former Champa Kingdom, My Son. Here, only 40km southwest of Hoi An, in a lush green valley, are dozens of red brick towers and sanctuaries dating back to between the 7th and 13th centuries. The group enjoys an international buffet lunch at the hotel.
Afternoon, departure Hoi An for a three-hour drive to Hue via the scenic fishing village of Lang Co and the Pass of Ocean Clouds. Luggage is transferred separately. Upon arrival in Hue, transfer directly to La Residence Hotel & Spa.
Imperial night at the Citadel of Hue. Be transported back 500 years to the pageantry of The Royal Court of the Nguyen Emperors. Guests will wear royal attire of the era for the gala dinner held either at the prestigious Royal Theatre or Mandarin House. Costumes will be delivered to the guests’ room and are to be worn during the gala dinner.
Meet in the hall of the hotel for a transfer at the Citadel at 1930. At the Citadel, the “King” and “Queen” (chosen by delegates among themselves) will lead the cortege. In keeping with tradition, the beginning of the ceremony will be marked by the sound of the gong. The “royal couple” will be saluted and honoured by two rows of Mandarins and dignitaries (elected among the participants of the group).
Pre-dinner Cocktail. A traditional Hue-style dinner will be served in the main open-air yard (or in the room of the mandarins, depending on the weather). Every dish will delight both the eyes and the palate as the presentation and the decoration of the dishes refer to mythical animal shapes, such as the phoenix sculpted from a fruit.
To complete the evening’s “Imperial” theme, the Royal Court Ballet of Hue will perform traditional songs and dances.
Overnight at La Residence Hotel & Spa.
Morning visit to the Imperial tombs located southwest of Hue. Half the group goes by boat, half the group by buses and vice-versa for the return.
Lunch at Ancient Hue Restaurant.
Provided by Exotissimo Travel Vietnam