I’ve just arrived home from a whirlwind week in Vietnam that was hosted by Bamboo Airways and their parent company FLC Group. In that time we visited Ha Long Bay and the capital Hanoi, before flying south to a rapidly developing destination in Quy Nhon.
But I have to tell you, before we start, that whilst I left home with a plan to review the flights, accommodation and other details that some find exceptionally important, everything changed very rapidly. Instead I’ve returned feeling privileged to have visited a country that is still easing its way back into tourism, having witnessed first hand the effect that this is having on the people we ran into.
Never, not ever once in my life, have I felt so welcomed in a destination. More experienced Vietnam travellers will readily tell you that it was always this way, and they would be quite right, but there was definitely something extra in the air. I felt it on the streets, in the hotels, in the restaurants and indeed everywhere we visited.
Thankfully I managed to capture some of that vibe on camera, and am including one or two such instances here without this becoming a travel blog. In the snap I’ve chosen as the headline picture above, an elderly man sprang up from his chair to enthusiastically bound over and welcome us to Hanoi and Vietnam. He’s pictured shortly after embracing Greg Wilson of Wide-Eyed Tours and announcing how wonderful it was to start seeing visitors again.
You remember these things. More so now.
Above: Right back at you, Hanoi.
Pictured below is Toong, our first tour guide in the North of the country. We were the first group he’d escorted in two years of inactivity, he told us, and during that spell he’d taken alternative work selling electrical goods. If this was a rusty version of him I’d be very surprised as he was magnificent; a born tour leader full of enthusiasm and information. It struck me what an enormous and yet mostly unseen loss he would be to global tourism if he’d have preferred the security of selling toasters and microwaves.
And there were many others just like him. Listening to their stories about returning to their life’s passion of guiding or caring for visitors was truly heartwarming.
A little on the journey. I hadn’t heard of Bamboo Airways either, but they are a full-on, full-service carrier and whilst a new name to Australians they’ve been established for several years. The airline is very active regionally, if the departure and arrival boards in Vietnamese airports are anything to go by.
Once onboard I set about reviewing my experience of what seemed a sparkling new Dreamliner, but quickly realised that my internal giggling to myself that I was actually travelling somewhere would colour things somewhat. I gave it a go, I really did, but it’s made all the more difficult when your mind is telling you “I’m on a plane!” whilst you’re trying to focus on seating configurations.
There comes a point when you realise that something should be left to the professionals. Our eclectic group contained several seasoned travel writers and journalists who began taking intricate photos from multiple angles, and after observing this for a few minutes I realised that I was fighting an uphill battle. Their reports will be across the national publications soon enough.
Below, Chris Ashton of Executive Traveller demonstrates how it should be done. Note the poise, the attention to detail and the use of assorted equipment. I asked him if there was a manual covering how to do this. There isn’t.
I left Chris to his own multiple devices, and instead asked for a snap of myself beaming next to the cheese and wine cart.
In summary I was really impressed with the flight and service and so were the journalists, so I can’t be far off the mark.
In all seriousness, I reckon that’s a ‘thing’. There will surely be others like me who, for their first few journeys at least, will simply be delighted just to be travelling. I certainly hope so.
FLC Group are the parent company of the airline and offer a number of resorts across Vietnam as part of their increasing portfolio. We were delivered to FLC Ha Long Bay Golf Club & Luxury Resort, which was really impressive in terms of rooms, facilities and particularly the staff. Like many of the group’s resorts it sits next to a championship-level golf course. I declined the offer of nine holes after noticing the trickery of the greens, because I’d still be on about the fourth hole by now. But the scenery….
Below is a picture taken one evening at the hotel. The guests were almost exclusively Vietnamese, which is hardly surprising given current circumstances, but it’s usually a popular haunt for tourists from across Asia.
Amongst the throngs of dignitaries and staff who’ve greeted us on arrival at each of the resorts, TV crews from a national station were also in attendance to cover the first Australian tour group who’ve visited in quite some time. I haven’t checked, but I’m assuming I’m something of a big deal in Vietnam right now.
Above: Star treatment for Margaret Short of ‘I Love Cruising with Margaret‘, Quy Nhon.
We experienced three really enjoyable days in Ha Long that included the obligatory afternoon cruise before flying south to Quy Nhon, an up-and-coming destination that is clearly set on a path to rapid modernisation. Get in now, I say. We stayed at the FLC Luxury Resort Quy Nhon, an epic location for golfers, conferences and lovers of private beaches – check the pictures online and tell me you don’t fancy trying it for yourself – but many of us were equally taken with the centrally located FLC City Hotel Beach, a five-star property that opened its doors only six months ago. The ability to wander into a town and get lost in backstreets is the kicker, for me at least, particularly as I’m crap at golf, conferences and suntans.
Above, the rooftop bar at the FLC City Hotel Beach, Quy Nhon.
Below: The view from my hotel window at FLC Luxury Resort in Quy Nhon. A giant Buddha overlooks the bay.
Opulent accommodation aside – and let’s not get started on the food or we’ll be here all day – I’d like to finish by circling back to the genuine joy at seeing tourism begin to reinvigorate both places and people. The cultural exchange alone is worth more than money can ever buy, and I hadn’t realised quite how much I’ve missed it.
It’s been a real pleasure to visit, and I found myself mentally awakened by the whole experience. Vietnam is mesmerising at the best of times, but after being locked away it’s something else entirely.
I hope you’re planning something for yourself, or at least dreaming of it.
Vietnam, before all the others arrive, would be a mighty fine choice.