For an exotic golf vacation, consider Vietnam along with Thailand
If you ever decide to travel to Southeast Asia for a golfing vacation, consider Vietnam. Until recently, golf in communist Vietnam was considered a decadent capitalist pastime. No more. With a reforming economy that’s growing nearly as fast as China’s, golf is the new status symbol in the Land of the Dragon.
Currently there are only nine golf courses in the country, but recently the government announced that a consortium of Japanese companies will invest $1.2 billion to build a “romantic town” with 30,000 villas, five-star hotels and, yes, a 36-hole golf course just a chip shot away from the city of Dalat. Groundbreaking is scheduled for June.
The beautiful city of Dalat in the Central Highlands has a year-round climate similar to summers in Denver, which is about as pleasant a climate as exists anywhere in the world. It’s a favorite spot for Vietnamese honeymooners – and dirt cheap. I stayed in a very commendable guest house for $10 per night.
The city already has one golf course – the 84-year-old Dalat Palace Golf Club. Built by the French colonialists to honor the last Vietnamese emperor, it fell into weedy disuse after the Americans’ defeat in 1975 and for years it served mostly as a trysting spot for lovers. A decade ago it was renovated.
Golf’s fortunes in Vietnam began to turn around when the Hanoi government joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then Malaysia’s foreign minister and now its prime minister, advised Communist leaders that participating fully in ASEAN meant entertaining visitors and doing business on the golf course.
Soon after, the Vietnamese politburo issued a proclamation that golf was not only condoned but encouraged – which everyone interpreted to mean that polishing your short game no longer made you a candidate for a re-education camp.
Before long, Nick Faldo was designing the Ocean Dunes Golf Club in Phan Thiet, 150 miles from Saigon. That course has a signature par-three that Golf Magazine named one of the 500 most beautiful holes in the world.
The average Vietnamese laborer earns $40 a month, a little more than half what a Chinese laborer makes. Vietnamese tend to be aggressive and hard-working. That’s why Cisco System announced this week it’s opening a plant in Vietnam. Others are sure to follow. Take a tip from me and go as soon as you can. This fascinating and exotic part of the world is changing fast.
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Leaving Hanoi at 8am, I checked in at the private Emeraude pier and be shuttled to the boat. Before checking in to your cabin, we enjoyed welcome drinks and a quick orientation. Compact, as ship cabins always are, onboard rooms are decked out in hardwood, with nice fixtures like air-conditioning,
a private reading lamp, slippers for shuffling about the decks, and a tidy, compact bathroom area with toilet, shower, and a separate room for a small sink stand. Everything onboard is retro, which means pleasing hardwood, brass, and fine linens. The oversize wicker chairs on the top deck are cozy, and I can find shaded areas as well as sun-worshipping space. A casual,
friendly atmosphere pervades, especially when the corks start popping.
Dining onboard is a delicious buffet, and most guests find themselves sharing a meal with new friends. Lunch on day 1 is followed by a stop at the Surprise Cave, then an afternoon of cruising and great views of the islands. The boat docks in a quiet harbor and guests have an opportunity to, on their
own or with a guide, explore nearby Trinh Nu and Hang Trong, the Virgin Cave and the Cave of the Winds, or take a dip in the bay. The back of the boat is low in the water and there is a sturdy ladder making it easy to get on and off (the adventurous will join the crew for dives off the upper decks).
Dinner is a sumptuous affair of fine local cuisine (heavy on seafood) and good Western options. Enjoy drinks on the upper deck as you watch the moonlight glisten off the bay.
Day 2 starts with tai chi classes on the sun deck as a brilliant sunrise paints its colors on the arching canvas of high limestone peaks jutting from the glassy waters. Blissful. After my exercise, tuck in to a hearty Western-style breakfast. The boat returns to the dock by 9:30am, and a direct transfer finds myself back in Hanoi by lunchtime. The trip is quite
memorable, and a ride on this retro ship, outfitted to the nines, is unique to Halong Bay. The price for the overnight cruise is $290 for a luxury cabin for two and $490 for the one-suite room. Transfer from Hanoi costs $100 for a four-seat vehicle.
also featuring golf tours of Angkor Wat Golf, as stand-alones or add ons.
as featured in Sports Illustrated and Vietnam Golf Magazine.
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