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A visit to Vietnam’s Ho Tram, before the crowds: As more Koreans flock to Da Nang and Nha Trang, a new resort town pops up

Dec 11,2019
Vacationers relax in a pool at the Melia Ho Tram Beach Resort, one of the newly-opened resorts in Ho Tram, which is expected to become more crowded with the possible construction of an international airport nearby. [MELIA HO TRAM BEACH RESORT]
Clockwise from top left: A floating breakfast, which is available at Melia Ho Tram Beach Resort; The view of the villas available in different sizes, from one to four bedrooms; Morning yoga classes are available for those looking for a good stretch to start their day; Exploring the resort area is easy with a bike rental; A flower market is a good place to visit in Ho Chi Minh City where many visitors spend a night on their way to Ho Tram. [MELIA HO TRAM BEACH RESORT, LEE SUN-MIN]
HO TRAM, Vietnam - Just as Da Nang and Nha Trang have established themselves as beach destinations for travelers from across the world, Ho Tram is gearing up to become the next-generation hot spot.

Its proximity to Ho Chi Minh City, which is accessible by car without the hassle of transferring flights, makes the beach town that currently has less than 10 resorts even more attractive. The fact that it is relatively lesser known also works as a plus for travelers who want to be the first to spread the word about new spots.

Ho Tram is about 110 kilometers (68 miles) southeast of Ho Chi Minh City, and it usually takes about three hours to get there by car. Once construction of the Long Thanh International Airport is finished it will be even easier to access.

The InterContinental Hotels Group has also decided to make Ho Tram a global hot spot and turn The Grand Ho Tram, one of the first resorts to open in the area, into the InterContinental Grand Ho Tram. A new Holiday Inn Resort Ho Tram Beach will also open next year.

But even before InterContinental decided to move in, Spanish brand Melia, whose hotels and resorts are available throughout Europe, arrived to town. It opened its Melia Ho Tram Beach Resort in April, and has been very active in promoting its brand to Asian travelers, especially Koreans looking to make a golf trip.

Although the resort doesn’t have a golf course on site, The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip, which has attracted many Korean travelers in recent years, is not too far away. The resort also has Korean staff on site to help Korean travelers with whatever they need during their vacation.

The brand, which has been operating in Vietnam since 1999, first became known to Koreans when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stayed in the Melia Hotel in Hanoi during his trip to Vietnam to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump for a summit in February.

“The Asia Pacific region is the biggest source of global outbound tourist spending, with most of this spent on intraregional travel,” said Steve Nunan, senior director of business development Asia Pacific of Melia Hotels International.

With Spain and Korea celebrating their 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year, the company is gearing up to use this opportunity to promote its brand, which is still relatively unknown to Koreans.

“South Korea is our strategic destination in Asia,” said Miguel Wang, head of Development North Asia for the company, adding that the brand is looking to offer services in Korea as well in the near future.

For now, since people interested in visiting the new resorts in Ho Tram need to get to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, the brand is trying to come up with a program where visitors can experience the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City along with some relaxing time by the beach at the resort. Currently, there is not a direct shuttle to the resort from the airport, and those who want to come need to get to Ho Chi Minh City first and then get on the shuttle. In the city, the hotel chain operates a more casual brand, Innside by Melia Saigon Central.

One of the best ways to make the most use of your time in the city is to get on a motorbike tour. Young college students who want to study English are registered at so-called English Centers that have partnerships with travel agencies and take travelers on the motorbikes to show them what’s available in the city. All you need to do is hold on tight until you reach the flower market, trendy bars and exciting street food vendors.

A home away from home

Melia Ho Tram is one of the newest resorts in town, having opened its door in April. While it gets busy on weekends with locals coming for a short getaway, it still is relatively quiet on weekdays, making it an ideal destination for those who want some tranquil moments by the beach and the pool.

The large resort provides everything visitors need, and with a 500-meter (1,640-foot) ocean frontage as part of its premise, there’s no reason to go anywhere else.

One feature that visitors staying in one of the villas with a private pool at the resort is a floating breakfast. A tray large enough for two people filled with hearty delights will float in your pool and you can sit in the water while enjoying a sip of fruit juice with your pastry.

Some say that the moving tray is difficult to eat from, but it certainly provides a unique experience of swimming your way to your breakfast. After you are done, you can simply leave the try in the pool to be cleaned out later. There are a total of 115 villas of different sizes, from one bedroom to four bedrooms on the beachfront.

The rooms in the main building are all ocean-view, allowing people to witness both the sunrise and sunset without any obstructions. The hotel features outdoor movies, live music from singers and D.J.s, barbecues by the beach, a 24-hour fitness center and a spa. Restaurants offer a variety of cuisines, ranging from Japanese and Chinese to Western-style.

“We are not followers, we are the trend makers” said general manager Manuel Ferriol. He previously worked in Da Nang, a popular destination in Vietnam for Koreans, and understands what Koreans want during their stay. He doesn’t want to make Ho Tram into a new Da Nang, but rather something totally different and new.

The resort currently offers the opportunity to kayak or paddle board, and more programs are going to become available soon, as the resort is looking into a joint venture with another company to provide a variety of water sport activities including wind surfing and kite surfing.

For now, the best way to fully enjoy the resort is to enjoy a slow life of waking up late, going for a walk at the beach, eating delicious meals, reading and then checking out a movie at night.

The hottest place to be

It is expected that the number of Korean travelers to Vietnam will surpass 4.2 million this year. According to statistics released by the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the number of Koreans that have visited Vietnam this year so far is around 3.87 million, up 22.3 percent compared to the same period last year.

That number makes Korea the country with the second highest number of travelers to Vietnam, with China taking the No. 1 spot. The Korea Tourism Organization expects to see the total number of Korean travelers to Vietnam surpass the 4.2-million mark without too much trouble.

Ever since the number of visitors exceeded the 1-million mark in 2015, the number has been steadily going up by 30 to 50 percent each year.

The Korea Culture and Tourism Institute said places in Vietnam have been chosen by Koreans as they cancel their trips to neighboring Japan due to rising tensions between Korea and Japan. The trend will become even stronger during the cold months as people look for somewhere warm to visit during the harsh Korean winter.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport approved multiple airlines’ requests to increase their number of flights between October to March. Vietnam has seen a massive increase in incoming flights, with 126 more routes operated a week compared to last year. To cater to frequent travelers to Vietnam, some credit card companies like Woori Card have introduced a card that provides discounts and benefits when used at stores in Vietnam.

At the same time, the number of Vietnamese visiting Korea has also continued to grow. As of October, about 479,000 Vietnamese travelers came to Korea this year for a visit, up 23.9 percent from the same time last year, thanks to the popularity of football director Park Hang-seo, who’s been leading Vietnam’s national football team to many wins.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]