The National Tourism Year 2018 – What Went Down?

Vietnam’s National Tourism Year 2018 opened in April with a ceremony themed, ‘Ha Long – Heritage, Wonder – Friendly Destination’ along with Carnival Ha Long. Quang Ninh, the eastern Vietnamese province and home to world-famous Halong Bay, played host to the National Tourism Year 2018, in a bid to raise the province’s profile on the world stage.

Hoping to add to the tourism boom within the area, the provincial People’s Committee hosted close to 100 events throughout the year, ranging from a conference on road development for tourism between Vietnam and China, to a paragliding competition.

Other events included an RFC international off-road motor race, a food festival, the grand opening of a photo exhibition and award presentation and, most recently, the Ha Long – FLC 2019 open golf tournament.

The series of events in the region have been deemed a success. In February, for example, Dong Trieu held the Ngao Van spring festival, drawing in about 25,000 visitors within the first three days. Alongside this, there were various other successful festivals across the province, such as Uong Bi’s Ba Vang pagoda and Yen Tu festivals, Van Ninh festival in Mong Cai city, Luc Na festival in Binh Lieu district and Ha Long city’s Loi Am temple festival, all of which attracted a wide array of visitors.

As a part of the initiative, local authorities have taken special care to restore local relics, such as the Yen Tu relic site in Uong Bi, with an upgrade of the road to the site and the construction of a new cable car system, aimed at preventing traffic congestion.

Work is underway to complete the first phase of the Yen Tu festival tourism services center, which includes a Zen garden, pilgrimage village, King monk Tran Nhan Tong museum and Truc Lam palace.

As the event has been a bid to increase tourism numbers, Uong Bi city paid special attention to safety, with the city working to prevent fire and explosions, ensuring social order and traffic safety were both heavily monitored.  

So far, not enough research has been undertaken into the success of the event, but judging by numbers, it all went according to plan.

– View more about Halong Bay UNESSCO World Heritage Site  – 

Big Cruise Liners and Hon Gai Port

2018 saw some major developments in Halong Bay’s infrastructure.

The new expressway, which links Hanoi to Halong Bay, cuts the drive time from four hours to just two. The brand new Van Don International Airport, which received its first flight in December 2018, is set to be the closest to Halong Bay.

Now, the new Hon Gai International Passenger Terminal, which received its first cruise liner on November 28, 2018, has received its first cruise ship, bringing 2,000 visitors and almost 1,000 staff members to the bay.

Construction began on this new port just one year ago, in November 2017, and has cost a total of $47.4 million. This massive investment into Halong Bay’s infrastructure helps to link this UNESCO World Heritage Site to the rest of the world, with the best possible facilities available for visitors.

This new port was designed to receive two cruise ships at any one time, each with the capacity of holding 8,460 passengers and crew members. The port itself provides a five-star, three-storey terminal, which covers 7,600 square meters, and a harbor able to accommodate 250 smaller tourist boats.

Ten international cruise liners were welcomed to the port before the end of 2018, adding to Halong Bay’s 12 million tourists expected in 2018. Given that the General Statistics Office stated that tourism delivered to Vietnam by ship was down 2.3 percent over the first 10 months of 2018, this port offered a welcome boost.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise

Changing Tides in Halong Bay: Wooden Junks and the Future

The interest in this World Heritage Site is nothing new; people have been coming to view the great limestone karsts of Halong Bay for centuries.

This has been, in part, due to its unique location and an important trading post for spice trade between China, Japan, and Thailand. The bay gradually became a center for cultural and commercial exchanges between these countries and ancient Vietnam.

The establishment of the Van Don port dates as far back as the reign of Ly Ang Tong in 1149. These days the Cai Lang commercial port remains a lasting relic of Halong’s ancient past.

Chinese and Vietnamese tourists have been flocking to Halong Bay for centuries due to its spiritual connections. Pilgrimages became popular as people looked for soul purification and peace of mind. This is, in part due to Halong being the birthplace of Truc Lam Zen, a Vietnamese school of Buddhism created by King Tran Nhan Tong in the 13th century.

Halong Bay later became a symbol of the famous Chinese and Vietnamese junks, the traditional boat of Southeast Asia. The creation of the junks dates back to 3000BC.

You can see Halong Bay’s appeal in several films that have scenes shot in the area. Blockbusters like Kong: Skull Island (2017), Pan (2015) and James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) all contained scenes shot in Halong Bay, most of which couldn’t resist employing a junk for a scene.

IndoChine (1992) is another great example of this, with scenes set in Halong Bay demonstrating the cultural significance of junks during the French Colonial period.

While the history of wooden junks is rich, it’s time for a new phase of water transport in Halong Bay. It will be sad to see these beautiful ships leave, but environmental and safety factors have made replacement steel ships a necessity.

Safety is an important factor when it comes to cruises and sadly wooden boats are at risk from fires and sinking. Two junks experienced major fires in 2017, while the sinking of previous wooden boats has led to worrying numbers of fatalities.

Deterioration of the boats within the harsh environment of Halong Bay has made it necessary to retire all wooden hull cruises after 15 years. In comparison, steel boats are given 25 years until they have to be removed from the bay.

The environmental impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site is another obvious factor.

Deterioration of wooden boats, as outlined by their lifespan, is huge, and this can have significant negative impact when compared with their steel counterparts. Additionally, the dubious source of the wood provided for these boats may impact on deforestation in Asia.

The People’s Committee of Quang Ninh is trying to reduce the number of wooden hull cruises. Currently, there are around 534 cruise ships in the bay, 81% of which are wooden. It is predicted that, by 2020, there will still be 400. But by 2030 they’ll be gone.

As the largest cruise liner and the market leader in Halong Bay cruises, President Cruises is proud to invest only in safe, steel boats that have minimal impact on the environment.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise

New Airport to Open in Halong Bay

Travel to Halong Bay has become a far simpler process of late. With investments from government and private businesses in the local area, the brand new $350 million Van Don airport will open up just 50km away from Halong Bay. Couple this with the new expressway running from Hanoi to Halong Bay, cutting the drive time from four hours to two, visiting this world heritage site has never been easier.

Built to connect Quang Ninh with other domestic provinces and overseas destinations, Vietnam’s newest airport will receive its first flight on December 25. While it’s predicted that Van Don will receive 500,000 passengers in its first year, it is said that it has a capacity for 2.5 million people a year in its first phase. This number stretches to 5 million people in later phases.

Travel for anyone journeying from central or southern Vietnam couldn’t be simpler. Flights are planned from tourism hotspots Hue, Danang, Dalat, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phu Quoc. Further destinations include Chu Lai, Tuy Hoa, and Buon Ma Thuot.

While you might expect this to be a small, domestic airport, the design of Van Don could not be more different. By attracting high levels of investment, Van Don has been created with state-of-the-art facilities and standards that make it one of the most advanced airports in Vietnam to date.

It has a runway stretching 3.6km, which means it can facilitate the landing of some of the world’s most advanced aircrafts, such as Boeing 787, Airbus A350, A320 and A32. The capacity to accommodate such large aircrafts makes Van Don equal to major international airports like Ho Chi Minh City and Noi Bai in Hanoi.

The first flight will arrive in Van Don from Ho Chi Minh City on December 25. This regular flight will be with national carrier Vietnam Airlines and will continue to operate on a daily basis, departing from Ho Chi Minh City at 2:00pm and returning at 4:45pm, with an estimated flight time of two hours and five minutes.

— Check out the new airport in Halong —

New Highway Cuts Hanoi to Halong Bay Transfers in Half

In a landmark bid to aid faster transfers for tourists and commuters, the newly built Halong – Hai Phong Expressway has just opened, cutting the drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay from four hours to two. Anyone traveling from Hanoi to Halong will now have a speedier and shorter drive, rather than the previous 180km.

This new $556 million road has a bounty of benefits for tourists wishing to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay. A shorter drive means that tourists leaving from Hanoi can enjoy more time spent in Hanoi before departing, or more time relaxing in Halong Bay.

The design of this new highway not only means tourists travel at greater speed, but it will also provide a more comfortable and quieter journey. In addition, a trip along the longest sea bridge in Southeast Asia and a short rest stop will mean added levels of comfort and enjoyment for passengers.

When asked how she felt about the new highway, Lisa, a holidaymaker from Berkshire, England claimed that the experience was a significant improvement to her previous trip to Halong Bay

“I came a few years back and used the old roads,” Lisa Hertz comments. “While we did have a private car with a driver, it was still a long, tiring experience. The new highway has turned it into a pleasant trip though, with a nice little break in-between.”

“We’ll be flying out from Hanoi tomorrow, so we’ll be leaving in the morning. I’m not worried about the journey at all, it should be fine.”

This road doesn’t just help the tourist industry though. John Moka, a resident Hanoi expat, says: “I regularly travel from Hanoi to Ha Long for work. The trip used to take four hours, which is half a working day.”

“When you travel by bus it can be crowded, hot, and impossible to get work done. This would essentially mean half of my day was lost to travel. Now, with the breezy two-hour journey, it feels like nothing more than a commute.”

The newly constructed Van Don Airport compliments this newly built expressway, one of Vietnam’s other recent tourist conveniences that links Halong Bay with the rest of the world.

While this brand-new international airport doesn’t currently have international flights scheduled, that is all set to change in 2019.

>> Check out the new airport in Halong 

A Michelin Star Journey in Halong Bay

Halong Bay’s foremost elegant cruise proudly invites you to the most glamorous night in the bay. Reimagining luxury in Halong Bay, celebrity chef John Burton-Race, who holds multiple Michelin stars, will be joining President Cruises for one night of black tie pageantry. This magical evening will take place on 5 & 6 January, 2019.

The first celebrity chef ever to grace Halong Bay’s waters, John has a highly decorated career, which began beneath his mentor, Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. The pair’s relationship blossomed, and John later went on to take over Raymond Blanc’s kitchen, earning him his first Michelin star.

John’s career now ranks among the most distinguished in world-class dining, having opened a total of three restaurants that have been awarded Michelin stars. John gained further international attention as the star of Channel 4’s hit television show French Leave.

John will step aboard Halong Bay’s boldest vessel to launch his brand new menu, created especially for President Cruises. Alongside him will be world-class sommelier Stephanie Voy, Maison Castel’s Wine Ambassador. John and Stephanie will prove to be the perfect pairing for the evening’s leisurely voyage through Halong Bay.

The handcrafted menu will leave every desire satisfied, ensuring an indulgent range of Michelin-standard food from John and exquisitely prepared Vietnamese food from President Cruise’s own outstanding chefs.

>> Check out the best Halong Bay overnight cruise