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Mice Asia Net : October 2008
vietnam and cambodia In the case of Vietnam it’s quite extraordinary. A tired old plane that looked and sounded like a relic from the “American War” is replaced by a gleaming Boeing 777ER, where the business-class cabin and service makes the statement that this is an airline on the move. Whereas five years back, immigration processing in a ramshackle terminal at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) took over 90 minutes, we’re whisked through a gleaming new terminal in a matter of minutes and onto our luxury coach, with Destination Asia guide Dung ensuring everything is running to the minute. For the first time visitor Saigon, as it is almost universally still known, is an assault on the senses. There’s four million motorcycles in the city and it seems one sees every one of them on the road from the airport - twice! Several metro lines are under construction, but for now the streets of Saigon are a maelstrom of energy and movement. But it works. We travelled across the city half a dozen times at different times of the day and the traffic, while heavy, continued to move far better than Bangkok, KL, Beijing and Sydney for that matter. The hotels in Vietnam are getting right up there with the best of them in Asia. We had two nights in the splendid new “Towers” wing at the Sheraton Saigon, and the facilities and service was right up there with the best of Hong Kong or Singapore. I tested the system unintentionally by mislaying my travel wallet. After ransacking my room, I alerted the management and from the hotel manager down, an army of staff swung into action. A call came while we were on our 26 miceAsia.net new beginnings I story By Miles Clarke ’ve joined a team of incentive organisers being royally hosted by Vietnam Airlines and Destination Asia on this familiarisation. And it didn’t take long to recognise that a lot can happen in five years. Miles Clarke returned to VietnaM after a five year absence and found plenty to celebrate. and Cambodia wasn’t far behind. way to the airport that the wallet had been found after migrating to the back of the mini bar and that an outrider was already on the way to meet me at the airport. That’s service! Sydney-based Nicole Naylor, one of the founders of Destination Asia and who spent seven years living in Vietnam, has a good sense of what works in Vietnam for groups of differing nationalities. For this educational, with Australian participants, her team had the visiting organisers utterly charmed within hours of arrival. Touring started with a trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, some 75km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, an extraordinary labyrinth of tunnels from which the Vietcong fought and outwitted the American invaders during the height of the war. The area was stripped bare by Agent Orange and B52 bombers, yet the Vietnamese managed to maintain their war by secreting up to 12,000 people underground, housing and feeding them, allowing the South Vietnamese Army and their backers tenous control over a 150,000 square kilometre area by daylight only, at best. Some of the tunnels have been enlarged to cater for the McDonalds generation, but a 50 metre shuffle in pitch darkness is not for the claustrophobic. In Saigon there are markets to explore; Vietnamese art and lacquer work is world-class and still keenly priced; the Reunification Palace is worth exploring as a special event venue and the Saigon River is well worth considering for a sunset cruise or dinner. We took a cocktail cruise upriver, complete with jazz singers and perhaps the best illusionist I’d ever encountered, to the Bien Quoc complex, ABOVE: A riot of colour in a lantern shop in Hoi An in central Vietnam. Photograph by Philippa Margan, Next Stage Events, Sydney.