Sapa hotel, Online hotel booking service going strong
The online hotel booking service is becoming a lucrative business for investors in the hospitality industry in Viet Nam. A Thoi Bao Kinh Te Sai Gon (Saigon Economic Times) report says that Viet Nam now has 13,700 tourist accommodation facilities with about 290,000 rooms, including 61 five-star hotels with 14,600 rooms, 154 four-star hotels with 19,300 rooms, and 365 three-star hotels with 25,520 rooms.
With the number of domestic and overseas tourists visiting different locations in the country increasing every year, many of those looking to reserve accommodation find it convenient to do so online.
According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), the number of international arrivals in Viet Nam in June 2013 was 567,291, up 1.5 per cent over the previous month and 29.9 per cent year-on-year.
In the first six months of this year, in spite of the global economic recession which has strongly impacted Viet Nam's source markets, the tourism sector has managed to take advantage of its strengths and gain positive growth, the report says.
Total international arrivals during the first six months reached 3,540,403, a 2.6 per cent growth over the same period of 2012. The number of domestic tourists was 24 million, up 12 per cent, and total tourism revenues rose 23.5 per cent year-on-year to reach VND105 trillion (US$5 billion).
Given such attractive conditions, Viet Nam is a potential market for websites providing online booking services.
The report says that at present there are dozens of websites abroad and some at home that providing online booking services for hotels in Viet Nam.
But a few overseas companies like Agoda,com, Booking,com and Expedia,com dominate the market now, charging between 15 and 20 per cent for a confirmed booking.
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It was too early. I struggled to peel my eyes open, wondering what the commotion outside was all about. The clock pointed to somewhere between 4 and 5 a.m.
It was Sunday, and I was at a hotel in Sapa. Cursing the thin walls of the hotel, I walked to the window to peer into the dawning light outside.
I had expected to see a few people milling about their morning business. Instead, I saw the streets flooded with hundreds of H'mong and Red Dao people in colourful ethnic attire heading to the Sapa market.
It was an exotic orchestra of people speaking foreign tongues, children running, babies whimpering, chickens clucking and pigs snorting.
It was impossible to sleep with all the noise, so I decided to get out and experience the traditional Sunday market myself.
Love in the marketplace
The sights, sounds and smells of Sapa's market are as distinctive as the ethnic tribes jostling about. Locals go to the market not just to buy and sell but also to unwind after a long, hard week.
I had been watching H'mong girls wearing garlands of dried mushrooms on strings around their necks, when suddenly, a H'mong man caught the arm of one of the girls and tried to pull her away.
I was alarmed, but a shopkeeper explained, "It is cÆ°á»›p vá»£ custom. When a H'mong man finds the girl of his dreams, he and his friends try to pull her away. If they succeed, they take her to the man's house for a few days before visiting the girl's family to ask for her hand in marriage."
Just inside the market gates were stalls full of mountain fruits such as peaches, plums, chestnuts, and Indian taro.
But the locals were eating hearty breakfasts of mÃ¨n mÃ©n (corn wheat cake), and tháº¯ng cá»‘ (horse meat soup). The better off leaned over steaming bowls of ph^, an expensive treat in these mountainous regions.
To the right are stalls full of trinkets and local products. Here you can find everything from ethnic silver jewelry to mushrooms, tam tháº¥t (notoginseng), honey, and linh chi fungus.
I bought a kilo of dried buds of the tam tháº¥t to gift friends back home. The tam tháº¥t bud tea is believed to aid good sleep.
Fabrics in Sapa
Next, I headed to the second floor of the Sapa market, which is known as the heart of the market. This is the arena of women selling brocades from their little workshops.
Many of these local artisans have been working in dimly-lit, cramped shops for decades, weaving yards of intricately designed brocades. Owing to the fabric's popularity among tourists, a lot of the women here can converse quite well in English.
Heavily embroidered colorful blankets, pillow shams, table covers beckoned from all around. I found myself attracted to the more esoteric designs of the H'mong people.
A Sapa native told me that H'mong girls are taught to weave, sew and dye fabrics from a very young age. When they grow up, they are entrusted with the responsibility of making
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for her family. The better her needle work, the better a girl's prospects for marriage.
The market continues bustling until late afternoon, when locals begin to pack up their goods and head back to their homes in the terraced hills of Sapa.
Though tourism is growing rapidly in this region, mercifully, the H'mongs and Red Daos have preserved their colorful culture. In the Sapa market, the ethnic people and their cultures come alive every weekend, fusing together the simple times of the past in a traditional, but evolving market.
Victoria group presents 12-night Indochina tour
Victoria Hotels & Resorts, the group that runs six properties across Vietnam and Cambodia, is offering a 12-night Indochina exploration package.
The Indochina Explorer package will highlight the attractions of the region. Tourists will be taken on train, boat and bus tours through ethnic minority regions in the northern Vietnam, the UNESCO heritage town Hoi An and its beach in central Vietnam, the floating markets of Can Tho and the mystic Sam mountain in An Giang Province in the southern region.
Customers will then travel by speedboat to Phnom Penh, and see vestiges of the Khmer civilization in Siem Reap.
The package includes accommodation with daily breakfast in superior rooms at each Victoria Hotels & Resorts in Sa Pa, Hoi An, Can Tho, Chau Doc and Siem Reap. The group operates five hotels in Vietnam, including one in the south