Where would two golf fanatics go to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary?
We were intrigued by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail. Launched in 2006, this collection of championship courses runs parallel to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an elusive skein of jungle tracks used as a supply route by the Vietnamese during their war against American troops. As a further enticement, the International Association of Golf Travel Operators named Vietnam its 2007 “Undiscovered Golf Destination of the Year.”
Temples, spas, markets and fabulous cuisine were all part of the bargain. Yes, we enjoyed the trip of a lifetime without breaking the bank.
City of Love
Bill and I celebrated our anniversary, December 11th, at the Dalat Palace Golf Club. Situated a mile above sea level, the country’s oldest course and Palace Hotel (circa 1922) were stomping grounds for Vietnam’s first golfer and last emperor, Bao Dai.
You might speculate that putting the late Ho Chi Minh’s name on a golf trail seems oxymoronic. Ho became a communist but he was first and foremost a nationalist who is greatly revered by the Vietnamese. Hopefully, the national hero would approve of the growth of golf in this previously war-torn country. With support from the U.S., Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in 2007 and is experiencing an economic/ tourism boom.
Caddies are an integral part of the Asian golf experience. Each club has its own team of tiny gals wearing Vietnam’s iconic conical straw hats. Our caddies, who we nicknamed Vim and Vigour, cheered every time we made reasonable shots on this roller coaster of fairways that twists and undulates through a landscape of lakes and pine forests.
Dalat differs remarkably from the rest of Vietnam: it’s highland cool instead of tropical hot; farmers grow strawberries and coffee instead of rice. They even produce palatable wines.
Dalat is also Vietnam’s honeymoon mecca. Lovers pose for photographs at the waterfalls, rose gardens and around the town’s centrepiece, Xuan Huong Lake, complete with swan pedal boats.
Overlooking the lake, the Dalat Palace’s Art Deco façade houses an opulent interior. At its Rabelais restaurant we enjoyed French fare in a setting that would rival Versailles.
Hip Heritage Hoi An
For centuries, Hoi An was a port for Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and French seafarers. Miraculously, it’s historic buildings were unscathed by the wars. Today this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a marvelous hodgepodge of temples, bridges, pagodas and shop houses, most festooned with silk lanterns.
Hoi An’s other claim to fame is its tailors. Here you can have something custom-made in hours for a pittance. I chose a small shop run by Ms. Van. She measured me for a linen blazer at two; I went for a fitting at seven; her cousin delivered it at nine. I am still kicking myself for not buying more.
You get a big bang for your buck in Vietnam. That day I got the blazer ($35) and a Thai massage ($20). Bill bought four silk scarves for his nieces ($8). We feasted on stir-fried beef and shrimp dumplings at Miss Ly Café —all for less than $100.
We spent two nights at the central Life Heritage Resort where the staff decorated our bed with rose petals.
Just outside of town, past rice paddies and water buffaloes, lies the former R&R hangout of American troops known as China Beach. Today it’s called Ha My Beach and it’s home to luxury resorts, such as the Nam Hai, where we splurged on a villa. Continuing the anniversary romp, our butler surprised us with champagne. The diaphanous curtains surrounding our pedestal bed fluttered as the waves breaking on the beach lulled us to sleep.
Across the road at Montgomerie Links, designed by the 2010 European Ryder Cup captain, Colin Montgomerie, a concrete bunker behind the sixth tees survives as a combat souvenir.
There’s also been a “Shark” sighting. The Greg Norman-designed Danang course, a battle through high dunes, was awarded “best new course in Asia Pacific, 2011, by Asian Golf Monthly Awards.
Sprinkled with lakes, parks and French colonial architecture, Hanoi is a beguiling capital. But the traffic is horrific. Had an elderly lady not led me across the street, I might still be there marveling how a family of four can fit on a moped.
Bill and I found respite from the madding crowd at the Metropole, named “one of Asia’s top three hotels by Travel + Leisure magazine. At Le Beaulieu we indulged on oysters and rack of lamb. In Le Club a chanteuse crooned jazz. We might have been in Paris.
Hanoi boasts plenty of diversions. The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre dates from ancient times when peasants entertained themselves in rice paddies. The stage is a small pond. Puppeteers, wading hip-deep behind a curtain, manipulate their whimsical characters using bamboo poles.
We paid our respects to President Ho who lies in state at the Mausoleum. Later, lost in the maze of narrow streets in Hanoi’s Old Quarter we stopped for a bowl of pho. You’ll see locals sitting on tiny plastic chairs on sidewalks all over Vietnam slurping their beloved national dish. Warning! The aromatic broth, noodles, poached chicken or beef and garnishes of chilies, herbs and a squirt of lime may become addictive!
About an hour from Hanoi, we took a boat shuttle to King’s Island’s two championship tracts, Lakeside and Mountainview. Lakeside’s an aptly named gem with water in play on 14 holes. After the bustle of Hanoi, King’s Island was a tranquil haven.
Hong Kong Finale
Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China in 1997. Fret not. It’s lost none of its cosmopolitan glamour.
At Tim Ho Wan, probably the world’s most affordable Michelin one-star restaurant, don’t expect fine china but bring an appetite for divine dim sum (2-8 Kwong Wah Street).
Operated by the Jockey Club, Kau Sai Chau, Hong Kong’s only public facility, boasts three spectacular tracts: the Gary Player-designed North and South courses and the newest East Course by Nelson and Haworth, reputedly the toughest. Wait ‘til you hit the 18th—it’s a whopper.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. The world’s highest bar, Ozone on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, made a memorable perch for our last evening. We toasted the next 30.
By: Anita Draycott
When you Go
We arrived in Hong Kong well rested thanks to flat beds on Cathay Pacific’s Business Class.
For all domestic flights, Vietnam Airlines,
Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail
Mandarin Media will customize your trip
Hong Kong Tourism Board