Now that it’s reopened for tourism following two years of strict health controls, Vietnam has reclaimed its post as one of the trendiest travel destinations globally.
A seriously underrated country brimming with culture, home to pristine white-sand beaches, bounded by an azure ocean, and incredibly diverse at its core, it is once again welcoming Americans who are adventurous enough to burst out of their Western bubble.
We know most tourists would associate Vietnam with the 20th-century War and the communist values enshrined in its constitution, but a little-known fact about this Asian gem is that, aside from its turbulent past, it is a world-class sunny hub yet to be spoiled by mass tourism.
In fact, there is a lesser-known coastal town in Southern Vietnam boasting some of the most breathtaking vistas and natural scenery found in Southeast Asia, as well as one of the country’s top-rated resorts:
Vietnam’s Fastest-Growing Development Zone
Hồ Tràm, which I will Latinize as Ho Tram from now on, is not your average beach town, where the fisherman flaunt their catch, and idling away the long, scorching-hot afternoons as you stare at the East Sea is the most exciting thing you’ll do all day.
Ho Tram may have all the qualities of a sleepy Viet village, but beyond the quaintness, it is at the heart of Vietnam’s fastest-growing development area, where an up-and-coming resort scene has rekindled the interest of tourists in recent years.
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As my shuttle bus left from Saigon and began traversing the Vietnamese countryside on the way to Ho Tram, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the scene unraveling before me could be compared to Tulum’s record growth all those decades ago when it went from being another small town to a global sensation:
Construction sites, sealed-off patches of land already claimed by international brands, and numerous billboards promising exciting future openings throughout this year and the next dominated the landscape, but it wasn’t until I arrived at the coast that I finally understood why Ho Tram had been gaining so much traction lately:
Some of the locals say Ho Tram Beach is the most beautiful in the region, and while I didn’t leave town on a beach-hopping adventure to explore the coastline extensively and potentially challenge their claims, I could easily take their word for it.
The sands there are essentially virgin, with a limited number of hotels lining the coast, while the waters have retained that customary bright-blue hue other resort towns along the East Sea have lost due to pollution and human interference.
Being a short two-hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon), the largest metropolis in Vietnam, it is the perfect getaway for those looking to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, if only for a long weekend.
While I wouldn’t have minded just lying on the beach all day myself or enjoying all the unsurpassed facilities of the world-class resort I checked myself into (more on that further down), I still expected more than just that another melanin boost.
That is precisely why I chose to holiday in Ho Tram, as opposed to other neighboring coastal zones: beyond the sun and sand, it is dotted with historical sites that don’t often make it to mainstream travel publications, such as the Minh Dam Mountain, perhaps the main point of interest in the province.
Vietcong Caves And Monkey Sanctuaries
One of those is the Minh Dam Mountain, a protected reserve of outstanding beauty that hides some harrowing stories and an underworld of secrets beneath its scenic trails and meandering creeks.
Half a century ago, the green leaves would have been splashed with red.
Minh Dam was not only a nature park teeming with wildlife but the headquarters of Viet Cong combatants.
Climbing the mountain, you’ll walk past numerous war memorials and rock formations whose once-smooth surfaces are scarred by bullet holes:
The Viet Cong was the largest communist armed organization in then-South Vietnam prior to the Fall of Saigon and the retreat of American soldiers.
The mountain itself is ridden with war-era grottoes, connected by a complex system of nature-made underground bunkers, where the communist fighters took refuge.
Unlike the Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon, this complex has not been fully excavated, and tourism is limited.
Only a handful of caves are open for visitation, though there is generally no indication as to where they lie in the dense forest, which is why contacting a local guide is so important.
Staying at the Melia Ho Tram, I didn’t have to worry about contacting a reputable guide, as they knew just who to call.
Besides taking me on a motorbike tour of the mountain and ensuring we never verged off-path, at least not in a way that would entail a risk of harm, Mr. Hung (my guide) introduced me to a local monkey sanctuary, a traditional fishing village, a historic Buddhist temple nestled in the lowland forests, and a number of other unlisted spots added to the itinerary.
If you like the sound of that, perhaps you should consider staying at the Melia Ho Tram yourself:
The Best Home Base For Exploring The Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province
Ho Tram is not exactly the most accessible beach destination in Southeast Asia, in the sense that it does not have an international airport within short driving distance of the resorts nor rail connections linking a major city, such as Saigon, to the southern oceanic provinces.
Inevitably, when planning a visit to Ho Tram, you will most likely be made to include a stopover, or preferably a couple of days in Saigon, where the international airport, and Vietnam’s busiest one at that, is located.
A sprawling financial center packed with skyscrapers and where conventional traffic rules mostly do not apply, Saigon can be a tad intimidating at first, especially if your sole goal of traveling to Vietnam is having a worry-free, peaceful vacation.
Fear it not.
Truly appreciating Ho Tram’s therapeutic qualities will require experiencing just how invariably anarchic this buzzing metropolis can be.
Once I tired myself of the concrete jungle, however, I knew immersing myself in nature was what I’d be craving.
The Melia is one of a select few five-star properties that call Ho Tram home and one of the very first international brands to arrive in the area.
Totaling over 10.000 square meters of impeccably-designed lakes and water displays, bounded by more than 4.000 tropical trees, and world-class amenities, the Melia is a quintessential part of the Ho Tram experience.
First of all, there’s the fact that this recluse town is incredibly tricky to reach on public transportation.
There are no train routes into or out of Ho Tram, and while buses seem to run regularly, finding official ticket offices or their departure point amid the urban chaos that is Saigon can be quite distressing.
Luckily for beachgoers like me, the Melia offers a direct shuttle leaving from a convenient departure point in the city’s less-busy District 2.
There are AC, USB chargers, and ice-cold water bottles available, leaving you to sink into your seat, enjoy the view, and making the short journey as pleasant as it can be.
Arriving at the Ho Tram, you can expect the highest level of customer service, with English-speaking, attentive staff ready to check you in quickly and welcome refreshers that will help you cool down from the baking weather.
After the usual formalities, I was helped onto a buggy, bag in hand, that would travel through endless rows of luxurious villas and picturesque and man-made ponds, interspersed with short yet glorious glimpses of the ocean in the distance, until we reached my destination.
Simply called ‘The Hotel’, the glistening tower block is the tallest structure on the premises, overlooking both the vast gardens below and the deep blue beyond.
I was assigned a suite on the 15th floor, sea-facing, and with a privileged panorama of the world below.
Standing on my spacious balcony, breathing in the salt-scented air, as my feet slid comfortably into the woolly Melia slippers I had just unpacked, I knew I had made a sound decision to take a slight detour in visiting Ho Tram during my month-long Vietnam trip.
Let me show you around the place:
My Stylish Deluxe Ocean View Suite
Upon entering the room, I was first struck by the amount of natural light coming in through the balcony, dimmed by paper-thin sheer curtains hanging along the whole width of the sliding doors and the furtive peek at the privileged 15th-floor ocean vista I managed.
I instinctively walked towards it to pull it back and took a long, satisfying deep breath as the stunning view revealed itself in full to me, with the Melia below as an expanse of green alternating with rows upon rows of luxury villas, man-made lagoons, and winding footpaths.
The ocean breeze that blows up here provides some relief from the scorching heat on the ground.
The view was my favorite thing about this room, other than, of course, the spacious, extremely soft double bed I would contentedly climb up to every night.
The AC-cooled sheets provided some relief after a long day out in the sun transpiring profusely, whether it was walking the grounds or venturing out of the resort to explore the Southern Vietnamese wilderness.
The stylish shower room is another feature I loved:
Featuring integrated lighting, a walk-in shower, a separate toilet, and a glass partition for the wall, with accompanying blinds that can be pulled over it for privacy when needed, it exudes luxury while serving its most basic purposes.
Other nice touches included an espresso machine, an assortment of tea and caffeinated items, canned still water, and a minibar stocked with wine, local beer, sodas, sparkling water, and juice bottles.
With the exception of the still water, the other products were not complimentary.
The room has a huge TV set, which to my surprise, did not include smart services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Casting from your device or zapping through free channels often showing Vietnamese soap operas are your only options for late-night entertainment.
The 47m² Deluxe Room Ocean View is the ideal base for young travelers on a stricter budget hoping to indulge in some luxury while exploring the Southern Vietnamese coast.
Fares start from only USD $139 for upcoming May dates on Booking.com.
The World-Class Amenities
As a destination, Ho Tram is absolutely worth exploring, but the Melia boasts enough attractions and an extensive list of activities that will keep you entertained for days.
Other than an extensive beach, which lines the hotel front.
The sea in this part of Vietnam can be a tad restless, and the sandy banks themselves were dotted with red flags indicating open water swimmers should be cautious, but I am sure water sports enthusiasts, especially surfers, would take advantage of Ho Tram’s epic waves.
Like many other guests, I was purely in search of utter relaxation, and being able to swim in the ocean was not a prerequisite for booking.
Luckily, the Melia contains two infinity pools right on the beachfront, with their faintly-outlined azure edges blending into the vastness of the ocean.
The ‘Main’ pool seemed jam-packed with visiting families.
Other than being the resort’s main meeting point, it boasts a swim-up bar at its exact center, out of which other sections of the 1,500m2-wide turquoise-colored lagoon snaked out of, leading to hydro-massage bathtubs and kid-friendly slides.
There were plenty of lounges to pick from, and advance reservation is not required.
The lounges themselves provided shade and featured a table call button, which I truly appreciated as I wasn’t expected to interrupt my reading or an early afternoon snooze to get drinks or food.
It was delivered straight to me.
If you’ve had the chance to gorge yourself with the scrumptious breakfast spread earlier, you’re unlikely to feel peckish throughout the day, but the poolside kitchen never stops: the menu includes pizza, sandwiches, milkshakes, natural juices, and other nibbles.
My favorite pool, however, has to be the much-smaller Level Pool, part of Melia’s signature ‘Level’ experience offer, and set at a quieter end of the property, a 15-minute walk from the main entertainment zone. It is an adults-only pool flanked by ultra-luxurious villas equipped with daybeds and outdoor sun loungers.
There is a bar on the premises and a pathway leading down to the beach.
Seeing that kids are not allowed in this area, the atmosphere is much more relaxed without the usual splashing and joyful screams.
It served as the perfect little nook for me to catch up with work, sip a drink or two, and listen to the soothing, not-so-distant crashing of the waves.
The Melia Is Essentially A Foodie’s Paradise
@vinigoesglobal 📍 Melia Ho Tram Resort, Southern Vietnam 🇻🇳 #vietnam #foodie #foodietiktok #asia #breakfast #buffet ♬ Swear By It – Chris Alan Lee
To be quite frank, I have probably never seen a breakfast spread as big in any resort I was a guest in before.
From the ample selection of hot dishes that felt like they would belong in an all-you-can-eat buffet – not that I’m complaining – to the chocolate-dipped pastries and exotic fruit, it is a literal feast for the eyes.
Still, on the topic of food, the Melia has four eateries guests can pick from, serving traditional Vietnamese, Italian-style Mediterranean, pan-Asian, or global cuisine.
I’m all for immersing myself in the local culture, so I became a frequent visitor to the beachfront Muoi Restaurant myself.
For my inaugural meal, I went with the classic chilly pork-stuffed rolls for starters and Pho for the main, a Vietnamese noodle-and-beef soup rich in herbs, spices, and flavor, all washed down with several avocado smoothies, my latest obsession.
The Pho tasted so good I couldn’t help but place an identical order the following night, but for the sake of my traveling experience, I did opt for the seafood rice on my final evening at the Melia.
I loved how crispy the fried garlic was and how fresh the calamari tasted, but I would take the delectable Pho over rice any day.
As for the restaurant itself, the Muoi commands beautiful views of the ocean and the main pool, and it easily became my favorite dining spot, yet the elegant, worker-friendly Elyxir Cafe was a close second with its green juices and melt-in-your-mouth fruity cheesecakes.
Luxury And Leisure
I strongly recommend you take a guided tour of the Ba Ria-Vung Tau coastline, what with its fishing villages and off-path attractions, but it’s true you’ll likely never get bored if you do decide on not leaving the resort at all.
There is a wide range of activities to fill your days irrespective of the length of your visit: archery lessons, meditation and sunrise yoga, and swimming lessons, as well as an outdoor cinema every night with free popcorn and bonfires with marshmallow roasts.
If you’re all about fitness and well-being, you’ll be glad to know there is a gym on-site, right on the ground floor of the hotel, and tennis courts, though those were closed for maintenance during my visit.
Additionally, there is a modern spa conveniently located on the main avenue between the hotel tower and reception, and the best thing is you can book massages, hair appointments, nail care, and other luxe body treatments directly from the comfort of your room.
Another fun thing you can do is rent a bike for the day and explore the grounds and its many winding paths, lagoons, and hidden gardens at your own pace.
The first two hours are free.
Whether you’re biking, taking the buggy, or walking, you shouldn’t miss out on the newly-built Hamptons Pier, supposedly the longest pier in Asia.
At 270 meters in length, it stretches far out into the sea, where you’ll be met with postcard-worthy views of the golden sandy strip and the hotel towers in the distance.
The palm tree-lined pathway to the pier has a number of food trucks where Vietnamese street delicacies are sold and lush tropical gardens for leisurely strolls.
The Ho Tram Hotel Zone is one of the fastest-growing resort strips in Vietnam and one that’s developed in record time following the country’s wider reopening for tourism in the early nineties when U.S. sanctions were lifted.
Although it is far from being the perfect sunny getaway – public transportation is effectively non-existent, tourist hotspots are far apart, and traveling outside the properties to tourist sites usually requires booking private tours in advance – I can see how the remoteness, the absence of crowds, and abundant nature would appeal to wellness seekers.
After all, as the Melia administration knows well, ‘soul matters’, and they have done a stellar job at ensuring guests feel welcome and completely at peace during their stay.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
Wednesday 26th of April 2023
Be aware that Vietnam (Saigon and Hanoi anyway) have both reintroduced mandatory muzzles on all public transit (not sure whether this applies to buses coming from Cambodia or inbound and domestic flights, though I understand Vietnam Airlines has maintained a loosely enforced mask mandate throughout Covid). The mandate also applies to schools and "crowded spaces" as well as basically all service staff.
Vietnam may have been the first SE Asian country to move on from the Covid scam but now it's taking 2 steps backward again.