HANOI, 16 November 2018: When the first international cruise ship docked at Cam Ranh’s deep seaport, 8 September 2016, officials called it an auspicious milestone in Vietnam’s tourism.
Another milestone was pencilled in last June when Cam Ranh airport officially opened its second terminal that overnight doubled the annual passenger handling capacity to 8 million.
Annually, around 5.5 million tourists fly to Cam Ranh. It’s the nearest airport to Nha Trang and most international visitor hail a taxi for the 25 km transfer to the country’s most popular beach resort dating back to the 1960s and the Vietnam War.
But today, Cam Ranh has its own resorts many of them dotted along 8 km of beachfront correctly described as “Long Beach.” Located a five-minute drive from the airport a Cam Ranh bay’s white sandy shoreline stretches as far as the eye can see, a fast emerging tourist destination with at least 30 properties either opened or in the pipeline.
Ultimately, it will compete with Nha Trang for holiday travel and even though holidaymakers face a 300-km commute from Ho Chi Minh City both destinations are strong contenders for long-weekend travel by road or rail.
However, convenient nonstop flights are the key to drawing more travellers from ASEAN. Airlines that believe consumers are happy hopping from city to beach via hubs are missing the point; regional travellers believe direct flights are essential. One-stop flights are non-starters, plus they are more costly and add to your carbon footprint.
So when Bangkok Airways reports it will start a direct Bangkok-Cam Ranh flight 25 January 2019, it has our attention. The airline pioneered direct flights from Bangkok to Danang north of Cam Ranh and to the holiday island of Phu Quoc far to the south on the Gulf of Thailand.
Now it has opened reservations for a four weekly service direct to Cam Ranh using an Airbus A3129. According to Airlineroute timetable information Bangkok Airways’ new service will depart Bangkok at 1022 and arrive in Cam Ranh at 1205. The return flight will depart at 1255 and arrive in Bangkok at 1440.
Scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday the service will be welcomed by European tour operators who will be able to connect their guests from international flights arriving in Bangkok in the early morning with the PG service direct to Vietnam’s beach resort town of Nha Trang or the newer resorts of Cam Ranh bay.
Based on Vietnam National Administration of Tourism’ estimates, during the first half of the year, over 2.44 million visitors travelled to Khanh Hoa province home to Cam Ranh and Nha Trang. Of that total around 1 million were international visitors, up by an estimated 50% year-on-year.
2019 is a banner year for Khanh Hoa as it assumes the role of host for the National Tourism Year celebrations. Earlier this year Cam Ranh was also named among best places to visit by Condé Nast Traveller, mainly for its pristine beaches, plus the presence of a top golf course and beachfront resorts that appeal to Chinese, Koreans and Japanese who can travel there on direct flights. Cam Ranh has around 90 hotels with 1,200 rooms.
Out of Bangkok, the new Bangkok Airways service will set you back USD281 for a roundtrip fare to Cam Ranh. It’s the only airline offering a nonstop service on the route cutting travel time from around seven hours on airlines offering a one-stop service to just one-hour and 45 minutes.
National carrier, Vietnam Airlines, is not in the mood to pioneer a direct flight from Bangkok so it expects us to pay USD308 and endure a flight time of six hours and 10 minutes to get to Cam Ranh with a change of plane in Ho Chi Minh City.
You might surmise that innovative Vietjet would have its bikini squad parade ready for a nonstop flight from the Thai capital to the golden beaches of Nha Trang, but no like the national airline it expects us to pay USD343 for a roundabout ride via Ho Chi Minh City that will park us in travel mode for seven hours.
AirAsia, a favourite airline for leisure travel, would have us commute around the region to get to Cam Ranh in the slowest time of 14 hours on the outbound leg via Kuala Lumpur and eight hours on the return sector, also with a lengthy down time in the Malaysian capital. But it offers the cheapest fare at USD279, just two dollars less than Bangkok Airways’ nonstop service.
So come late January another Mekong Region destination becomes available for travellers from the Bangkok gateway without having to spend the entire day snacking in airports with intervals of flying to get to the beach.
Top beachfront resort stays in Cam Ranh lead off with Fusion Resort Cam Ranh at USD267 a night, located 17 km from town and 5 km from the airport. It gets an 8.6 rating and a solid 450 reviews on TripAdvisor.
The five-star Duyen Ha Resort, also 17 km from town, has a 9.2 score and 177 TripAdvisor reviews. Its daily rate starts at USD132.
The four-star, high-rise hotel Swandor Cam Ranh, 15 km from town, has a starting rate of USD197. It sports a 6.0 score and 136 TripAdvisor reviews.