Under the Banyan Tree

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A slice of the massive Angsana Resort campus in Lang Co, Vietnam. The private resort will cost and estimated US$2 billion by the time it is finished. 

Last Saturday, hundreds of people gathered under an explosion of fireworks to inaugurate the Angsana Lang Co - a massive integrated resort built on a secluded three-kilometer hook of beach halfway between Da Nang and Hue. 

The evening concluded a weekend of site inspections of the massive campus, which currently includes an 18-hole golf course, a 300-meter serpentine pool and a wedding chapel.

Though the resort is far from complete, guests can already choose to spend their visits riding through the jungle on ATVs or shopping for high-end real estate.

The resort's ambitious master plan calls for the construction of a total of 2,000 hotel "keys." Though much of those residences have yet to be built, guests already have their pick of everything from single bedroom suites with private pools to US$800,000 hilltop villas.

The privately-owned resort will eventually cost Banyan Tree Holdings a staggering $2 billion.

The company began in 1994, when a Singaporean family turned a rehabilitated tin mine in Phuket, Thailand into Asia's first integrated resort.

Since then, the firm has grown to manage spas, golf courses and resorts all over the world.

Their latest project in Lang Co"”a sleepy collection of fishing hamlets set amid a series of lagoons"”will be their largest undertaking.

Realtors and investment analysts say they face an uphill battle.

The market for luxury vacation villas cooled off significantly just as construction began, three years ago.

The location, while beautiful, could be a tough sell for some. Visiting the remote resort means a 45-minute shuttle ride from Da Nang International Airport.

In addition, the weather north of the Hai Van Pass is notoriously tempestuous and unpredictable.

That said, things are looking up for resort developers in the area.

After collectively launching the Central Coast Destination Marketing Organization in 2012 they've already succeeded in attracting direct international flights from Singapore and Korea.

"Hotels and resorts in the central coast are experiencing record-breaking occupancy levels, exceeding last year's achievements by 7 percent and in some cases double digit growth," said John Blanco a longtime hotel investment analyst.

Even these gains are fragile.

"A recent announcement of a revocation of visa waivers

from Japan, South Korea and Russia, three of the strongest inbound tourism markets, could deal a crippling blow to the tourism industry throughout the country but more so to the Central Coast." 

In this way, the mega-resort has come into Vietnam in uncertain times and it doesn't seem quite certain what it will become.

Promotional materials describe a planned "town center" which will be something like a series of shops and malls in addition to a "theme park" designed to take visitors back to the "golden age" of Vietnam.

"Whatever it becomes will be very tastefully executed," said Ho Kwong Pin, the Executive Chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, during a press conference held at the hotel's mountaintop Thai restaurant. "Perhaps a water park, if that proves suitable."

Throughout the conference, Ho expressed faith and enthusiasm that the Lang Co property would soon dwarf the company's flagship resort in Phuket.

Dressed in a silver suit and red designer Ray Bans, he seemed to have come a long way from his beginnings as a Stanford-educated Vietnam War protester.

Before taking over his family's business and revolutionizing the international resort industry, Ho was detained by Singaporean security forces for publishing articles in the Far Eastern Economic Review that were critical of the Singaporean government.

Some still refer to him as "pro-communist." 

Last weekend, he seemed more like a captain of industry.

Ho described taking a leaky rowboat across the nearby lagoon to the site and finding nothing on the site but piles of sand left by illegal miners.

He told reporters that after scaling the mountains to the site of the Thai restaurant to gaze into the valley below, he decided to build the resort.

The company then set about building bridges, a water treatment facility and electrical infrastructure. Since then, the firm has even constructed housing for its many employees, who it says are 70 percent local.

"There was nothing here," Ho said.

Others claim that Banyan Tree Holdings compensated a dozen families that had eked out a living as farmers on the site, which is also known as Cu Du Village.

"They have a lot of money now," said a cleaning lady named Tham, who described herself as born and raised in a hamlet just down the road. "But they don't do anything all day."

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