Exciting attractions not exciting

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Ho Chi Minh City has announced a list of "100 Excitements" to promote its image as a tourist destination, but many local expats found that their favorite places were not included.

"I do not know who made the list but it seems not to have been done by local expats. How can you forget the Caravelle rooftop [Saigon Saigon] bar?" said Christophe Lefebvre, an administrator of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Vietnam (CCIFV).

"In the top-ten list for restaurants, there is no foreign cuisine mentioned. Strange!" he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

The city's "100 Excitements" announced on February 25 included top-tens in each of ten categories: hotels, restaurants, souvenirs, entertainment venues, shopping, must-tastes, city attractions, coffee shops, city tours and events.

The selection was based on votes by local and foreign tourists over a three-month period, with a judging board from the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Department of Industry and Trade and tourism reporters overseeing the initiative.

However, many local expats said there were many notable "excitements" left off the list.

A US expat advisor of an NGO in Vietnam, who has been living in Vietnam for eight years and wanted to remain unnamed, said she felt that the Caravelle Hotel in downtown HCMC should be included in the list of ten hotels.

She also said Minh Long ceramics should have been mentioned in the souvenir category and bun thit nuong and bun bo hue in food category.

Jonathan Pincus, Dean of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program, said everyone has their favorites but "the Café Terrace at Saigon Center is a favorite restaurant for many locals and tourists alike."

"Lots of tourists like Lemongrass and Temple Club restaurants as well," he added.

More to do

Many expats said tourism in the city could improve if pickpockets were eliminated, better tour guides were hired and more professional services were provided.

"Too many pickpockets and lack of tourist police," Lefebvre lamented, adding that there should be English signboards to better guide foreign tourists.

The pickpocket problem was echoed by Pincus, saying "I suppose the biggest nuisance is the pickpockets, which seem to be everywhere these days. You have to watch your bag and wallet all the time in HCMC."

However, he said most people enjoy their visit to HCMC. "The city is close to the Mekong Delta, which is full of interesting things to see. I always recommend the city and the delta to my international friends as a great place for a holiday," he said.

"One complaint that people have is that Vietnam, not just HCMC, is more expensive than Thailand and Indonesia. Hotels rates are high... It is also very expensive to fly to Hong Kong and China from Vietnam," he added.

The US NGO advisor mentioned earlier in the story said one problem is that tourist locations do not have tour guides able to offer good answers to her questions. She also said there were blatant mistakes in the translation of guidebooks given out at major tourist sites.

"Tour companies need to ensure that they can offer knowledgeable tour guides that are able to provide thoughtful answers to questions. I have joined several tours where tour guides appeared to be reading a script and could not answer what seemed to me to be very simple questions about the people/ history/location of interest," she said.

She also advised that there be better tourism services for the elderly and disabled.

"Currently, very few sites/tours are friendly to people with mobility issues. Also, I think the public bathrooms and restaurants at tourism sites need to improve," she said.

View the full "100 excitements" list online at http://hcmc100e.info

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