Muong are the only real Vietnamese people

Banana drives and cucumber putti

Vietnam

By Jan Langenbein, photos: Jan Langenbein

Between the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi and the Ben Thanh Market in Saigon, almost as many golf courses have been built as noodle soups have been made in the past 20 years. So it is high time to pay a visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The Vietnamese cuisine is fantastic. We have been in Hanoi for eight days and this trip is more like an opulent all-you-can-eat buffet interrupted by a handful of rounds of golf than real research. So it can be ruled out that I look emaciated or even needy. Nevertheless, my caddy at the BRG Legend Hill Resort seems to be worried, because she pulls a Tupperware box full of bite-sized vegetable and fruit wedges from her backpack and holds a piece of cucumber under my nose. "Eat!", She winks at me and of course this little snack is much more tempting than the expired power bars in the shallows of my golf bag. The next drive actually lands on the fairway and on the way to the next shot I try to remember if someone has ever offered me food on a golf course. I have been doing this "work" for more than ten years and have played countless golf courses in all corners of the planet, but this is actually a first. There is only a minimum of communication in our golf cart - my caddie's knowledge of English is limited to "Good putt!", "Oh, oh, out of bounds" and "Eat!" And my Vietnamese is even worse off - but thanks to this nice gesture we understand each other perfectly. As we read the line of my bogey putt on the fifth green, the sun is setting behind a mountain peak that towers above everything. But the end of daylight does not mean the end of the round at the Legend Hill Resort, because an employee in the clubhouse has long since pressed the light switch and countless floodlights make the fairways shine brighter than the Bernab u Stadium during a Champions League match .

WHEN YOU THINK THAT THE VIETNAMS GOLF ASSOCIATION WAS ONLY FOUNDED IN 2007, IT SOUNDS ALMOST INCREDIBLE THAT THERE ARE SOME 5,000 ACTIVE GOLFERS AND CLOSE TO 60 GOLF COURSES IN VIETNAM.

GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM!

A week before the international understanding of the cucumber, the Vietnamese border official in his uncomfortable uniform looks a little sleepy, after all, it is only six in the morning when our direct flight from Frankfurt lands in the capital of the capital. A quick look in the eyes, stamp in the passport and we're in the country. Completely unsuspecting - this is my first trip to Vietnam - I expected a much more time-consuming procedure, after all there is still something like communism here.

The bus takes us in the direction of downtown Hanoi, and the further we leave the morning lethargy of the international airport behind us, the busier the streets outside the window become. Car traffic is limited, but the amount of scooters and mopeds that are already pushing through the streets at this hour makes even the city center of Rome look like a traffic-calmed zone on a Saturday. 3.12 million motorized two-wheelers were sold in Vietnam in the 2016 calendar year, bringing the number of registered scooters, mopeds and motorcycles to 45 million. With a total population of around 92 million, almost every second Vietnamese owns a motorized two-wheeler. Nevertheless, nobody would talk about his scooter, it simply says: "I'll come over with the Honda", regardless of whether it is a Piaggio, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki or actually a Honda. With its brand on the streets of Vietnam, the Japanese group has managed to become synonymous with an entire product category, similar to Tempo or Nutella in Germany. After all, nobody in this country asks for a tissue or tries to keep their hands off the nut and nougat cream in the future.

The heart of the Vietnamese traffic system beats in a two-stroke rhythm and at a huge junction that connects five busy streets near Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi's Old Quarter, you can see that restraint and swarm intelligence are enough to regulate traffic rules over a pho soup for breakfast to make superfluous. There are neither traffic lights nor a recognizable system and yet every Honda and its driver can get to the other side quickly and undamaged. It is fascinating to watch this seemingly disorganized tangle, and no doubt a single overwhelmed Westerner with his innate propensity for road aggression would be enough to topple the whole system. After watching the locals boldly cross the street for about 30 minutes, I take my heart in my hand and march across the intersection. Because the secret recipe against the never-ending stream of scooters seems to be a certain gear with constant speed. And lo and behold! It works. Like a diver in a huge school of fish that is neither observed nor touched, I march through hundreds of crackling Hondas, each with at least one driver and a maximum of four passengers, before the school on the opposite side releases me completely unharmed.

MEMBERS ONLY

But I didn't come here to explore the intricacies of the national transport system, instead I booked golf clubs and five tee times at courses that are all a maximum of five hours by car from Hanoi. If you consider that the Vietnam Golf Association was only founded in 2007, it sounds almost unbelievable that there are now around 5,000 active golfers and almost 60 golf courses in Vietnam. The tendency, especially as far as the second number is concerned, is rising sharply, because tourism is booming and the climatic conditions are made for golf courses of the highest quality. Not to mention the bombastic natural beauty of this country.

Vietnam

GETTING THERE
Vietnam Airlines flies non-stop from Frankfurt to Vietnam ten times a week with a modern fleet consisting of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. The flight time to Hanoi is around eleven hours and the scheduled landing at six in the morning is ideal for exploring the city on the day of arrival. www.vietnamairlines.com

ENTRY
German citizens only need a passport to enter Vietnam, as long as the planned stay does not exceed 15 days. The passport must be valid for at least six months at the time of entry. If you plan to stay in Vietnam longer than 15 days, a visa is required.

CLIMATE
As far as the averages for temperatures and rainy days are concerned, the months of November to February are the best time to travel to Hanoi, as more than three rainy days per month are not to be expected. Even in winter, temperatures rarely drop below 10 C. From May to September, the average maximum temperature of over 30 C in connection with the high humidity can become a burden. The number of rainy days also tripled.

PAY
The Vietnamese currency is called dong (VND) and is issued in notes with a value of 1,000 to 500,000, dong. The euro to dong exchange rate is around 1 to 28,000 in April 2018. 100 euros is a little less than three million dong. All golf clubs on our trip as well as the hotels accepted MasterCard and Visa. In Hanoi it was not a problem to find an ATM that accepts German Maestro cards.

LIVING
EMERALDA RESORT NINH BINH
The 172 rooms, three restaurants and the mini golf course are located on the edge of the Van Long Nature Reserve, a 3,000 hectare wetland. The architecture and, above all, the vegetation of the resort blend in perfectly with the surroundings, as the rooms are located in individual bungalows spread across a tropical garden. www.emeraldaresort.com

FLC SAM SON BEACH & GOLF RESORT THANH HOA
Together with the FLC Sam Son Golf Links, an American-style gated community, and two other luxury hotels, this resort offers five-star luxury and a pool larger than your average supermarket parking lot. There is still a lot of construction going on, but when the cranes have been removed, a superlative holiday complex will have arisen here. flcsamson.com.vn

MUONG THANH LUXURY HOTEL QUANG NINH
This 34-storey luxury hotel with more than 500 rooms is located in the middle of the entertainment district of Ha Long, and if you get a room above the 18 storey, you not only have a fabulous view of the natural wonder of Ha Long Bay, but also of the numerous roller coasters of the Sun World theme park. This part of Ha Long is something like the Las Vegas of Vietnam. www.luxuryquangninh.muongthanh.com

COMPANIES
LANDSCAPE COMPLEX TRANG AN
A boat trip through the valleys of the water landscape of Tr ng An with its flooded caves and hidden temples is at least as mandatory for European tourists as a visit to Neuschwanstein is for Germany - visitors from Asia. This landscape is absolutely unique and rightly both a natural and a cultural monument of the UNESCO World Heritage. www.trangandanhthang.vn

JUMPING THROUGH HA-LONGBUCHT
Dozens of junks set off daily from the port of Tuan Chau on journeys through the fabulous basalt cliffs of Ha Long Bay. You should definitely treat yourself to at least one night on these ships, because both the cabins and the food are excellent and the excursions with dinghies to beaches and flooded caves are spectacular. www.pelicancruise.com

HO CHI MINHS HOUSE
Not far from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace in the middle of Hanoi, you can also visit Ho Chi Minh's stilt house, where he lived for the last years of his life. This simple and tastefully furnished house is located in the middle of a large park, whose shady trees not only make you forget the heat, but also the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. ditichhochiminhphuchutich.gov.vn

The Tr ng An Golf & Country Club, an exclusive hideaway for Hanoi's top ten thousand, is the first stop on our Vietnamese golf adventure, and anyone who wants to tee off here needs a good tour guide, because the number of guests who come to the first tee is strictly limited. This is the realm of Robert Bicknell, an American ex-pat who switched to professional life in 1978, found a second home in Vietnam in the early 80s and with his wiry manner exudes the aura of an almost indomitable matchplay opponent. In 1992 he designed his first golf course in Vietnam and is now looking after his boss, a wealthy and publicity-shy businessman from the region and owner of Tr ng An Golf & Country Club. "When I came here more than 30 years ago, I knew after a few days that I would never return to my home country," says Bicknell after our round. It is enough to let your gaze wander over the incredibly beautiful landscape around us to be able to understand this life-changing decision immediately. "The next time you're in the area, our Precision Course will be ready. You have to play it because these are 18 of the best par-3 holes I've ever seen. The greens are diabolical." Robert is clearly not a guy who thinks understatement is an important virtue, but this man knows without a doubt what he is talking about, and so we leave the motto of An G&CC with a sound reason to return as soon as possible.

Golf courses in the region

TRANG TO GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

18 holes, par 72, 6,560 meters

Address:
Ky Phu Ward
Nho Quan District
Ninh B nh, Vietnam
Tel. +84 2296.333111
www.trangangolf.com

Green fee:
on demand

40 kilometers south of Hanoi, this exclusive country club has been open to members who are all members of the leadership and high society of Vietnam since 2016. A maximum of 60 guests are allowed on the course per day and absolutely nothing works here without an experienced golf organizer with local knowledge. It is worth trying to get a start time, however, because the layout is varied and the state of maintenance is excellent. If the club manager has a good day, he allows 18 holes on the Precision Course after the round. You should definitely not turn down this invitation.

Killer hole:
A par 3 is extremely seldom the trickiest hole on a course, but this is the case in Tr ng An. Hole 8 at 198 meters from the back tees is not for the faint of heart and the fact that there are deep bunkers on the left of the green and a huge lake on the right doesn't make things any easier.
www.trangangolf.com

FLC SAM SON GOLF LEFT

18 holes, par 72, 6,620 meters

address
Thanh Ni n St.
Qu ng Cu ward, S m S n City
Thanh Ho Province, Vietnam
Tel. +84 237.6597979

Green fee:
approx. 45 euros (plus 19 euros caddy fee)

The Nicklaus Design Company designed this golf course, which opened in 2015, is located on a headland between the Ma River and the South China Sea. The layout is reminiscent of a links course with its undulating fairways, huge greens and numerous sandy areas and four of the varied fairways also offer sea views of the Gulf of Tonkin, but the decision to plant hundreds of trees between the fairways becomes this links character in certainly diminish in the coming years.

Killer hole:
Hole number 5 has everything a long, rock-hard, world-class par needs: more than 400 meters from the back tees, huge bunkers next to the drive landing zone and a green dangerously close to a water hazard that is as big as a swimming lake.

FLC GOLF CLUB HA LONG BAY

18 holes, par 71, 6,089 meters

Address:
Hong Hai Ward, Ha Long City
Quang Ninh Province, Vietnam
Tel. +84 203.3616555
www.flchalong.vn

Green fee:
approx. 67 euros (plus 20 euros caddy fee)

You can't get past superlatives if you want to describe these brand new 18 holes high above the Bay of Ha Long. This course is impossible to master without a golf cart, the differences in height are not only so extreme between the holes, but also on the way from the tea box to the green. Of the total of five par 3 holes, three offer fabulous views of the 1,969 limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pebble Beach? Cape Kidnappers? Pinnacle Point? This golf course plays in a league with these dream courses.

Killer hole:
At 108 meters, hole 12 is by far the easiest hole on the course, but it is not the stroke that is the difficulty, but the concentration, not to be distracted by the incredibly spectacular panorama. No cell phone stays in the golf bag here.

BRG RUBY TREE GOLF RESORT

18 holes, par 72, 6,317 meters

Address:
Ngoc Xuyen, Thu Son
Hai Phong, Vietnam
Tel. +84 225.3867956
www.brgrubytreegolf.vn

Green fee:
approx. 70 euros (Monday to Friday), approx. 105 euros (Saturday & Sunday) plus approx. 22 euros each caddy fee

Framed by the Gulf of Tonkin on one side and countless rice fields on the other three, this 18-hole championship golf is characterized by a lot of water. A look at the birdie book can be frightening, after all, it gives the impression that the fairways are 18 islands in the middle of a large swamp. When playing, however, it quickly becomes clear that the water is quite far away and instead the huge, pearly white sand bunkers that guard all landing zones and all greens are the real problem.

Killer hole:
On lane number 7, the yellow tees need a drive with at least 225 meters carry length to remove the massive bunker to the right of the fairway. The bunker on the left is to be ignored. But then nothing is done on this 402 meter long par 4.

BRG LEGEND HILL GOLF RESORT

18 holes, par 72, 6,367 meters (Legends Course) & 18 holes, par 72, 6,428 meters (Masters Course)

Address:
Phu Linh, Soc Son
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel. +84 243.2959259
www.brglegendhillgolf.com

Green fee:
approx. 86 euros (Monday to Friday), approx. 130 euros (Saturday & Sunday) plus approx. 22 euros caddy fee

This gigantic facility designed by Nicklaus Design is located 30 kilometers north of Hanoi's city center. The concept is as simple as it is ingenious: each fairway has completely different green complexes, some of which are more than 100 meters apart. Although there are only 18 tea boxes and fairways, there are 36 completely different holes and thus two golf courses, the Legends Course and the Masters Course. After sunset, Legend Hill simply continues to play, after all, all holes are floodlit.

Killer hole:
If you play the Masters Course, hole 4 is a relatively tame par 5. However, if you are dealing with the Legends Course, the third shot suddenly has to cross a 150 meter wide lake, behind which the green lies. Have fun!