From on high

Helicopters and seaplanes now ply the skies above famous tourist attractions in Vietnam.

By Le Diem on July 15,2019 09:08 AM

From on high

PHOTOS HA LONG HELI TOURS & HAI AU AVIATION

With exotic limestone islands dotting blue waters, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ha Long Bay has long been a symbol of tourism in Vietnam and a destination simply not to be missed while in the country. Visitors can now enjoy the unique beauty of the bay not only on classic cruises but also from the air, seeing how the islands resemble the shape of a “descending dragon”, as the name “Ha Long” means in Vietnamese.

From on high

Though sightseeing flights have been popular around the world for decades, they have only been introduced in Vietnam quite recently, offering tourists a distinctive experience. Such flights add to the diversity of local tourism products and help promote Vietnam as a global tourism destination.

The first specialized sightseeing tours in Ha Long Bay by helicopter, Ha Long Heli Tours, were launched in May by the Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company under the State-owned Vietnam Helicopter Corporation (VHC). With varied journeys and duration, they provide a service many foreign travelers are keen to experience, according to VHC.

The tours use new Bell-505 helicopters from the US, carrying two pilots and three passengers in a glass cabin providing expansive vision and comfort while looking out over the UNESCO-recognized natural wonder from a height of 200-300 meters.

From on high

Tours depart Tuan Chau Island in Ha Long city and fly over popular sites in the bay such as Thien Cung Cave, Sung Sot Cave, Cock Islet, Titop Islet, Bai Tu Long Bay, and fishing villages, among others. Three options are available: 12, 25, or 40-minute flights on different routes.

The Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company has also worked with the FastGo Vietnam JSC to allow tourists to easily book flights through FastSky, a helicopter ride-hailing app run by FastGo Vietnam. When booking via the app, passengers can also pay by interest-free installments through their credit card for a period of up to 12 months.

After just a short time in the skies, these tours have ferried hundreds of passengers over the bay, with 80 per cent being Vietnamese, according to VHC, helped by May marking the arrival of the summer months. It also expresses the growing demand among Vietnamese for better and more luxurious services. After gauging the experience and demand of passengers, the company will offer more tours and other services in the near future, such as video and photography trips on its choppers.

From on high

Prior to Ha Long Heli Tours, helicopter tours were also introduced in central Da Nang city in a cooperative effort between the Central Vietnam Helicopter Company (which also belongs to VHC) and certain travel agents.

These tours use luxurious EC130T2 Airbus helicopters with two pilots and five passengers and provide stunning views at an altitude of 500 meters of the coastal city and its beautiful beaches, peaceful fishing boats on the sea, charming Han River and iconic bridges, Son Tra Peninsula, Marble Mountains, and Vietnam’s tallest Lady Buddha statue. Two options are available, of 12 and 25 minutes.

Starting from $125 (around VND3 million) per passenger, these tours are cheaper, at $10.40 per minute (VND250,000), than sightseeing flights overseas, such as in Phuket, at $11.20-$15 (VND278,000-VND360,000) per minute, Beijing, at $23-$30.5 (VND550,000-VND730,000) per minute, and New York City, at $15.50 (VND370,000) per minute.

Along with helicopters, sightseeing tours by seaplanes are also now found in Vietnam, exclusively offered by Hai Au Aviation and providing tourists another option for sightseeing from above.

Using a 12-passenger Cessna aircraft, the first seaplane flights between Hue and Da Nang in the central region were launched earlier this year. Flights are daily, with three options - 30-minute, 40-minute, or 80-minute trips between Phu Bai Airport in Hue and Da Nang International Airport.

The new service is also a great alternative to the two-hour trip by car, bus, train, or motorbike between the two cities, allowing visitors, for the first time, to gain a bird’s eye view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hue, the former imperial city, with the Huong (Perfume) River flowing through its center, and the nearby 24-km-long Tam Giang Lagoon, where three rivers empty out into the sea, and Da Nang’s beaches, Son Tra Peninsula, Hai Van Mountain Pass, the city’s latest attraction Golden Bridge, up in nearby Ba Na Hills, and the Cham Islands lying off the coast.

Hai Au Aviation is the pioneer of commercial seaplane flights in Vietnam, having launched its first sightseeing flight over Ha Long Bay in 2014. At that time it was a new an unique way to contemplate the bay from an altitude of 500 to 3,000 meters over the course of 25 minutes, with a maximum of 12 passengers aboard. Using a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B-EX, which counts among the largest and safest single-engine aircraft in the world, tours are offered five to ten times each day. These have also helped diversify transport to Ha Long Bay and shortened the travel time between Hanoi and the bay from about four hours by road to just 30-45 minutes by air.

From on high

To mark its new trips in Hue and Da Nang, all of Hai Au Aviation’s tours are 30 per cent off until September 30, costing $87 (VND2.088 million) for 30 minutes.

Hai Au Aviation has conducted more 2,500 flights for 30,000 customers from some 47 countries and territories. Most customers are foreigners, primarily American and English, according to Mr. Hoang Thanh Quy, Deputy Director of Hai Au Aviation.

The number of tourists taking to the skies on such flights is growing every year, he added, mirroring the 20 per cent average rise in foreign tourists recorded annually. The unique experience of sightseeing the country’s most stunning sites from the air is an outstanding tourism offering and of great appeal. “With diverse landscapes of mountains, forests, rivers, deltas, and especially its long coastline, Vietnam has great potential to develop this type of tourism,” Mr. Quy told The Guide. “We will work with local authorities elsewhere to open more flights in the future.”

In late July, Hai Au Aviation will open sightseeing flights between Da Nang and Dong Hoi city in central Quang Binh province, known as the “Kingdom of Caves” and including the world’s largest cave - Son Doong. Also using a Cessna Grand Caravan 208B-EX, the flights cut the travel time from six or seven hours to just 70 minutes. Passengers can also enjoy impressive views of the coast, the forested Truong Son Mountain Range, Tam Giang Lagoon, Hue, and the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which was established on the two banks of the Ben Hai River in central Quang Tri province when Vietnam was split in two along the 17th parallel under the terms of the 1954 Geneva Accords.

It also plans to open a service to Quang Tri - home of many historic sites, and Hoi An ancient town - another UNESCO World Heritage Site and with a mix of Asian architecture and culture. Connecting Quang Binh, Hue, and Da Nang, it will become a “heritage road in the sky” and a new and exceptional tourism offering.

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