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Work began last Saturday on Vietnam's largest tourism venture to date, the Ho Tram Strip in the coastal province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau, which is being developed at a cost of about US$4.2bil.

The US$4.2bil Ho Tram Strip in the coastal province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau is officially launched.

A day earlier, on Friday, Asian Coast Development Ltd, a Canadian-based luxury resort developer, was awarded the investment certificate for the project before moving quickly to break ground.

"Vietnam is blessed with some of the most magnificent natural beauty in the world," said the chairman of Asian Coast Development Ltd, Michael Aymong. "The Ho Tram Strip will set the standard as the premier luxury destination in this beautiful country."

The 157ha complex has been designed by Steelman Partners, an architectural firm from the US city of Las Vegas. The complex will be integrated into the area's natural surroundings, designed to conserve resources and preserve the environment.

"We share the same vision and determination as our Vietnamese partners in ensuring this development respects the lush natural beauty of the area while showcasing local-culture," said Aymong.

When completed, the complex will include five hotels with a total of 9,000 rooms, an international conference centre, and entertainment facilities. Recreational options will include spas, performance venues, a retail area and a wide selection of restaurants offering local and international cuisine.

In the first phase of the project, a five-star hotel with 1,100 rooms, a championship golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman, and Vietnam's first Las Vegas-style casino, will be built for opening in late 2010.

The second phase, operational a year later, would include a 1,300-room hotel, an additional casino, and 10 restaurants and nightclubs.

The entire complex, located 80km northeast of HCM City, will be completed within a decade.

"I believe that this project will prove to be a huge success and will open up various opportunities for economic, commercial and investment co-operation between Vietnam and Canada in the years to come," said Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in a meeting with the developers ahead of the official announcement on Saturday.

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