Getaways from Bangkok: Hoi An

Historic Hoi An, one of Vietnam’s most charming cities, has been a viable short-term holiday destination for Bangkokians since October 1999, when THAI began flying to central Vietnam’s Danang. Previously accessible only to backpackers with more time on their hands, Hoi An is attracting increasing numbers of international travellers – and with its history, shopping and accessibility, it’s easy to see why.

Located 30km south of Danang, Hoi An was a major trading centre in Southeast Asia from the late 16th century onwards. Today it features beautiful ancient architecture heavily influenced by the Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Dutch and Malay traders. The remarkably high concentration of old merchant houses and shops, family chapels, temples, communal houses, pagodas and bridges serve to evoke an atmosphere redolent of Vietnam’s past unsurpassed elsewhere. Indeed, the old quarter was world heritage-listed by UNESCO in 1999, and visitors are now asked to pay a modest entry fee of VD50,000, which also gives them access to five historical sites.

History aside, the Hoi An of today is a great place to shop. Tailored clothes are the town’s most famed product – prices are far better than Bangkok, and the average quality is comparable. The Cloth Market features scores of tailors, and the streets are lined with scores more, so to avoid making a lucky guess seek a recommendation from your hotel or other travellers. Prices are negotiable, but expect to pay from US$7 for a pair of casual pants or a bias-cut skirt, US$12 for a dress, US$15 for a casual pantsuit, and upwards of US$25 for a suit, usually ready for a fitting within four to five hours. The better the quality of the material, the more you pay.

Shoe makers jostle for position along with the tailors, and will sew you up a pair of stylish leather or Vietnamese silk thongs within the hour. Prices start at around US$3 for a basic, perfectly-fitting pair.

Credit cards are widely accepted, but commissions can be high, with some shops asking for up to five per cent. Carrying cash on short trips can be more economical.

The food in Hoi An is exceptional, and many restaurants offer special set menus for as little as US$3 or 4. The riverfront Caf? de Amis, open for nearly ten years, pioneered this approach but remains unique: there’s no menu. Simply ask for vegetarian or seafood, and you’ll be served a selection of four delicious courses for VD40,000. Wine and beer are often a little cheaper than Thailand.

THAI flies to Danang (with a brief stop in Ubon Ratchatani) on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8.35am, arriving at 10.10am. Return flights operate on the same day, leaving at 11.10am and arriving at Don Muang at 12.45pm. Return tickets are priced at Bt9,625 from THAI offices. Fixed-price taxis (US$10) make the 40-minute trip to Hoi An.

Low-budget hotels charge around US$12 for a double room with airconditioning during low season (March to August), but this can easily rise to US$24 during high season. The three-star Hoi An Hotel has doubles ranging from US$42 to US$60 per night, with a 15 per cent discount for May and June only. Up a notch again is the Hoi An Riverside Resort, which offers both Japanese and Vietnamese-style accommodation priced between US$109 and US$129 during high season (September to February). A forty per cent discount is offered during low season.

Travellers using Thai passports are granted a free 30-day visa on arrival, but those using other passports should check with the Vietnamese embassy to find out their visa requirements. A tax of US$10 payable on departure from Danang International Airport.

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