One of the many things Natalie Gruzlewski loved about travelling to Vietnam was that everywhere she visited a completely different experience. She was caught up in the chaos and craziness of the cities, and chilled out in the quiet and beauty of the countryside.
Hoi An is a small city with around 88,000 residents, hidden away about halfway down Vietnam's coast. Unlike the big cities, it doesn't have lots of traffic and crowds. It's popular with tourists and a well-established place on the backpacker trail. It's a place of art-and-craft shops and countless tailors who make made-to-measure clothing for a fraction of western prices.
Hoi An is an exceptionally well-preserved example of 15th- to 19th-century South-East Asian trading ports. Buildings and street plans reflect indigenous and foreign influences in the heritage site. It's a pedestrian-friendly place so you can wander around and take it all in.
There is a sightseeing rule. Before entering the main area you need to buy an admission ticket. They cost around $10 and you receive five vouchers giving access to one old house, one assembly hall, one landmark, one museum and one cultural experience. Sounds like pretty good value.
Natalie's Travel Indochina guide says he's not surprised by Hoi An's increasing popularity. It has friendly people, excellent fresh and cheap food and interesting architecture of French, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese origins.
Once you've sampled the delicious food, you might be tempted to attend a local cooking school. Natalie was and chose Morning Glory in the centre of town, not just a great restaurant but a place where chef Ms Vy gives lessons. They begin with an amazing array of condiment bowls filled with ingredients, some familiar, some not.
Students are told how each vegetable and herb is used to create everyday Vietnamese cuisine. Ms Vy has created six class programs to suit beginners, amateurs and professionals.
When it comes to shopping, Hoi An has some great temptations. Silk bags, purses and colourful lanterns make great gifts and silver jewellery can be made to order at bargain prices.
Then there's the shoes! You can't have too many pairs and at the crazy low prices for made-to-measure shoes, sandals and boots you may need to buy another suitcase. They simply draw an outline of your feet on a sheet of paper in the morning and you try the finished product in the afternoon.
Hoi An is the town of tailors. There are hundreds of them, all keen to create garments for you. Take your own design or choose from their many books and you will have something new to wear in a few hours or up to two days for something more complicated. It's a great idea to take a favourite garment and have it copied.
Natalie stayed at the Life Heritage Resort, a stone's throw from town on the Thu Bon River. It has beautiful gardens and a great range of rooms. Built in 2004, the hotel has 94 rooms and its architecture is a mix of Vietnamese, Austrian, French and Japanese.
Hotel activities include a pool, tai chi and beauty treatments Life Resorts are all about harmony. Two restaurants offer local flavours with a touch of Vienna and the bar is a relaxing place for a cool drink.
Hoi An in the south central coast of Vietnam.
Travel Indochina has 10-day Highlights of Vietnam tours starting in Ho Chi Minh City. They include nine nights in deluxe accommodation, domestic flights, air-conditioned transport, sightseeing, breakfasts and some lunches. They start every second Saturday, subject to availability. Cost is $2860 per person twin share for July and August 2010 departures and $2955 for September to November, 2010 departures.
Vietnam Airlines has return flights to Ho Chi Min City from:
- Melbourne $1149
- Sydney $1168
- Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Hobart $1177
Valid for sale and travel between July 12 and September 15, 2010.
For further information
13/31 Market Street
Ph: 1300 888 028
Ph: 1300 365 355
Morning Glory Street Food Restaurant and Cooking School
106 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
Ph: +84 510 2241 555 or +84 510 2241 556
Fax +84 510 3 911 431
Life Heritage Resort Hoi An
1 Pham Hong Thai Street
Hoi An Town
Quang Nam Province
Ph: +84 510 3914 555
Fax: +84 510 3914 515
Thao Nguyen Silver Jewellery
51 Phan Boi Chau Street
Ph: +84 510 914471
Fai Foo Shoes
14 Hoang Dieu Street
Ph: +84 510 864 238
Yaly Couture Tailoring
47 Nguyen Thai Hoc
Ph: +84 510 910 474
Ph: 130 138 755
Visas: Australian passport holders must have a valid passport and a visa is required.
Electricity: 220V at 50Hz. Three plugs are used throughout Vietnam: two flat blades, two round pins and two parallel flat pins with ground pin.
Time zone: GMT +7.
Currency: The dong.
Telephone code: +84.
It is recommended travellers to Vietnam see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au