Vietnam tourism hotspot reopens, but draws locals not overseas visitors amid plunge in international travel

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Vietnam’s tourism industry is looking shaky in places like Hoi An, but the country is expecting a boost from Asian markets as soon as July – or whenever international travel restrictions are lifted.
Photo: Patrick Scott

After weeks of pandemic hibernation in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, South African native Kim Gordhan somewhat reluctantly boarded a flight with two girlfriends at the beginning of May and headed to the former port city of Hoi An in the country’s Central Coast region.

They were given the green light to travel during Vietnam’s four-day National Reunification Day and May Day holiday as, days before, the government began lifting restrictions on movement and allowed tourism businesses to start resurrecting domestic travel.

“We did not want to be like those expats who travelled as soon as they could even though they knew that it was risky and it was putting other people at risk,” said Gordhan, 24, an English teacher. “But coming here, and seeing how many people are here, I feel a bit better and not judged as much.”

Several hundred Vietnamese visitors crowded the banks of the Thu Bon River on May 2 close to where the three were drinking craft beers in Hoi An’s Ancient Town area, posing for photos on the footbridge, stepping into wooden boats festooned with colourful silk lanterns, and queuing at food carts.

Tran Nga, 30, sat with friends on little plastic stools near the riverbank, sipping from coconuts. She had four days off from her job at an oil and gas refinery and decided at 4pm on April 30 to get the overnight sleeper bus to Hoi An from her home in Thanh Hoa in North Central Vietnam.

“I expected people in Vietnam to still be afraid of the coronavirus

and not travel, so it would be a good time for me to find someplace quiet,” she said as young couples, families and groups of friends strolled past.

Vietnam, which has quarantined tens of thousands of people who came into contact with the virus, recorded fewer than 300 Covid-19 cases and no deaths by May 9, leading it to be among the first countries in Southeast Asia to revive its tourism infrastructure. Airlines, railways and bus companies reopened domestic routes following weeks of restrictions. More tourism sites are coming back on line each day, from the Imperial Citadel in Hue to the cables cars in the Sapa highlands to river caves in Phong Nha.
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