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DECEMBER 4, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 22

Hot Spot
By RON GLUCKMAN

  TRAVEL WATCH
Lakes, Lattes and Learning to Love Hanoi
The place, believe it or not: Hanoi, the no-longer-stodgy capital of Vietnam.

Hot Spot
What's the coolest hangout along the backpacker belt in Asia?

Short Cuts
Vietnam is not an easy place to get to. But that's starting to change.

Web Crawling
In this extensive, no-frills guidebook, webmaster and globe-trotter Peter M. Geiser covers Vietnam and the rest of the neighborhood.

Detour
Hanoi's hotel industry has been through plenty. The colonial era was a heyday of luxury and pampering.

Travel Watch Archive Browse hundreds of Asian travel tips

What's the coolest hangout along the backpacker belt in Asia? Nope, not Thailand's Maya Bay (made famous by Leo DiCaprio and the rest of the cast of The Beach), but central Vietnam's Hoi An. Located 30 km down the coast from Danang (with airport access to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and many regional cities), Hoi An sits astride a river, close to spectacular beaches and some of the finest ruins in Asia. But the town itself is the true attraction. Inside this quiet settlement are dozens of Internet cafés, bookshops, guesthouses and budget eateries catering to Hoi An's newfound popularity among the Lonely Planet set.

Not that this hideaway is an entirely new discovery. For centuries, Hoi An was a heralded trading port in a circuit that included Macau and Melaka. Known in days past as Faifo, Hoi An attracted seafarers from Japan, China and the Philippines. They left behind temples and bridges, and the Europeans later added charming colonial mansions. More than 800 historic structures have been catalogued, and many old buildings have been converted into art galleries. Yet the town's timeless flavor is largely unaltered. You can still watch fishermen tossing nets on the river and craftsmen carving wood in traditional ways.

Just a short day-trip away are the evocative Champa ruins at My Son. Practically enveloped by jungles, this UNESCO site is grouped among other fabulous Indian-influenced cities: Angkor in Cambodia, Bagan in Burma, Borobudur in Java. Although the ruins are the largest surviving remnants of Vietnam's Champa kingdom, dating to the 4th century, My Son is smaller than its better-known contemporaries. Hidden away and seldom visited, My Son's major charm, like that of nearby Hoi An, remains its understated grandeur and the secret offerings just waiting to be rediscovered.

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