UPDATE, April 23: The Hoi An people’s committee has addressed the press with clearer details on the ticket. Each ticket is valid for 10 days and costs 120,000 VND for foreign tourists or 80,000 VND for domestic visitors. 85% of the proceeds are to be reinvested in the old town, the money paying for renovations, upkeep, staff and the families that open their ancient houses for viewing. The ticket covers entrance to six points of interest, entrance to the old town and street entertainment (folk dancing, singing, traditional games). During the trial period of this new ticketing system a few issues have arisen, such as visitors intending to enter the old town just for the evening, with no desire to visiting any sights, and more importantly, the sometimes aggressive manner of the staff manning the ticket booths. A committee meeting has been organised to address these issues and work out a solution.
On April 17 Hoi An officials opened new ticket booths at each entrance into the old town and introduced a new rule: to enter the old town you must now buy a 120,000 VND (about US$6.00) ticket. Previously, you needed the ticket only to see certain sights within the old town, not just to wander the streets.
This new ‘tourist tax’ is causing a bit of a stir among business owners and confusion among travellers and it’s not helped by the bullying tactics of guards located at each checkpoint and a lack of information. We visited each of the four checkpoints to try to work out the new system and received varying explanations for the newly enforced changes. All of them contradicted the information available on the official Hoi An tourist website.
So what does the ticket buy you? The ticket booth guide said the ticket allows entrance to the old town and you use the tear-off coupons for fully guided visits of five or maybe six ‘vestiges of interest’ such as ancient houses and assembly halls. The ticket is valid for the duration of your stay, depending on who you talk to; the official Hoi An tourist website too says you can visit five of 18 places (and talks about day time and evening tickets, which makes no sense whatsoever) and gives no time limit that we can see.
The new checkpoints are located on riverside Bach Dang Street, 9 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Cam Ward Street and Tran Phu; add those to the already existing road blocks on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai (the south side of the Japanese Bridge), Tran Phu/Le Loi intersection, Hai Ba Trung and the biggest offender, the walking bridge over from An Hoi. Most of these points are manned from 07:00-11:00 and 15:00-21:30, which fit in rather nicely with the recently changed motorbike-free hours (and lunch).
The jobsworth award goes to the seven (I kid you not) staff manning the walking bridge office. In fact we’d go as far as an Oscar nomination for the two security guards and their Matrix-style protection of the old town from non-paying invaders, including visiting Vietnamese tourists.
Expats: if you’ve a shop, office or meeting in the old town, you don’t have to pay.
Is it worth the money? If you were planning to do the ‘vestiges of interest’, then yes, the price is still the same. Most of the tourists I grumbled to while being circled by security were not at all bothered about buying a ticket and the ticket stalls were doing a roaring trade. However, if you just want to have a wander around the old town? You’re going to have to familiarise yourself with the back alleys or make use of those gorgeous old girls and their sampan boats who believe it or not have savvily gone all Western on us, with fixed, advertised prices. The Hoi An tourism board could learn a lot from our black-toothed old Ba’s.
For businesses in the old town already facing cut-throat competition, this is a very unwanted bombshell; and it’s the Vietnamese business owners who seem to be the most upset, with a whole group who protested too much at a committee meeting two weeks prior to the new system being ejected from the discussions. Expat businesses are sucking it and seeing; it’s happened before, didn’t last, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to take these things seriously.
Where is the money going? Renovations. Keeping the town beautiful, maybe even a rose garden…
So will it last? By the smoke coming out of the tills yesterday and the complete acceptance of the move by every visitor I spoke with, I’d hazard a yes. Maybe it’s time low-performing businesses got a kick up the derriere and worked harder on their sales and service etiquette. ‘Looking is not free’ anymore. Buy something?
Photos supplied by the brilliant Thomas Jeppeson who risked being thrown over the bridge to get a few shots.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 13th December, 2014.