The tale of Hoi An – rich port town
Hoi An is a top position on any decent “Vietnam – things to see” list and not without a reason (being UNESCO-listed is only one of them). It is perhaps one of the best examples of traditional Asian trading ports which survived the test of time. Between 15th and 19th centuries Hoi An was actively trading in ceramics and silk between different countries in the Southeast Asia, East Asia as well as rest of the world. Recent discoveries show that Vietnamese ceramics were transported as far as Egypt!
Like many port towns, Hoi An reaped massive benefits from its commercial function and the influx of traders and travelers, who enriched not only the contents of locals’ pockets, but also the cultural fabric of the society. When Danang became the new international trading port under French influence in the late 18th century, Hoi An lost its position and importance. Additionally, the silting up of the Thu Bồn River meant that the ships could no longer reach the docks. On the positive note, thanks to being forgotten, the town managed to survive almost untouched throughout 200 years and became a popular tourist destination in Vietnam.
The melting pot of cultures.
The name Hoi An itself means “peaceful meeting place“, which perhaps proves that the town was once a melting pot of cultures, which peacefully coexisted. Before the 10th century, it was the people of Champa who controlled the lucrative spice trade in the area. In 16th century the Portuguese wanted to establish the major trading centre in the area and, as a result, Hoi An became a port with international importance. This led to a lot of Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indians settling within town’s borders.
As an international commercial port, Hoi An represented (and still does!) a mix of foreign cultures. You can easily trace some elements of the city’s planning and architecture back to Chinese, Japanese and European heritage. Back in the days, the town was visited by people from across the world, many of whom made it their home for an extended period of time, dependent on e.g. favorable wind conditions (crucial for further travels by ship). For instance, the Japanese colony was separated from the town by a bridge, which is now called the Japanese Covered Bridge and remains one of the most beautiful attractions in Hoi An.
Fun fact: the Japanese believed the heart of all of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of Hội An.
The town itself comprises of over 1000 wooden structures which include architectural monuments, commercial and domestic structures as well as religious buildings. Take a stroll down the Old Town to admire the facades in a range of styles (well, and do some shopping!).
Hoi An is a town located in Central Vietnam by the South China Sea. Historically, is has been best accessible by water :-), but for tourists who are already in Vietnam, the bus seems like the best option. Hoi An is somewhat halfway on the usual North-South (or South-North) sightseeing trail and can make for a perfect and relaxing stop between the madness of Saigon and Hanoi.
What to see?
In order to sightsee Hoi An Old Town you need to purchase a special entry ticket at one of the ticket booths (the cost is around $6 as of 2016). The ticket allows you to see up to five distinct attractions from the list below. Try to pick one of each type i.e. one old house, one museum, one assembly hall etc.
I also highly recommend stopping by for some local specialties or a drink (during happy hour). I will share more about my culinary experiences in Hoi An in the future post. Until then – stay warm!