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Hoi An

Overview

It’s hardly a surprise that Hoi An allures a large amount of domestic and foreign visitors annually. This frequently-visited destination has a little bit of everything. The places to shop, the artistry, the adventures, the beaches, and the history are all aspects of what makes this ancient town so charming, enchanting tourists and residents alike. The colorful lanterns and warm yellow structures so captivating that the environment looks like something out of a fantasy movie. Hoi An has been well-maintained and continues to be a spot-on representation of the bustling trade port this place used to be.

Historically, Hoi An was more than just a 15th-century trade port. The Sa Huynh are said to have been the original settlers of this place. Several of their relics and tools have been unearthed all over Hoi An, some of which are between 2000 and 3000 years old. During the first and second century (A.D.), the Cham people settled down in Hoi An after choosing Vietnam to house their kingdom. Hoi An became active as a hub for commerce and trade. My Son was the religious and spiritual capital, while Tra Kieu became the political district. During this period, the Cham people developed a port so that goods could be traded amongst its people – most notably spices and silk. As time progressed, the Cambodia and Khmer people come into conflict with the Vietnamese. Eventually, the kingdom of Cham was not able to retain its power and dominance, succumbing to Vietnamese, who took the reins of Hoi An.

The Nguyen Dynasty ruled the port town as of the 15thcentury, which rose to prominence as an influential and important Southeast Asian port. The hectic trade area allured businesses from all over the world. The port was visited by merchants from Europe, India, China, and Japan, all of which had ships loaded with priceless goods. Several merchants spent most of their time patiently waiting for optimal sailing conditions. Before long, many merchants chose to make Hoi An their full-time home – you’ll see remnants of Chinese and Japanese living spaces that remain intact to this day.

Trade wasn’t the only thing that brought over people from across the globe – French missionaries also became one with Hoi An culture. Alexandre de Rhodes, a priest from France, left a notable effect by authoring Quoc Ngu, a Latin-based script that continues to be used in contemporary Vietnamese language.

Nonetheless, Hoi An was not able to maintain its dominance as the hub of worldwide trade when elements began to take their toll. Large ships were no longer able to access the Thu Bon River once it silted up. Further, when the Tay Son rebellion took place, the Nguyen Dynasty downfall led to a foreign trade decline. Afterward, as per orders from Gia Long, an emperor, Da Nang, which is close to Hoi An, saw their trade rights handed over to the French. This led to Hoi An starting its new status quo as a riverside, listless town. Subsequent war battles in Vietnam surprisingly didn’t physically affect Hoi An too much, and most of the town’s original form was left intact.

Besides the carefully maintained Old Town architecture, there are several other attractions worth visiting in Hoi An. You can scuba dive and snorkel in the transparent waters, or go for a walk along the town’s clean beaches. You can also buy artisan wears from creative shopkeepers, visit meeting halls and pagodas with baroque decor, and meditate in several multicultural temples.

Hoi An Ancient Town
Hoi An Ancient Town

See & Do

There are over a thousand conventional buildings in the ancient town of Hoi An, which includes timber frame temples, pagodas, monuments, and buildings. These original structures are gorgeously maintained and stand tall as a global port from the town’s commercial prime. Hoi An is the perfect port area since it is parallel to the Thu Bon River, which connects to the South China Sea. The European, Chinese, and Japanese influences are present here.

The Phung Hung House is one of the ancient town’s most well-maintained structures. Constructed in 1780, conventional Chinese, Japanese, and European architecture is showcased in this timber building. You’ll also see some amazing embroidered decorations, conventional silk lanterns, and sumptuous wall hangings that blow in the wind as they hang under the rafters.

Japanese bridge - Hoi An Vietnam
Japanese bridge – Hoi An Vietnam

The Tan Ky House is a building that has been carefully preserved over 7 generations. Left in its original state and featuring a modest exterior with an extravagant interior, you’ll discover intricate wooden carvings and elegant antiques within. The rich, dark wood has gold and red accents, giving the house an ambiance of prosperity and lavishness. Here, too, you will notice architecture with a multicultural influence. The most notable elements of this structure are the poems written in Chinese that are transcribed on nacre. The poetry hangs from the columns that support the house.

The Japanese Bridge is a short distance from Tan Ky House. This bridge symbolically and physically linked Chinese and Japanese quarters situated on opposing ends of the Thu Bon River’s peaceful tributary. You’ll find a couple of dog sculptures on one side of the bridge, and on the other, you’ll see two meticulously crafted monkeys. Both animals are representations of the Japanese zodiac system, though each sculpture has its own meaning.

Hoi An’s Chinese settlers constructed several elegant assembly halls so that community and culture could be preserved. Hoi An is home to five Chinese assembly halls that have turned into popular tourist attractions because of their mesmerizing beauty and cultural history. The majestic gates bring patrons into breathtaking grounds comprised of temples, courtyards, and gardens.

Thu Bon River - Hoi An Vietnam
Thu Bon River – Hoi An Vietnam

The Phuc Kien (Fujian) is the grandest assembly hall in Hoi An. Initially conceived as a Vietnamese-thatched pagoda; Fujian merchants purchased it once it depreciated into a state of disrepair. The complex was renovated by the merchants, producing the social and cultural hub that is seen today. The assembly hall acted as both a place of worship and a venue for guests to come together in. The meticulous sculptures and opulent artwork encompass scenes that depict many Fujian gods. The Goddess of the Sea – Thien Hau – is who the assembly hall pays homage to. The goddess is said to have safeguarded sailors on risky expeditions.

Built in 1786, the Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation perfectly exemplifies Chinese decorations. The structure’s focal point is a remarkable mosaic dragon statue making its way out of a pond.

Hoi An’s Chinese settlers constructed a communal venue called the Chinese All-Community Assembly Hall to pay respects to the gods, as well as to socialize with peers. Inside the hall, you’ll be mesmerized by intimidating dragons, red and gold intricate carvings, and Chinese iconography. A tribute to Chinese heroes that lost their lives during the second world war is also found inside the hall.

Stemming from its multicultural history, Hoi An is host to a fascinating array of pagodas and temples, all of which are designated to a specific deity. In 1953, Quan Cong Temple was constructed as a tribute to Quan Cong, a highly esteemed general. The statue stands tall between a pair of guardians. The statue is worshiped in appreciation of loyalty and sincerity. Magnificently maintained, the temple displays meticulous architectural details, as well as a series of marvelous artwork pieces.

An Bang Beach - Hoi An Vietnam
An Bang Beach – Hoi An Vietnam

A visit to My Son’s ruins – which can be traced to the Cham Kingdom – is encouraged to get a sense of its history. The Hindu-based temples are surrounded by mountains in a watershed. Most of these temples were built with red bricks to worship Shiva and other Hindu gods. The detailed style of architecture of the temple articulates the Cham peoples’ commitment to religion as well as their ingenuity. Sadly, the mesmerizing structure was heavily bombed by Americans during the war with dire results. Today, the fallen remains, while still quite astonishing, have succumbed to the elements. Most of the bricks have crumbled down, and the temples’ sides are ridden with vegetation. The integration of nature and history – in addition to the isolated atmosphere – produces an otherworldly ambiance for anyone walking around the ruins.

The history of the town can be explored through many of Hoi An’s museums, a few of which are situated in the Old Town. Hoi An’s evolution from the Cham era time as a port of trade is chronicled at the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture. The actual museum is situated on the Quan Am Pagoda grounds, displaying a variety of exciting artifacts.

The history and culture of the first Hoi An settlers – the Sa Huynh – can be explored at the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture. There, you can browse through interesting artifacts, including weapons and tools, as well as terra-cotta pots that are said to be more than 3000 years old.

The reconstructed historical timber structure of the Museum of Trade Ceramics allows patrons to journey through time once they step inside. The museum showcases a vast array of ceramics that articulate the developmental history of Hoi An. Patrons can view the work of several Vietnamese artisans, as well as exhibits from countries close to it. Each artifact conveys the essence of Hoi An and its importance as a port of trade.

Gate of Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam
Gate of Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam

Besides its vast, contemporary history, Hoi An has no shortages of things to do and see. Some refer to the town as a shopping haven, with plenty of vendors lining the streets (which are lit up with vibrant lanterns). Hoi An is renowned for their tailors who can customize any attire at a fair rate. It’s the ideal area to buy a new dress or suit with an unlimited assortment of fabrics to pick from. You’ll find all kinds of fabrics at the market that you can bring to a tailor of your choice. Piles of materials are stacked on top of each other, their patterns producing a colorful mural throughout each shop. Hoi An has an assortment of other stores offering all kinds of goods, including conventional fashion, décor, ceramics, and art.

For people who prefer the nature aspect of Hoi An more so than the city life, there are no shortage of adventures for you to partake in. Consider renting a bike and doing some self-exploration, or take a tour as part of a group. One frequently traveled path brings bicyclists into agricultural land patchworks through narrow roads. You’ll ride past water buffaloes before entering the village of Tra Que. In this place, organic produce is freshly grown, making local Hoi An dishes are tasty as they are healthy. Tourists can take in the tranquil atmosphere or engage in conventional farming activities firsthand. You’ll get physical and spiritual nourishment in Tra Que.

The beaches along Hoi An’s coastline are beautiful. You can appreciate nature in all its glory in An Bang Beach. Lazy shadows are cast over the silky white sand by daunting palm trees. Also, the transparent blue waters are a much-needed refuge from summertime warmth. Many visitors enjoy sipping on a cold drink in the shade here, as well as spending time in the water snorkeling or swimming.

The Cham Islands’ archipelago is also worth visiting to take in the sights along the coastline of Hoi An. This paradise of an island is a short distance away from Hoi An. Hon Lao, which is one of two islands that are inhabited here, houses a pair of small villages. Because of hazardous weather conditions, access to the island is permitted from March to September only. Dive and snorkel in the Cham Islands to explore its quarrel ecosystem that many marine wildlife species call home.

Culture & Arts

You can experience Hoi An ‘s folk dancing and musical traditions at the Traditional Art Performance Theatre. In this modest and intimate venue, performers convey the folklore and history of the town wearing colorful conventional costumes.

Scattered around Hoi An are a number of art studios and galleries. You’ll see all types of different styles and mediums on display, including conventional ceramics, woodwork, photography, and paintings. Hoi An’s evolution throughout the years are reflected in these displays and illustrate how the town has adapted throughout time. You’ll have the option to take original artwork by modern artists home, if you desire.

Perhaps the most riveting sights in the entire town are the streets that are lined with lanterns – which many people call a living mural. The glow of each lantern brings to light detailed, embroidered patterns on silk. The reflective light softly shines down the river and illuminates the yellow-textured houses through the streets. This mesmerizing-yet-peaceful scene is a substantial aspect of Hoi An’s otherworldliness to both natives and tourists alike.

Cam Kim Island is a wonderful area to take in the local culture. Situated in the center of the Thu Bon River, it is easier than ever to get to the mainland thanks to a new bridge that connects it to Cam Kim. As you bike down the island, get up close and personal with local culture. All types of families can be seen practicing skills they excel at. You’ll see family members weaving floor mats by hand as they sit in their gardens under the sun. You’ll learn how conventional Vietnamese food is made, which includes rice paper found in most conventional dishes. You’ll even get to see how local rice wine, which is consumed all over Vietnam, is made. Kim Bong is a village also stationed on the island, a place where you’ll see people hand-carving things out of wood. The actual islet is a peaceful haven outside of the hustle-and-bustle of stalls and shops. Instead of being surrounded by people, you’ll be encompassed by roaming buffalo and luscious nature. It’s the ideal area to interact with natives and learn about their traditions and trades.

 

Traditional Street Market in Hoi An Vietnam
Traditional Street Market in Hoi An Vietnam

Festivals & Events

Every month, the city’s electrical lights are turned off in Hoi An, and automobiles are not allowed into the town. Instead of being caught in the dark, the town illuminates with colored lanterns. This sensational event occurs on each lunar month’s 14thday to commemorate the full moon, producing quite a heavenly setting. This is a wonderful opportunity for natives and visitors to engage with others, pay tribute to their ancestors, and worship the gods. The lanterns warm, soft lights are vibrant as hordes of individuals participate in cultural rituals and conventional games. It is worthwhile to take in the sights from the water as small floating lanterns flow through the river. Consider taking in the ambiance on one of the sampan boats that travel slowly down the river. These longboats bring passengers in the same direction the floating paper lights are going in, creating a more interactive experience.

Hoi An - A city of lanterns
Hoi An – A city of lanterns

A Chinese Festival organized by the town’s Chinese natives takes place each year in Hoi An at the Chaozhou and Guangdong Assembly Halls. On the lunar year’s 15thday, Nguyen Tieu takes place to honor and celebrate Emperor Shen Nong. Patrons come together in pagodas and temples to pray for prosperity and health in the years to come, as well as to present the gods with ceremonial offerings. The entire town is lit up by the celebration, which instills a sense of community and unity for all attendees.

Long Chu is a festival that transpires on the 7thand 8thlunar month’s 15thday. Rituals are performed at the festival to keep diseases at bay (long ago, poor health had been rampant during several summer seasons). At the festival, a dragon carved out from a royal barge travels downstream to purge the evil from the town. The procession ceremonies involve a spiritual doctor appointed by the village that conducts rituals to push bad spirits into the river, safeguarding the villagers’ health in doing so. Once the ceremonies are finished, patrons celebrate by engaging in culture-centric games, dances, and songs.

Food & Drink

Hoi An has a slew of cafés and restaurants that serve international cuisine. It is especially nice to see at nighttime when fresh and tasty dishes are consumed under lantern-lit surroundings.

You’ll find sophisticated foods served in Hoi An, all of which are made in a localized way. One of them is called Cao Lau – a delicious noodle dish that comes with green vegetables and slices of pork. The unique integration of ash and water is used to give the dish its special taste. The water used to make the dish is sourced from an ancient well in Cham. It is mixed with tree ash from the Cham Islands to produce a lye concoction. The intrigue of this dish stems with its secretive and mysterious recipe.

Another local favorite and specialty of Hoi An are white rose dumplings. Rice paper rounds are stuffed with either banh bao (mushrooms) and pork; or banh vac (spices and herbs) and shrimp before being molded into brittle dumplings. After they are steamed, the rice paper’s edges moderately curl up, making the dumplings look like tiny white flowers. The recipe for this dish is also as secretive as Cao Lau – a single-family prepares all white rose dumplings for restaurants without sharing what the recipe entails.

Thanh wontons are also often served in Hoi An. While they originated from China, the recipe for wontons has been updated over the years to integrate local flavor. The wonton is fried, crispy, and filled with seasoned pork. It is paired with salsa that is made from cucumber, pineapple, and cilantro. The textures and tastes of this Vietnamese and Chinese fusion dish complement one another perfectly.

Xi Ma is a must if you have a sweet tooth. This dense pudding is produced with black sesame and features a nutty taste. Well water is used to make this popular Hoi An food, which you can purchase from road vendors (who serve it from boiling cauldrons).

Cao Lau - A specialty of Hoi An Vietnam
Cao Lau - A specialty of Hoi An Vietnam

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