Hoi An Ancient Town
Hoi An, Vietnam
When asking how Southeast Asia was this year, everyone’s first question is, “What was the best part?” (Always a fully loaded question.) When travelling, I am typically antsy to keep moving and I had only planned on spending two, maybe three, days in Hoi An (Hoi An Ancient Town). I ended up tearing myself away after six. To keep myself ‘immobile’ for that long is a testament to how awesome it is and in the end, I think my answer for “what the best part” was.
Hoi An was once one of Southeast Asia’s major ports. Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Indian, Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, French, British, and American ships flocked to the harbor, while the town’s storehouses overflowed with treasures – silk, ,fabrics, paper, porcelain, tea, sugar, molasses, areca nuts, pepper, Chinese medicines, elephant tusks, mother of pearl, sulpher, and lead. Along with the international commercialism the city experienced, inherently came a significant amount of foreign cultures. Christianity was introduced to Vietnam by Western traders in Hoi An in the 17th century, but the Chinese, Japanese, and French influenced the local culture more than any other. Fleeing south to avoid monsoons in the spring and staying through the whole summer, they left the largest lasting impression by building Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples, and ancient tea warehouses. The Chinese also identified themselves according to province of origin and each community built assembly halls (hoi quan) for social gatherings, that still dot the city. The French influence was more a result of the invasion of Vietnam than it was of the trade industry – During the French occupation, Hoi An was the administrative center of the foreign forces.
Considerable trading was suspended in the late 19th century when Thu Bon River silted up and ships could no longer access the docks. (Danang took over.) The city’s wealth went into decay until a tourism boom in the early 1990’s. Being almost untouched during the American War, the Ancient Town has been exceptionally well-preserved with over 800 historical buildings maintained. Now Hoi An is one of the richest cities in Vietnam with visitors attracted to the exceptionally evident history, a significant multicultural atmosphere, and relaxed character.
The town itself did truly did seem lost in time – the colorful wooden buildings display a unique blend of local and foreign influences and are aligned along traditional narrow lanes. Small fishing boats drift up and down the Thu Bon River. A large pagoda, temple, assembly hall or some other historical building seem to dot every block. An animated market, colorful bars and restaurants, and boutique shops full of character line the river’s edge. The countryside and rice fields are picturesque and Cau Dai/Au Bang beaches were beautiful. And although their strong-armed selling tactics were extremely aggravating (like Sapa), the people were overly friendly and warm.
It was very different, but at the same time, it had a lot of the same characteristic of Luang Prabang, which I loved.
And I fell in love with Hoi An and the Hoi An Ancient Town. That’s my highlight.
Hoi An Ancient Town was designated as a World heritage site in 1999, being “an outstanding material manifestation of the fusion of cultures over time in an international commercial port.”