Before the river silted up Hoi An was Vietnam’s major port. It exported spices and silks to traders from both the West and the East. Japanese and Chinese merchants built their houses here and stayed in them for several months a year until the trade winds changed direction and enabled them to export the goods to their native lands.
This fact coupled with the decline in its importance and a miraculous preservation from the devastation of the American war has enabled Hoi An to regain a new significance as the best example of a traditional Vietnamese town – a point recognized in it being declared a world heritage centre in1999.
The main interests lie in the number of old merchants’ houses and the temples and pagodas built for the various Chinese communities that lived three.
There are several merchants’ houses one can visit using a ticket which gives up to five different entrances to historical sites. (The ticket money goes on a preservation fund for the city). Many of these houses have been owned by the same family for hundreds of years. They all have several features in common including a peculiarly Japanese system of roof construction using three tie-beams and an inner central courtyard with an upper encircling balcony.
The pagodas all have their individual features and are a wonderful oasis of peace from the busy (and fortunately, mostly pedestrianised) streets.
But more than the individual buildings it is the streetscape that I find most fascinating. The wooden balconies, the yin-yan curved tiles, the shuttered shop fronts all add to the interest of Hoi An.
The quayside scenes are also very endearing:
I couldn’t resist these murals from the local primary school:
Add to all of this a plethora of good eating places serving the finest of that finest of eastern cuisines and embracing also western menus Hoi An is definitely a place to savour in all senses.
A friend of mine visited China in the 1980’s and loved it. Returning ten years later he could no longer recognize the cities he’d visited and regretted ever returning there.
Vietnam is changing fast. What is familiar today may be lost tomorrow. Let’s hope that Hoi An will always keep its special atmosphere as an example of how life in Vietnam once was conducted.