Hoi An

Hoi An, once known as Faifo, with more than 2,000 years history, was the principal port of the Cham Kingdom, which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century and was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries - and the foreign influences are discernible to this day.

Hoi An The culture & heritage is mostly from the Cham people whose kingdom originally stretched from Hue South to Phan Tiet (South of Nha Trang) – the Champa’s most likely originally from Java. The original Cham political capital was Tra Kieu, the commercial capital was Hoi An and the spiritual capital was My Son (Hindu). The Cham people were Hindu, and by the 10th century the influence of Arab traders to Hoi An resulted in some converting to become Muslims.

Hoi An

My Son

The second major influence was from the Chinese, firstly from traders but especially the escaping Ming Dynasty armies who after settling in Hoi An for some years moved further south and created Saigon as a major trading port.The third and last major influence of culture & heritage was from the Vietnamese and is fairly recent and only came after the Cham lost control of this area. For a tourist wanting Vietnamese culture & heritage, Hue is a much better destination than Hoi An (but the weather is much rougher too!).While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Da Nang, the heart of the city is still the Old Town, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down. While almost all shops now cater to the tourist trade, the area has been largely preserved as is, which is unusual in Vietnam, and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully – it’s mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlours.The culture & heritage that UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Hoi An Ancient Town was trying to preserve has long since gone because these things happen. Since 1999, when UNESCO WHS status was awarded, there has been a massive increase in “mass” tourism – with the result that most houses have been sold by the community to speculators and shop owners to be used for commercial purposes.

Hoi An

Hoi An

The community, and with it their culture and heritage, has gone and in their place are shops, restaurants, art galleries, etc. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An all selling similar low value products to ever reducing numbers of Western foreign tourists.UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status also applies for Hoi An Ancient Town, but in reality this status, like many other UNESCO statuses, is not being cherished by site management.The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi to the west, reachable via Hai Ba Trung, and Cam Nam to the east, reachable via Hoang Dieu.Ancient and peaceful, Hoi An is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam that caters to travellers of all tastes and across the continents. The little town is just the perfect candidate of what Vietnam tourism ministry is aiming to show to the world. Warm-hearted, welcoming and traditional, but never out of touch with the outside world, the people of Hoi An are in overdrive mode trying to catch up to the opportunities their new found fame has recently given them.

A History of Asian fusion A slow stroll through town reveals its gems. Hoi An has to this days well preserved its most sacred treasure, the centuries-old architecture. The town used to harbor foreign traders back in the 17-18th, and once is an important heavily-frequented trading port in Southeast Asia. The foreigners come from all corners of the world, but mostly are Chinese and Japanese nationalities. Some come and go, but many settle in permanently and etch their marks into the history of Hoi An.

Mixing together with Vietnamese design, Chinese and Japanese accents melt and create a picture-perfect Hoi An of the late 19th century, which it has somehow remained mostly intact since. The end product is an oddly strange-yet-familiar sight that exists nowhere else in the world. To this day, few descendants of the foreign traders remain but the architectural setting manages to survive the damage of time.Little town gathers world fameIn 1999, UNESCO formally recognizes Hoi An as a World Heritage Site. There are the things that make up the reputation. Hoi An is home to many temples, pagodas and the ancient homes that bear its very unique mark. The density of such sites is unlike any other in Vietnam. These places carry with them the history of Hoi An itself. The depiction of its formation, its once-prosperous merchant past, its progress and how it manages to become one of today are all well documented, in words and in priceless relics. 

The town is not just reminiscent of the past, it truly takes one for a slow enlightening journey to the past. Such journey is simply unthinkable most elsewhere in Vietnam. It is only possible because of the careful and dedicated works that have gone into preserving and presenting its way – efforts that have come as the result of the UNESCO recognition. Enjoying the spotlight and catering to the increasing number of tourists flooding its narrow streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the past, hotels and resorts are now sprouting up all over town.Hoi An Accommodation and Shopping One shall find his accommodation options ranging from lowly affordable motel rooms as low as $8 per day to the world-class 6-star top-of-the-line allegedly-best-in Southeast-Asia Nam Hai resort nearby, which starts at a whooping $600.

Hoi An

Hoi An Shopping

Vietnam may be small, but there will always be an extra bedroom for the staying- over guest. These days, the guests may well outnumber the homeowners however. True to its origin, Hoi An today still boasts a booming trade.    

Of the things sold in town, there are only 3 different categories. First is souvenir, the second being clothing and the last is food, both western and Vietnamese. The souvenir is not something to write home about, since offerings are limited in diversity throughout the country. Hoi An is better known for its tailor shops, which mostly service personal bespoke orders. Tourists circulate rumor that people stay in this little sleepy town for entire weeks doing nothing, waiting just to have their shirts made to the perfect fit. Most designs are traditional Vietnamese in nature, with some offer contemporary twists and touches of foreign taste as well.     

Coupled with the right prices, Hoi An is truly a shoppers’ paradise, one that dictates its western customers on a unique oriental sense of style. Paradox does not end. One imagines never being able to find western food in such a hardcore Vietnamese setting. That turns out not the case. Hoi An is home to multiple restaurants that serve big hearty American meals with only a small portion of the menu dedicated to local food. The locals prefer their sidewalk vendors to the many re-innovated house-turned-restaurants out there.Of Food and CuisinesThere is no shortage of bacon in town, but cao lầu is the dish that one simply can not miss. Prices and service are rightfully on par with the latest venues in major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Yet in the face of all the hurrying capitalist business going on, for some reason, somehow, Hoi An retains its quite serenity. Life just seems to flow by at an uneventful rate. People seem to slowly enjoy things as they are. While foreigners come to experience the old way, natives also come to Hoi An for a break in the hustling busy path of life. 

Hoi An

Thu Bon River

And it is in Hoi An that their inner peace shall be found, paradoxically in the face of all the money being changed hand. As for a fitting end to a story of many extremes, Hoi An is, sadly, situated in one of the poorest provinces in the country. Apart from the glamour of the tourism-enriching little town, Quang Nam’s population generally lives at the poverty line level. A typical drive from Danang’s airport or train station to Hoi An soon enough will reveal all the stories that are silently told.

Hoi An

Hoian Travel Guide

Vietnam Travel Guide

VIetnam Highlight

Hoi An Article Tags :

, ,