Designated a World Cultural Heritage town, Hoi An thrived in the 16th and 17th centuries as an international trading port. Chinese, Dutch, Japanese and Indian traders arrived, and in many cases established businesses and residences here. The town has some of the best-preserved architecture (residences, pagodas, temples, communal and assembly houses, wells, wharf, etc.) in Vietnam.
The area is known for silk lanterns, pottery, and tailors who can whip you up a custom suit or dress in a day or two for an extremely reasonable fee. Having no space in our packs, we didn’t indulge, but it seemed everyone was walking around with bags of new clothes.
With the obligatory entrance- ticket to the Old Town, you can also enter five of the many historic buildings. Our first stop was the Old House of Duc An, the only one on the list whose owners are Vietnamese (others came originally from China). Eight generations have lived in the house, four currently. The last patriarch passed away at the age of 102! The carved wood in all of these homes is amazing. It’s also interesting to see how things have been preserved yet adapted for comfortable living today. The Old House of Quan Thang is another typical Hoi An merchant style residence, Vietnamese with Japanese and Chinese influence. A number of buildings have beams marked with the height of how high flood waters rose in a given year.
One of the town’s symbols is the Japanese Bridge, built in the former Japanese Quarter in the 17th century. Other buildings we visited had different roles in the ancient and current communities. They include Minh Huong Communal House (built 1820), Phu Kien Assembly Hall (1690) is dedicated to a goddess of the sea and serves the Fujian Chinese community, the largest ethnic minority in Hoi An, and Quan Cong Temple (1653), dedicated to a revered and worshipped general. On the nearby river, local boats carry tourists back and forth on short tours.
The An Hoi peninsula, just across from the Old Town section of Hoi An is nice for a walk or bike ride. We got out on bikes a few times, once out into the countryside a bit, and another day to Cual Dai beach, the southernmost stretch of what has come to be known as China Beach, where American soldiers once had their R&R.
Hoi An also proved to be a good foodie town as well, with a number of local specialties such as “White Rose,” shrimp and pork steamed in a rice-paper wrapping folded to look something like a flower, “banh xeo,” a delicious, crispy country pancake with lots of herbs and veggies, and “cau lau,” flat noodles with pork and vegetables and crunchy bits of dough served either stir fried or in a broth. We had some delicious fish cooked in banana leaf as well.
As touristy as it was, Hoi An proved to be a relaxing break from the stresses of the bigger cities. It was nice to be able to just wander, observe and take it all in, letting your guard down a bit. The narrow alleys, moss-covered walls, storefronts made of rich, old wood selling traditional lanterns, crafts, souvenirs and the ubiquitous suits and dresses will charm even those too long on the banana pancake trail.
For photos, click HERE.