The Ancient Town of Hoi An
Hoi An, in Quang Nam province, is about 35km south of Danang
on the mouth of the Thu Bon river. In the middle of today's
modern municipality is the ancient port town of Hoi An,
surrounded by urban development.
the silted-up river that once made it a major trading centre,
it is now a World Heritage Area and a popular destination.
Its close proximity to Cua Dai Beach, good hotels and restaurants
make it a pleasant place to spend a few days in the middle
of a full tour of Vietnam.
it's commercialised, it's a well managed site and retains
it's 'village’ atmosphere. Apart from the ancient streets
of wooden buildings, silk shops, river trips and a delightful
monthly 'return to the past' evening when traffic and electricity
is replaced by lanterns and traditional costumes, are additional
The Chinese took an interest in the Quang Nam area back
in the days of the Cham Empire, and began anchoring their
ships in Tra Nhieu Bay, to the south of Hoi An, but it wasn't
until the early fifteenth century that the area’s potential
for trade was recognised.
known as Fai Fo, Hoi An was established somewhere between
1602 and 1618 by Nguyen Phuc Nguyen, the ruling ‘Lord’ at
that time. He had a close relationship with both the Japanese
and Chinese, who were the first to use the new port via
the trade winds. The number of traders expanded rapidly,
and by the mid-1600’s ships from Japan, China, Europe India
and the South Pacific countries congregated for an annual
four-month trading fair.
Fo became a melting pot of cultures. Predominant were the
Japanese and Chinese that ran with the trade winds. As many
of the merchants often had to wait several months for favourable
winds to carry them home, they established resident communities
with their own rulers, legal codes and temples. Many prospered,
some reaching the equivalent of billionaires.
Fo reached its zenith in the middle of the seventeenth century,
when it was among the largest ports in South East Asia.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the river began silting
up, coinciding with the focus of trade in the region turned
towards China. Fai Fo’s value as a port dwindled rapidly
as Danang's began to develop. By the beginning of the last
century, it had become a backwater, its glorious past merely
Hoi An in 1954, the town had reverted into a sleepy backwater
until the rapid post-war rise in Vietnam’s population stimulated
a considerable amount of urban development around the Ancient
Town. Its economic renaissance was further fuelled by the
new trade of tourism generating an explosion of hotels and
tourism infrastructure leaving the Ancient Town as an island
in the middle of a large conurbation. Since being added
to UNESCO's World Heritage List, the number of visitors
has expanded exponentially, and is now reaching the limit
of the town’s capacity.
is there to do in Hoi An?
The centrepiece is, of course, the Ancient Town. It retains
the original street pattern and many of its buildings (described
separately). Some of the houses and temples participate
in a ticket scheme: each 50,000 Dong (roughly $3.40 US)
ticket contains four ‘tokens’ allowing visitors to choose
what attracts them – extra tokens cost 10.000 Dong each.
The proceeds are directed towards renovation.
However, nearly all the owners of the old houses are delighted
to show visitors around in anticipation of a tip – your
guide will advise you or deal with it, if you prefer.
An is also famous for its many restaurants offering both
local and Vietnamese specialities, and international fare.
The standard is high, and the prices inexpensive. It’s also
a good place for shopping, especially for silk material
and garments. Most of the silk shops are just outside the
boundaries of the Ancient Towns – most can turn material
into a tailor-made garment within 24 hours.
early risers, the riverside end of the town’s market is
an interesting place to be around 05.00 to 06.00 when the
night fishing boats come in to unload their catches.
islands in the river and other local communities are worth
visiting. In the past, there was a thriving network of craft
villages, but they declined as the town slipped into obscurity.
Nevertheless, some vestiges of the old trades are still
to be found, such as boat building on Cam Kim Island. Some
of the Cam Kim artisans were ‘recruited’ by boatyards in
Ha Long, where they applied their skills to creating the
distinctive wooden junks that have become a feature of the
Bay and a popular tourist attraction.
away, but accessible by ferry, Cham Island has unspoilt
beaches, good snorkelling over coral, and interesting fishing
villages. Its Hai Tung Pagoda dates back to 1758 and although
it is near to collapsing, is worth a detour.
About four kilometres from the town is Cua Dai Beach, part
of an enormous strand of sand lining the coast as far as
the Mekong Delta. Don't be misled by references to My Khe
Beach – that's a section of Danang's My Khe beach. Cua
Dai is just as good: clear water, and palm/ pine fringed
you don't want to bother with a taxi of motorbike, a bicycle
is a good way of getting around – we can arrange it in advance,
or you can easily rent bikes in the town.
afield, visits to the Marble Mountains and the UNESCO World
Heritage Area of the My Son Sanctuary would each take about
half a day.