The ancient town of Hoi An

11 November 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – Read about the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An, a major Southeast Asian trading port since the 16th century.

Thanh Nien News, 11 November 2007

Hoi An preserves the soul of age-old town
by Thu Thuy

The historic town of Hoi An in Quang Nam Province is known for its history and considered a precious gem of Vietnam’s central coastal region.

Hoi An’s history dates back more than 3,000 years.


Its prehistory belonged to the assemblage of pre-Sa Huynh and Sa Huynh culture, which is a late prehistoric metal age society from the first millennium BC.

From the late 16th to the early 19th century, Hoi An was a well-known international trading port for Vietnam and the region, known by a variety of monikers: FaiFo, HaiFo, Hoai Pho and Hoi An.

Together with local residents, many Japanese and Chinese traders came to Hoi An for settlement.

In addition, many merchant ships from Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France, England and India frequently docked at Hoi An Port to barter and buy goods.

UNESCO recognized Hoi An as a World Heritage Site on December 12, 1999, remarking that the ancient town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 16th to the 19th century.

The town’s old houses and streets reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, which have combined to produce this unique heritage site.

Hoi An has a distinctly Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets; the original structure of some of these streets still remains almost intact.

All the houses are made of rarewood, decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese characters.

The town’s old quarter also features a mix of Western, Japanese and Chinese cultures.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than at Chua Cau (Bridge Pagoda), a Japanese pagoda built 400 years ago across a stream flowing into the Hoi An River.

The 12-meter-long pagoda was erected in a very particular style with its roof covered with yin-yang tiles.

Both the pagoda and the bridge are made of wood, delicately carved and engraved, with the facade looking over the riverbank.

The two ends are adorned with wooden animal-figures, two dogs at one end and two monkeys at the other.

The pagoda is dedicated to the Northern Genie Tran Vo, the Protector, who is believed to grant joy and happiness to all.

Among other most-visited sites in Hoi An are the Old Quarter, Fukien Club House, Quan Cong Temple and the communal houses of Cam Pho, Son Phong and De Vong.

The town is also known for its famous pagodas such as Quan Am, Chuc Thanh, Phuc Lam, Van Duc and Vien Giac as well as the tombs of a beloved concubine of Emperor Quang Trung and the generals under the Tay Son reign.

Last but not least, Hoi An also offers tourists a chance to discover and enjoy its specialties including cao lau (rice noodle served with pork, shrimp, ground roasted peanuts, ricepaper and vegetables), mi Quang (Quang Nam-style noodles), hoanh thanh (wonton) and chi ma phu (black sesame sweet soup), banh u (small pyramidal glutinous rice cake), tofu, and rice paper sheets.

Hoi An also retains its rich with festivals, folk culture, artistic villages and the traditional craft villages of Kim Bong (carpentry), Tra Que (horticulture) and Thanh Ha (pottery).

Visitors to Hoi An can also discover relics of the Sa Huynh and Cham cultures and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the romantic Hoi An River, Cua Dai Beach, and Cham Island.

More attractions

The authority of Hoi An has carried out many programs in the past decade to make the town more popular among the tourist set.

Among the highlights is the “Hoi An Full Moon Night” program, which is held on the 15th day every lunar month.

On that day, the streets in the town are closed to all vehicles and are lit by either lanterns or antique electric lamps.

Only a certain number of traditional boats are allowed to move on the Bach Dang River to set aside space for flowered lantern lighting festival.

But even on other nights, multi-colored lanterns – previously made from paper, now made from silk – cast their colorful lights from restaurants and shops.

That may remind one of a scene in Zhang Yimou’s famous film Raise the Red Lantern.

In fact, the lanterns have become a trademark unique to Hoi An.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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