Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam
Let’s face it – Hoi An, with its beautifully restored houses, shops and public buildings, is one huge attraction in itself but there are certain sights that should be highlighted and underscored for the visitor. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Hoi An was once the major Vietnamese trading centre for silk, porcelain, pepper, cinnamon and medicinal plants.
When the Thu Bon river eventually filled with silt, trading moved further north to Danang.
Hoi An Old Town
Hoi An Old Town
Once a major Southeast Asian trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries, the seaside town Hoi An is basically a living museum featuring a unique mixture of East and West in the form of its old-town architecture. Among the heritage architecture stand Chinese temples, a Japanese-designed bridge, pagodas, wooden shop-houses, French- colonial houses and old canals. Though large-scale trading had long moved elsewhere Hoi An has been successful in preserving and restoring its charming roots and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1999. Hoi An Riverside is the best place to be at night as the area is lit by quaint and old-fashioned lanterns, making it an atmospheric and beautiful spot. For those who love sea, sun and sand, Hoi An offers two lovely beaches five kilometres away from the town centre – a sort of holiday within a holiday.
Hoi An is known for its great food, fun shopping, skilled tailors, friendly people and cosy atmosphere – all key characteristics that draw people to this picturesque town.
The Old Town
Old woman selling Lanterns in Hoi An at night
Two great things about Hoi An’s Old Town are that it is small enough to get around in on foot and the traffic is nowhere near as heavy as in bigger cities. Some of the streets only allow bike and motorbike traffic and some are pedestrian only. These factors make Hoi An even more inviting for most travelers to Vietnam, especially those who have passed through frenetic Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) or Hanoi. Many buildings in the Old Town were constructed over a century ago and feature strong Chinese influences stemming from merchants from Guangzhou, Fujian, Chiu Chow and Hainan. Some of the wooden signboards bearing the company names are carved and gilded in Chinese characters, reflecting the strong presence of the Chinese in Hoi An ever since its prosperous times. Tradition is still very much alive in the Old Town. Even though many of the old shops have been converted to modern businesses aimed at tourists including countless tailors, souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafés, all have been converted with care to preserve the past.
Happily, all Hoi An’s major attractions or landmarks are located within walking distance of each other including the Japanese covered bridge, the Chinese assembly halls, Guan Yin Temple, the museum of history and culture and the Tran family home and chapel.
Where to Eat
It’s amazing to see such a huge variety of local cheap eats and fine dining in a tiny town like Hoi An. Diners can select from both local and western cuisines at most of the up-market restaurants.
Many of them feature big lounge bars on the ground floor and an eating section with a balcony upstairs. The highlights of the meal often include local specialties such as white rose (prawn dumplings) and cao lau (a pork noodle dish).
Old Town Nightlife
Old Town Nightlife Hoi An
Nightlife in Hoi An’s Old Town is not extremely hectic and things usually get quiet after 22:00. Still, travelers can easily find a place or two to hang out and enjoy a few drinks, snacks or a game of pool and darts.
Many cafés and bars offer happy hours and some even start as early as 16:00. The idea of chilling out in a century-old shop-house on big and comfortable sofas and some dancing space in certain venues is appealing to many and Hoi An’s nightlife is certainly friendly.
Things to Do
A cylo riding tour is an alternative and fun way to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site though the Old Town can easily be managed on foot. Many restaurants in the Old Town also offer cooking classes in English. Students normally learn to cook three to five dishes and eat the results together afterwards.
For those who are looking for more sporty activities, there are a few good dive centres in Hoi An including one located opposite the Hoi An Museum, a bit further north inland from the Old Town.
My Son Sanctuary
My Son Sanctuary, Hoi An
My Son Hindu Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great sample of the ancient Champa civilization located in the southern part of Vietnam. It was an independent state from around the 2nd to the 17th century, at which time it was occupied by Vietnam. The impressive Hindu-themed ruins feature many beautiful stone sculptures, temples and towers in tropical jungle surroundings. My Son was also a political centre and a royal burial ground and the complex consists of more than 70 structures devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses and the most noticeable one, Shiva, was considered the protector of the Champa’s kings. Their skilful use of red bricks and sandstone is remarkable. Like many historic sites around the world, My Son was destroyed by time and wars and after lying neglected for a long time it was rediscovered and renovated by the French in 1898. Sadly the most recent war did great damage to the complex as the Americans bombed this area knowing that the Viet Cong used it as a hiding place, mistakenly thinking that the enemy would not touch a holy site. However, the majority of the central complex managed to survive the bombs and parts of the ruins have now been rebuilt. Overall, this Hindu sanctuary reminds visitors of other similar sites in Southeast Asia including the great Angkor Wat in Cambodia. A must-visit for those who appreciate history. • Opening Hours: All year round. The best time to visit is early in the morning before it gets too hot and when it is not too busy
• Location: In a small valley in Duy Tan Commune, Duy Xuyen District of Quang Nam Province (about 70km southwest of Danang and 40km from Hoi An).
Hoi An Riverside
Thu Bon River, Hoi An
From the16th to the 18th centuries, Hoi An attracted international traders because of its location on the banks of Thu Bon River, conveniently flowing into the East China Sea. The merchants chose to stop here to wait for the right wind directions for their next destinations. Among them were traders from China, Japan, the Netherlands, France, Portugal and India. Of all the streets in the Old Town, the one that runs east-west to the river’s edge is the liveliest. The traditional buildings and shops have welcomed foreign merchants since the days when the town was known as Hai Pho (Seaside Town). Nowadays it no longer greets foreign traders but tourists and travelers.
However, the seemingly untouched architecture in Hoi An’s Riverside and Old Town was built only about 200 years ago and is made up of a mix of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and colonial styles. Those who wish to see older buildings will have to go further inland where they can find, for example, a 15th century pagoda.
Hoi An Riverside Attractions
The Riverside is the main landmark of Hoi An. It is where both traditional and modern boats drop their anchors and where local housewives go every morning to shop at the wet market.
The whole town is reintroducing the use of gorgeous and colourful hand-crafted lanterns and on special nights of the month, hundreds of them hang on verandas and windows as they did over 300 years ago. Welcome to Hoi An, one of Vietnam’s prettiest destinations.
Hoi An Riverside Restaurants & Dining
Hoi An is where you can sample good seafood, coffee, cake and home-cooked and international food. The pleasant waterfront area is the most popular location for travelers to dine.
The views across the Thu Bon River, with local boats cruising past, are just like in the old days and the elegant lamps illuminated at night never fail to charm people. Visitors simply can’t get enough of it.
Hoi An Riverside Nightlife
Hoi An has a mixed feel to it: Part of the allure is the laid-back, hippy-like atmosphere yet it is also a classy sort of place with fancy stores, elegant bistro and cafés. It is one of those unusual places where you will see both budget and sophisticated travelers comfortable together.
The Riverfront is where most out-of-town visitors hang out at night and the old-style Hoi An lanterns reflecting on the water create a magical atmosphere, making a simple meal or a friendly conversation over drinks an extraordinary moment.
Hoi An Riverside Shopping
A must stop is the town market located right at the edge of the river. It is a hectic scene to witness especially in the morning when the fishermen are bringing in their catch of the day. Strolling along the Riverside is fun with its endless shops selling high-quality goods (a big contrast to the fresh market.) Take your time to admire craftsmen busy transforming a big log into a giant Buddha or artists painting stunning oil paintings.
In case you have never heard of or seen Vietnamese rice wine, you will definitely come across it here in Hoi An. Just look for the bottle with real scorpions and cobras in it. Rumour has it that the exotic drink helps boost energy as well as your sex drive.
Hoi An Riverside Activitie
Attending a cooking class while on holiday might not be everyone’s cup of tea but many actually try it here in Hoi An and the experience usually wins them over. Learn to cook at one of the riverfront restaurants that take students to the market to select fresh ingredients before cooking. It is also a chance to understand more about Southeast Asian spices and tropical products.
Another worthwhile activity is to hire a boat for fishing or just for relaxation. There are plenty of local boats to charter at the docks. At certain times of year you can also buy beautiful floating lanterns and release them onto the river at night. It’s a lovely activity especially for young kids and lovers.
Hoi An Central Market
Hoi An Central Market
Sharpen your bargaining skills and head south east to Hoi An Central Market, one of Vietnam’s best, offering an unmissable shopping experience. Rich in the smell of fragrant herbs and spices and the vibrant colours of Vietnamese silk, delve deep and you are guaranteed a bargain. Prices tend to be more inflated at the stalls closest to the entrance so head right in for the best buys. There is a vast array of foodstuff for sale including spices such as saffron and cinnamon which are superb purchases as are the exotic fresh fruit and vegetables on display. Due to its riverside location there is also a huge selection of fresh fish available.
The marketplace is renowned for its tailors who have a section of the market all to themselves. Fine silk tailoring is cheaper here than anywhere else in Hoi An with garment makers running up a dress, shirt, jacket or full suit usually within 24 hours. Souvenir and local handicraft hunters will also find plenty to browse through at the Central Market.
Resting on the banks of the Thu Bon River, bustling Hoi An Central Market is certainly worth a look for its authentic slice of Vietnamese life. The market is busy throughout the day with locals bargaining hard alongside tourists so its best to arrive first thing in the morning. The negotiating over fish usually starts around 07:00 as the fishermen drop their catch off and the market vendors and local buyers dive in to get the best fish. Be warned that it can get very messy, nevertheless it’s certainly a sight not to be missed.
Inside the market there are also plenty of live ducks and chickens tied together and ready for sale alongside row upon row of Vietnamese cooking ingredients. The smell can get quite strong as the day heats up and the market will also become a lot busier and louder as the day progresses. If you want to avoid this, then head to the east side and the large shed type building which houses the tailors and all manner of Asian silk and textiles.
Good to Know
As a tourist browsing round Hoi An Central Market you can expect plenty of stall holders pushing their wares on you quite hard, the best course of action is to simply smile and continue on your way. When you do decide to make a purchase then remember that the first price you will be told will be over inflated, you should then offer around half and then work up to a price that you are both happy with. Be prepared to walk away and you might be surprised by the fair price you are then offered. • Opening Hours: daily from 06:30 and is best visited early starting with a walk by the docks to watch the fish arrive before you enter. • Location: Nguyen Hue and Tran Phu on the Thu Bon River.
• Remarks: It’s a good idea to wear closed shoes as the floor in the market can get damp and sticky, especially if you are visiting the fish section.
Cua Dai Beach
Cua Dai Beach, Hoi An
Cua Dai is one of just five Vietnamese UNESCO World Heritage Sites offering an unrivalled seaside escape from the ancient streets of Hoi An.
Fujian Assembly Hall
The photogenic Fujian (Phuc Kien) assembly hall was created as a place in which residents from Fujian in China could meet up and socialise whilst living or visiting Hoi An. Built around 1690 with the main gate added much later, the assembly hall is also a World Cultural Heritage site and is much visited today by those seeking a glimpse of this superb piece of architecture.
The inside of the assembly hall contains the Jinshang Golden Mountain temple dedicated to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea and caretaker of sailors, featuring altars adorned with delicately carved dragons. There is also a fertility shrine to help answer the prayers of childless couples who visit.
Fujian Assembly Hall in Hoi An
The Fujian assembly hall began life as a thatched pagoda dedicated to Buddha and built by the Vietnamese. The pagoda was then sold to Phuk Kien traders who undertook the restoration of the pagoda which had by then become somewhat run down. It was then reopened as the Phuk Kien Assembly Hall and became a symbolic icon of Hoi An architecture and one which has gained a reputation as a heritage masterpiece of great historical importance. The assembly hall is full of statues, bronze bells and drums with lacquered works of art lining up in a vivid celebration of Fujian artistry. Unsurprisingly Chinese celebrations frequently take place in dramatic style at the assembly hall. Animal pictures and statues are in abundance including mythical creatures such as the Unicorn signifying knowledge, whilst the Phoenix is there in the name of nobility. The main centre of attraction is the temple dedicated to the sea goddess Thien Hau who rests alongside the goddess Thuan Phong Nhi who is credited with hearing the distress call of ships thousands of miles away and the goddess Thien Ly Nhan who has the vision to see those ships. It is well worth timing your visit with a Chinese festival to see the hall in its full glory. Take a moment to admire the artwork outside before or after you explore inside, when you do step inside look for the mosaic foundation complete with fish to represent achievement. There is also a turtle close by to signify endurance. • Opening Hours: Daily from 08:00-17:00 • Location: 46 Tran Phu Street
• Remarks: It is wise to dress respectfully although it is not a strict requirement.
Museum of History and Culture
Museum of History and Culture, Hoi An
Where the Thu Bon River flows directly into the East China Sea, Hoi An was once one of the major Asian trade hubs. From the 16th to 18th century merchants visited from across the globe, stopping by as they awaited a change in weather before moving on. Traders from France, Portugal and the Netherlands mingled with those from Japan, China, Thailand, India and Vietnam along the bustling streets of Hoi An’s old town.
Most of The Riverside Museum of History and Culture is a celebration of this period although there are objects on display representing historical and cultural changes before and after the trading years. There are also an assortment of ceramics and historical photographs and drawings depicting the merchant period including some pottery items that were part of the traders’ wares. Other exhibits predating this time are an array of Cham artefacts including bronze temple bells and gongs.
Hoi An Museum of History & Culture
Museum of Folklore, Hoi An
Hoi An’s Riverside Museum of History and Culture showcases a range of artefacts such as photographs of local architecture, ceramics and pottery depicting the changing faces of Hoi An including the Champa era dating from 7th-15th centuries and Da Viet from 15th to 19th centuries. The museum resides in the picturesque Quan Am pagoda, one of Vietnam’s oldest, built in 1653, containing relics spanning 2,000 years of Hoi An history. The museum offers an interesting insight into the heritage of Hoi An including traditional burial rites with some very old coffins on display alongside what is a very eclectic mix of exhibitions portraying Hoi An throughout the ages. Ceramics are in abundance although not quite as many as those displayed at the Museum of Trade Ceramics. • Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00 • Location: 7 Nguyen Hue
• Remarks: There are some English translations but they are not in great detail so it might be wise to bring your own guide book. However, it is well worth taking time to visit and browse the many photographs on display, most of which require little explanation. Admission is gained by the purchase of a Hoi An Old Town ticket.
Japanese Covered Bridge
Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An
One of Vietnam’s most iconic attractions, Hoi An’s Japanese covered bridge dates back to the 18th century and is a beautiful historical piece of Japanese architecture. It is claimed that it was created by the Japanese then living in Hoi An as a way to reach the Chinese quarter across the water. The bridge was opened by Nguyen Phuc Chu Lord in 1719 who carved three Chinese symbols above the door in commemoration. The bridge also features the sculptures of two dogs and two monkeys representing the Chinese years in which many Japanese Emperors were born along with the fact that the building of the bridge began in the year of the dog and was completed in the year of the monkey.
The Japanese Covered Bridge underwent renovation work in 1986 which saw the restoration of the arch that was once flattened to make way for cars. Today, the bridge stands as a symbol of Hoi An and remains as aesthetically pleasing as it was when it first opened.
Hoi An’s Japanese Covered Bridge
On the north side of the bridge you’ll discover a temple dedicated to the Taoist God of weather, Tran Vo Bac De. This is where locals will often pray to stave off any impending earthquakes. The monkey and dog animal statues guard the bridge at either end along with an ancient Chinese script at one end written in Chu Nho, listing all the benefactors who contributed to the restoration of the bridge. Know locally as Cau Nhat Ban or the Pagoda Bridge, the bridge connects Tran Phu with Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. Crossing over the bridge you will find plenty of paintings for sale by artists living in the vicinity. The bridge is about 60 feet in length and simply, yet colourfully painted in red with a wooden pagoda roof. The Japanese Covered Bridge is very well preserved and features a roof meaning you can visit at any time of day regardless of the heat or the rain. • Location: The bridge is located at the west end of Tran Phu Street in Hoi An and is easily reached from the town centre.
• Remarks: There are no restrictions with regards to dress code and the bridge is always open.
Marble Mountains from a far
A cluster of five hills made from limestone and marble, Marble Mountains are a well-known pilgrimage site with peaks, caves, tunnels and temples all just waiting to be discovered. Named after the elements metal, wood, water, fire and earth, Marble Mountains exist in a coastal area that is renowned for stone-cutting and sculpture about 9km south of Danang. The caves within the mountains hold many secrets including bullet holes from when troops used to spy on the US soldiers relaxing on China Beach below and buildings standing within the caves and grottoes.
There are also a host of Buddhist sanctuaries and places of worship dotted across the mountains which are a much-visited spiritual site. There are many pagoda temples and even a special circular cave featuring a chimney leading to the summit with spectacular panoramic views.
Marble Mountains in Da Nang
According to ancient folklore, a dragon emerged from the water on Non Nuoc Beach and laid an egg. A thousand days and a thousand nights followed before the egg hatched, and out stepped a beautiful girl. The fragments of the shell were left on the beach and eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains. Today, one of the most popular highlights is climbing up the Marble Mountains and enjoying spectacular views across Non Nuoc, also known as China Beach. The Mountain of Water which is home to pagodas dating back to the 17th century and a number of caves is one the most frequented climbs with a steep hike up stone steps to Tam Quan Gate and its superb vistas to Mount Kim Son or Metal Mountain and the coastline from the Riverview Tower located next to the gate. The Riverview Tower dates back to the 18th century and the reign of the Emperor Minh Mang. Close by is Van Nguyet Grotto which is a nice resting spot where you can grab a fresh coconut to drink. The Lantern Cave is also worth a look, small but deep and filled with lava along with Am Phu Cave which heads down to a very scenic viewpoint. • Remarks: You should allow up to four hours to explore all of Marble Mountains so its good to start early when it is not so hot and of course wear comfortable shoes, and if you can, bring a torch. Vietnamese children sell souvenirs at Marble Mountains and you can expect to be hassled until you’ve either bought a gift or ‘tipped’ them a few dollars for a ‘guided tour’.
• Price Range: There is a $1 entrance fee to Marble Mountain and an additional $1 cost for entrance to the cave at the foot of the mountains.
Museum of Trade Ceramics
Museum of Trade Ceramics, Hoi An
It’s worth a trip to the Museum of Trade Ceramics just to see the beautifully restored timber house in which the museum resides. Stepping inside you’ll discover a vast selection of Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese ceramics found during archaeological digs in the area, mainly dating from the 8th to the 18th centuries. The museum is located in Hoi An’s old quarter and offers a cultural insight into the history of the town and foreign relationships with Asian counterparts including Japan, China and India. There are also a host of fascinating drawings on display showcasing the different types of architecture found in Hoi An along with a detailed history of the life and times of this ancient town which once acted as a very important trade centre.
Today, Hoi An is largely regarded as a fishing town, but once upon a time it was one of the Asian leaders in the trading of pottery from nations such as China, Thailand, the Middle East, India and Japan.
Museum of Trade Ceramics in Hoi An
Built in 1858, the building housing the Museum of Trade Ceramics is an elegant example of traditional Vietnamese workmanship which has been kept in first-class condition. There are many antique pieces exhibited including some from a ship wrecked in nearby waters in 1733 and pottery from the Chinese Tang Dynasty dating from the 7th to the 10th centuries. Objects from the Middle East are also estimated from the same era adding to a collection of some 430 artefacts However, the real beauty of the Museum of Trade Ceramics is its ability to put together all of the history of Hoi An in one place and give foreigners a chance to understand her origins as a vital trade port whilst also offering a detailed glimpse into Hoi An architecture.
Exhibition signs in English, often in superb detail, allow the visitor to thoroughly understand the treasures on display, many of which exist only as fragments.
Good to Know
The Museum of Trade Ceramics is open daily from 08:00 until 17:00 and is situated at 80 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An. The house itself is in pristine condition and visitors are welcome to also wander around the rooms and courtyard to get a feel of a traditional Vietnamese house.
The museum is highly recommended for historians or those with an interest in archaeology, others may find it rather dry largely due to the fact that there are few whole objects on display with most of the exhibits consisting of ancient shards of flatware and pottery./.
Palm Vietnam Travel – Posted by Ms.Alex