Hoi An – Vietnam’s Most Beautiful Town with Long History

Hoi An – the most beautiful town in Vietnam is for many visitors, either Vietnamese or foreigners. It was made a UNESCO heritage site in 1999.

A town with long history

Hoi An has a long history as a merchant town and harbour with wide extending connections. 1500 years ago it started as a Cham settlement, connecting the sea to the hinterland. After 1471 the town was made a harbour for the ruling Nguyen firsts who made their seat in Hue. Hoi An had a natural harbour and was quite nice for settling. So Japanese and Chinese merchants made up their small settlements in this town which flourished through the whole 17th century. During the Tay Son Rebellion at the end of the 18th century, the town was destroyed by a fire but rebuild. Most of the houses you can see there are from the beginning of the 19th century.

Poverty as preserver of the town

The town failed to attract the incoming French colonists, who decided to make Da Nang their favourite town. The harbour of Hoi An sanded up and the newly invented steamboats draft was too deep to get into the Thu Bon River. So the ships went now to the harbour of Da Nang, where the French made their capital of Annam Protectorate. Hoi An quieted down and nearly died out after nearly 400 years of growing economic wealth. When a train was established in 1919 the small town was left out on the route. The economic collapse followed. What was a catastrophe for every Hoi An citizen is a fortune for every visitor today. The economic collapse and the following poverty of the Hoi Ans prevented the people from building new houses. They instead lived in their old houses of Chinese and Japanese style. When Vietnam opened its borders in 1994 again, tourists from all over the world came to visit the marvellous masterpieces of architecture preserved here. Today, millions of visitors come to stay for some days in this town.

Take a walk through the Old Quarter

Hoi An is an easy to visit town: Three main streets are met by three crossing streets building the Old Quarter of the town, directly at the Thu Bon river. The heart is the famous Japanese Bridge, build at the end of the 17th century. From here you can take a walk through the old town. There are old merchant houses in Japanese style, made of wood and in a marvellous carving technique decorated; there are Portuguese houses, a reminiscence to the old days in the 16th century, when the Nguyen firsts made intensive wealth through the trade with the Portuguese. And there are French Colonial style houses, mostly at the end of Tran Phu Street. Other beautiful relics include the dinh, the Vietnamese assembly halls, where the citizens of the town met. The dinh of Cam Pho in Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street is the best preserved. The Chinese merchants assembled in their own halls, and due to their origin there are 5 assembly halls. Most of the old houses can be visited, since the owners offer a lot of services and have shops inside. The whole Old Quarter can be walked up in around 2-3 hours or more.

Come during the Full Moon, when the town is most beautiful

Visitors coming to Hoi An should try to catch the days around the full moon, when the Lantern Festival is held. The city is decorated in lanterns, the townsmen come in their best clothes and make traditional plays, games and offer food. You should try the cao lau, the specialty of this town, a sort of noodle soup. In the morning you should get a boat and make a tour on the Thu Bon River or relax at the Cua Dai Beach, which is one of the flourishing beach centres in Vietnam.

Hoi An resurrected from a dead provincial town to the mecca of tourists in nearly 10 years. Today the Vietnamese government has compiled extensive programmes to ensure its preservation. Hoi An is not only a beautiful city for staying some days, but also a good starting point for tours into the hinterland of Quang Nam, to the south (Nha Trang) or the north (Hue).

This article was adapted from my Germany writer friend, Karstern Brabander. Photos are from facebook.com/vietnamtravel


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