Hoi An – the ancient trading capital of Asia
On the central coast a few miles inward of the Song Thu river delta, lies the ancient trading capital of Hoi An. Formerly known as Fai Foo. It’s relatively easy to get to as the overnight bus travel from Nha Trang takes approximately ten hours. Alternatively get the train north or south and stop at Danang, before grabbing a taxi to Hoi An.
Japanese and Chinese traders would visit this river delta to set up one of the largest trading regions along the ‘silk road’, where ceramics, pottery, silk and leather goods were exchanged. Fortunately, Hoi An was never spoilt by the ravages of war, which affected so much of the country and leaves it remaining a beautiful town.
Awarded UNESCO world heritage status in 1999, it’s melting pot of trade and commerce is reflected in the architecture. From Chinese wooden shop fronts and communal halls, a covered Japanese bridge (the only Japanese bridge worldwide with a temple) and French colonial buildings, the town originated in the 15th century. It continued as a trading post until the 19th century, when exclusive trade rights were given to the French operating from nearby Da Nang. The loss of trade and the possible silting up of the river delta led to the loss of status for Hoi An, what the Japanese believed was the trading capital of Asia.
The old quarter, a largely pedestrianised area, entrance costs 150,000 Dong (approx US $6) which is a one-time fee regardless of how long you are visiting. The entrance ticket also includes 5 additional tickets for entry to the various Chinese congregation halls and museums, which makes it good value.
When Chinese traders arrived in Hoi An, they would often set-up meeting places based on their origin, such as Fujian. As a result there are a number of Chinese assembly halls, usually entered through an ornate gate, into a courtyard. There is a meeting area presumably to conduct trade negotiations with a large ornate table. At the rear, a shrine where they would worship in deference to a specific God and ancestral worshipping area for the founders. The best one is possibly the Phuc Kien (Fujian) assembly halls built in 1690. They are still in use today.
My Son temple sanctuary
Hoi An’s early history is entwined with the history of the Cham peoples and nearby My Son temple sanctuary, a collection of 70 plus Hindu temples are a must for history buffs. Only a one hour drive to one of the biggest temple collections outside Angkor in Cambodia.
Above the village of Non Nuoc, where you will see shops with amazingly large statues, lie the Karst rocks of the marble mountains.
Climbing the stairs or taking the lift (preferable if you have kids), the central peak has been converted from a mine to a tourist destination of Buddhist shrines in the middle of the caves within the rock.
The shafts of light brightening up the shrines and the peaceful temples where practising monks might be performing a ceremony make for a great experience.
After wearing your feet out touring the old town of Hoi An, it’s worth spending a morning, depending on the time of year going to Anbang beach.
Make it early as the sand gets too hot to walk on or hire a beach bed and parasol, it’s one of the few places in Vietnam where we’ve found you can swim in reasonable safety (There’s no floating oil or beach mess).
The number of eating establishments means breakfast after a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel and venturing further afield again.
Hoi An has been one of the highlights of our visit to Vietnam, offering a lot for young kids with the proximity of the beach and the relative safety from mopeds and cars in the pedestrianised old quarter.
Other things to do include:
- Pottery village
- Silk village
- Getting clothes made (silk shirts are a bargain)
- Dining out – especially when the local beer (Bia Hoi) is 5000 Dong (approx US 22¢ cents) per glass.
- Walking or Cyclo tour
- Diving or snorkelling – usually a one day trip to Cham island
Hoi An – definitely recommended.