Located on the north bank of the Thu Bon River, the picturesque historic town of Hoi An was an important trading port from the 16th to the 18th century. Attracting traders from China, Japan, and even Europe, the town acquired a rich cultural heritage, rivaled by few other cities in Vietnam. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, Hoi An features long, narrow tube Houses, Chinese pagodas and ornate community halls, family shrines, and the Japanese Covered Bridge. There is also a restored small French- Colonial quarter southeast of Hoi An.
House of Phung Hung
Built in 1780, this house has been home to the same family for eight generations. The clan made its fortune in perfumed woods and spices, and maintain the same by selling souvenirs to tourists. Supported by 80 hardwood columns, the house shows a distinct Chinese influence in the galleries and window shutters. Japanese influence is evident in the glass skylights, while the general layout and design of the house is very much Vietnamese in style.
Japanese Covered Bridge
One of the town’s most prominent landmarks, this rust- colored bridge (see p130) was constructed in 1593 by the prosperous Japanese trading community, who were based on the west side of the town, in order to link it with the Chinese quarter farther to the east. However, in 1663, the Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu issued edicts forbidding the Japanese from trading abroad, thus bringing the community to an abrupt end. In 1719, a Vietnamese temple was built into the northern section of the structure. Although a new name for the bridge, Lai Vien Kieu or Bridge from Afar, was carved over the temple door, locals continue to call it the Japanese Bridge. An effigy of Bac De, a reincarnation of the Taoist deity, the Jade Emperor, dominates the altar. The bridge, which is roofed in grey tiles, combines grace and strength in its short span across a tiny tributary of the Thu Bon River. It is a convenient pedestrian link between the art galleries of Tran Phu Street to those in the western part of town. Despite undergoing many renovations, the bridge’s Japanese characteristics are intact.
Cantonese (Quang Dong) Assembly Hall
Quang Dong is the Vietnamese name for the Chinese province of Guangdong, which was formerly known as Canton by Western countries. Built by seafaring merchants in 1786, this building is enlivened by bas-reliefs and colorful hangings. The main altar is dedicated to the great warrior Quan Cong (see p71), identifiable by his red face – emblematic of loyalty in Chinese society. Thien Hau, Goddess of the Sea, is also revered here.
Museum of Sa Huynh Culture
The small port of Sa Huynh , some 99 miles (160 km) south of the historic town of Hoi An, was the site of an eponymous prehistoric culture (1000 BC–AD 200). In 1909, more than 200 burial jars, filled with bronze tools, ornaments, and the remains of the dead, were unearthed from here. These fascinating artifacts, characterized by a very distinctive style of bronze work can now be admired in the small museum, which is housed in a fine Franco-Vietnamese building.
House of Tan Ky
Perhaps the most celebrated of Hoi An’s many traditional abodes, the House of Tan Ky is an excellent representation of an authentic 18th-century Sino-Vietnamese shophouse style of construction. Built around a small courtyard, this structure, as is often the case in Hoi An, is an architectural hybrid. It carries fine Chinese crab-shell motifs on the ceiling, while its roof is supported by typically Japanese triple-beam joists. The floor is made with bricks imported from Bat Trang in the Red River Delta. Exquisite mother-of-pearl inlay Chinese poetry hangs from the columns that support the roof.
House of Quan Thang
This one-story shophouse is a fine example of crafts- manship typical of Hoi An’s traditional dwellings. Dating from the 18th century, this house was built by a sea- faring trader from Fujian in China, whose family have lived and prospered here for the last six generations. The house has a dark teak façade, and is roofed in curved Chinese-style tiles. It can be accessed via the shop front, which leads into an interior courtyard. The walls of this enclosure are adorned with stucco bas-reliefs of flowers and trees. Beyond this beautiful courtyard is a narrow terrace used for cooking purposes. The wooden windows and shutters are finely carved.
Tran Family Chapel
This ancestral shrine was established more than two centuries ago to honor the forefathers of the Tran family. These venerable ancestors moved to Vietnam from China in the early 18th century, and eventually settled in Hoi An. The current descendants claim that they are the 13th generation since the migration from China. Over time, members of the family intermarried with local Vietnamese natives, and the chapel is appropriately hybrid. Artifacts belonging to the ancestors and memorial tablets decorate the main altar. A forefather who achieved the rank of mandarin is honored in a portrait in the reception hall of the chapel.
Museum of Trading Ceramics
Housed in a traditional timber shophouse, with balconies and wood paneling, this muse um is dedicated to Hoi An’s historic ceramic trade, which flourished from the 16th to 18th centuries. Many pieces on display were recovered from shipwrecks, some near Cham Island off the mouth of Thu Bon River.
Phuc Kien Assembly Hall
A flamboyant building, this assembly hall was founded by merchants who had fled from the Chinese province of Fujian after the downfall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. The temple complex is dedicated to Thien Hau, Goddess of the Sea, who is regarded as the savior of sailors. She presides over the main altar in the first chamber, and is flanked by attendants who are said to alert her whenever there is a shipwreck. To the right of the altar is a detailed model of a sailing junk, while in a chamber at the back, an altar honors the founding fathers who are represented by six seated figures.
Quan Cong Pagoda
Also known as Chua Ong, this pagoda was founded in 1653, and is dedicated to the 3rd- century Chinese general, Quan Cong, a member of the Taoist pantheon. An impressive gilded statue of him presides over the main altar, accompanied by two fierce-looking guardians, and a white horse, Quan Cong’s traditional mount.
Hainan Chinese Assembly Hall
This assembly hall was built in 1875 by Hoi An’s immigrant community from Hainan Island in China. It is dedicated to the memory of 108 Hainanese seafarers killed by a renegade Vietnamese pirate-general in 1851. A lacquered board in the entry hall recounts their story in Chinese characters.
Best visited in the morning, when the pace is not frantic, this lively market occupies two narrow streets that run south from Tran Phu to the banks of the Thu Bon River. There are stalls selling all kinds of fresh produce, kitchen utensils, and other equipment. To the east of the wharf is the market specializing in fresh seafood and meat. The main draws, though, are Hoi An’s popular fabric and clothing stores, which specialize in exquisite and inexpensive silks. Custom-made outfits can be ordered in less than a day.
Hoi An Artcraft Manufacturing Workshop
This handicrafts workshop specializes in the production of elegant lanterns, a specialty of Hoi An. These lanterns are handmade, using silk mounted on bamboo frames. Visitors can watch artisans at work, or make their own lanterns under expert supervision.
Traditional recitals featuring the dan bau, a Vietnamese stringed musical instrument, are also staged in the workshop (10:15am and 3:15pm daily), and refreshments are available for visitors in the courtyard.
Cua Dai Beach
Cua Dai Beach is most easily reached by cycling down Cua Dai Road. The white sands look out onto the islands of the Cham archipelago making it a popular destination. Some of Vietnam’s most attractive hotels such as the Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa, and Ancient House line the route and front the beach.