Hoi An and around
The ancient core of HOI AN is a rich architectural fusion of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and European influences dating back to the sixteenth century. In its heyday the now drowsy channel of the Thu Bon River was a jostling crowd of merchant vessels representing the world’s great trading nations, and there’s still a compelling sense of history in the mellow streets of this small, amiable town. Hoi An’s most noteworthy monuments are the 200-year-old homes of prosperous Chinese merchants whose descendants, surrounded by astonishing collections of antiques and family memorabilia, continue to inhabit the cool, dark houses. Between their sober wooden facades, riotous confections of glazed roof tiles and writhing dragons mark the entrances to Chinese Assembly Halls, which form the focal point of civic and spiritual life for an ethnic Chinese community that constitutes one quarter of the population.
Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999, Hoi An is now firmly on most visitors’ agendas. For some it’s already too much of a tourist trap with its profusion of tailors’ shops and art galleries and its rapidly proliferating hotels, and the majority of visitors pause only briefly, but it takes time to tune in to the town’s subtle charms. At least a day is needed to cover the central sights and sample some of Hoi An’s mouthwatering speciality dishes, and by then most people are hooked. It’s easy to spend longer, taking day-trips to the atmospheric Cham ruins of My Son or some of the other sights closer to town (see p.280), biking out into the surrounding country or opting for a leisurely sampan ride on the Thu Bon River. If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with the Full-Moon Festival, on the fourteenth day of the lunar calendar every month, when the town centre is closed to traffic and traditional arts performances take place in the lantern-lit streets.