Here’s a tip for improving your town’s chance of receiving UNESCO world heritage listing. Let it slip off the radar for a hundred years or so. From the 15th to the 19th century Hoi An was one of Vietnam’s busiest international shipping ports, and home to traders from Vietnam, China and Japan.
But a change in trade dynamics, plus the silting up of the river linking the town to the sea, saw the major port activity moved to Danang, about 30km to the north.
Hoi An’s development stalled, resulting in limited modernisation and the preservation of the town’s unique blend of Asian and European architecture.
Miraculously it also survived the hard-fought routing of the French colonists in the 1950s, and the later battles of the Vietnam War in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The traditional architecture has remained intact to the point that the town almost resembles a theme village of the Sovereign Hill variety, but Hoi An is the real deal.
To maintain this authentic experience, regulations prohibit cars and restrict motorcycle movement within the historic town centre, making Hoi An ideal for a leisurely stroll or cycle.
Long famous for its textiles – particularly silk – many travellers employ local tailors to whip up suits and other apparel at prices far cheaper than at home. It pays to do your research to avoid shoddy workmanship and overpricing, but the job can usually be finished over a two-day stay.
There are also plenty of arts and crafts, and if you’re in the market for a colourful lantern then you’ve come to the right place.
Hoi An sits squarely on the tourist trail and during the busy season you’re more likely to hear Korean, Chinese and English spoken rather than Vietnamese.
Many of the old mustard coloured buildings are bulging with souvenir t-shirts, clothing and trinkets, and come meal time you’ll be enthusiastically encouraged by spruikers to dine at one of the town’s many restaurants.
But none of this detracts from Hoi An’s genuine charm.
This is a fully functioning settlement with a bustling produce market, ornately decorated pagodas that continue to welcome worshippers, and residents who can claim a connection with the town spanning several generations.
In a region where modernity is embraced with a passion, Hoi An recalls a simpler time when Vietnam was an important stop on the Maritime Silk Road.
Though it is a tad ironic that had the township not fallen out of favour with international traders, much of this heritage would have been lost forever.
Nuts and Bolts
- The nearest airport is at Danang and expect to pay about 30-odd dollars for a taxi to Hoi An. Our hotel organised an early morning dash to the airport in their own vehicle for a flat rate of 500,000 dong – around $AUD30 (December 2014).
- Accommodation can be found at very reasonable prices. Our quaint double room cost $US26 a night and was only a short walk to the old town.
- Entrance tickets to the old town are 120,000 dong – around $7AUD – and include five tear-off tickets for access to the town’s major attractions like the Japanese Bridge and pagoda.
- After dark, head across the river to the night markets where, among the cheesy souvenirs, you’ll also find some interesting jewellery, a rainbow of lanterns and other arts and crafts. This also a good place for dinner at one of the restaurants overlooking the river.
If Hoi An is on your list of amazing places to visit, contact an RAA Travel Expert on 08 8202 4589 or visit an RAA Shop.
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