Hoi An was a trading port many centuries ago. It was the main port of the Champa Kingdom before the Middle Ages and not surprisingly for a place that traded with neighbours as early as the 7th Century, its history has resulted in the Old Town being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site so it is regularly part of any Vietnam travel package. Over the years, there have been many influences on Hoi An due to its contact with other countries; the Champa themselves were believed to be from Java while contact with Arab traders meant that Islam was the common religion. The Chinese were another major influence years ago, before the Viet and even the French.
Little has changed in the Old Town in recent years; no modern buildings have intruded into the winding streets with the architecture intact. It may now have tourist shops but the Old Town has retained its character. Here are the main places to visit while you are in Hoi An:
• Japanese Covered Bridge’s Pagoda is on one side of the Bridge’s interior. The 16th Century Bridge was constructed 40 years before their departure. It was renovated in the 1980s.
• There are a number of museums; Precious Heritage Museum, the Museum of Folk Culture, the Museum of Trade Ceramics, the Hoi An Museum of History and Culture and the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture are all in the Old Town.
• Some old houses still exist though they are occupied; Phung Hung, Quan Thang and Tan Ky which is a great example of the influences of Japan and China being incorporated.
• Congregation Halls developed by the Chinese include the Hokien Meeting Hall and the Cantonese Assembly Hall.
• My Son is a day trip out of Hoi An. It is a collection of Hindu ruins that date back as early as the 4th Century and the Champa Kingdom. Royalty was buried here as well as some national heroes. At one time, it was thought there were as many as 70 temples. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and regarded as one of the most important Hindu sites in the whole of South East Asia. It required restoration by the French in the 1930s and some items were taken for display in museums, within Vietnam and France. There was quite some damage from US bombing in the Vietnam War but the site is now subject to national attention to preserve it.
• The 5 Marble Mountains are named after the five elements and each has tunnels and caves. Only one of the five, Thuy Son is open to the public. They are important to both Buddhist and Hindu and the mountains are especially popular with Buddhist tourists.
• The Fish Market is an early start. Boats bring in fish through the night and they are sold at first light. It is just out of Hoi An because of the need for space. You need to be there for 6am. It will be crowded and noisy but it is a unique experience before you have breakfast. A Hoi An travel agent will help you with an organised tour if you wish.
Many Vietnam holidays begin in the North in Hanoi before heading south to Hue and Hoi An. This ancient port is a very interesting place which provides a real contrast to a modern city; the real beauty of a Vietnam tour arranged by a Vietnam travel agent is that there is so much diversity which experienced agents will include to give their clients the best possible experience of this lovely country.