Hip. Historic. Happening. While those words may seem incongruous, they are all fitting descriptions of the heritage town of Hoi An. Don’t be fooled by the term ‘heritage’. While the quaint streets of Hoi An are UNESCO-protected and do ooze history, there is a definitive undercurrent of cool in the old quarter. Once one of the country’s most important trading hubs, Hoi An still has a cosmopolitan heart. Stroll the streets to soak up the vibe. With over 100 registered ‘ancient houses’, there is plenty of architectural soul. Besides the museums, market, landmarks and old houses, the streets of Hoi An are lined with cafes, bars, boutiques and art galleries. Pedestrianized for the most part of the day, a wander through the old town can be enjoyed at a pleasant pace, without the disturbance of motorized vehicles. Check the calendar upon your arrival. If you’re in town during the full moon, the Hoi An Legendary Full Moon night is not to be missed – fully pedestrianized and only lit by lanterns, the town is particularly enchanting with locals making offerings to their ancestors and performances filling the night air with traditional music and poetry. Moreover, Hoi An’s beaches are worthy of mention – with swimming and dining options that have garnered a reputation throughout the country.
Attractions in Hoi An town
Hoi An has a number of old houses, museums and performing arts centres. Many require an entrance fee. To make it easy on tourists, visitors can purchase one ticket that is valid for five different attractions. These can be purchased from any of the several tourist information or ticket booths.
The iconic Japanese-covered bridge is the symbol for Hoi An, perhaps because of the town’s multicultural history. While guidebooks claim that it once linked the Chinese and Japanese quarters together centuries ago, it was actually designed as a landmark for Japanese merchants as they entered into the Hoi An port. It signified that the town was friendly towards traders. The ornate roof is made in the Japanese style, while the intricate timberwork inside it is demonstrably Chinese. The bridge is thought to have been built in the 1590s by the Japanese and it hosts a small shrine inside. It is also guarded on each end by astrological statues – the dog and the monkey – which symbolize the years when construction started and was completed. The best vantage point to capture the bridge on camera is on the opposite side of the river, on An Hoi peninsular. It is oft lit up at night (especially on weekends and for special occasions) which makes for a vivid snapshot when its colourful reflection is on the water.
Hoi An Market
From the 1st Century, Hoi An, originally known as Lam Ap Pho, was one of Asia’s foremost sea trading ports; forming the commercial centre of the Champa Empire until as late as the 10th Century. The town was quite literally one big market and today it continues to thrive as its commercial centre. Famous along the spice route, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger and turmeric were key trading commodities during the Champa era. In later centuries, the interaction of foreign powers such as the Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese was more significant, leading to the cultural – and culinary – melting pot that exists today. Experience the livelihood of this market with fresh produce as well as arts, crafts and souvenirs all found within. Expect to see some interesting local characters, as well as experience vibrant colours and pungent smells! There is also a modern – and hygienic – open air food court serving local ‘street food’ fare including the famous Hoi An noodle dish, Cao Lau.
Tan Ky Old House
Hoi An has a plethora of recognized ‘old houses’, and while Tan Ky is not the oldest, it is certainly one of the best preserved. It’s also centrally-located near many of the town’s most famous restaurants. Its dark timber façade, antiquated doorway and inner-courtyard are typical of Chinese-Fukkein design. Look for the intricate bird carvings inside.
Tran Family Chapel
One of the better family-run houses, this was built by one of the mandarins of the royal court – Tran Tu Nhac. The house is museum-like, with many artefacts including a 250 year old family history book. Be sure to toss the yin and yang coins at the family altar for good luck.
Quan Cong Temple
In honour of the Chinese general Quan Cong – a symbol of justice and integrity – this temple is festooned with inspiring, colourful statues and artwork. Enter through a majestic gate of bold red and gold. The rain sprouts designed as carp fish are a quaint feature.
Cantonese Chinese Assembly Hall
This lively hall near to the Japanese bridge is a tourist favourite. Jackfruit tree columns form much of the framework inside and colourful Chinese motifs feature throughout, while the open courtyard in front is peppered with cherry blossom trees during the spring and summer months.
Ba Le Well
This famous Champa well is fabled to be the traditional source for water used to steam Hoi An’s Cao Lau noodles. These days it is more of an isolated tourist attraction. Its square-shaped mouth indicates its old age – 10th century.
Hoi An Museum of History and Culture
This museum hosts various relics relating to the different historic phases of Hoi An (Sa Hunyh, Champa, Dai Viet and Dai Nam cultures) as well as documents narrating the development of the heritage town.
Attractions around Hoi An
Tra Que Herb Village
Hoi An’s unique and famous cuisine owes much of its credit to this organic herb village, comprising a commune of ‘artisans’ who grow various herbs and salad vegetables. The commune itself is over 150 years old and the soil is fertilized by mineral-rich river weed pulled out of the nearby delta. See the farmers in action after 2pm.
Thuan Tinh Eco Island
Catch a boat over to this ecological island zone for unspoiled greenery and relaxation. Paddle through water coconut groves; enjoy hot pot lunch or salads. This is one of Hoi An’s best kept secrets and home to one of the coveted ‘magical spinning tables’.
Cam Kim Island
Renowned for its woodcarving village (Kim Bong) Cam Kim island also boasts beautiful countryside. You can find other crafts here too including the colourful woven sedge mats and the locally-made “basket” fishing boats.
Thanh Ha Pottery Village
The Hoi An potters have long mastered their craft, having once providing the royal family in Hue with interiors and also supplying general building materials to Hoi An town. Watch the artisans in action here while looking for bargains to take home!
An Bang Beach
The preferred locals’ beach among expats in Hoi An, An Bang is a serene stretch of restaurants and beach that remains fairly free of touts and crowds. Excellent beachside dining options are found here – possibly the best on the central coast. It is also patrolled by the An Bang Lifesaving Association.