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HOI AN ANCIENT TOWN

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Not far away from Danang (30km) Hoi An town is small and peaceful, the kind of place where you may get stuck for a few days, whether it is intentionasl or not. Originally known as Faifo, this antique town is bordered on its southern side by the Thu Bon River, along which there's a number of small cafes.
 
Despite the fact that it is now a tourist haven, the artistic atmosphere and local friendly people create an inviting environment.
 
Hoi An was an important port developed in 17th century and remained so for a long time. There used to be canals parallel to the streets, so merchandise could be loaded straight from the back of houses onto the boats. Hoi An’s continuance as a port lasted right up until the early years of the 20 century, when the river became silted up forcing the cargo ships to call at Danang instead.
 
In the past Hoi An has been used by the Japanese, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the large remaining Chinese community where all sorts of produce and wares were traded. Remnants of these past traders’ influences can still be seen lining the streets of Hoi An. There are nine different types of historical sites in Hoi An with an average age of 200 years. They include private houses, family chapels, community halls, communal houses, temples, pagodas, bridges, wells and tombs. Many of these buildings have been maintained close to their original form, allowing you imagination to recreate a prosperous trading town. The houses are small and colorful with wooden doors and two round "wooden house's eyes" above, window shutters and ornamental furniture. A pleasant change from the iron bars and metal grates of other towns.
 
Hoi An is full of shops selling artwork, from lifelike memorial family portraits, to stylized images of Hoi An houses and streets. Next door to the art shops are places selling souvenir statues, ceramic plates, and ‘antique’ bowls. At the market place beside the river, you can pick up almost anything you want. Tourists are often being lured into the markets to buy silk and to have quality garments tailor made. You can have anything from dresses and trousers to shirts and hats made for a cheap price.
 
Another noticeable quality of Hoi An is its relative silence. There are few cars and people do not feel the urge to use their horns every two seconds. The streets are filled with the hum of voices, motorbikes and the shuffling of thongs along the ground. Hoi An is small enough to get around on foot, and you will need a set of wheels if you are going to Cua Dai Beach, or on a day trip to the Marble Mountains or Danang.
 
A relaxing activity around sunset is to hire a boat from the waterside by the market place. Many of the locals will wait on the river and offer you this service throughout the day and night.
HOW TO GET THERE ?
By air
The major port of air entry for Hoi An is Danang International Airport (DAD). There are daily flights from Hanoi and Hochiminh City and without delay, it is one-hour flight.
 
From the airport, it takes about 45 minutes by car to Hoi An center. Taxi are plentiful as you walk out of the luggage area. It should cost around 15-18 dollars by meter taxi.
 
Tip: when booking your hotel in Hoi An, check if they have a pick-up service. The service usually costs about 10 dollars. Another way of saving your bucks is to bargain with the taxi driver for a fixed price instead of having your trip metered. The fixed fee should be 13 dollars at most.
 
By bus
Open tour bus run from most major destinations to Hoi An. If you catch a bus from Hanoi, it will most likely be overnight bus. From Hue it takes about 2.5 hours to arrive. You can purchase your tickets from most tour companies in the tourist area.
 
From Danang, city bus runs every hour from the Bus station at 33 Dien Bien Phu, Thanh Khe district. It costs about 1 dollar for one way ticket.
 
Buses run daily from Southern destinations such as Nha Trang, Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City. The same open tour rule applies and it’s advisable you book your ticket in advance to guarantee good seating.
GETTING AROUND
Hoi An is a small peaceful town and to your delight, it is easy to remember street names and get around town. Even the beach is only 6km away.
 
The best way to experience Hoi An, many have said, is to rent a bicycle. This service is offered at most tour companies and hotels and it costs about 20,000 (about 1 dollar) per day.
 
Motorbikes are about 100,000 ($5) per day but note that the Ancient Town does not allow motorized vehicles for most of the day. Nevertheless, you can park and have a pleasant walk around town and do your shopping and trying out restaurants.
 
Cyclos are not as abundant as Hue and maybe a good way to slowly experience Hoi An beauty and take photos. An hour trip would cost about 30,000 VND.
 
Taxi is a good option if you want to get from one place to another fast. Faifoo taxi is yellow: 0510-3919191 and Mai Linh taxi is in white and green: 0510- 3914914. Note that cars are banned from the Ancient Town area so you will have to walk certain distance (5-10 minutes) if you want to get to the river.
WHAT TO SEE ?
Once a major Southeast Asian trading post in the 16th and 17th centuries, the seaside town Hoi An is basically a living museum featuring a unique mixture of East and West in the form of its old-town architecture. Among the heritage architecture stand Chinese temples, a Japanese-designed bridge, pagodas, wooden shop-houses, French- colonial houses and old canals. Though large-scale trading had long moved elsewhere Hoi An has been successful in preserving and restoring its charming roots and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in December 1999.
 
The Riverside is the best place to be at night as the area is lit by quaint and old-fashioned lanterns, making it an atmospheric and beautiful spot. For those who love sea, sun and sand, Hoi An offers two lovely beaches five kilometres away from the town centre – a sort of holiday within a holiday.
 
Hoi An is known for its great food, fun shopping, skilled tailors, friendly people and cosy atmosphere - all key characteristics that draw people to this picturesque town.
 
The Old Town
Two great things about Hoi An’s Old Town are that it is small enough to get around in on foot and the traffic is nowhere near as heavy as in bigger cities. Some of the streets only allow bike and motorbike traffic and some are pedestrian only. These factors make Hoi An even more inviting for most travelers to Vietnam, especially those who have passed through frenetic Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) or Hanoi.
 
Many buildings in the Old Town were constructed over a century ago and feature strong Chinese influences stemming from merchants from Guangzhou, Fujian, Chiu Chow and Hainan. Some of the wooden signboards bearing the company names are carved and gilded in Chinese characters, reflecting the strong presence of the Chinese in Hoi An ever since its prosperous times.
 
Tradition is still very much alive in the Old Town. Even though many of the old shops have been converted to modern businesses aimed at tourists including countless tailors, souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurants and cafés, all have been converted with care to preserve the past.
 
Happily, all Hoi An’s major attractions or landmarks are located within walking distance of each other including the Japanese covered bridge, the Chinese assembly halls, Guan Yin Temple, the museum of history and culture and the Tran family home and chapel.
 
My Son Sanctuary
My Son Hindu Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great sample of the ancient Champa civilization located in the southern part of Vietnam. It was an independent state from around the 2nd to the 17th century, at which time it was occupied by Vietnam.
 
The impressive Hindu-themed ruins feature many beautiful stone sculptures, temples and towers in tropical jungle surroundings.
 
My Son was also a political centre and a royal burial ground and the complex consists of more than 70 structures devoted to Hindu gods and goddesses and the most noticeable one, Shiva, was considered the protector of the Champa’s kings. Their skilful use of red bricks and sandstone is remarkable.
 
 
Like many historic sites around the world, My Son was destroyed by time and wars and after lying neglected for a long time it was rediscovered and renovated by the French in 1898. Sadly the most recent war did great damage to the complex as the Americans bombed this area knowing that the Viet Cong used it as a hiding place, mistakenly thinking that the enemy would not touch a holy site.
 
However, the majority of the central complex managed to survive the bombs and parts of the ruins have now been rebuilt. Overall, this Hindu sanctuary reminds visitors of other similar sites in Southeast Asia including the great Angkor Wat in Cambodia. A must-visit for those who appreciate history.
 
Japanese Covered Bridge 
The name of this bridge in Vietnamese, Lai Vien Kieu, means 'Pagoda in Japan'.
 
No one is exactly sure who first built it in the early 1600s (it has since been renovated several times), but it is usually attributed to Hoi An's Japanese community.
 
The dog flanking one end and the monkey at the other are considered to be sacred animals to the ancient Japanese. West end of Tran Phu Street
 
Central Market
By the river on the southeast side of the city, Hoi Ann's Central Market is one of the most fascinating in the country. While prices here can be bettered elsewhere, the scene can't, with endless stalls of exotic foodstuffs and services, and a special big shed for silk tailoring at the east end. This market is best early in the morning when the activity is quite startling.
 
Riverside Museum of History and Culture
This building looks its age but on reflection is not doing too badly when one considers it was built in 1653! It houses ancient ceramics, photos of local architecture and artefacts that span 2,000 years of history.
 
If you look hard enough you will find a few English-language explanations of exhibits.
 
Museum of Trade Ceramics
Located in a traditional house, this museum describes the origins of Hoi An and displays its most prominent trade item in a much clearer format that other historical sites in the town.
 
Even the architectural renovations are clearly explained (in English) and exhibits are not just limited to Vietnamese objects - Chinese and Thai artefacts are also on display.
 
The House of Hoi Traditional Handicrafts
The House of Hoi is a silk shop with a first-floor 17th-century silk loom and a working, machine-powered cotton one. Upstairs, there are trays of silkworms feeding, then a rack of worms incubating, and then a tub of hot water where the pupae's downy covering is rinsed off and then pulled, strand by strand, onto a large skein.
 
They have a great selection of silks, both fine and raw, in many colours and quantities good for clothing and for home interiors.
 
China Beach and Cua Dai Beach
If you find China Beach looks somewhat familiar, you'd be forgiven – it was the beach featured in Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 'Apocalypse Now'.
 
These beaches are between Hoi An and Danang and according to some China Beach has 'the best backpacking hostel in Central Vietnam' – Hoa's place. The party scene here is vibrant, yet tranquil enough not to ruin the place and the surfing good.
 
Marble Mountains 
25km north of Hoi An, the Marble Mountains comprise five majestic granite peaks. At the beginning of the 19th century, King Gia Long while passing through this region named the mountains after metal, wood, water, fire and earth.
 
There are many beautiful caves in the 'Water' mountain and if you climb the 157 stone steps to get to the pagoda you will be rewarded by an impressive panorama.
 
Cham Museum 
The Cham Museum is 15 minutes from the Marble Mountains. After the My Son ancient tower complex was discovered, many of its artefacts, especially statues of female dancers and genies worshipped by the Cham people were collected and displayed at the Cham Architecture Museum in Danang city.
 
Although there are not many remnants left, those that remain display the typical sculptural works of cultural value of the Cham nationality.
 
The Chinese Assembly Halls
As the Chinese immigrants reached the central part of Vietnam known as Hoi An today, they decided to create the opportunities for themselves and the next generations to socialize and protect the Chinese traditions by building many Assembly Halls. Nowadays, even though not all of the halls stay the same, the five remaining ones (Fujian, Chaozhou, Hainan, Cantonese, and Chinese) become famous attractions of Hoi An.
 
These Assembly Halls share many things in common; they are all located on Tran Phu Street, facing the Thu Bon River and having a pretty wide scope. Generally, they all follow a formula that has been used by other Chinese assembly halls in other cities: a grand gate, a nice garden with ornamental plants, a main hall and a large altar room. As decoration is a fundamental part of an assembly hall, it is carried out meticulously at all of the halls with statues, lacquered boards, murals, etc. However, because each Chinese community has its own beliefs, different assembly halls worship different gods and goddesses.
 
Among the five assembly halls in Hoi An, Fujian Assembly Hall is greatest and most famous. It was erected around 1690 to function as a place for the Chinese ethnic group from Fujian, China to socialize and worship. The main part of the hall is a temple dedicated to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea who protects sailors from danger. As told by the preceding generations, the Chinese in Hoi An decided to build that temple to worship the statue of the goddess which was found on Hoi An beach in 1697. With several paintings, murals and huge altars, the entire decoration of the temple concentrate not only on Thien Hau but also on the majestic beauty and the power of other influential gods and goddesses in the Chinese’s belief.
 
Throughout the temple, there are a plethora of statues, bronze drums, bronze bells and horizontal lacquered board engraved with Chinese characters. The whole combination and arrangement of every element in the hall tend to imply the Chinese philosophy of happiness. In addition to its architecture, nowadays its many events and activities to celebrate Chinese’s festivals make the Fukien Assembly Hall a wonderful destination for visitors from both inside and outside of Vietnam.
 
Fujian Assembly Hall
One of the five famous Assembly Halls Hoi An, Fujian (Phuc Kien) Assembly Hall was erected around 1690 to function as a place for the Chinese ethnic group from Fujian, China to socialize and worship. The main part of the hall is a temple dedicated to Thien Hau, the goddess of the sea who protects sailors from danger. As told by the preceding generations, the Chinese in Hoi An decided to build that temple to worship the statue of the goddess which was found on Hoi An beach in 1697.
 
With several paintings, murals and huge altars, the entire decoration of the temple concentrate not only on Thien Hau but also on the majestic beauty and the power of other influential gods and goddesses in the Chinese’s belief. Throughout the temple, there are a plethora of statues, bronze drums, bronze bells and horizontal lacquered board engraved with Chinese characters.
 
The whole combination and arrangement of every element in the hall tend to imply the Chinese philosophy of happiness. In addition to its architecture, nowadays its many events and activities to celebrate Chinese’s festivals make the Fujian Assembly Hall a wonderful destination for visitors from both inside and outside of Vietnam.
 
The Tran Family Chapel
No one has the courage to state which exact place in Hoi An is most ancient and beautiful, but many people know the Tran Family Chapel is one of the oldest and most historical houses in this city. Located on the 21st, Le Loi Street, the house is a famous destination of Hoi An because it was built by Tran Tu Nhac, an intelligent and highly-respected governor in the Gia Long dynasty, as a reminder for the following generations to maintain the family long tradition.
 
The house has become well-known for its Asian style of architecture: one main part for worshiping, and one supplemental part which houses the leader of family and his guests. The house and the garden were built in harmony following strictly the rules of Feng Shui. Every year, the Tran Family Chapel is still the gathering place for all members of the family to meet and express their thankfulness to their ancestors.
 
If you are in love with the unique and historical atmosphere of ancient sites, a visit to the Tran Family Chapel will be one of the most remarkable parts of your Hoi An experience, as history and tradition are not only imbued in every corner of this house, they are still living.
SHOPPING
Not for nothing was Hoi An acclaimed as World Heritage on 4th December 1999. Wherever you come from, this old town will soon strike you as a true living museum of one iconic trading port of Vietnam in past centuries, and now, a place of poetic human and natural beauties in great harmony. Then once you leave, the image of Hoi An keeps lingering on your mind with each mossy house you passed by, each smiling Vietnamese you came across, and each delicate souvenir you bring home.
 
What remind you of  Hoi An first and foremost will be products skillfully made from silk. They may be clothes, handbags, purses, scarves or home decors like lampshades and wall-hangings. The used kinds of silk are of the finest quality such as Ha Dong silk and Thai silk. For this, Hoi An is referred as Mecca of Vietnam when it comes to silk, just like a key point of the Silk Road as it used to be.
 
You also will never forget the unique experience of getting your silk suit tailor made in Hoi An. There are as many tailor shops here as there are tourists strolling along the streets. Among them, most praised around must be A Dong Silk and Yaly Conture. You may buy silk materials from somewhere else like Cloth Market or Central Market at cheaper prices or just step in these shops and you will be consulted from different kinds of silk to which one suits you most by shopclerks. Just as soft as silk, they speak charming English and welcome you so warm heartedly. More interestingly, your suit will be well stitched as fast as you want, even within 24 hours, however sophisticated design you like. After all, this is a buyer’s market which will never let you down.
 
Another Hoi An icon is hand made lanterns. Created with ultimate dexterity, they are a perfect combination between the tough nature of bamboo sticks and the esthetic quality of silk. Their colors and designs are extremely diversified as you can see in Hoi An’s sparkling lantern festival celebrating every Lunar New Year. Together with other local souvenir items like lacquer ware, bonsai plants, paintings; bamboo lanterns convey the meanings of prosperity and happiness.
 

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