Hoi An

 

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A highlight of any trip to Vietnam, Hoi An is a town oozing charm and history, having largely escaped the destruction of successive wars. Once a sleepy riverside village, it s now quite definitely a tourist town - with hotels, restaurants, bars, tailors and souvenir shop dominating the old centre. Despite this air of irreality, Hoi An's charisma pervades. The local People's Committee periodicallv clamps down on touts, and while this doesn't mean a completely hassle-free visit, a stroll down the street is usually more relaxed here than in Hue or Nha Trang. Hoi An is pedestrian friendly: the Old Town is closed to cars and the distances from the hotels to the centre are walkable. It's a great place to hire a bike, Known as Faifo to Western traders, from the 17th to 19th centuries it was one of Southeast Asia's major international ports. Vietnamese ships and sailors based here sailed all around Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Perhaps more than any other place in Vietnam, Hoi An retains a sense of history that envelops you as you explore it. This is especially true on 'Hoi An Legendary Night’. Every month on the full moon, motorbikes are banned from the Old Town, which is transformed into a magical land of silk lanterns, traditional food, song and dance, and games in the streets. Every year during the rainy season, particu-larly in October and November, Hoi An has problems with flooding, especially in areas close to the waterfront. The greatest flood ever recorded in Hoi An took place in 1964, when the water reached all the way up to the roof beams of the houses. In late 2006 the town bore the brunt of the worst typhoon in 50 years, although at the time of research repairs were well in hand. There's plenty So do in Hoi An. Emphati-cally the most enchanting place along the coast, this is one spot worth lingering in.
Hoi An Vietnam
Recently excavated ceramic fragments from 2200 years ago constitute the earliest evidence of human habitation in the Hoi An area. They are thought to belong to the late Iron Age Sa Huynh civilisation, which is related to the Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam. From the 2nd to the 10th centuries, this was a busy seaport of the Champa kingdom. Persian and Arab documents from the latter part of the period mention Hoi An as a provisions stop. Archaeologists have un-covered the foundations of numerous Cham towers around Hoi An: the bricks and .stone were reused by Vietnamese settlers. In 1307 the Cham king married the daughter of a monarch of the Tran dynasty and presented Quang Nam province to the Vietnamese as a gift. After his death, his successor refused to recognise the deal and fighting broke out; for the next century chaos reigned. By the 15th century peace had been restored, allowing nor mal commerce to resume. During the next four centuries Chinese, Japanese, Dutch Portuguese, Spanish, Indian, Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, French, British and American ships came to Hoi An to purchase high-grade silk ( for which the area is famous), fabrics, paper, por-celain. tea, sugar, molasses, areca nuts, pepper, Chinese medicines, elephant tusks, beeswax, mother-of-pearl, lacquer, sulphur and lead. The Chinese and Japanese traders sailed south in the spring, driven by winds from the northeast. They would stay in Hoi An until the summer, when southerly winds would blow them home. During their four-month sojourn in Hoi An, the merchants rented waterfront houses for use as warehouses and living quarters. Some traders began leaving full-time agents in Hoi An to take care of off-season business affairs. This is how foreign colonies got started, although the japanese ceased coming to Hoi An after 1637, when the Japanese government forbade all contact with the outside world, Hoi An was the site of the first Chinese settlement in southern Vietnam. The town's Chinese hoi quan (congregational assembly halls) still play a special role among southern Vietnam's ethnic Chinese, some of whom come to Hoi An from all over the region to participate in congregation-wide celebrations Today 1300 of Hoi An's population of 75,800 are ethnic Chinese. Relations between ethnic Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese in Hoi An arc excellent, partly because the Chinese have be come assimilated to the point where they even speak Vietnamese among themselves. This was also *he first place in Vietnam to be exposed to Christianity. Among the 17th-century missionary visitors was the French priest Alexandre de Rhodes, who devised the Latin-based quoc ngu script for the Vietnam ese language. Hoi An was almost completely destroyed during the Tay Son Rebellion. It was rebuilt and continued to serve as an important port for foreign trade until the late 19th century, when the Thu Bon River (Cat River), which links Hoi An with the sea, silted up and became too shallow for navigation. During this period Danang (Tourane) began to eclipse Hoi An as a port and centre of commerce. In 1916 a rail line linking Danang with Hoi An was destroyed in a terrible storm; it was never rebuilt, Under French rule Hoi An served as an ad -ministrative centre. During the American War the city, with the cooperation of both sides, remained almost completely undamaged.
Sights
Now a Unesco World Heritage site. Hoi An Old Town is governed by preservation laws that are well up to speed. Several buildings of historical and cultural significance are open to; public viewing, a number of streets in the centre of town are off-limits to cars, and building alterations and height restrictions are well enforced. It only Hanoi would follow suit in its historic Old Quarter. The admission fee goes towards funding this conservation work. This ticket gives you a complicated choice of heritage attractions to visit. You can attend a traditional music show at the handicraft workshop, and one each of the four following types of attractions: muse ums; assembly halls; old houses; and other'.If you want to visit additional a tractions, then it is necessary to buy another ticket; there are ticket offices dotted around the centre. But for those who only want to buy one ticket, what are the best options' The most in foresting museum is that of Trading Ceramics mainly for the building it's housed in. Among the assembly halls, the Fujian folk probably have the edge. When it comes to old houses the Tran Family Chapel offers an interesting and informative tour. Finally there is that obscure 'other’ category; the shrine in the Japa-nese Bridge or Quan Cong Temple. Choose the temple: the Japanese Bridge ticket just gets you into a small shrine that is second-best to the bridge itself, which you can enjoy free. The system doesn't seem to be too well monitored, but hopefully the fees do get collected and end up as part of the restoration and preservation fund. Not all of HOI An's old houses and assembly halls require a ticket, and there's certainly nothing to stop anybody from wandering the old streets to admire the houses. Despite the number of tourists who conic to Hoi An, it is still a conservative town, and visitors should dress modestly when visiting the sites.
JAPANESE COVERED BRIDGE

This famed bridge (Cau Nhat Ban) connects Ð Tran Phu with Ð Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. the first bridge on this site was constructed in the 1590s. It was built by the Japanese community of Hoi An in order to link them with the Chinese quarters across the stream. The Japanese Covered Bridge is very solidly constructed; the original builders were concerned about the threat of earthquakes. Over the centuries the ornamentation has remained relatively faithful to the original Japanese design. Its understatement contrasts greatly with the Vietnamese and Chinese penchant for wild decoration. The French flattened out the road way to make it suitable for their motor vehicles, but the original arched shape was restored during major renovation work in 1986. Built into the northern side of the bridge is a small temple (Chua Cau; admission HOI An Old Town ticket). The writing over its door is the name given to the bridge in 1719 to replace the name meaning Japanese Covered Bridge. However the new name, Lai Vien Kieu (Bridge for Passers-by from Afar), never quite caught on. According to legend, there once lived an enormous monster called Cu, who had its head in India, its tail in Japan and its body in Vietnam. Whenever the monster moved, terrible disasters such as floods and earthquakes befell Vietnam. This bridge was built on the monster's weakest point and killed it, but the people of Hoi An took pity on the slain monster and built this temple to pray for its soul. The entrances of the bridge are guarded by a pair of monkeys on one side and a pair of dogs on the other. According to one story, these animals were popularly revered because many of Japan s emperors were born in years of the dog and monkey. Another tale says that construction of the bridge started in the year of the monkey and was finished in the year of the dog. The stelae, listing all the Vietnamese and Chinese contributors to a subsequent restoration of the bridge, are written in chu nho (Chinese characters) - the nom script had not yet become popular in these parts.
MUSEUMS
Showcasing a collection of blue and white ceramics of the Dai Viet period, the Museum of Trading Ceramics occupies a simply restored house made of dark wood. In particular. check out the great ceramic mosaic that's set above tlie pond in the inner courtyard. Housed in the Quan Am Pagoda the Hoi An Museum of History & Culture has a small collection of bronze temple bells, gongs and Cham artefacts. Artefacts from the early Dong Son civilisa tion of Sa Huynh are displayed downstairs at the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture & Museum of the Revolution. Upstairs, the Revolution museum has the usual collection of local photos and mementos of the last two wars, including a boat used to transport cadres. It would be more accessible if full English captions were provided,
ASSEMBLY HALLS
Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese
Congregation
Founded as a place to hold community meetings, this assembly hall was later trans-formed into a temple for the worship of Thien Hau, a deity from Fujian province.The triple gate to the complex was built in 1975. The mural on the right-hand wall near the entrance to the main hall depicts Thien Hau, her way lit by lantern light as she crosses a stormy sea to rescue a foundering ship. On the wall opposite is a mural of the heads of the six Fujian families who fled from China to Hoi An in the 17th century, following the overthrow of the Ming dynasty. The penultimate chamber contains a statue of Thien Hau. To either side of the entrance stand red-skinned Thuan Phong Nhi and green-skinned Thien Iy Nhan. When cither sees or hears sailors in distress, they inform Thien Hau, who sets off to effect a rescue The replica of a Chinese boat along the right hand wall is 1:20 scale. The central altar in the last chamber contains seated figures of the heads of the six Fujian families. The smaller figures below them represent their successors as clan leaders. Behind the altar on the left is the God of Prosperity. On the right are three fairies and smaller figures representing the 12 ba mu (midwives), each of whom teaches newborns a different skill necessary for the first year of life: smiling, sucking, lying on their stomachs and so forth. Childless couples often come here to pray for offspring. The three groups of figures in this chamber represent the ele- ments most central to Chinese life; ancestors, children and financial wellbeing. The middle altar of the room to the right of the courtyard commemorates deceased leaders of the Fujian congregation. On either side are lists of contributors - women on the left and men on the right. The wall panels represent the four seasons. The Fujian assembly hai1 is fairly well lit and can be visited after dark. Shoes shouId be removed upon mounting the platform just past the naves.
OLD HOUSES: Tan Ky House
Built two centuries ago as the home of a well-to-do ethnic-Vietnamese merchant. Tan Ky House (Tell: 861 474; 101Ð Nguyen Thai Hoc; admission Hoi An Old Town ticket; Time 8am-noon $ 2-43.0pm) has been lovingly preserved and today looks almost exactly as it did in the early 19th century. The design of Tan Ky House shows some evidence of the Japanese and Chinese influence on local architecture. Japanese elements include the ceiling (in the area immediately before the courtyard), which is supported by three progressively shorter beams, one on top of the other. There are similar beams in the salon. Under the crab-shell ceiling there are carvings of crossed sabres wrapped in silk ribbon. The sabres symbolise force, the silk represents flexibility. Chinese poems written in inlaid mother of pearl are hung from a number of the column that hold up the roof. The Chinese character on these 150-year-old panels are formed entirely of birds gracefully portrayed in various positions of flight. The courtyard here has several functions to let in light, provide ventilation, bring a glimpse of nature into the home, and collect rainwater and provide drainage. The stone tiles covering the patio floor were brought from Thanh Hoa province in north-central Vietnam. The carved wooden balcony supports around the courtyard are decorated with grape leaves, which are a European import and further evidence of the unique blending of cultures that took place in Hoi An The back of the house faces the river. In the past, this section of the building was rented out to foreign merchants. That the house was a place of commerce as well as a residence is indicated by the two pulleys attached to a beam in the storage loft just inside the front door. The exterior of the roof is made of tiles; inside, the ceiling consists of wood. This design keeps the house cool in summer and warm in winter. The floor tiles were brought from near Hanoi. Tan Ky House is a private home; the owner, whose family has lived here for seven generations, speaks fluent French and English.
Tran Family Chapel
The Tran family moved from China to Vietnam in around 1700. Built in 1802, the Tran Family Chapel is a house for worshipping ancestors. It was built by one of the Tran clan who ascended to the rank of mandarin and once served as an Ambassador to China. His picture is to the right of the chapel. The architecture of the building reflects the influence of Chinese and Japanese styles the central door is reserved tor the dead -- it's opened at Tet and on the anniversary of the main ancestor. Traditionally, women entered from the left and men from the right, although these distinctions are no longer oh served in supposedly egalitarian communist Vietnam. The wooden boxes on the altar contain the Tran ancestors' stone tablets - featuring chiselled Chinese characters setting out the dates of birth and death - along with some small personal effects. On the anniversary of each family member's death, their box is opened, incense is burned and food is of fered. Nowadays photographs have replaced the stone tablets. There's a museum and souvenir shop at the hack of the chapel. The small garden behind is where the placentas of newborn family members are buried - the practice is meant to prevent fighting between the children.
Quan Thang House
This private house is three centuries old and has been in the family for six generations. having been built by an ancestor who was a Chinese captain. Again, the architecture in¬cludes Japanese and Chinese elements. There is some especially fine carving on the teak walls of the rooms around the courtyard, on the roof beams and under the crab-shell roof (in the salon next to the courtyard). Look out for the green ceramic tiles built into the railing around the courtyard balcony.
Phung Hung Old House
In a lane full of beautiful buildings, this old house stands out. It's still a family home, having housed eight generations over 226 years. At present it showcases hand embroidery and souvenirs; wander through and enjoy the ambience.
TEMPLES & PAGODAS:Quan Cong Temple
Founded in 1653, Quan Cong Temple is dedicated to Quan Cong - a highly esteemed Chinese general who is worshipped as a symbol of loyalty, sincerity, integrity and justice His partiallv gilt statue, made of papier-rnâché on a wooden frame, is in the central altar at the back of the sanctuary. On the left is a statue of General Chau Xuong, one of Quan Cong's guardians, striking a tough-guy pose On the right is the rather camp and plump administrative mandarin Quan Binh. The life-size white horse recalls a mount ridden bv Quan Cong, until he was given a red horse of extraordinary endurance, representations of which are common in Chinese pagodas. Check out the carp-shaped rain spouts or, the roof surrounding the courtyard The carp is a symbol of patience in Chinese mythology and is popular in Hoi An. Shoes should be removed when mounting the platform in front of the statue of Quan Cong.
COOKING COURSES
For many visitors to Vietnam the food is, a highlight and eating it a serious activity in itself. Hoi An is Foodie Heaven, and budding gourmets who want to take a step further into Vietnamese cuisine will find ample opportunlty here. Many of the popular eateries offer cooking classes, and the best bit is that you then get to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour. One of the best classes is offered by Hai Scout Cafe at its Red Bridge Cooking School (Starting out with a trip to the market, you then cruise down the river to this relaxing retreat about 4km from Hoi An The lesson includes a tour of the herb garden, making rice paper, several local specialities and some decorative nourishes - although it's hard to imagine how your dinner party guests hack home will react to tomatoes morphed into roses and lotus flowers.The class costs 235,000d per person; it starts at 8.45am and finishes at 1 pm. You're given print-outs of the recipes to try at home.

AROUND HOI AN

Cam Kim Island
The master woodcarvers, who in previous-centuries produced the fine carvings that graced the homes of Hoi An's merchants and the town's public buildings, came from Kim Bong Village on Cam Kim Island . Most of the woodcarvings on sale in Hoi An are produced here. To reach the island, catch one of the boats that leave from the boat landing at Ð Hoang Van Thu in Hoi An (10,000d, one hour).
Cham Island
Cham Island is 21km from Hoi An in the South China Sea. The island is famous as a source of swiftlet nests. It's also part of the Cu Lao Cham Marine Park - comprising eight islands, it's home to 155 species of coral, 202 species offish, four species of lobster and 84 species of mollusc. Diving trips can be arranged through Rainbow Divers. Permits are needed to visit Cham Island, which still houses a naval base. Public boats leave from the landing on Ð Bach Dang in Hoi An between 7am and Sam and the one-way journey takes three hours, but it's difficult for foreigners to organise the paperwork to travel on one of these boats. It's easiest to book with a travel agency - a day trip costs 18,000d, while an overnighter staying in tents on the beach is around 35,000d. These tours are heavily dependent on the weather.
Thanh Ha
Not so long ago there were many pottery factories in this village, 3km west of Hoi An, but the industry has been in decline. The remaining artisans employed in this hot and sweaty work don't mind if you stop for a gander, though they're happier if you buy something-Many tours to My Son visit here on the way hack to Hoi An. For a more personalised experience, contact Mr Trung (Tell: 922 695), a villager who arranges day tours, including lunch and transport, for around USS10.

CRAVING THAT PERFECT FIT

Having clothes made in Hoi An is extremely addictive. You may be able to walk past the first few tailor stores without wavering but given that you're likely to pass dozens every day you spend here, chances are you'll eventually crack. And when you do, watch out. It's not unusual to see even hardened blokes gleefully ploughing through fabric rolls, trying to pick the perfect satin lining for that second new suit Hoi An's numerous tailors can make anything and usually within a day. They're master copiers -bring in an item of clothing you want duplicated or a picture in a magazine, pick out your fabric and the next day your vision will be brought to life. Many have current fashion catalogues to leaf through. They're also extremely skilled in the art of flattering and pampering. A fitting session can do wonders for the ego - 'You look so -good in that...why not buy another one?' Bargaining has a place here, but basically you get what you pay for. The better tailors and better fabrics are more expensive. One of the hundreds of tailors will probably knock out a men's suit for US$20, but a good-quality, lined woollen suit is more likely to cost US$40 to US$70. Shirts, skirts and casual trousers hover around the US$10 mark. The trick is to pick a shop you're comfortable with know your fabrics, check in advance on the details (thread colour, linings and buttons) and allow plenty of time for fittings and adjustments. When buying silk, it's important to ascertain that it's real and not a synthetic imitation. The only real test is with a cigarette or match (synthetic fibres melt and silk burns), but try not to set the shop on fire. If you're concerned about its authenticity ask for a cut-off sample of the material and go outside to test it. Similarly, don't accept on face value that a fabric is 100% cotton or wool without giving it a good feel and ensuring you're happy with the quality. Remember to check the seams of the finished garment: a single set of stitching along the inside edges will soon cause fraying and, in many cases, big gaping holes. All well-tailored garments have a second set of stitches (known in the trade as blanket stitching), which binds the edge, oversewing the fabric so fraying is impossible. Where possible, also insist on the clothes being lined, as it helps them move and fall in the right direction. There are so many tailors that it's difficult to single out individual stores for mention, and impossible (although tempting) to test them all out. Most use a range of outsourced workers who can vary in quality. If you're planning on getting a lot of stuff made, consider trying out a couple of shops with small items before taking the plunge on your wedding dress. That said, some places we're heard good things about are Phuoc An (Tell: 862 615; 6 Ð Le Loi), Yaly (Tell: 910 474; 47 Ð Nguyen Thai Hoc), A Dong Silk (Tell: 861386; 40 Ð Le Loi) and Faifoo (Tell: 862 566; Ð Tran Hung Dao).

MY SON SANCTUARY

Set within the jungle 55km from Hoi An are the enigmatic ruins of My Son, the most important remains of the ancient kingdom of Champa and a Unesco World Heritage site. Although Vietnam has better preserved Cham sites, none are as extensive and few have such beautiful surroundings - in a verdant valley surrounded by hills and overlooked by Cat's Tooth Mountain (Hon Quap). Clear streams run between the .structures and past nearby coffee plantations. During the centuries when Tra Kieu (which was then known as Simhapura) served as the political capital. My Son was the most important intellectual and religious centre, and may also have served as a burial place for Cham monarchs. My Son is considered to be Champa's smaller version of the grand cities of Southeast Asia's other Indian-influenced civilisations: Angkor (Cambodia), Ayu-thaya (Thailand), Bagan (Myanmar) and Borobudur (Java). American bombs have reduced many of the towers to ruins, but there's still plenty to see.

My Son (pronounced 'me sun') became a religious centre under King Bhadravarman in the late 4th century and was constantly occupied until the 13th century - the longest period of development of any monument in Southeast Asia. Most of the temples were dedicated to Cham kings associated with divinities, particularly Shiva, who was regarded as the founder and protector of Champa's dynasties. Champa's contact with Java was extensive. Cham scholars were sent to Java to study and there was a great deal of commerce between the two empires - Cham pottery has been found on Java and, in the 12th century, the Cham king wed a javanese woman Because some of the ornamentation work at My Son was never finished, archaeologists know that the Chams first built their structures and only then carved decorations into the brickwork. Researchers have yet to figure out for certain how they managed to get the baked bricks to stick together. According to one theory, they used a paste prepared with a botanical oil that is indigenous to central Vietnam. During one period in their history. the summits of some of the lowers were completely covered with a layer of gold. During the American War this region was completely devastated and depopulated in extended bitter fighting. Finding it to be a convenient staging ground, the VC used My Son as a base; in response the Americans bombed the monuments. Traces of 68 structures have been found, of which 25 survived repeated pillaging in previous centuries by the Chinese, Khmer and Vietnamese. The American bombing failed to destroy about 20 of these, although some sustained extensive damage. Today, Vietnamese authorities are attempting to restore as much as possible of the remaining sites.
KINGDOM OF CHAMPA
The kingdom of Champa flourished from the 2nd to the 15th centuries. It first appeared around present-day Danang and later spread south to what is now Nha Trang and Phan Rang. Champa became indianised through commercial ties: adopting Hinduism, using Sanskrit as a sacred language and borrowing from Indian art. The Chams, who lacked enough land for agriculture, were semi-piratical and conducted attacks on passing trade ships. As a result they were in a constant state of war with the Vietnamese to the north and the Khmers to the southwest. The Chams successfully threw off Khmer rule in the 12th century, but were entirely absorbed by Vietnam in the 17th century. The Chams are best known for the many brick sanctuaries (Cham towers) they constructed throughout the south. The greatest collection of Cham art is in the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Danang. The major Cham site is at My Son, and other Cham ruins can be found in Quy Nhon and its surrounds, Tuy Hoa. Nha Trang, Thap Cham and Mui Ne. The Cham remain a substantial ethnic minority in Vietnam, particularly around Phan Rang, numbering around 100,000 people. Elements of Cham civilisation can still be seen in techniques for pottery, fishing, sugar production, rice farming, irrigation, silk production and construction throughout the coast. While over 80% of the remaining Cham population are Muslim, the rest have remained Hindu, and many of their ancient towers in the south are still active temples.

Source: lonely planet

 

 

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