During the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoi An developed into an international trading hub in central Vietnam. Merchant ships from Japan, China, India and the Netherlands among others did business in this port city and over time, those traders set up quarters and stayed permanently. This led to a unique cultural mix in Hoi An that can still be seen today. Visitors can buy a ticket pack in the ancient town for 120,000 Vietnamese dong (approx $6 CAD) that allows entrance into 5 venues of about 20 places of interest. Categories include old traditional homes, Chinese-style communal houses, museums and Chinese assembly halls. We were told the ticket package was good for 2 days, even though the ticket stub says only 24 hours. We used the last of our tickets the following day and were allowed entrance with no problem. Tickets look like this:
Here are the 5 places we chose to visit:
1) Minh Huong Temple
In the mid-17th century, Chinese refugees found their way to Vietnam and were granted asylum in many provinces across southern Vietnam. Hoi An was the first region to grant the Chinese citizenship, titles and the rights to manage trade with overseas countries. Evidence of Chinese influence can still be seen in the communal houses, temples and assembly halls in modern day Hoi An.
We went to the Minh Huong Temple, built in 1820 but destroyed and rebuilt many times over centuries of war. Although the temple has been renovated with great care, the interior of the temple wasn’t deemed good enough to be a place of worship. The building has since been transformed into a tourist attraction and was recognized as a place of national cultural heritage in 1993.
2) Hoi An Museum of History and Culture
This museum was housed in another temple-turned-tourist attraction, showcasing artifacts of mostly Chinese, Indian and Persian culture that came into use in Hoi An through international trade. The outside courtyard was beautiful and calming. I can only imagine what it must have been like to go there to worship so long ago.
Inside each room was lined with glass cases displaying everything from old kitchenware to old currencies.
3) Museum of Folk Culture
This museum was inside an old house, connecting through the courtyards with a series of overpassing walkways and stairs. The rooms held replicas of old looms, traditional fishing tools, clothing and bedroom displays.
4) Assembly Hall of the Cantonese Chinese Congregation
This assembly hall was used as a meeting place and also a place of worship for the Cantonese citizens who lived in Hoi An. It was dusk and we were followed in by a Chinese tour group of about 30 people so picture-taking became a race against the setting sun and the crowds. We managed to snap a few good shots nonetheless.
5) The Japanese Covered Bridge
The Japanese covered bridge was built in the late 1500s by Japanese residents of the town now known as Hoi An. It was built over a stream to increase business with the Chinese neighbourhood across the water. Over the centuries, the Chinese and Vietnamese citizens maintained the condition of the bridge and eventually built a small temple inside, dedicated to the god Bac De Tran Vo (Emperor of the North).
One entrance is guarded by a pair of monkey gods and the other entrance by a pair of dog gods. This unique bridge became a symbol of multiculturalism between the Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese people over the years. A plaque on the bridge claims supernatural powers have been evident on this bridge over the last 400 years and locals believe it is still a sacred place of pride for the people of Hoi An.
I hope you enjoyed our little tour of the ancient town of Hoi An. I’d love to return there one day, maybe retire and live off of coconuts and fresh spring rolls. Growing old is looking good! Until next time Dear Readers, be well.