Inside Vietnam: Cambodia Laos

Hoi An old town

For those with a love of architecture there are few better places in Asia than Hoi An, once Vietnam's most important port town.

The early history of Hoi An is connected to that of the Champa Empire, which once occupied much of what is now Central Vietnam, from Hue to beyond Nha Trang. During this period, nearby My Son (now a World Heritage Site) was the spiritual centre of the empire, while Hoi An thrived as its commercial hub.

In 1535, the Portuguese explorer António de Faria tried to establish a trading centre at the port village of Faifo (as Hoi An was formerly known in the West) - but it took a further half century before the town truly flourished, thanks to the patronage of the commercially-minded Nguyen lords. It rapidly became the most important trade port on the South China Sea, welcoming visitors from across the trading world. Captain William Adams, the English sailor and confidant of Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, is known to have made at least one trading mission to Hoi An - and the Portuguese Jesuits also had one of their two residences here.

By the 18th century, Hoi An had become a powerful trade conduit between Europe, China, India, and Japan, but its importance waned sharply following the collapse of Nguyen rule. Under French influence Danang became the new centre of trade in the region, and Hoi An, with a slowly silting river mouth diminishing its attractiveness further, drifted into a steady decline. From an architectural perspective this decline was a blessing, as the Old Town, now boasting UNESCO World Heritage status, was left largely untouched and undeveloped over many years.

This is a town to savour slowly, absorbing the architectural influence of countless incomers as you stroll from riverside cafe along narrow alleys to delightful hidden restaurants. We recommend taking the time to go for a bicycle ride in the surrounding paddy fields, arranging a cooking class at one of the local schools, or enjoying an exciting Vespa street food tour of the town.

Hoi An old town

located in Hoi An

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