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Overview

Formerly Vietnam's chief window on the world and center for international trade, Hoi An hosted merchant communities from China, Japan and even Portugal. Then the French Empire arrived in the 19th century, and they moved port activities to nearby Danang and its larger harbor. Hoi An sank into obscurity. And that was its salvation. When the Indochina wars of the 20th century raged all around the region, they bypassed little forgotten Hoi An, and the town emerged from the maelstrom intact. It was a snapshot of a small port town of centuries ago, a living history museum. And then intrepid backpackers discovered it about 1990, and the secret was ...

Formerly Vietnam's chief window on the world and center for international trade, Hoi An hosted merchant communities from China, Japan and even Portugal. Then the French Empire arrived in the 19th century, and they moved port activities to nearby Danang and its larger harbor. Hoi An sank into obscurity. And that was its salvation. When the Indochina wars of the 20th century raged all around the region, they bypassed little forgotten Hoi An, and the town emerged from the maelstrom intact. It was a snapshot of a small port town of centuries ago, a living history museum. And then intrepid backpackers discovered it about 1990, and the secret was out. The Old Town district is now a world heritage site and travelers can spend delightful hours wandering through it or contemplating it from across the river. Four-wheeled vehicles are not permitted in the old town, and when the moon is full even motorbikes are banned. Periodically even the electricity is shut down for the night and the whole town is candle and lantern-lit. Cloth merchants were always prominent here and their industry has morphed into the custom tailoring capital of the country. On a slow day you can get a shirt made for as little as $5 in as little as one hour. It has also become a culinary center, offering perhaps the best expression of the central region's cookery. And you can take a one day class from the famous Miss Vy (Vee). Or you can do nothing but contemplate the placid river from the terrace of a bankside cafe. Hoi An is a good place from which to make a day trip to China Beach, near Danag, about a half hour's drive north. A two hour drive hence brings you to Hue, where the ancient citadel and the royal tombs are worth a day's wandering.

Richard Sterling
About the Expert

Richard Sterling is the author of Lonely Planet's World Food: Greece, Eyewitness Travel Guide Vietnam, and many other books.

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Richard Sterling for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Hoi An is located on the south central coast of Vietnam.
  • Language: Vietnamese
  • Currency: Vietnam Dong
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel
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