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Text and photos by Ville Palonen.
Hoi An in central Vietnam was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its melting-pot heritage is reflected in the atmospheric old town with its mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese influences.
Hoi An’s Ancient Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Renovated with tender loving care, it offers an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional townscape. At first glance the old town – cute as a button – seems small, but there are plenty of narrow back alleys and other hidden gems to explore. The historical centre is particularly atmospheric in the evening. The old town is a pedestrian zone, which means a merciful absence of honking cars (and karaoke bars).
The nearby coast offers a couple of decent beaches, but it’s the historical atmosphere that draws visitors to Hoi An – and the handicrafts. There are Chinese paper lanterns and wood-carved Buddha statues virtually everywhere, and shoes and dresses can be made to measure at any small boutique.
Sampling local cuisine is an essential part of any trip to Vietnam. Hoi An is known especially for its cao lau, a delicious noodle dish of fried pork, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. One of the best spots to sample it is the Central Market. Arrive well before sunrise to see the vegetable and seafood vendors in full swing.
Quang Trieu (Cantonese) Assembly Hall, built adjacent to a Buddhist pagoda, is a fine example of Hoi An’s wonderfully preserved architecture. Other historical sights include Buddhist temples, old merchant houses, skillfully decorated Chinese assembly halls, and a centuries-old Japanese bridge.
Artisans at work
Shopping is a definite highlight in Hoi An. A popular place to purchase locally crafted souvenirs is the Handicraft Workshop, which is located in a 200-year-old Chinese trading house. More than just a shop, it’s a crafts centre where visitors can watch artisans making silk lanterns and other traditional items.
This article was first published in the September 2015 issue of Finnair's monthly in-flight magazine Blue Wings.