HOI AN, Vietnam – Over the past few years, the ancient town of Hoi An, located some 650 km south of Hanoi, is now becoming a favorite tourist destination in Vietnam. Hoi An, which used to be an international trading port in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, has exceptionally well- preserved architectural wonders that include old houses, temples, pagodas, and other structures that have been built from the 15th to the 19th century. In 1999, the old town was recognized as a World Heritage site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ( UNESCO).
The structures found in Hoi An, which are mostly made of wood using traditional Vietnamese design combined with those from other neighboring countries, have withstood the test of time. The town is also famous for its made-to-order shoes and sandals. “My shop sells a lot of shoes and we can make various models of made-to-measure shoes which our customers, including foreign tourists, love to buy,” a shop owner in Hoi An told Xinhua.
The shop owner, a veteran shoemaker for the last 10 years, said that his customers include tourists from Britain, France, Australia, and the United States.
Making shoes is only among various industries in Hoi An, which is now considered a paradise of shoppers because of its high- quality but relatively cheap locally-made products.
According to old-timers here, Chinese and Japanese traders and craft men flocked to Hoi An during the 18th century and some of them settled permanently in the town.
Among the structures in Hoi An that bear Chinese and Japanese influences are the Chinese temples and assembly halls as well as a Japanese covered bridge known as “Japanese Bridge.”
The assembly halls are places where Chinese expatriates used to socialize and hold meetings. There are five assembly halls in Hoi An built by different Chinese migrant groups, namely the Fujian Assembly Hall, Qiongfu Assembly Hall, Chaozhou Assembly Hall, Guang Zhao Assembly Hall, and Chinese Assembly Hall.
Generally, the assembly halls in Hoi An have a grand gate, a beautiful garden with ornament plants, a main hall and a large altar room. However, because each Chinese community has its own beliefs, different assembly halls worship different gods and goddesses.
The Japanese Bridge, which was constructed in the 17th century, is the most prominent Japanese-built structure now found in Hoi An. It has been officially selected to be the symbol of Hoi An.
The bridge has an arched shape roof which is skillfully carved with many fine designs. The two entrances to the bridge are guarded by a pair of monkeys on one side and a pair of dogs on the other.
According to legend, there once lived an enormous monster whose head was in India, its tail in Japan and its body in Vietnam. Whenever the monster moved, terrible disaster such as floods and earthquakes happened in the three countries. Thus, apart from being used to transport goods and people, the bridge was also used to exorcize the monster to preserve the peace and safety in the town.
Besides its cultural and historical value, a major attraction in Hoi An that makes it a “shopper’s paradise” is its tailors. There are hundreds of tailors in the town who are ready to make any kinds of clothes.
Hoi An is also noted for its hand-crafted lanterns. Lanterns appear on every corner of the ancient town not just in houses.
Once a month, on the full moon, the old town switches off its street lamps and fluorescent lights and is turned into a fairy- tale Mecca with the warm glow of lanterns made of silk, glass and paper, casting a magical splendor that never fails to impress visitors.