Hoi An Vietnam – The Old Town
Hội An (About this sound listen), also Faifo, is a city of Vietnam, on the coast of the South China Sea in the South Central Coast of Vietnam. It is located in Quảng Nam Province and is home to approximately 120,000 inhabitants. It is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Hội An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce this unique heritage site.
The city possessed the largest harbour in Southeast Asia in the 1st century and was known as Lâm Ấp Phố (Champa City). Between the seventh and 10th centuries, the Cham (people of Champa) controlled the strategic spice trade and with this came tremendous wealth. The former harbour town of the Cham at the estuary of the Thu Bồn River was an important Vietnamese trading centre in the 16th and 17th centuries, where Chinese from various provinces as well as Japanese, Dutch and Indians settled. During this period of the China trade, the town was called Hai Pho (Seaside Town) in Vietnamese. Originally, Hai Pho was a divided town with the Japanese settlement across the “Japanese Bridge” (16th-17th century). The bridge (Chùa cầu) is a unique covered structure built by the Japanese, the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist pagoda attached to one side.
History of Hoi An
The early history of Hội An is that of the Cham. These Austronesian-speaking Malayo-Polynesian peoples created the Champa Empire which occupied much of what is now central and lower Vietnam, from Huế to beyond Nha Trang. Various linguistic connections between Cham and the related Jarai language and the Austronesian languages of Indonesia (particularly Acehnese), Malaya, Cambodia and Hainan has been documented, and they are sometimes grouped under Inner Western Malayo-Polynesian languages. In the early years, Mỹ Sơn was the spiritual capital, Trà Kiệu was the political capital and Hội An was the commercial capital of the Champa Empire – later, by the 14th century, the Cham moved further down towards Nha Trang. The river system was the transportation for goods between the highlands, inland countries of Laos and Thailand and the low lands.
In 1535 Portuguese explorer and sea captain António de Faria, coming from Đà Nẵng, tried to establish a major trading center at the port village of Faifo. Hội An was founded as a trading port by the Nguyễn Lord Nguyễn Hoàng sometime around 1595. The Nguyễn Lords were far more interested in commercial activity than the Trịnh Lords who ruled the north. As a result, Hội An flourished as a trading port and became the most important trade port on the South China Sea. Captain William Adams, the English sailor and confidant of Tokugawa Ieyasu, is known to have made at least one trading mission to Hội An (around 1619). The early Portuguese Jesuits also had one of their two residences at Hội An.
In the 18th century, Hội An was considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants to be the best destination for trading in all of Southeast Asia, even Asia. Japanese believed the heart of all of Asia (the dragon) lay beneath the earth of Hội An. The city also rose to prominence as a powerful and exclusive trade conduit between Europe, China, India, and Japan, especially for the ceramic industry. Shipwreck discoveries have shown that Vietnamese and Asian ceramics were transported from Hội An to as far as Sinai, Egypt.
Hội An’s importance waned sharply at the end of the 18th century because of the collapse of Nguyễn rule (thanks to the Tây Sơn Rebellion – which was opposed to foreign trade). Then, with the triumph of Emperor Gia Long, he repaid the French for their aid by giving them exclusive trade rights to the nearby port town of Đà Nẵng. Đà Nẵng became the new center of trade (and later French influence) in central Vietnam while Hội An was a forgotten backwater. Local historians also say that Hội An lost its status as a desirable trade port due to silting up of the river mouth. The result was that Hội An remained almost untouched by the changes to Vietnam over the next 200 years.
Today, the town is a tourist attraction because of its history, traditional architecture and crafts such as textiles and ceramics. Many bars, hotels, and resorts have been constructed both in Hội An and the surrounding area. The port mouth and boats are still used for both fishing and tourism.
Weather in Hoi An
Calm mild weather is now limited to the season of May/June – end of August when the seas are calm and wind changes direction and comes from the South. The remainder of the year the weather is intermittent between rain & cold and hot & mild. Popular activities such as visiting offshore Cù lao Chàm islands are only guaranteed to be likely during the short season of end of May – end of August, which is the high season for domestic tourism.