Old town Hoi An

An active trading port from the 15th to late 19th centuries, Hoi An was a true melting pot of cultural influences. Merchants from China, Japan, and Europe settled on the north bank of the Thu Bon River, adding the architectural styles of their home countries to their new abodes.

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Travelers have sedimentation to thank for the beguiling atmosphere of Hoi An’s Ancient Town. In the late 19th century, the mouth of the Thu Bon River silted up, blocking the passage of large vessels. The trading port uprooted its operations to nearby Da Nang. Hoi An’s fortunes dwindled and the town slipped into decades of quiet decline. Hoi An’s low profile and lack of strategic positioning saved it from the brunt of the American-Vietnamese War and the rush of development that swept the country years later. While Saigon and Hanoi raced to erect offices, hotels and shopping malls, Hoi An’s timber frame shop-houses, old markets, and ornate pagodas remained untouched by the passing years.

In 1999, UNESCO added 74 acres (30 ha) of Hoi An to its World Heritage List, noting that it was an, “exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Asian trading port.” The town’s picturesque streets, enchanting waterfront and robust tailor shops have made it one of the most-loved stops on Vietnam itineraries. On the strength of ever-increasing tourism arrivals, Hoi An has caught its second wind.

Today, a walk around the Ancient Town reveals historical museums and cool cafes, ancestral homes and chic boutiques. The ochre-washed buildings sit shoulder-to-shoulder, and hidden restaurants are squeezed into narrow alleyways. On the old ferry quay, travelers can embark on sunset boat rides, or grab a table overlooking the water. Thousands of glowing silk lanterns add the finishing touch to an already photogenic setting.