Hoi An Old Town And Its Cultural Values

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Hoi An Old Town is a small town located in Quang Nam province, about 30 km from Danang to the south. Hoi An Old Town used to be the busy merchandise port for merchants from Japan, China and Western countries during 17th and 18th century. Hoi An Old Town today is the typical representation of a business port in South East Asia that is preserved perfectly. Almost ancient houses in the town were constructed from 17th to 19th century and arranged along the narrow streets. These made this town to be designated as the World Cultural Heritage in 1999.

The remark of Hoi An Cultural traits can bee implied most precisely in its architecture , especially the ancient houses, temples and pagodas.

The most outstanding and symbolic buiding of Hoi An Old Town is Chua Cau (or Japanese Bridge). It was built by Japanese in 1593. It is 18 m long and connects Tran Phu street and Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street today. Although it doesn’t maintain its original Japanese architecture after some reconfiguration in 18th and 19th century under Nguyen Dynasty, it is still the unique and the most remarkable site of the town. It has the “house above bridge below” style, which features a curved roof and wooden surface. 

There is a small pagoda built on the bridge about half a century after completion of the bridge. In front of the pagoda hangs a painted wooden board saying “Lai Vien Kieu” in Chinese (means “The Bridge of the oversea friends”). On each side of the bridge, there are two small sculptures of dog and monkey. It was believed that these holy animals would help to protect the people from disasters caused by a monster that lied its head in Japan and its body in Vietnam.

Located on the same area called “Hoi An Old Quarter”, the ancient houses are also the typical attractions of the town. It has total area about 2 km2, the streets are short and narrow. The most popular housing style in Hoi An Old Quarter is the houses with narrow front face and extends to the back. The houses were constructed with wooden skeleton and bricked walls. A typical house should have 4 – 8 m width and 10 – 12 m length and formal structure respectively from front to back: pavement, veranda, main house, secondary house, veranda, transition house and inner yard, veranda, back house, back garden. In fact, ancient houses in the town were divided into functions: for business, living and worship. The most well-known houses are Tan Ky and Phung Hung old house. Tan Ky house was built from 18th century by a prosperous merchant. The architecture of the house was affected by Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese traditional structure. Through hundreds of years and natural disasters, the house still remains almost its original configuration, furniture and fixtures. Phung Hung, on the other hand, was affected more by Vietnamese traditional architecture. It was built in 1780 and deginated as the National Historic Site in 1985. It has total area of 300 m2 without inner yard and has only one path.

Because of domination and residence of Chinese merchants in the past, Hoi An Old Quarter remains the typical traits from these people, which are the Community Houses or Assembly Hall. There are 5 main Assembly Halls preserved which represented 5 Chinese categories with largest population: Phuc Kien (Fujian), Trung Hoa (Hua), Trieu Chau (Chaozhou), Quynh Phu (Zhengfu), Quang Dong (Guangdong).

All five Halls are on the same street (Tran Phu) and have direction to Thu Bon River. The form of these houses follows a model: main gate in front, big yard arranged with bonsai, 2 supportive houses in the right and left hand sides, communal house and worship place at last. All houses are sophisticatedly decorated with sculptured rails, ceramic animals on the roofs and other colorful decoration decorations of ceramics and painted wood.

Beside the visible cultural values in the architecture, Hoi An also has tangible cultural traits. Among them are folk games and folk music. These games and music were created during local people’s daily activites in the past by describing the working process. “Bai Choi” is the most popular game that is still preserved until now. It is regularly organized on 14th day of the month in Lunar Calendar on the corner of Bac Dang & Nguyen Thai Hoc.

In addition, Hoi An cuisine is also evaluated as one of the most exceptional cultural traits. Because of significant affection from Chinese, Hoi An cuisine also has some similar dishes with Chinese cuisine, such as: dumpling, noodle, Yangzhou fried rice. However, Cao Lau is the only dish that exist nowhere but Hoi An and people can only enjoy the best dish of Cao Lau right in Hoi An. Cao Lau is a type of noodle mixed with grinded pork, fried pork fat, bean sprouts and vegediv. Quang noodle and wonton are also the popular and distinctive dishes to enjoy in Hoi An Old Town.

Summary of the cultural attractions in Hoi An:

    o Chua Cau (Japanese Bridge) – connect Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Tran Phu street
    o Quan Cong Temple – 24 Tran Phu
    o Minh Huong Pagoda – 7 Nguyen Hue
Old houses:
    o Tan Ky House – 10 Nguyen Thai Hoc
    o Phung Hung House – 4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai
    o Quan Thang – 77 Tran Phu
Assembly Halls:
    o Phuc Kien – 46 Tran Phu
    o Trieu Chau – 57 Nguyen Duy Hieu
    o Quang Dong – 17 Tran Phu
    o Trung Hoa – 67 Tran Phu
Le Ancestral Temple – 21 Le Loi
    o Museum of Trade Ceramics – 80 Tran Phu
    o Museum of Hoi An History and Culture – 7 Nguyen Duy Hieu
    o Museum of Sa Huynh Culture – 149 Nguyen Thai Hoc

Note: Tourists can buy ticket for Hoi An Old Quarter tour from Ticket Stalls in almost every street in the Old Quarter. The ticket is valid within 24 hours. Most of the tourist spots open from 8:00 am – 5:30 pm. Tour guide is free for group of 8 and over.

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