Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which usually means a place worthwhile visiting. And it is, a predominantly Chinese traders town dating back to the 16th Century, on a now silted-up river, with lots of narrow streets, old wooden houses and balconies, and the Chinese Assembly Houses, which were the community centers of the various groups of Chinese families that settled in Hoi An. The town is an open-air museum, really, but one that shares the open-air with an enormous market. Not so much the fresh produce that you mostly see in Vietnamese markets, no, more the tourist variety, multiple galleries selling tacky wooden souvenirs and uninspiring paintings and other works of “art”, cheap jewelry at expensive prices, and cloths: the town is one large tailor atelier, you can order a shirt, skirt or suit to measure, and within a few hours, half a day at most, you have it. And if that takes too long, you can buy any brand polo shirt off the shelf, cheaper than you find them in China or Thailand.
Such a tourist spot also guarantees lots of tourist facilities. The availability of gin and tonic is defined as a tourist facility, so we could finally move off the Dalat wine, and back to something less haphazard, more predictable.
(1, 2) Hoi An houses, not all dating back from 16th Century, but still charming enough.
(3, 4) The Japanese bridge, Hoi An’s symbol (even though the Japanese retreated long ago, and left the place to the Chinese traders).
(5, 6) Chinese assembly halls, cutely decorated, and (7) one of the old houses. Inside.
(8, 9) And further traces of Chinese influence in the market.
An hour outside Hoi An is the ancient site of My Son, the former capital of the Champa empire, another one of those obscure, hardly-known polities that existed in this area in centuries past. The Champa heydays were somewhere around the 7th to 14th century, coinciding, and furiously competing, with the Khmer empire in Cambodia, but it then got gradually subjected to Vietnamese influence by southward migrating Vietnamese, who ultimately incorporated Champa in their own empire. Incidentally, they did this quite well, there is little left of the Champa, apart from a few small communities here and further south, and a smattering of ruins, of which My Son is the most important.
My Son is no Ankgor Wat, not in terms of size neither in terms of architectural and artistic quality. We are merely talking about a couple of towers and tombs here, all of which would fit easily in one of the Angkor temples. Besides, much of it was badly shot up in the second Indochina war, and it looks unlikely to me that it will ever be restored again to its former glory. Yet, the site has a special quality, different from what we have seen so far. And we certainly had that Indiana Jones-feeling again, briefly, just before the tour groups arrived. Curiously, the towers are built up with bricks, whilst there are large sandstones outcropping not far away, and the site is surrounded by high mountains, surely also hard stone. Had they used that, the monuments may have been in a better state today.
(10, 11, 12) My Son temples, and decorations.
You know, there is just not much more to tell about our few days in Hoi An. The trouble with these World Heritage sites is that it turns the traveler into a tourist.