Hang on there is something wrong here. This isn’t Vietnam surely. The streets of this town are quiet and clean and much of the old buildings well preserved. I had arrived in Hoi An and there was a remarkable contrast to most Vietnamese towns. The old town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port of the 15th to 19th centuries (I wonder what the others would be?). Hoi An attracts a fair number of tourists, also being a well-established place on the backpacker trail.
At the onset of the Nguyen dynasty Hoi An’s influence as a trading port greatly declined as the first Nguyen emperor repaid the French for their aid (helping him keep the throne essentially) by giving them exclusive trading rights to the nearby port town of Da Nang which became the new centre of trade (and later French influence) in central Vietnam. The move was probably inevitable as the river mouth silted up. The “happy” result was that Hoi An remained almost untouched by the changes to Vietnam over the next 200 years. Da Nang is certainly not as picturesque though not without interest.
Hoi An was a hugely cosmopolitan town in the 16th and 17th centuries where, in addition to the Vietnamese, there were Chinese from various provinces as well as Japanese, Dutch and Indians. Architecture is varied but harmoniously juxtaposed including the famous “Japanese Bridge” which linked the Japanese and Chinese settlements.
And when you are fed up with all that culture and heritage you can fall back to the nearby beach which is not without its charms either. This is the view looking north towards Da Nang and the Annamite Mountains beyond. The cluster of three small hills you can see in the near background are actually the Marble Mountains which are just South of Da Nang. If you wish to go to Hoi An then go now as the Vietnamese have just realized that the goldmine of beaches running up to Da Nang (which the Americans named China Beach during the war) is ripe for exploitation and the bulldozers are beginning to roll in.
My father never wished to return to a place of beauty and of which he held fond memories in order to avoid the inevitable disappointment and sorrow. There is time and place – they are inexorably linked.
On that reckoning I shan’t be returning to Hoi An.