Due to a scheduling change at the Spa (it’s a tough life I know), Laura & I were at a loose end for an hour so we decided to take a cyclo tour of Hội An Ancient Town. We thought it would be nice to be pedalled around taking in the sights, however, there was a catch. The cyclo riders take you round to the ticket office where you have to purchase a ticket to go to some of the attractions in the Ancient Town – so much for just sitting back and taking in the sights! Seriously, I had been wanting to learn a bit more about the various landmarks I had been walking past daily so this was the perfect opportunity.
Hội An, also known as Fai-Fo or Faifoo, is a city in Vietnam, located on the coast of the South China Sea in the South Central Coast region, in the Quảng Nam Province. With approximately 120,000 inhabitants, Hội An 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).
First stop was the Tran Family Chapel which is one of the oldest and most historical houses in this city, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. It was built by Tran Tu Nhac – a highly-respected mandarin under Gia Long Reign, before he was sent to China as the King’s envoys. Originally, it serves as a worshipping place for the family’s ancestors, as well as a reminder about the family’s tradition to the following generations.
Sitting amidst a 1500m2-garden of ornamental plants, flowers, fruit trees and century-old plants, with a gate and high surrounding walls is a combination of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese architecture, which has remained almost the same as two centuries ago. Made of precious wood and pan-tiles-covered roof, the house has become well-known for its Asian style of architecture: one main part for worshipping, and one supplemental part which houses the leader of family and his guests. The house and the garden were built in harmony following strictly the rules of Feng Shui. The drawing room of the chapel has separate entries for men and women: the left is for men and the right is only for women, according to old belief. There is another door in the center of the room, used for festivals such as Tet, which is said to be the door for souls of the ancestors to enter the house.
Every year, the Tran Family Chapel is still the gathering place for all members of the family to meet and express their thankfulness to their ancestors. We then visited the Fujian Assembly Hall which is the greatest and most famous of the Assembly Halls in Hội An. As the Chinese immigrants reached the central part of Vietnam known as Hoi An today, they decided to create the opportunities for themselves and the next generations to socialize and protect the Chinese traditions by building many Assembly Halls.
Building Assembly Halls as a place to socialize for themselves and the next generations is a tradition of Chinese people when they migrated or did business in another country. Therefore, a lot of Assembly Halls of this type can be found in Vietnam today. In Hội An Town, which has a long history of international trade, there are 5 Assembly Halls constructed by the Chinese, all are located on Tran Phu Street, facing Thu Bon River. Nowadays, even though not all of the halls stay the same, the five remaining ones (Fujian, Chaozhou, Hainan, Cantonese, and Chinese) become famous attractions of Hoi An.
Generally, they all follow a formula that has been used by other Chinese assembly halls in other cities: a grand gate, a nice garden with ornamental plants, a main hall and a large altar room. As decoration is a fundamental part of an assembly hall, it is carried out meticulously at all of the halls with statues, lacquered boards, murals, etc. However, because each Chinese community has its own beliefs, different assembly halls worship different gods and goddesses.
Our last stop was the Japanese Bridge. The bridge (Chùa cầu) is a unique covered structure built by the Japanese, the only known covered bridge with a Buddhist temple attached to one side. In the early seventeenth century, the Japanese, who lived in Hội An Town, built this bridge over the stream to do business with the local people in the residential area. The two entrances to the bridge are guarded by a pair of monkey gods at one end and a pair of dog gods at the other end.
In later centuries, the Chinese and Vietnamese continued to restore the bridge and built a small temple dedicated to the God Bac De Tran Vo, Emperor of the North. This religious architectural complex has a unique pain-tiled shaped roof, which is related to the misfortune and happiness of people in the locality. The local people often call it Chua Cau (bridge and temple). The structure is also a symbol of the cultural exchange between the Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese people in Hội An. Over the past four hundred years, Chua Cau has become famous for having supernatural power and is still a sanctuary for worship by local people, a status respected by tourists.
It is certainly a very popular attraction and probably the most photographed in Hội An. It is nearly impossible to get a photo of the bridge unimpeded by people so I have included a couple of photos from the internet. The other night, however, I got a couple of photos of two Brides and Grooms who were using the bridge as a backdrop. It is quite often lit up at night with different colours.
Hội An is full of quaint looking buildings that represent the architecture and cultural influences of the time. Most of them are restaurants or shops with the locals living above or behind them and it is easy to miss the beauty of them if you don’t take the time. Hội An comes alive at night and the colourful lanterns and trpoical plants really add to the ambience and beauty of the town. It is hard to capture the essence on a camera but here are a few of my favourite shots.