How ancient Hoi An preserves its culture, identity and heritage

 

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How does a town get UNESCO heritage status? Hoi An is a charming, small town in central Vietnam that has been designated a UNESCO heritage area because it has historically and architecturally distinctive buildings dating back from the 15th to 19th century which are well preserved. There are numerous quaint wooden buildings and other interesting structures including a famous 18th century Japanese style bridge which combined, lend Hoi An its distinctive character, identity and charm. It’s like time has stopped in this town in the 19th century. Influences from Europe, China and Japan have made Hoi An town a unique blend of diverse cultures in one small area, which is also a port. The town is built along a winding river and has a series of bridges, quays and jetties connecting two sides, making it one of the most picturesque towns I have ever seen.

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The Hoi An ancient town is wonderfully preserved partly because it is car-free. There is also an entrance fee that contributes towards preserving the architecture and heritage of the town. The local government has used a multi-disciplinary approach to preserve the old town with a long-term heritage management plan plus monitoring, and Vietnam passed a set of heritage laws with enforcement to protect it.

I can see that this approach has worked well for Hoi An. Without traffic in the old town, people walk peacefully along the river to watch the many colourful fishing and passenger boats.

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In the evening, the town comes alive with youths and school children holding street dance parties. Upon sunset, street food hawkers set up impromptu restaurants along the river with romantic candlelight. The boats start selling colourful flower arrangements to float on the river as spiritual offerings. The narrow streets are also kept clean and there are a lot of shady trees and colourful flowers that enhance the already charming wooden structures. The shops and cafes are thriving with locals and foreigners alike, attracted by the pleasant atmosphere. We sat down in one of the restaurants along the river – the Vietnamese coffee in Hoi An is heavenly thick and sweet, and Vietnamese food in Hoi An is often fragrant and fresh from the river.

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Impressively, the residents of Hoi An still practice their culture and craft in the ancient town, and this has enhanced its beauty and the cultural value of the town – one can see silk embroidered, shoes being made, silver being made into jewellery and silk and bamboo being made into lanterns. Did you know that Hoi An has been dubbed Paris of the east because of its famous silks, seamstresses and sewing industry? You can make a suit or a dress in 24 hours here and it will turn out quite perfect! Exquisite hand made silver jewellery, porcelain tea sets, silk and bamboo lanterns and embroidered silks are just a few things that Hoi An is famous for.

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Hoi An’s artisans are promoted well in the ancient town, the crafts are displayed and packaged beautifully. We discovered a social enterprise that assists and trains disabled artisans to produce beautiful designs and astonishing fine crafts – all professionally displayed in a preserved heritage building with wooden beams whilst the artisans are working in a lovely courtyard. Hoi An and its remarkable heritage preservation efforts left a big impression on us. With a head brimming with inspiration and ideas, I am making a mental note to return to Hoi An – very soon.

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