Because of shifting trade routes, the old town of Hoi An in the South Central coast of Vietnam is a well-preserved example of a traditional trading town during the 15th to the 19th centuries. The shift of the trade routes from Hoi An to Da Nang resulted in the virtual abandonment of the town—leaving it in much the same state as it was nearly 200 years ago. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the small town on the coast of the South China Sea has seen an increase in the number of tourists and backpackers in recent years.
Hoi An was initially part of the Champa Empire, but it wasn’t until around 1595 under the rule of the Nguyen Lords that Hoi An became a major trade post. The town became one of the most important trade posts on the South China Sea because of the ability to ship goods, especially spices, down the river system between highlands, Laos and Thailand, and the lowlands. During the 16th and 17th centuries, many Japanese, Chinese, Dutch and Indians settled in Hoi An. Trade relations existed between the French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish, thus, Hoi An incorporated a unique blend of foreign and local influences.
The decline of Hoi An as the premier trade port makes this town unique because very little modern Vietnamese influence has infiltrated the town culture or cityscape since the 18th century. At the end of the 1700s, Hoi An experienced a sharp decline in trade activity due to the collapse of Nguyen rule. The new emperor, Gai Long, repaid the French for their aid in conquering the Nguyen Lords by giving them exclusive rights to trade in Da Nang, thus establishing Da Nang as the primary trade route in central Vietnam.
Today Hoi An serves as a wonderful cultural destination with numerous arts and crafts shops as well as several Internet cafes, bars and restaurants along the riverfront. Hoi An is famous for the Cao lầu noodle that the town has uniquely prepared for centuries. Today, visitors can walk the streets of Hoi An enjoying the magical mixture of cultures of a trade town largely untouched by modern Vietnamese influences for the past 200 years.
Join us in Hoi An on one of these Smithsonian Journeys tours.
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