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You are here:      Home News Quiet charm
Quiet charm

AcientMany visitor count the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An as their favorite place in Vietnam. Diep Tran explains what makes this sleepy riverside town so special.

The English writer Maris Coffey described Hoi An as follows: “Hoi An looks like a sleepy suburb with ancient house surrounded by luxuriant mulberry gardens.”

Other writers have expressed the following sentiments about this town:

“Alas! A township called Nhớ or Hoài (meaning ‘Missing’ in English) was set up very close to a harbor called Đời (meaning ‘Waiting’). What evocative names!.”


-          Nguyễn Tuân- “Hoi An ancient street”, a letter to Phạm Đức Nam, February 1985. “It is not possible to read books and feel the deep beauty of Hoi An street only when you could see it and touch it yourself, can you grasp the certain emotion of it”.

-          Goto Kastumi – a visually-impaired Japanese artist and the organizer of his own art exhibition called “Deep affection for Hoi An Streets”, August 2006.

-          In 1994, the English writer Maria Coffey and her husband took a journey across Vietnam by boat and bicycle. Maria said that her journey originated due to her deep sympathy for a close Vietnamese friend’s nostalgia for his homeland, as he had lived abroad for many years.

Maria recorded her feelings about the peaceful and friendly landscapes and people of Vietnam in her book Three Moons in Vietnam, published in 1996. Over 15 years have passed and the land through which Maria traveled has seen many changes, and yet Hoi An, in some respects, remains as tranquil and as lost in thought as if it had yet to awaken from a deep sleep.

The peaceful world of Hoi An’s people is revealed by its ancient with rows of shop houses and a system of lances running in a fish bone formation and linking this street to that street. All laces run to the quiet Hoai (also known as the Thu Bon) River.

Mossy roofs and eye windows

Most of ancient houses in Hoi An were built by Chinese and Japanese immigrants. These are the ancient houses that are covered in Yin and Yang tiles stuck together with glue and molasses. Grass and moss cover these roofs, ensuring that their color does not fade. The fronts of the houses are guarded by “eye windows” (square, octagonal, round or bat shaped disks) that drive away bad luck. When Tet ((the Lunar New Year) approaches, the eye windows will be cleaned and covered with red cloths.

An ancient house often has two floors and comprises three detached buildings running along its length. A terrace lies in the central house, allowing light and wind to penetrate. Great attention is paid to this terrace. Potted plants and trees, landscaping and furniture aim to create a tranquil atmosphere. The altar is placed indoors near the terrace.

A number of house that are around 150years old stand on Nguyen Thai Hoc, Tran Phu, Bach Dang and Le Loi streets. The storm of tourism has damaged some of beauty of Hoi An’s, but tranquility may still be found inside the house and in the lanes that run towards the river.

It is said that the homes on the large streets belong to the descendants of those rich Japanese and Chinese traders who stayed in Vietnam, while the dwellings found on tiny, hidden lanes contain people who have in this area for centuries.

Pure water

Don’t Judge the strange-looking houses in the lanes as ugly and unruly. They were built to trap as much of breeze as possible. The wells in these houses can be either small or big, round or square. This shows that many cultures took root in ancient Hoi An. The square wells were made by people of the Cham ethnic group. Round wells were dug by Chinese and Vietnamese people. Some wells with bricks and some with stones. Bricks and stones were stacked without mortar. This allowed water to run through the cracks, thereby filling the well and cooling the water.

All if the ancient wells haves altars used to worship the Well Saint. It is true that it’s thanks to this saint that the water is always cool and pure? This water helps the local food to taste especially good. There are a lot of well-known restaurant here that offer local dishes like banh beo (rice-flour crepes) or banh vac (cauldron dumplings).

The town’s well water plays an important role in people lives. Here, you can still find food vendors carrying little stoves and supplies from their shoulder poles. Sitting on stools, the vendor and the customer enjoy their food in shaded lanes. You can hear their laughter ringing down the alleys.

Annual floods

There is a warning about the annual floods in this folk verse:

“He pardons us but she does not, let alone the floods on the 23rd of the Lunar October.”

Flood water submerges the streets and house, pushes its way thought the alleys and even enters large ancient houses. Even thought the locals are accustomed to the annual flooding, hear-high flash floods continue to take them by surprise. The 1946 flood was 2.5 meters high, causing great losses. This was repeated in 1999. Unfortunately, a gap of 40 years between major floods no longer holds true. In 2007 flood water rushed in and inundates the entire province of Quang Nam. All of Hoi An was submerged.

Yet, life goes on in even the most tragic situations. It is big surprise that during the flood season, large numbers of travelers from every corner of the country converge in Hoi An to see the floods!

They think that it is fun to sit on boats and push their way through the lanes and alleys. They have to admire the endurance of the locals who fight the floods every year. Watching the locals go about their business, travelers feel reassured and safe.

This land has gone from being the homeland of the Sa Huynh culture more than two thousand years ago to the prosperous Cham kingdom of Lam Ap Pho, and then to a busy commercial harbor during the Nguyen dynasty. All of these states arose and vanished of the Thu Bon River had as if determined by heaven. If the course of the Thu Bon River had not changed, Hoi An might have become a noisy, dusty city with a lot of skyscrapers and people leading furtive lives. But the people here don’t want to live that way. Hoi An remains beautiful as a small and ancient-looking city beside the placid Thu Bon River.


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