On December 4th, 1999, Hội An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. What does that mean? Through the hard work of the local government and assistance from tourism experts, the town was able to preserve its ancient characteristics and implement sustainable tourism plans according to the criteria of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization). The UNESCO site describes Hội An as
“… 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.”
I can speak to the preservation of this ancient town’s characteristics. It has influences of Vietnamese, Chinese, Champa, and Japanese culture. Many, if not all of the buildings are original; some had to be fixed and remodeled back to their original state during the process of attaining the title. The town is filled with lanterns of all shapes and sizes. These laterns adorn restaurants, shop-fronts, and hang from trees and lampposts as you walk or bike through the town. Farming land, fishing, and industry have little contribution in the economic activity of the area compared to tourism. That is one of the many important reasons the government officials of this town pushed to increase the attractiveness of this little ancient town and attain World Heritage status. Here, I have noticed a higher concentration of tourists hailing from Europe, Australia, China, Japan, and Korea, but unlike the types of foreigners in HCMC, I have come across more families with children and tour groups of retired couples venturing around Southeast Asia.
This town is truly unique. The buildings, town layout, and atmosphere here make me feel like I have stepped into another time period. It retains the business of the city yet feels slightly calmer because there aren’t hundreds of motorbikes, buses, and cars coming at you as you walk around the town. For the past two nights, I have been able to use bikes from the hotel to get around the town. Besides dodging a few cars and motorbikes on the main roads, the rest of the city is walker and bike rider friendly (and encouraged)! Sunday and Monday, I, a few friends, and our program assistant spent our evenings checking out the many tailor shops to order custom-made clothes. I got a gray blazer, leather flats, a dress, and two flannel-like shirts made. I also got some bowties made as gifts for friends and family. Monday we got to try on a few of the pieces to see if we needed anything adjusted, my blazer turned out great and I love my new flats!
Sunday, we spent the morning and afternoon relaxing on Cham Island, a 20 minute speed boat ride from Hội An. Ironically, its fall break at Wofford, and while I missed the traditional trip to the mountains, I think a trip to the beach was a sweet trade-off. I also got to go snorkeling! There was a ton of baby jellyfish hanging around the coral reef, needless to say, we could avoid getting stunk. Slightly uncomfortable at first, but I got use to it. It was hard to clearly see the coral reef because of the monsoon season, but I did find a cute school of angelfish and a sea urchin. I wish I had a underwater camera to share my sightings!