INTRODUCTION TO HOI AN
Hoi An was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, and a visit to this old-world gem is a sure cultural highlight of any tour in Vietnam. From the 16th to the 18th century, the city was Vietnam's most important port and trading post, particularly of ceramics with nearby China. Today it is a quaint old town of some 844 structures protected as historical landmarks, and the unique influence of Chinese and Japanese traders who passed through (or settled) can still be felt.
It's a picturesque town, small enough to cover easily on foot, with lots of good nooks and crannies, shops, and gastronomic delights to discover.
Wander among historic homes and temples, perhaps stop to lounge in an open-air cafe, gaze at the oddities and exotic foods in the market, or take a sampan ride down the lazy river. In the afternoons when school is out, the streets are thronged with skipping children in spotless white shirts and girls in their ao dai uniforms, and you can still see local craftsmen at work in some parts of the city.
During the full moon of every month, local shop owners turn off the electricity and hang lanterns bearing their shops' names, and a candlelight lantern procession, complete with a few small floats, makes its way through the Old Town and along the riverfront. It's well worth timing a visit to enjoy the spectacle and the post-processional festivities.