Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, once known as Faifo, with more than 2,000 years of history, was the principal port of the Cham Kingdom. This place controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century. Hoi An was also a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries. And the foreign influences are discernible to this day.
The culture & heritage is mostly from the Cham people whose kingdom originally stretched from Hue South to Phan Thiet (South of Nha Trang) – the Champa’s most likely originally from Java. The original Cham political capital was Tra Kieu. And the commercial capital was Hoi An and the spiritual capital was My Son (Hindu). The Cham people were Hindu. By the 10th century, the influence of Arab traders to Hoi An resulted in some converting to become Muslims.
The second major influence was from the Chinese. The influence firstly came from the traders. But mainly by the escaping Ming Dynasty armies. They settled in Hoi An for some years, then moved further south and created Saigon as a major trading port.
The third and last major influence of culture & heritage was from the Vietnamese and is fairly recent and only came after the Cham lost control of this area. For a tourist wanting Vietnamese culture & heritage, Hue is a much better destination than Hoi An (but the weather is much rougher too!).
Although the marine industry was moved to Da Nang, the Old Town has always been the heart of the city. It is full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shophouses which is particularly atmospheric when the sun goes down. Nowadays, most of the shops are for tourists. The architecture has been largely preserved, which is rarely taken in Vietnam. And the renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully. It’s mercifully absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlors.
River in Hoi An
The culture & heritage that UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Hoi An Ancient Town was trying to preserve has long since gone. When Hoi An received the UNESCO WHS status in 1999, there has been a massive increase in tourism since then. The community sold most of the houses to speculators and shop owners who use them for commercial purposes. The former community, and with it their culture and heritage have gone. And in their places are endless indistinguishable shops, restaurants, art galleries, etc. There are literally hundreds of tailor shops in Hoi An.
UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status also applies for Hoi An Ancient Town. But in reality, like many other UNESCO statuses, this is not being cherished by site management.
The main thoroughfare in the Old Town is Tran Phu. Just south of the Old Town, across the Thu Bon River, are the islands of An Hoi to the west, reachable via Hai Ba Trung, and Cam Nam to the east, reachable via Hoang Dieu.
Hoi An is famous for clothing and shoes, with more than 600 shops catering to a very limited pool of tourists. Taking a walk to some streets outside the old town, you will see the clothing workshop opening 24/7 for shopping.
(Source: Wiki Travel)