Cantonese Assembly Hall Central Market Chinese Assembly Hall Fukian Assembly Hall
Hai Scout Cafe Hainan Assembly Hall Hoian Cathedral Tradditional Handicraft
Japanese Covered Bridge Miss Vy’s School of Cooking Museum of History and Culture Museum of Trade Ceramics
Old House of Tan Ky Quan Cong Temple Red Bridge Cooking School The Old House of Phung Hung
The Sa Huynh Culture Museum The Tran Family Home and Chapel My Son

 

> Cantonese Assembly Hall (Quang Trieu/Guangzhou Assembly Hall)

Built in 1885, this hall is quite ornate and colorful. All of the building materials were completed in China, brought here, and then reassembled. The center garden sports a fountain with a dragon made of chipped pottery, the centerpiece. Inside, look for the statues depicting scenes from famous Cantonese operas and, in the rooms to each side, the ancestral tablets of generations past.

 

> Central Market

If you see one Vietnamese market, make it this one, by the river on the southeast side of the city. There are endless stalls of exotic foodstuffs and services, and a special big shed for silk tailoring at the east end (these tailors charge much less than the ones along Le Loi). Check out the ladies selling spices — curries, chili powders, cinnamon, peppercorns, and especially saffron — at prices that are a steal in the West. But don’t buy from the first woman you see; the stuff gets cheaper and cheaper the deeper you go into the market. Walk out to the docks to see activity there (best early in the morning), but be careful of fish flying through the air, and stand back from the furious bargaining (best before 7am).

 

> Chinese Assembly Hall

This hall was built in 1740 as a meeting place for all of the resident Chinese, regardless of their native province.

 

> Fukian Assembly Hall (Phuc Kien)

This is the grandest of the assembly halls, built in 1697 by Chinese merchants from Fukian Province. It is a showpiece of classical Chinese architecture, at least after you pass the first gate, which was added in 1975. It’s loaded with animal themes: The fish in the mosaic fountain symbolizes scholarly achievement, the unicorn flanking the ascending stairs symbolizes wisdom, the dragon symbolizes power, the turtle symbolizes longevity, and the phoenix symbolizes nobility. The main temple is dedicated to Thien Hau, goddess of the sea, on the main altar. To the left of her is Thuan Phong Nhi, a goddess who can hear ships in a range of thousands of miles, and on the right is Thien Ly Nhan, who can see them. Go around the altar for a view of a fantastic detailed miniature boat. There are two altars to the rear of the temple: the one on the left honoring a god of prosperity and the one on the right honoring a goddess of fertility. The goddess of fertility is often visited by local couples hoping for children. She is flanked by 12 fairies or midwives, one responsible for each of a baby’s functions: smiling, sleeping, eating, and so forth.

 

> Hai Scout Cafe

Led by the owner himself, the effusive Mr. Hai, demonstration lessons are held nightly by appointment, and the course takes about an hour. Each person assists the chef and gets recipe info for white rose, spring rolls, squid salad, and local fried won tons. The course is $6.50 per person with a minimum of four persons.

 

> Hainan Assembly Hall

The Chinese merchants from Hainan Island, in the South China Sea east of Danang, built this hall. It’s newer than most and made mostly of concrete.

 

> Hoian Cathedral

The only spectacular thing about this Catholic cathedral is its resilience. Originally built in 1903, the structure was rebuilt in 1964 with the influx of greater numbers of Catholics seeking refuge from persecution in the North. There’s a small orphanage out back, and this stalwart working cathedral ministers to more than an estimated 1,000 patricians in the area. Sunday Mass — delivered in Vietnamese — is a well-attended affair. If you go, have a look at the cool contemporary stained glass depicting the early French missionaries alighting in Hoi An.

 

> House of Hoi An Traditional Handicraft

This is basically a silk shop with an interesting gimmick: On the first floor you can see both a 17th-century silk loom and a working, machine-powered cotton one. On the second, you can see where silk comes from: There are trays of silkworms feeding, then a rack of worms incubating, and then a tub of hot water where the pupae’s downy covering is rinsed off and then pulled, strand by strand, onto a large skein. It’s cool. They have the best selection of silks, both fine and raw, in many colors and weights good for clothing and for home interiors.

 

> Japanese Covered Bridge

The name of this bridge in Vietnamese, Lai Vien Kieu, means “Pagoda in Japan.” No one is exactly sure who first built it in the early 1600s (it has since been renovated several times), but it is usually attributed to Hoi An’s Japanese community. The dog flanking one end and the monkey at the other are considered to be sacred animals to the ancient Japanese, and my guide claimed the reasoning is that most Japanese emperors were born in the year of either the monkey or the dog by the Asian zodiac. Later I read something else that claimed maybe it meant construction began in the year of the dog and was completed in the year of the monkey. I’m sure there are many other interesting dog and monkey stories going around. Pick your favorite. The small temple inside is dedicated to Tran Vo Bac De, god of the north, beloved (or cursed) by sailors because he controls the weather.

 

> Miss Vy’s School of Cooking

Located at the popular White Lantern restaurant, the cookery school is just your chance to meet Hoi An’s diva, the stylish and effusive Ms. Vy, who nearly has the market cornered on good dining in Hoi An. Come find out her secrets. The tour starts early with a visit to the market, then returns to the restaurant by cyclo for a morning of cooking. The payoff is eating your creations. Ms. Vy also runs a professional school out of her other popular restaurant, Nhu Y (The Mermaid Restaurant) .

 

> Museum of History and Culture

This tottering building erected in 1653 houses works that cross 2,000 years of Hoi An history from Cham relics to ancient ceramics and photos of local architecture. There are English explanations, but they are scanty. If you’re seeing only one museum, make it the Museum of Trade Ceramics . One interesting tidbit: The name Hoi An literally means “water convergence” and “peace.”

 

> Museum of Trade Ceramics

Located in a traditional house, this museum describes the origins of Hoi An as a trade port and displays its most prominent trade item. Objects are from the 13th through 17th centuries and include Chinese and Thai works as well. While many of the exhibits are in fragments, the real beauty of the place is that the very thorough descriptions are in English, giving you a real sense of the town’s origins and history. Furthermore, the architecture and renovations of the old house are thoroughly explained, and you’re free to wander through its two floors, courtyard, and anteroom. After all the scattered explanations at the other historic houses, you’ll finally get a sense of what Hoi An architecture is all about.

 

> Old House of Tan Ky

There have been either five or seven generations of Tans living here, depending on whom you speak with. Built over 200 years ago, the four small rooms are crammed with dark-wood antiques. The room closest to the street is for greeting visiting merchants. Farther in is the living room, then the courtyard, and, to the back, the bedroom. The first three are open to the public. A guide who will greet you at the door will hasten to explain how the house is a perfect melding of three architectural styles: ornate Chinese detailing on some curved roof beams, a Japanese peaked roof, and a simple Vietnamese cross-hatch roof support. The mosaic decorations on the wall and furniture are aged, intricate, and amazing. Take your time looking around.

 

> Quan Cong Temple

This temple was built in the early 1600s to honor a famous Chin dynasty general. Highlights inside are two gargantuan 3m-high (10-ft.) wooden statues flanking the main altar, one of Quan Kong’s protector and one of his adopted son. They are fearsome and impressive. Reportedly the temple was a stop for merchants who came in from the nearby river to pay their respects and pray for the general’s attributes of loyalty, bravery, and virtue.

 

> Red Bridge Cooking School

This half-day morning cooking class from Hai Scout Café starts with a trip to the market, then takes you by boat (25 min.) back to the cafe, where you spend the rest of your time cooking and eating a big lunch. The course finishes at 1pm and requires a minimum of two students.

 

> The Old House of Phung Hung

This private house, constructed in 1780, is two floors of combined architectural influences. The first floor’s central roof is four-sided, showing Japanese influence, and the upstairs balcony has a Chinese rounded “turtle shell” roof with carved beam supports. The house has weathered many floods. In 1964, during a particularly bad bout, its third floor served as a refuge for other town families. The upstairs is outfitted with a trap door for moving furniture rapidly to safety. You might be shown around by Ms. Anh, who claims to be an eighth-generation member of the family. Tour guides at every house make such claims; however, like at many of Hoi An’s old houses (see the House of Phun Hung), the family really does seem to live here.

 

> The Sa Huynh Culture Museum

After local farmers around Hoi An dug up some strange-looking pottery, archaeologists identified 53 sites where a pre-Cham people, called the Sa Huynh, buried their dead in ceramic jars. The two-room display here includes some of the burial jars, beaded ornaments, pottery vessels, and iron tools and weapons that have been uncovered. English descriptions are sketchy. Upstairs, the little-visited Museum of the Revolution includes such intriguing items as the umbrella “which Mr. Truong Munh Luong used for acting a fortune-teller to act revolution from 1965 to 1967.” Huh? This is for connoisseurs only.

 

> The Tran Family Home and Chapel

In 1802 a civil service mandarin named Tran Tu Nhuc built a family home and chapel to worship his ancestors. A favorite of Viet Emperor Gia Long, he was sent to China as an ambassador, and his home reflects his high status. Elegantly designed with original Chinese antiques and royal gifts such as swords, two parts of the home are open to the public: a drawing room and an ancestral chapel. The house does a splendid job of conveying all that is exotic and interesting about these people and their period. It has even been featured as a stylish layout in a fashion magazine. The drawing room has three sections of sliding doors: the left for men, the right for women, and the center, open only at Tet and other festivals, for dead ancestors to return home. The ancestral altar in the inner room has small boxes behind it containing relics and a biography of the deceased; their pictures hang, a little spookily, to the right of the altar. A 250-year-old book with the family history resides on a table to the right of the altar. In back of the house are a row of plants, each buried with the placenta and umbilical cord of a family child, so that the child will never forget its home. As if it could.

 

> My Son

Mỹ Sơn (Mee Sern) is a Hindu temple complex, located in the village of Duy Phú, in the administrative district of Duy Xuyên in Quảng Nam province in Vietnam, 69km southwest of Da Nang, and approximately 10km from the historic town of Trà Kiệu. It comprises many Champa temples, in a valley roughly two kilometres wide, surrounded by two mountain ranges. It was the site of religious ceremony of kings of the Champa dynasty, and was also a burial place of Champa royals and national heroes. The Mỹ Sơn temple complex is one of the foremost temple complexes of Hinduism in South East Asia and is the foremost heritage site of this nature in Vietnam.

 

This temple complex is often popularly compared to other temple complexes in South east Asia, such as Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Borobodur, (Java, Indonesia), Pagan (Burma) and Ayutthaya (Thailand). since 1999, My Son has been selected by UNESCO as a world heritage listed site, at its 23rd meeting, under the criteria C (II) as an example displaying the evolution and change in culture, and criteria C (III) as a foremost evidence of Asian civilisation which is now extinct.

With regards to the architecture of the temples and tombs at My Son, it is the convegence of a diverse range of styles, from the very historic to the newer variety – My Son E1 and F1 date to the 8th century, while My Son A2, C7 and F3 are similar to the style of Hòa Lai at the turn of the 9th century. The Đồng Dương style of the late 9th century is reflected in Mỹ Sơn A10, A11-13, B4, and B12, the style of Mỹ Sơn A1 of the 10th century is shared by, Mỹ Sơn B5, B6, B7, B9, C1, C2, C5, D1, D2, and D4, while the transitional Mỹ Sơn A1-Bình Định style of the early 11th century to the middle of the 12th century is exhibited in Mỹ Sơn E4, F2, and the K group of sites. The final style of Bình Định (from the end of the 11th century to the start of the 14th) comprises Mỹ Sơn B1 and groups G and H.

The artistic and architectural styelf of the temples can heavy influences from India. The complex consists of a major stupa (kalan) and many smaller stupas which encircle it. The stupas are of conical shape, representing the peak of Meru mountain, the residence of Hindu gods. The gates of the stupa face the East in order to accept the sun’s rays. Many stupas exhibit ornate architecture and depictions of gods serenely surrounded by flowers. The majority of these depicitions are now decayed, however there remain a few engravings with traces of gold that the Champa used. Most of the main temples at My Son are devoted to Linga or to a staute of Shiva, the protector of the Champa dynasty. Most devotees in past eras would traverse the stupas in a clockwise direction.

 

Despite the large influence of Hinduism, representations of Buddhism are also found at My Son, as Mahayana Buddhism had become the foremost relgion of the Champa in the 10th century. A few of the temples were constructed in this period, and in the 17th century, some of the temples and stupas were reconstructed or expanded.

 

The builders at My Son developed their own indigenous styles. One trick they discovered was a way to “glue” bricks together using tree resin native to central Vietnam. The actual method is now lost. It appears that the Champa builders set the resin in place by baking whole monuments in a fire for a few days. Archaeologists believe that the monuments were detailed many weeks later after the structures were thoroughly cooled [2].

 

At the My Son complex, there is one temple constructed of stone, the foremost stone temple in Champa civilisation. The stele inscription reveals that the last stone alterations to this temple were made in 1234. Today, this temple is no longer standing, although it once stood at over 30m, the tallest building in the complex. Evidence gathered from the surrounding area show that it was once part of the original temple in the 4th century.

 

The restoration work began in 1937, with the work of French scientists. In the era 1937 to 1938, the A1 temple and smaller ones surrounding it were restored. in later years, from 1939 to 1943, B5, B4, C2, C3, D1, D2 were restored. However, many stupas and tombs (comprising group A and stupa A1, comprising the 24m tall A1 and 6 surrounding stupas, previously in good condition), were destroyed in 1969 in the Vietnam War. The surrounding area is still dangerous due to the threat of unexploded land mines and other relics of war.

 

The majority of the temple sites in the centre of the complex, such as the B, C and D groups survive, and although many statues, prayer thrones were removed to France or to historical museums in Vietnam, such as in Ho Chi Minh City and the Cham Museum in Da Nang, a temporary museum has been set up in two of the temples with the funding of benefactors from Germany and Poland to display images of the remaining tombs and relics. On March 25, 2005, Quang Nam Province held an opening ceremony, displaying the relics of My Son with an area of 5400m2 and a display house of 1000m2 accompanied by a 1km access road built with finance from Japan. however, there remain worries about the architectural construction of the temples, some of which are vulnerable to collapse. From 2002 to 2004, the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam allotted around 440,000 USD to maintain the site. A draft plan of UNESCO was funded by the Government of Italy to the sum of USD 800,000 and the efforts of sponsors from Japan to prevent further degradation. These efforts are also funded by the World Monuments Fund.

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