Footsteps in Vietnam – Entry to all historical sites in Hoi An is via a coupon system, where 120,000 dong (US$6) (April 2013) gets you a ticket that can be used to enter five attractions: one museum, one old house, one assembly hall, the handicraft workshop (and traditional music show) or the traditional theater, and either the Japanese Covered Bridge or the Quan Cong Temple. Tickets are sold at various entry points into the Old Town, including Hai Ba Trung Street, and also at some of the attractions, including the Cantonese Assembly Hall. The city requests that visitors dress “decently” while visiting sites in the Old Town, as in men wear a shirt and women don’t wear a bikini top, sleeveless blouse or skirt above the knees. Respect the local culture and remember that you are not on the beach.
First, you may choose one of the two landmarks of Hoi An:
Japanese Bridge temple (Chua Cau or Lai Vien Kieu), on the west end of Tran Phu Street. The bridge was constructed in the early 1600’s by the Japanese community, roughly 40 years before they left the city to return to Japan under the strict policy of sakoku enforced by the Tokugawa Shogunate, and renovated in 1986. Today, it’s the symbol of Hoi An. Entry is one coupon, but it’s possible to cross back and forth several times without meeting a ticket-checker. If your scruples are bothering you, feel free to leave tribute for the pig statue or the dog statue who stand guard at opposite ends of the bridge.
Quan Cong Temple, 24 Tran Phu Street. In honour of revered Chinese general Quan Cong, this temple is festooned with elaborate statues and artwork. Its majestic entrance of red and gold is impressive. Quan Cong is a Chinese symbol for justice and integrity and is still worshipped today
The ticket allows admission to one of the four museums in the Old Town:
Museum of Folk Culture, 33 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. Some may be put off by the bizarre-looking plaster sculptures of Vietnamese peasants, but this museum documents the dress and culture of rural Vietnam.
Museum of Trade Ceramics, 80 Tran Phu Street. The dusty, unlabeled displays of broken pottery are eminently forgettable, but the house itself is nice enough, and it provides a better opportunity to explore the shape and layout of an old Hoi An home than you’ll find at any of the Old Houses (below).
Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, 7 Nguyen Hue Street. The museum contains some old black and white photos of Hoi An taken in the early 20th century. It also houses an old canon, some two-thousand year old pots from the Sa Huynh period, and a case full of 9th century bricks and tiles from the Champa period.
Museum of Sa Huynh Culture, 149 Bach Dang Street. The museum’s main collection consists of pottery and urns from the 1st and 2nd centuries. Upstairs is another museum, the Museum of the Revolution. Its main collection consists of pictures from war heroes and a collection of weapons such as grenade launchers, machine guns and AK 47s.
There are three old houses that exist in an awkward halfway state between museum show-piece and somewhat shabby residence for the family that lives there. Your ticket allows admission to one.
Phung Hung House, 4 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, just west of the Japanese Bridge. Traditional two-story wooden house, inhabited over 100 years by eight generations; and the current one attempts to guide you around in hope of a tip.
Quan Thang House, 77 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Tan Ky House, 101 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street. As above, a younger member of the family will provide a cup of tea and a “tour” that doesn’t stray from the front room of the house, as you’d need to step over sleeping members of the older generation to go anywhere else. The design of the house shows how local architecture incorporated Japanese and Chinese influences. Japanese elements include the crab shell-shaped ceiling supported by three beams in the living room. Chinese poems written in mother-of-pearl are hanging from a number of the columns that hold up the roof.
Numerous congregation halls, where Chinese expatriate residents socialized and held meetings, are dotted about the town. They are typically named after the home region of their members, such as Fujian and Canton. Your ticket allows admission to one. Some do not have ticket-takers, so it’s up to your conscience if you want to try wandering into a second.
Cantonese Assembly Hall (Quang Dong), 176 Tran Phu Street. Built in 1885, it has a calm courtyard with ornate statuary. Take a peek at the half-hidden back yard and its kitschy pastel dragon statues.
Hokien (Fujian) Meeting Hall (Phuc Kien), 46 Tran Phu Street. Built in 1757.
Chinese All-Community Meeting Hall (Trieu Chau), 157 Nguyen Duy Hieu. Built in 1887. It’s near the Fujian hall, also spanning the block.
Finally, you can choose one of the following to get some “Intangible Culture”:
Hoi An Handicraft Workshop, 9 Bach Dang Street. Folk music performances are offered at 10:15 and 15:15 every day except Monday.
Traditional Theatre, 75 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street.
Swan Boats, On the river (Head for the main river area near the footbridge). Make sure you check out the swan boats on the river. These are literally passenger boats shaped like giant swans whose eyes light up at night and which play ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ at double speed.
The Hoi An Orphanage is located right next to the Roman Catholic church. Do recognize that children should not be exploited as tourist attractions — this is not a zoo. If you want to visit and speak with the people who run the orphanage about their work or make a donation, please do. Asking children to pose or be posed for photographs, however, is unsavory at best and damaging at worst. Even taking candid photographs can be considered questionable and it is best to ask if this would be acceptable ahead of time by calling ahead.