Hoi An – The Legacy of the Champa Kingdom Revealed

Rich in history and culture, Hoi An has remained a well-preserved model of a traditional Vietnam port city of an earlier era. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, it remains a charming, small riverside town with its history intact.

Historically, Hoi An was the commercial capital of the powerful Champa Kingdom, who built the city in the 1st century AD and ruled it until the 15th century. Hoi An quickly became the largest harbor in Southeast Asia and one of its most important seaports. From here, the Champa gained control over the highly-lucrative spice trade, generating great wealth for the city. A key stop on the silk road, Hoi An became the dominant power in the spice and silk trade spreading its influence as far as Baghdad.

In the 15th Century, when the Champa Kingdom fell to the northern Viet people, Hoi An gradually lost its primacy as a seaport, though in the next century it was briefly restored to its glory by the Nguyen Dynasty, following the settlements of Japanese, Chinese, Dutch and Indian merchants in the city.

Today, Hoi An is a popular travel destination. Its beautiful old buildings and architecture, its quiet narrow lanes (cars and motorbikes are mostly banned from its streets), its many craft shops including local ceramics and fabrics and its history as a central ancient seaport all draw travelers to this lovely city. In addition, The town is renowned as the tailoring capital of Vietnam, with its hundreds of skilled tailors whipping up custom-made clothing at great value.

Not far from Hoi An, the Champa’s commercial capital, lies My Son, its spiritual capital. Once a holy valley of impressive Hindu temples and burial grounds of the Champa kingdom’s royalty, My Son is often compared to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

My Son dates back to the 4th century AD when the Champa King Bhadravornan created the first temple on the site and appealed to following generations to honor the temple and respect the site. Over the centuries, more temples were erected and at its peak, My Son embraced more than 70 temples and monuments. With the disappearance of the Champa Kingdom in the 15th century, My Son gradually deteriorated and fell into ruins. In the 1930’s, the French restored the site only to have it destroyed during the Vietnam War. In spite of that, the site remains an impressive monumental site of the Champa Kingdom and an icon of the early heritage, history and culture of Vietnam.

Centered around Hoi An, this is a region to enjoy life at a slower pace than elsewhere in Vietnam. Nearby, the Marble Mountains offer a taste of adventure, where hiking and cycling opportunities abound, and the long stretch of lovely China Beach close by features white sands and turquoise waters for the best water adventures around. Most of all, walking around Hoi An’s quiet streets, visiting the city’s museums, merchant houses and neighboring My Son, and sitting quietly by the banks of the river in the relaxed atmosphere here make Hoi An a top destination in any Vietnam adventure.

Mary J. Gibson

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