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The ancient town of Hoi An, 30 km south of Danang, lies on the banks of the Thu Bon River. Occupied by early western traders, Hoi An was one of the major trading centers of Southeast Asia in the 16th century.
Hoi An has a distinct Chinese atmosphere with low, tile-roofed houses and narrow streets; the original structure of some of these streets still remains almost intact. All the houses were made of rare wood, decorated with lacquered boards and panels engraved with Chinese characters. Pillars were also carved with ornamental designs.
Tourists can visit the relics of the Sa Huynh and Cham cultures. They can also enjoy the beautiful scenery of the romantic Hoi An River, Cua Dai Beach, and Cham Island.
Over the last few years, Hoi An has become a very popular tourist destination in Vietnam.
NO FLUORESCENT LIGHTS. NO MOTORCYCLES. NO TELEVISION. ON THE 15TH DAY OF EACH LUNAR MONTH, THE RIVERSIDE TOWN OF HOI AN GIVES MODERN LIFE THE NIGHT OFF.
In a wood-fronted shops a woman in traditional dress sits at a desk, bathed in the light of a lantern made from a simple bamboo fish-trap. Outside, two old men are absorbed in a candlelit game of Chinese checkers. These scenes, straight out of the 19th century, still take place in Hoi An, a sleepy riverside town in the central province of Quang Nam.
Hoi An has long been a cultural crossroad. More than five centuries ago the Vietnamese nation of Dai Viet expanded its territory southwards, encroaching on the Indianized Kingdom of Champa, which covered much of what is now central Vietnam. Hoi An, located on the Hoai River, emerged when Japanese and Chinese traders built a commercial district there in the 16th century.
These diverse cultural influences remain visible today. Visitors will find Hoi An's Old Quarter lined with two-storey Chinese shops, their elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs having withstood the ravages of more than 300 years of weather and warfare. These proud old buildings, which back onto the river, remind visitors of another era, when Hoi An's market was filled with wares from as far afield as India and Europe. Colourful guildhalls, founded by ethnic Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, stand quietly, a testament to the town's trading roots.
While Hoi An's old-fashioned charm is always visible, on the 15th of every lunar month modernity takes another step back. On these evenings the town turns off its street lamps and fluorescent lights, leaving the Old Quarter bathed in the warm glow of coloured silk, glass and paper lanterns. In ancient times, Vietnamese people made lamps out of shallow bowls filled with oil. Later, foreign traders introduced lanterns, ranging from round and hexagonal designs from China to diamond and star shaped ones from Japan.
Let there be light
When developing plans to preserve their town's ancient character, Hoi An residents decided to revive the practice of using coloured lanterns. Starting in the fall of 1998, one night each month is declared a "lantern festival". On the 15th day of each lunar month, residents on Tran Phu, Nguyen Thai Hoc, Le Loi and Bach Dang streets switch off their lights and hang cloth and paper lanterns on their porches and windows. Television sets, radios, street lights and neon lights are turned off.
In the ensuing quiet the streets of Hoi An are at their most romantic, the darkness broken only by jeweltoned lanterns in all manner of shapes and sizes.
Strolling through the lantern-lit streets is like walking into a fairytale. It is all the more picturesque since motor vehicles are banned from Hoi An's Old Quarter. On Trai Phu Street, stop at the beautifully preserved Faifo Restaurant to sample some traditional Chinese-style pastries. Or walk on to the Treated Caf6, where bamboo baskets, commonly used to wash rice, have been transformed into unique lanterns. These basket lamps are but one example of people's creativity as they experiment with new shapes and materials, including lights made from hollow bamboo tubes.
A Warm Glow
The 15th day of the lunar month is a Buddhist day of worship. Residents place offerings of food and incense on their ancestral altars and visit one of Hoi An's many pagodas. The scent of incense and the sounds of people singing add to the town's enchanted atmosphere. On these evenings, visitors will get a rare glimpse into another era. These nights are a welcome reminder of life's unexpected beauty.
My Son, located 69 km southwest of Danang, was an imperial city during the Cham dynasty, between the 4th and 12th centuries. My Son Sanctuary is a large complex of religious relics that comprises more than 70 architectural works. They include temples and towers that connect to each other with complicated red brick designs. The main component of the Cham architectural design is the tower, built to reflect the divinity of the king.
According to records on the stone stele, the prime foundation of the ancient My Son architectural complex was a wooden temple to worship the Siva Bhadresvera genie. In the late 16th century, a big fire destroyed the temple. Step by step, historical mysteries were unveiled by scientists. Through stone stele and royal dynasties, they proved My Son to be the most important Holy Land of the Cham people from the late 4th to the 15th centuries. For many centuries, the Cham built Lip, a mutually linked architectural complex, with baked bricks and sandstone. The main temple worships the Linga-Yoni, who represents the capability of invention. Beside the main tower (Kalan) are several sub-towers worshipping Genies or deceased kings. Although time and the wars have destroyed some towers, the remaining sculptural and architectural remnants still reflect the style and history of the art of the Cham people. Their masterpieces mark a glorious time for the architecture and culture of the Cham, as well as of Southeast Asia.
Each historical period has its own identity, so that each temple worshipping a genie or a king of a different dynasty has its own architectural style full of different impression. All of the Cham towers were built on a quadrate foundations and each comprises three parts: a solid tower base, representing the world of human beings, the mysterious and sacred tower body, representing the world of spirits, and the tower top built in the shape of a man offering flowers and fruits or of trees, birds, animals, etc., representing things that are close to the spirits and human beings.
According to many researchers of the ancient Cham towers, the architectural art of the Cham towers at My Son Sanctuary is the convergence of different styles, including the continuity of the ancient style in the 7th-8th centuries, the Hoa Lai style of the 8th-9th centuries, the Dong Duong style from the mid-9th century, the My Son and My Son-Binh Dinh styles, etc. Among the remnants of many architectural sites excavated in 1898, a 24 metres high tower was found in the Thap Chua area and coded A I by archaeologists and researchers on My Son. This tower is a masterpiece of ancient Cham architecture. It has two doors, one in the east and the other in the west. The tower body is high and delicate with a system of paved pillars; six sub-towers surround the tower. This two storey tower looks like a lotus flower. The top of the upper layer is made of sandstone and carved with elephant and I ion designs. In the lower layer, the walls are carved with fairies and water evils and men riding elephants. Unfortunately, the tower was destroyed by US bombs in 1969.
After the My Son ancient tower complex was discovered, many of its artifacts, especially statues of female dancers and genies worshipped by the Cham people, worship animals and artifacts of the daily communal activities, were collected and displayed at the Cham Architecture Museum in Danang city. Although there are not many remnants left, those that remain display the typical sculptural works of cultural value of the Cham nationality. Furthermore, they are vivid proof, confirming the history of a nationality living within the Vietnamese community boasting of a rich cultural tradition.
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