In a country so ravaged by war, Hoi An managed to escape untouched and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the town is extremely well preserved, with traditional wooden houses, bridges and temples surviving in their original form. Hoi An is a wonderful holiday destination for seeing the Vietnam of a bygone era.
In the 16th century, Japanese and Chinese traders built a commercial district at Hoi An, and the town became one of the major trading centres of Southeast Asia. As a result, Hoi An has a distinctly Sino-Japanese flavour, with these cultural influences visible in the elaborately carved wooden facades, narrow streets and tile-roofed houses of the Old Quarter that have survived for centuries. The Japanese Bridge, built in the 17th century, is an outstanding example of Japanese architecture.
Adding to Hoi An's old-fashioned charm, on the 15th of every lunar month, modernity takes a back seat. On these evenings, street lamps, neon signs and televisions are switched off, leaving the Old Quarter bathed in the warm glow of traditional silk and paper lanterns of various colours. Wandering through the old streets in the ensuing quiet is a special experience.
North along the coast from Hoi An is the old imperial capital of Hue, set on the banks of the Perfume River. Hue was the country's political, cultural and religious centre from 1802 to 1945 and its citadel is an old palace complex from where the Nguyen emperors ruled Vietnam.
Hue is also an important centre of Buddhism, and the city and its surrounding area are dotted with dozens of pagodas and temples. Just downstream, and also worth an excursion, are the tombs of the last emperors of Vietnam.