Look up the map of Thu Bon River Estuary. Today, the river mouth is clogged with sediment now, but 400 years ago, large boats could easily sail and be towed upstream and dock for unloading and loading along the river town Fafo (Hoi An), trading port for the Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Dutch. Most astounding is we can see a well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port circa 15th to 19th Century with buildings that display a unique blend of local and foreign influences that survived the disastrous Vietnam War.
There were an estimated 1,000 Japanese in Hoi An at its peak. The boats departed Japan when wind from the north sent them down south, and returned to Japan when the monsoon sent them up north in the summer - a one way voyage taking about a month. Reportedly the Japanese merchants placed emphasis on time constrained procurements. As soon as the boats left, they placed orders to have goods ready in time for the next boat, and this meticulous business practice often forestalled and antagonized the competition. The voyages proved very profitable, but with risks to lives. So when the Tokugawa enforced a nationwide embargo, it favored the competition, the Dutch in particular, and hastened the decline of the Japanese town.
Almost 200-year old houses all feature narrow facades and shop fronts and went deep inwards. You can walk through to the open, breezy inner courtyard, which was well decorated, where you face the living quarters of the merchants. They were all renovated with encouragement from the Town Committee mentioned above. The houses are numbered for easy identification.
This post is dedicated to the hotel manager Phuoc and restaurant staff Hue and Trang who made my stay pleasant in Hoi An. Thank you for the special local banana pancake / crepe recipe. It was delicious.