Hoi An – Unesco World Heritage in Central Vietnam
A comparison with Paramaribo
In the centre of the stretched country of Vietnam lies the small harbour town of Hoi An, Unesco World Heritage. During a visit to Hoi An in April 2010 we were struck by the similarities with Paramaribo. Not that wooden architecture abounds, the buildings by far do not resemble those in the capital of Suriname. But just like in Paramaribo the essence of the city lies in the rhythm of the architecture. There are no grand monumental edifices. The backbone of Hoi An is made up by stone buildings, plastered and painted ockre yellow, two stories high at the most.
Dark brown wooden elements, like hatches and louvers and even complete receding façades are a displays of dedicated craftsmanship. The roofs are covered with tiles. Although the façades each have a different shape and partitioning the whole emanates a harmonious feeling and the eye is drawn along the streets in a relaxed rhythm. Long after visiting the town the scent and the colour, the cadence and the atmosphere remain captured in the mind, even though one does not necessarily remembers a specific detail. It is the same feeling that remains after a visit to Paramaribo.
But there are differences as well. The heart of Hoi An is closed to motorized traffic, which makes a relaxed stroll through the small streets possible. Contrary to Paramaribo, where the traffic gets jammed in some spots and even obstructs an open view of the buildings. But even more important is the fact that Hoi An is pretty much alive in the evenings, while Paramaribo is a ghost town after dark.
This comparison actually is not fair, since Paramaribo can only dream of the numbers of visitors to Hoi An. And the centre of the Vietnamese town has such a small scale that the public space is easier to be filled with people. But the industriousness with which a Vietnamese exploits a building as for instance a restaurant or souvenir shop could set an example to the Surinamese entrepreneur in making the city lively in the evening.
Hoi An was an important harbour town untill late in the 19th century, but when the Thu Bon river that links Hoi An with the sea silted up, Danang, just a few kilometres to the north, took over its position and the town fell into oblivion. Up to the extent that it seems that time stood still ever since. That is why the buildings are in a pretty much original state, with few modern additions and remodelling to fulfil their changed functions. Another advantage to Paramaribo is the building material: because of the stone construction the city is not as prone to decay because of climate conditions as is the wooden city of Paramaribo.