Hoi An, Vietnam | The World in 4K | Travel + Leisure

In the middle of Hoi An is an area called Ancient Town, and the sobriquet fits. Commanding a prime location on Vietnam’s central coast, where the Thu Bon River empties into the South China Sea, this city was a maritime heavyweight for much of its history. The region was settled more than 2,000 years ago, and it served as a strategic port until the mid 1800s for Chinese, Japanese, Indian, French, Dutch, and Portuguese seafarers and traders plying the spice route.

In 1999, Ancient Town, inland from the ocean, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, which protected its pagodas, wooden bridges, and merchant houses, many built between the 15th and 19th centuries. Ever since, tourists have crowded this historic center, essentially a romantic (if somewhat kitschy) living museum. But now a newly revamped beach resort is bringing attention back to Hoi An’s oceanfront — and a lively renaissance is under way, with entrepreneurs from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and beyond intent on steering Hoi An into the present.

Even with all the new activity, Ancient Town’s dreamy golden façades still evoke a bygone age. People start the morning by lighting argan wood incense, the musky scent perfuming the sepia-tinged lanes all day. Farmers peddle herbs, fishermen fillet catfish and eels, and hawkers advertise noodles and dumplings. Come nightfall, floating candle offerings flicker on the river. This colorful port city has matured gracefully — but a new golden era is just beginning.

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