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Table of Contents

Section Page

Introduction To Hoi An Ancient Town ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2

Comprehension Of Hoi An’s Cultural Heritage Values --------------------------------------------------------- 2

Identification Of Problems And Suggestions For Measures To Deal With Them ------------------------- 3

Managing The Problems Resulting From Growing Visitor Numbers To Ensure Sustainability Of The
Heritage Site ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 9

Conclusion--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 10

Appendices -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 11

Reference List ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 14

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Research Essay

The Case Study of Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam

The World Heritage Site

Introduction to Hoi An Ancient Town

Hoi An, Vietnam, was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO in
1999. The ancient town is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East
Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Its buildings and its street
plan reflect the influences, both indigenous and foreign, that have combined to produce
this unique heritage site (UNESCO, 1999). Since it became a World Heritage site, Hoi
An has been a well-known destination for national and international tourists. Increased
visitation to the site has provided numerous benefits, such as tourism revenues,
strengthening of local cultural identity and social integration (Alexander, 2006).
However, the town still needs to be well cared for in terms of ecological, economic,
cultural and political aspects of development by improving the living conditions of
people, ranging from non-material to physical requirements (Ghosh, Siddique and Gabby
2003). In this regard, this research essay will outline the town’s cultural heritage values,
identification of problems and suggestions for sustainable development.

Comprehension of Hoi An’s cultural heritage values

According to the Justification for Inscription by UNESCO (1999), Hoi An Town meets
the following two World Heritage criteria:

Criterion (ii): Hoi An is an outstanding material manifestation of the fusion of cultures

over time in an international commercial port (UNESCO, 1999).

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The present town of Hoi An was founded at the end of the 16th century as a settlement of
Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and Europeans (Alexander, 2006). Hoi An was the
national centre where domestic traders made transactions of silk, ceramics etc. with
international merchant ships from Japan and European countries (Alecander, 2006). This
indicates that Hoi An’s commercial position was important in the region for several
centuries. The existence of international trade exchange resulted in the town being
influenced by a mixture of several cultures, including the Japanese, the Chinese and the
French. This mixing is reflected in the built fabric of Hoi An, a result of hundreds of
years of integration of local culture exposure and exotic influences (Alexander, 2006).
The Chinese houses and communal halls of unique architectural style and the Japanese
quarter are the historical evidence of such cultural integration (Appendix 1 for photos).

Criterion (v): Hoi An is an exceptionally well preserved example of a traditional Asian

trading port (UNESCO, 1999).

Over several centuries, Hoi An has basically retained its original physical appearance, in
terms of architecture and historical streets, commercial port and market (Appendix 2 for
photos). Significantly, the national and local role in conservation of the ancient town has
been further emphasised since it was inscribed as a world heritage site. Preserving Hoi
An has become every local resident’s responsibility (Vietnam National Administration of
Tourism, 2008).

Identification of problems and suggestions for measures to deal with them:

Environmental and Infrastructure conditions

The town is located in a storm prone area. Consequently, the main problems have to do
with deterioration to building fabric caused by environmental stresses such as storms,
flooding, rainfall and humidity (refer to Appendix 3 for photos). Pests also attack timber
structures. As a result, the old houses have been degraded after natural calamities. This is
of great concern to the local people and authority (Alexander, 2006). In addition, the

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town suffers from major infrastructure deficits (Wong, Kawathekar, Yamaguchi,
Akagawa, Sweet and Sirisrisak, 2006). The roads in the heritage site were not designed
for motorized traffic. They are narrow and do not have sealed sidewalks or pavements
(Alexender, 2006). Wong et al. (2006) further reported that heavy and uncontrolled
traffic and polluting vehicles also caused degradation to the houses.

Alexander (2006) described that the town plan was constructed several hundreds years
ago. According to Alexander’s research group in 2006, a sewage system does not exist in
Hoi An town. Nowadays, there are public toilets in the old streets but the research group
did not find information about how the toilet system worked (Alexander, 2006). This
really raised a high concern to the conservation plan about the town’s sustainability
because there is no standard on-site sewage. As a result, organic waste and wastewater is
self-disposed in all houses. The absence of a sewage system for disposal of the effluent
such as sludge, scum, and organic waste within the premises can cause unpleasant smells
and threaten the longevity of the structural components nearby, such as house poles,
house foundation (Alexander, 2006). This is also one of the factors that leads to severe
degradation in the old houses.

Suggestion for measures

Motorised traffic must not be allowed inside the heritage site. This measure is in force.
Motorbikes are minimised and bicycles are stopped and walked through the Japanese
bridge to reduce impact and damage upon it (Alexander, 2006).

Severe floods raise water levels and submerge most of the old houses every year (photos
shown in Appendix 3). It is critical that a solution can be found to reduce the water level
every time floods come. Hoi An lies in a low basin through which two rivers, the Thu
Bon and Vu Gia, flow. One of the most urgent measures needed to protect the town from
floods is to widen the two rivers and deepen their mouths, suggested by Beynon (2007).

There is an urgent need for a sewage system in the complex because it can help dispose
of wastewater and drain the rainfall quickly.

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Rapid urbanisation in the surrounding region has seen the construction of new houses,
and buildings along the river banks and around the heritage site. As a result, rainfall and
floods get trapped without exit and contribute to the amount and level of water (Beynon,
2007). It is true that the flood water level is getting higher each year, causing more
damage to the old houses. Protection measures are to strictly control the surroundings
from major buildings and clear constructions that block exits for water flow from the
heritage site (Alexander, 2006). The above measures are recommended by national and
international researchers and architects. If implemented, there is a good chance of saving
the ancient town from damage from floods.

Densely-populated residence in heritage site

The number of local inhabitants and businesses living in old houses within the world
heritage complex is increasing (Alexander, 2006). This is due to shifts in family size and
booming business in the central tourist town. Most of the houses were old-styled,
designed to suit family needs hundreds of years ago. As a result, they are no longer
suitable for the contemporary family’s composition, ease and comfort. Hence, the need
for repair and restoration is high, due to the poor condition of houses. This is of concern
to the site authority as it must strictly control all such restoration and repair pressure to
the original character. Alexander, (2006) reported that local households can carry out
repair work for their houses by themselves with budget assistance from the government.
However, involvement by conservation authorities and experts in supervising of repairs is
low. It is critical that the people adhere to restoration regulations on architectural and
physical character of the house (Alexander, 2006). On the other hand, due to economic
pressure, local people have tried to shift to tourism businesses such as hotels, restaurants
and related services. They have made major modifications to the houses for purposed
functionality and therefore there has been a loss of some historic structures (Wong et al.
2006). This suggests that there is a lack of coherent approach towards integrated
conservation and management planing in the heritage site (Wong et al. 2006).

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Suggestions for measures: Involvement of wide range of stakeholders for integrated
conservation efforts to preserve the cultural heritage:

Wong et al. (2006) argue that awareness by local residents and other stakeholders of the
conservation of the site is essential. Education about the cultural heritage values and
conservation importance should be increased and extended through the community. The
historic houses need to be restored to preserve the unique character of the town.
Therefore, the work must be approved and licensed by the local government (Beynon in
Jagt, 2007). The conservation authority and local government should take responsibility
and exercise strict control over all repair and restoration work by local residents at all
times. There should be involvement of experts in how the restoration is done as the work
requires special skills and expertise, in terms of material match and technical assistance,
suggested by Alexander (2006). By doing so, all repair and restoration work is controlled
to ensure that the old houses are preserved in such a way that the physical appearance and
architecture are maintained to the original character.

Financial difficulties in maintenance

Director of the Hoi An conservation centre, Mr. Nguyen Chi Trung, said “the
conservation faces difficulties as the local people aren’t able to contribute the money,
they just want 100% investment from the State. The conservation is therefore ground to a
standstill”. It is true that the cost to repair and restore an old house to its original structure
is high. The majority of local inhabitants do not belong to high income households
(Alexander, 2006). In fact, people who have money and carry out the repair for their own
purpose of business while many people rely on finance assistance from the government.
Hoi An People’s Committee Chairman, Mr. Le Van Giang affirmed their restoration
policy as saying that the local authority’s policy is to carry out the conservation at any
cost so as to ensure that no old houses collapse.

Suggestions for measures

There have been some measures for conservation. Apart from being given 45 - 75% of
the capital, the old houses’ owners can be provided with non-interest loans for the joint

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effort of conservation with the administration (Vietnam Tourism, 2008). For efficiency of
finance assistance and conservation plan, the conservation authority is to set up a project
to evaluate and list the old houses in top urgent need for repair and determine the amount
for a loan. Close supervision by the conservation authority is required to ensure the repair
is properly carried out. For the houses yet listed in urgent need, the house owners should
cooperate with the conservation authority to find a way to minimise the affects of natural
calamities on old houses, guided by the local People’s Committee Chairman.
Conservation should go along with the maintenance of daily activities of people living in
such old houses. In the long term, the local administration should call for sponsorship
from international organisations at home and abroad and also people’s contributions to
the conservation project (Vietnam Tourism, 2008). Only in that case can Hoi An, a World
Cultural Heritage site, be preserved and promoted (Vietnam Tourism, 2008). Further,
tourists’ fee for entry of the heritage site should be initiated to contribute to the
conservation funds.

Loss of traditional trades and occupations

Hoi An was well-known for traditional crafts and trades such as ceramics, carved woods,
fishing, woven fabric, silk, fabric lanterns, natural fibre knitted mattress, bronze décor
castings etc. These products were made for domestic use and for export in the 16th to 18th
centuries (Tra, 2008). These traditional occupations were significant values of the ancient
town which made it well-known, attractive and unique as a commercial port town trading
with international merchants (Tra, 2008). Due to dynamic shifts in economic patterns,
few of these trades still exist and mainly to attract tourists’ purchase in souvenirs such as
silk produce and costume tailoring, fabric lanterns, while some occupations have been
revived as tourist attractions (Appendix 4 for photos). It is hard to permanently restore
the unique traditional occupations such as bronze castings, wood carvings and knitted
mattress making because of scarcity and cost of materials (Tra, 2008). As a result, the
town has gradually lost its historic trades, which were a significant part of the town’s
cultural heritage and history.

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Suggestions for measures
Ghosh et al. (2003) contend that the pillars of sustainable tourism development are the
traditions of local cultures and the strength of local participation and empowerment. The
uniqueness of Hoi An lies not only in individual buildings such as the Japanese Bridge
and the historic buildings but in its survival as a rare example of a largely pre-colonial
trading town that has remained intact to the present day. "What is important for the future
is that the town remains a living entity with authenticity of local activities," Beynon,
(2007) says. "This is a strange balance between being frozen in time as a museum of
traditional architecture and having all its businesses given over to tourism". Low-income
earners represent 51 % of the town population (Alexander, 2006). These people include
many aged people skilled in traditional trades (Tra, 2008). Thus, in order to sustain the
traditional trades, cultural heritage values and tourism development, the need to restore
traditional occupations and safeguard the authenticity of the activities is critical (Wong et
al. 2006). In this effort, the following should be practically considered by the

 Economic patterns and trade orientation to incorporate particular traditional crafts

for tourist attractions and business
 Capital loans for the skilled people and business guidance
 Supervision of the use of capital loans
 Effective promotion of traditional trades to tourists, businesses and exports
 Training in traditional trades and crafts for future generations

These are supporting instruments that help provide economic benefits to the community
and ensure the integrated efforts in preserving the traditional occupations. Ghosh et al.
(2003) argue that sustainable tourism should involve local communities in all aspects of
development. It makes sense when the local people find their self-interests in such
activities and play a role in the conservation efforts.

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Managing the problems resulting from growing visitor numbers to ensure
sustainability of the heritage site

Increased visitation to Hoi An town has brought several benefits, such as revenues to
local people and government, and improved social and cultural identity and cultural
exchange. However, it is critical that the local tourism authority develops tourism within
the town’s carrying capacity (International Council on Monuments and Sites, 2003).
Thus, in order to ensure sustainability of the heritage site and avoid problems resulting
from growing visitor numbers, the following should be reviewed:

Tourism development in line with carrying capacity:

The carrying capacity must be emphasised in all aspects of tourism development. As per
International Council on Monuments and Sites (2003), this is to ensure that the heritage
site can cope with the number of visitors, activities and experiences and meet visitors’
satisfaction and expectations. It is necessary that infrastructure such as sewage and public
toilets is provided and environmental conditions are improved. Tourism in the heritage
site must be carried out without damaging the long-term health and integrity of natural
and cultural environments, while providing for present and future economic and social
wellbeing (Ghosh et al. 2003). The following indicators, developed by Ghosh et al.
(2003) are to make sure that tourism development is in line with sustainability concepts:
- Environmental condition, as measured by site protection regulations, species
survival, intensity of use etc
- Cultural condition, as measured by level of satisfaction of visitors to cultural
attractions and level of satisfaction of locals etc
- Social condition, as measured by ratio of tourists to locals, tourist related crime etc
- Economic achievement, as reflected in tourism expenditure per capita and proportion
of economic activity

Internal efforts by local authority and residents in hospitality services, and their
involvement in guiding visitors and managing their behaviour:
According to the Training Manual for Cultural Heritage Guides (2007), local
involvement is essential to sustain tourism. All inhabitants need to be educated and

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equipped with knowledge of the heritage values, and heritage guides need to be trained to
operate in a sustainable and community-based tourism framework (Training Manual for
Cultural Heritage Guides, 2007). This will be beneficial to both host and guests –
residents in the community and visitors to the World Heritage site. In order to achieve
this, there should be training sessions on lectures, tutorials and field activities to the
concerned people, guided by the Training Manual for Cultural Heritage Guides (2007).
Guides should be knowledgeable and keen on appreciating and communicating the
cultural heritage values to increase awareness of visitors through understanding such
values. As a result, visitors’ behaviour can be better managed during their stay in the
heritage site. It is obvious that local residents’ attitudes towards preserving the heritage
site impacts on visitors’ behaviour (Training Manual for Cultural Heritage Guides, 2007).
Critically, the conservation of the heritage site is effective when it is well-undertaken by
all stakeholders (Ghosh et al. 2003) such as the site authority, government, town
planners, local residents, educational institutions, tourism operators etc.


The research essay has reviewed Hoi An Ancient Town, the World Heritage site, in terms
of its cultural values. It has outlined the prevalent problems that threaten the site’s
sustainability. From a perspective of sustainable tourism development, the essay has
discussed several feasible measures that help solve the problems to maintain and better
improve the heritage site. The intention is not only to preserve the heritage site but also to
incorporate tourism to keep it as a living entity. As discussed, Hoi An Town can be well-
preserved and sustained in its long-term tourism as long as all stakeholders cooperate in
the conservation plan and management.


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Appendix 1: The old quarters of different cultural influences

The Japanese bridge, built in the 16th C The Vietnamese & Chinese quarter,
It is a well-known icon of Hoi An Town A mixture of the two cultures in architecture

The Colonial French quarter, a unique architectural styled and well-preserved complex

The river bank quarter near the port; Thu Bon river front with ferry pier and fish market

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Appendix 2: Hoi An Market

Hoi An’s daily local Market

Appendix 3: Severe floods in the ancient town

Severe flood in 2007, causing serious damage to many old houses

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Appendix 4: Traditional occupations for tourists’ attractions

Traditional crafts: natural fibre knitted mattress and fabric lanterns, an effective economic
pattern for tourist attractions and business

Highly appreciated traditional trades: Ceramics and carved woods carpentry for
restoration in process

Source for all photos from: Webshot website, available at

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Reference list

Alex, A. 2006, Hoi An, Vietnam Mission Report, ACHR, Asian Heritage Project,
retrieved 11/10/2008
Beynon, D. 2007, in Jagt, K. Protecting Hoi An from the Hoi Polloi, retrieved 12/10/2008
Ghosh, RN. Siddique, MAB & Gabbay, R 2003, Tourism and Economic Development,
Athenaeum Press, Gateshead, UK.
Hoi An, a World Heritage by UNESCO, retrieved 10/10/2008
International Council on Monuments and Sites, 2003, the Hoi An Declaration on
Conservation of Historic District in Asia, retrieved 21/10/2008
Phuong Tra, 2008 Traditional trades in Quang Nam, Viet Bao, retrieved 10/10/2008
Training Manual for Cultural Heritage Guides 2007, 4th edn, UNESCO and Institute for
Tourism Studies, Macao SAR
UNESCO World Heritage List, retrieved 08/10/2008
Vietnam Tourism 2008, Conservation of old houses in Hoi An Ancient Town, retrieved
Wong, IK. Kawathekar, VNA. Yamaguchi, SY. Akagawa, NS. Sweet, J. Sirisrisak, T.
2006, the Spirit of Recreation towards an Integrated Conservation Management
Plan, Handbook 2006, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo

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Assessment: 80% High Distinction
Assessor: Dr Colin Long
Date: 29 October 2008

Knowledge and Understanding:

Fulfillment of overall task intent

This was a good piece of work, fulfilling the task to a high standard

Advanced knowledge and understanding of the key issues in the relevant discipline area
This was a good piece of work. I liked the way you started it by detailing and
understanding the significance of Hoi An. You provided a good list of issues and some
worthwhile possible solutions

Knowledge of scholarly convention in the interdisciplinary area of cultural heritage

studies, including those relating to publication and ethics


Ability to synthesise, analyse and critically evaluate research to make intellectual and
creative advances
There was good evidence of research and the essay was thoughtful. It was well structured
and developed

Effective communication of knowledge and understanding to audiences within or outside

the discipline area, including the wider community
Your expression is good and improving. I really appreciate the obvious effort you made
in this class.

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