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Japanese Bridge (Hoi An, Vietnam)

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Bridge dating back from the early 17th Century

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      14.02.2011 12:17
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      An uninspiring bridge with a temple.

      The ancient town of Hoi An in Central Vietnam has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, due to the fact it is a good example of a traditional South East Asian trading port. There have been many instances over the centuries when the Dutch, Chinese, Indians and Japanese have worked and lived in the town. At one time the Japanese community lived on the other side of the river, thus built the Japanese Bridge in the late sixteenth Century to link them. The bridge is unique as it is covered and has a Buddhist temple (also known as a pagoda) on one side.

      To visit the temple you will need to buy a ticket at the beginning of the old town. Tickets were about VND 75000 (US$4/UK£2.50) and with them you are allowed to visit five of the old attractions in the town. There are about a dozen places altogether but some of these are small, specialist museums or houses and would have a limited appeal. I believe you can just cross the bridge for free if you wish. The bridge is situated at the end of one of the main roads - Tran Phu - and is not large, the river is quite narrow here, more of a stream. You will know you are at the Japanese Bridge if there are lots of Japanese tourists blocking your way. To be honest the bridge looks like it has seen better days, and I am surprised as this is a UNESCO site, that there is no maintenance done to preserve the outside better. The entrance and sides are in desperate need of a lick of paint. The stone pillars supporting it are crumbling slightly (although they are quite thick) and I think if I had seen the side view of the bridge first I would have been a bit nervous about crossing it! As it was, we walked onto the bridge (around the Japanese, who we didn't see anywhere else in the small town over the two days we were there) and handed our ticket to the man there. The bridge inside is dark wood and looks better maintained than the outside. It is dark inside as it is covered and you have wooden sides going halfway up also. As I said, you only really need your ticket if you want to look in the pagoda. This won't take you long as the pagoda is also small and dark and there is very little to see. We thought it might be rude to walk straight out again, so lingered trying to pretend we were interested in looking at nothing much.

      One part to look out for, (if you can move the Japanese out the way), is the statues at either end of the bridge - one end has dogs, the Japanese end has monkeys 'guarding' the bridge. This is believed to symbolise the Chinese calendar and the year the bridge was started and finished.

      Over the Japanese side the town is a lot quieter; there are lots of art shops this side of the bridge so if you are in the market for some canvases or prints of Vietnamese art then don't forget to cross over.

      In the unlikely event that you are overwhelmed with the choice of cultural sites to visit in Hoi An and don't have a spare ticket, you can always walk across the bridge without using one, and perhaps sneak a look in the temple if you are particularly interested (the Japanese may unintentionally shield you from the ticket man, who was half asleep anyway). I am fairly confident that if you are visiting Vietnam for more then two days you will see better temples than this one (indeed there are better ones in Hoi An); it is just considered unique as it is attached to a covered bridge.

      Basically, Hoi An is a small but pretty trading town - most tourists visit it for the shopping - there are lots of tailors, galleries and gift shops in the town, as well as some nice cafes and restaurants. Therefore if you want a cultural break from your shopping then by all means pop along to the bridge, but please keep your expectations low.

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