Historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit in the ancient port town include the colourful Quan Cong Temple, a Confucian temple established in 1653, and charming Chau Cua Pagoda on the Japanese Bridge, dating to the 17th century. Yes, there’s more to Hoi An than food!
For many travellers, Central Vietnam’s Hoi An is a culinary destination. Home to legendary noodles and local specialties that include an illustrious chilli sauce and elegant dumplings, Hoi An is where you do cooking classes and food tours, snack on street food from tiny plastic stools by day, dine at riverside restaurants by night, and in between linger at cafes and tea houses and sip cocktails and craft beers at bars and brew pubs.
But the UNESCO World Heritage listed site – one of 41 UNESCO sights in Southeast Asia – also happens to host historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit in the ancient port town. Situated in Quang Nam province, near the mouth of the Thu Bon River, Hoi An was designated as being an exceptional example of a small Southeast Asian trading port due its well-preserved buildings dating from the 15th to the 19th century.
Although occupied far earlier, of course – the Sa Huynh peoples, whose settlement was located on the outskirts of town, dates to 1,000 BC – Hoi An has been best known historically as a bustling cosmopolitan trading centre with lively Chinese and Japanese quarters. Hoi An’s atmospheric houses, pagodas and temples that line the narrow largely-pedestrian streets, along with a pretty Japanese bridge that hosts a tiny pagoda, are the architectural legacies of these communities.
Before heading to Hoi An, do see our itineraries for one perfect day in Hoi An and two days in Hoi An. To really soak up the town’s history, we recommend staying in one of the two upstairs street-side rooms at Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel, in a centuries-old merchant’s house in the ancient quarter. If you want a pool, book a riverside room at Indochine-chic Anantara Hoi An, a 15-minute walk to the Japanese Bridge and close to Hoi An’s other heritage sights.
These are the historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit in the ancient port town – in between shopping the markets, street food feasting, learning to cook, and eating the local cuisine of course.
Historic Hoi An Temples and Pagodas You Have to Visit in the Ancient Port Town
Chuc Thanh Pagoda
Located in lovely gardens a couple of kilometres north of the ancient centre, of all the historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit, Chuc Thanh Pagoda is said to be the oldest and most significant of Hoi An’s Buddhist sites, although the date of its founding is in dispute.
The pagoda began life as a simple hut built by a Chinese monk from Fujian province called Minh Hai. Carol Howland believes the monk arrived in Hoi An on the 26th day of the first month of the Year of the Pig in 1695 and built the temple in 1697. Other sources claim it’s much older, dating to 1454.
While there has been a Chinese community in Hoi An since before the Christian era (CE), and there are tombstones dating as far back as 1437 when there was a Chinese community living in Cam Pho’s Nguyen Thai Minh Khai, which would become known as Chinese Street, Chinese settlement really began with gusto after China’s trade blockade was lifted in 1567 and Chinese traders rushed to Hoi An.
Further waves of Chinese immigrants followed from 1644 after the fall of the Ming Dynasty and it’s to this period that Hoi An’s Chinese-Vietnamese families from the clans of Khong, Nhan, Du, Tu, Chu, Hoang, Truong, Tran, Thai, and Luu, can trace their ancestors, to ten Ming mandarins whom they call the Ten Great Fathers. So either of these dates are credible.
Howland said she found Chuc Thanh Pagoda rather soulless, perhaps because of its modern embellishments (it’s had numerous renovations over the centuries), and perhaps because it’s so little visited compared to the busy temples and pagodas, below. I have always found it to be serene and a tranquil place to escape to if you visit Hoi An during the busy tourist high season. See Google maps for directions.
Quan Cong Temple
Back in the heart of town, opposite Hoi An’s wonderful market, is Quan Cong Temple. For me, this is the most beautiful and most atmospheric of the historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit. If you only see one temple, make it this one.
Established in 1653, this enchanting temple is dedicated to a Chinese general from the Three Kingdoms era of the third century called Quan Cong, who has become a symbol of integrity, justice and loyalty. The life-size statue of a white horse at the central altar represents the general’s loyal friend.
This is perhaps a good place to explain the difference between pagodas and temples in Vietnam. Pagodas or ‘chua’ are for worship, while temples, of which there are a few kinds, are dedicated to honouring mythical and historical figures (in the case of Chua Quan Cong), local heroes and heroines, and spirits (Taoist temples). Then there are also Chinese Assembly Halls, which typically contain a temple, but also have space for community activities and business meetings.
While it’s compact, it’s a delight to absorb the details – the pretty roof mosaics, the fish pond in the central courtyard, the crimson-red pillars – and take in the atmosphere at Quan Cong Temple, as there are nearly always a few worshippers lighting incense and paying respect to the great general. 24 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An
Fujian Phuc Kien Assembly Hall
With its imposing pink brick gate with green roof tiles, it’s impossible to miss the Fujian Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, a short stroll down the street. This is the entrance to another of the historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit, even if some elements are a bit kitsch.
While it was originally established in 1690 by Chinese residents from Fujian – and I should say here that most of the Chinese in Hoi An at the time were from Fujian – like many temples it has been renovated over the centuries, and not always sensitively, although it’s not too hard to tell what’s old and new here.
Assembly Halls were used as meeting places as much as places of worship, however, the temple here has long been a focal point of the Assembly Hall, especially for sailors, merchants and traders of the sea. It’s dedicated to Thien Hau, the sea goddess who watches over sailors, who rests beside Thuan Phong Nhi, a goddess who can hear the sound of distressed ships calling for help from thousands of miles away, and Thien Ly Nhan, another goddess who has the capabilities of seeing ships in peril. I imagine when Hoi An was a bustling cosmopolitan trading port this would have been the busiest temple in town. 46 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An
Minh Huong Temple
You’ll need to backtrack to the Minh Huong Temple, which is okay, as it’s on the way to the Japanese Bridge, which I’ve left until last. Called ‘Tuy Tien Duong Minh Huong’ and the ‘Minh Huong Ancestor Worship House’ on the wooden sign out the front, this is another of the historic Hoi An temples and pagodas you have to visit.
While the heritage site might not be as old as some of the others – it dates to the late 18th century when it was established by Chinese immigrants to worship their ancestors who founded Minh Huong village – it nevertheless has loads of atmosphere.
This is another place of worship dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, as well as the God of the Earth and the God of Wealth. That might explain why it’s one of the busiest temples in Hoi An, which began life as a trading centre and remains as focused now on commerce as it would have been at its birth.
The temple is used by some 60 families whose ancestors originated from Minh Huong village so it’s particularly lively during festivals and holidays. 14 Tran Phu Street, Hoi An
Chau Cua Pagoda Japanese Bridge
Hoi An’s most visited sight – and it can get incredibly crowded in high season, when it’s best to visit early in the morning – the Japanese Bridge is not only a delightful little covered bridge that crosses a stream that flows into the Thu Bon River, it’s also home to a tiny place of worship called Chau Cua Pagoda.
First built in the 16th century to link Japanese Street, home to Hoi An’s Japanese residents, to Chinese Street, home to its immigrants from China, the iconic Japanese Bridge has become the symbol of Hoi An and the first stop for most visitors.
Sadly, very few selfie-takers actually stop at the small pagoda on the bridge, despite the fact this is what makes the structure so unique, so do take a look. If you can’t face the crowds here, then there’s a similarly charming covered bridge just out of Hue that gets very few tourists visiting which is a real delight to visit. Tran Phu Street, Hoi An
Tips for Visiting the Historic Hoi An Temples and Pagodas
Before you travel, read Secrets of Hoi An, Vietnam’s Historic Port by Carol Howland – it’s a wonderful guide to the long rich history of the town and a fabulous book to read in cafés in between wanders.
To really soak up the history of the ancient port town, we recommend staying in one of the two upstairs street-side rooms at Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel, located in a centuries-old merchant’s house in the centre of the ancient quarter (book well in advance). If you want a swimming pool, book a riverside room at the Indochine-chic French colonial-style Anantara Hoi An, a 15-minute walk to the Japanese Bridge and Hoi An’s other heritage sights.
Once you arrive, you’ll need to purchase a Hoi An ancient town ticket, which gives you admission to the historic Hoi An temples and pagodas, below, as well as museums and heritage houses. You’ll see several booths selling tickets; the tourist office also sells them.
Out of respect, dress modestly and before entering temples and pagodas remove your hat and shoes.