Monday, 21 March 2011


The Vietnamese seaside town of Hoi An, like Malacca in Malaysia, is famous for its narrow streets and quaint old tubehouses. These "ancient houses", as they are known here, have been occupied by Chinese families in past centuries and are have become legitimate tourist sites. Tourism is a big business in Hoi An, and some of the more famous old houses, such as the Tan Ky House (above) on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and Phung Hung House (below) on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street have also become mini shopping centres with their little spaces used for selling items from souvenirs, handicrafts to art pieces. It is a pity when commerce intrudes into culture, and the lines between what's original and what's artificial become blurred.

One ancient house untouched by crass commercialism is the Duc An House on 129 Tran Phu Street (below), a single-storey house with a Chinese herbal drugstore (no longer operational) as its front. Here, one can actually see and feel what the house was like in the past. Its quaint inner courtyard is filled with birdsong and far fewer tourists make their way into this peaceful little abode. A family of four now lives here, descendents of one Cao Hong Lanh (1906-2008), who was a bona fide Vietnamese revolutionary in his younger days.

There is a memorial to centenarian Cau in the house, with his albums of old photos recounting the life of a distinguished gentleman who played football in his youth, joined the Communist party and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Uncle Ho Chi Minh, General Giap and Prime Minister Pham Van Dong.

A quiet elegance occupies the Duc An House.

Cosy corners for relatives and friends.

Perhaps one of Hoi An's best kept secrets.

Another old house worth visiting is the Museum of Folklore, located at the corner of Bach Dang and Le Loi streets. You don't need a ticket for admission (nor is it part of the Hoi An five-ticket scheme) in order to appreciate the typical layout of a two-storey tubehouse. The ground floor is occupied by an art gallery, but make your way upstairs to view the exhibits on Hoi An daily living and folklore. This certainly beats the so-called Hoi An Museum of History and Culture, which occupies a far smaller space.

There are certainly far more historical houses to visit in Hoi An, but these are my two favourite discovered during our short stay in this lovely town.

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