In the Vietnamese enriched and diverse culture, people often said that “An cư lạc nghiệp” which means once settle down, people then can work in comfort. A house in local people’s life is not only a place to stay, sleep and come back every day after a long working time but also is where people makes important events of life time like holding their weddings, funerals, worshiping, welcoming new members, sharing moments… From generation to generation, all of the architectural features from the shape, the lines, curves as well as colors of the house present its unique and beautiful culture, history, and tradition. Looking at the house, you can partially imagine the way people find to live in nature and they way living environment affect on residents.
And now, let’s join a trip with us back to the long-lasting history of Vietnam to discover the top 4 unique ancient house architecture in the North Vietnam!
Part 1: The Northern Houses
Traditional five spans wide and three spans deep house
The most impressive and famous architecture of ancient houses in Vietnam is the house with five spans wide and three spans deep. To survive in the hot and humid weather of Vietnam, the local people often build a house with “open architecture” that is close to nature, using outer space as well as big windows to bring a “fresh feeling”.
From the name of this architecture, you can easily imagine the shape of the house like the letter U with an odd number compartment in the main house and one or two private rooms on two sides. Located in the center of the house is the space for their ancestor altar which is the best place to show respect to them. The living rooms are on both sides. The owner uses the center room and other members of the family sleep in the side rooms.
When building a house, the first-factor local people considered is Fengshui. Vietnamese people follow feng shui because they believed that it can support the owner’s self-sufficiency and can bring more luck and happiness to them. For example, people prefer to have their homes face South in order to bring the sunlight in the winter to the house as well as avoid the cold wind coming from the North. Moreover, are you curious why the residents usually choose the odd number of the compartment but not the even number? According to the Vietnamese tradition, the odd numbers symbolize the good thing and eternity. Additionally, looking at the roof of the house, the Yin and Yang tile is designed with the meaning can keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in North Vietnam still remaining traditional five spans wide and three spans deep house is Duong Lam Ancient Village. Located not far from Hanoi, Duong Lam Ancient Village is the best spot for a history lover or someone who loves the peaceful and simple Vietnam countryside. But remember to ask permission from the owner of the ancient houses before putting your feet in!
Traditional thatched cottage house with clay wall
Besides five spans wide and three spans deep houses, the traditional thatched cottage house with clay walls is also one of the most popular house architecture in the countryside in Vietnam.
In the past, traditional thatched cottage house with clay walls is a suitable choice for poor residents who do not have more money to build a house with expensive materials. People often used materials that are easily seen in nature such as bamboo, clay, or straw. The thatched cottage house with clay walls is designed in a simple process with two main parts of the house: the roof and the wall. The roof is frequently made of coconut leaves or straw. It is also steep to drain rainwater and prevent leaks. Moreover, the local people use the space created by a large slope as storage. The wall of the house is made from a combination of clay and straw. As a result, the house is covered and helps the owner keep warm in the winter. Making the roof with leaves and straw also can reduce the noise when it rains. Moreover, the house is used available materials and is a simple process, this is an appropriate choice for people in rural areas who are not well-financed.
In recent years, traditional thatched cottage house with clay walls is no longer popular with Vietnamese people. However, there is a little house in the rural still remaining. If you want to get to know about this house, you can visit Anh An Village located near to Red River Delta was rebuilt as a Vietnamese traditional village with many unique features such as bamboo trees, a village entrance as well as a thatched roof, and clay wall house.
Traditional Vietnamese Stilt House
Traveling to the mountainous area in Vietnam, besides taking a view of beautiful golden rice terrace fields during the harvest seasons or exploring marvelous hills and cascading waterfall, staying in the traditional stilt house of ethnic groups is a not-miss experience for visitors. Until now, the traditional stilt house is known as the postcard image of rural Vietnam. This kind is also the house where Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese beloved president stayed and worked for more than ten years.
A Vietnamese stilt house is a house raised on stilts several meters above the ground, typically made of wood, bamboo, cane, or rattan and thatched roofing. The house can be divided into two main spaces: a higher level and a lower level. With a largely open floor plan, this is a place for people to eat, sleep and entertain as well as worship their ancestors and work such as weaving or embroidery. Especially, the most important room is the kitchen, which is typically located in the center of the house and serves as a gathering place for the family at the end of the day. On the other hand, the area under the house is where the family welcomes guests or is used as a shetler for raising livestock.
Originally, the traditional stilt house was built to prevent floods that sweep through Vietnam. These could be common in lowland areas like Mekong Delta in the South but they can also be in the highland area like mountainous province in the North and South Central Vietnam. Houses built on stilts can be avoided by the agony of flooding and the chaos that it could cause. Moreover, one of the lesser-known advantages of the Vietnamese stilt house is the ability to avoid wild animals that have historically made their way into villages. Since having many forests, snakes and tigers were once popular in the Vietnamese countryside, posing a serious threat to the safety of local people. With the high height of the house, the stilts can be provided sufficient protection for villagers. In addition, a tall stilt house in remoted Vietnam is considered “natural air conditioning” through large windows that could cool the residents during the uncomfortable hot temperature in the summer. Simple and down-to-earth, the traditional stilt house reflects the unique diverse ethnic cultures of Vietnam.
Across the length of the S-shaped country, there are many places to see the traditional Vietnamese stilt housing. You can go to the beautiful mountainous areas in North Vietnam where ethnic groups still live and stay in this house such as Sapa, Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Son La…. The other famous and easy to reach spots is The Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi capital where you can not only see the stilt house but also can have more interesting knowledge about the different ethnic groups in Vietnam.
The tube house in Hanoi
And the last common architectural house design in Northern Vietnam is Nha Ong or tube house. If you have a chance to travel to Hanoi – the proudly thousand-year-old capital of Vietnam, you can easily see this type of architecture along the narrow and crowded streets. The first impression and the most special feature of to separate tube house from others are long and narrow which means that the length has to be much longer than the width. So why people built a house like this?
First of all, in Hanoi Old Quarter, space is considered a premium thing as well as a “golden land”. And back to the history, in the 19th century, the property was only taxed based on its street frontage. Following that, governments continued to use this method to calculate property taxes. As a result, the wider your house, the more you have to pay so the local people chose to build a house as narrow as possible. This has resulted in a series of old long, thin, tall houses in the Hanoi Old Quarter that are still remaining today. Especially, some of them have even been preserved as traditional ancient houses.
Another reason for building tube houses is Vietnamese family customs. Vietnamese culture is centered on the family. According to folklore, all Vietnamese are related to each other at some point so generations in the family tend to live together. And as the children grow older, marry, and have children of their own, more space is required. Many simply added more floors, and the houses grew taller and taller so that people can save a lot of money. Additionally, Vietnamese people still prefer to live in their own houses on personal land to apartments.
The typical layout of a Vietnamese tube house consists of two parts: the space for the shop and the living space of the family. Originally, the front room of the house facing the street was used for public sales. Connecting the shop and the living space is a network of courtyards that extend deep into each city block. The kitchen is often located at the back of the first floor. The other floors are bedrooms for members of the family. And the last one is the roof area. It is always open air or only partially area or even all in one which is placed for a lounge space, a small fresh garden or the water tank, which people call it skylight.
To have the best experience to explore the tube house, we highly recommend visiting Hanoi Old Quarter where you can not only see the ancient tube house but also have a great chance to have a view of the tube house combined with Western architecture. Especially, remember to go to Ma May Ancient House to have a more “real” understanding of tube house architecture!
So as you read and now can see the characteristics of houses in the North Vietnam. As the area is on sub-tropical climate zone with 4 season: cold winter, hot humid summer, cool autumn and rainy spring. People had to find ways to live comfortably in all year around – warm in winter and cool in summer, well-protected under rain and wind, also follow fengshui rules and convenient for agricultural production.
In part 2 let’s see if traditional house architecture in the South has something different since the climate and living condition in the North and South Vietnam is not the same.