Hoi An Houses: A Closer Look

The historic buildings of Hoi An not only survived the 20th century’s wars, they also retained features of traditional architecture rarely seen today. As they have been for centuries, some shopfronts are shuttered at night with horizontal planks inserted into grooves that cut into the columns that support the roof.

Some roofs are made up of thousands of brick-coloured am and duong (yin and yang) roof tiles – so called because of the way the alternating rows of concave and convex tiles fit snugly together. During the rainy season the lichens and moss that live on the tiles spring to life, turning entire rooftops bright green.

A number of Hoi An’s houses have round pieces of wood with an am-duong symbol in the middle surrounded by a spiral design over the doorway. These mat cua (door eyes) are supposed to protect the residents from harm.

Hoi An’s historic structures are gradually being sensitively restored. Strict rules govern the colour that houses can be painted and the signs that can be used.

It’s not just individual buildings that have survived – it’s whole streetscapes. This is particularly true around Ð Tran Phu and waterside promenade Ð Bach Dang. In the former French quarter to the east of Cam Nam Bridge, there’s a whole block of colonnaded houses, painted in the mustard yellow typical of French colonial buildings.

Worth a Trip: Thanh Ha

This small village has long been known for its pottery industry. Most villagers have switched from making bricks and tiles to making pots and souvenirs for tourist trades. The artisans employed in this painstaking work are happy just to show off their work, but prefer it if visitors buy something. There's a 25,000d admission fee to the village.

Thanh Ha is 3km west of Hoi An and can be easily reached on bicycle.

Visiting the Co Tu

Living high in the mountains inland from Hoi An, the Co Tu people are one of the smallest, and most traditional minority groups in Vietnam. Their villages comprise of stilt houses set around a guol, a community building used for meetings, rituals and performances. Until quite recently, facial tattoos were common, and traditional dress is still worn when cultural performances are given for visitors. In the French and American Wars, the Co Tu were feared and respected fighters, and visitors often get to meet community legends who fought bravely against the Americans.

One Co Tu settlement, Bho Hoong, has developed a fine community tourism project allowing visitors to stay in the village. Co Tu guides have been trained and income is ploughed back into the area. Accommodation is in very comfortable bungalows with classy Asian decor and spacious bathrooms trimmed with bamboo and river stones.

Independent overnight stays can be booked via internet accommodation websites, and the village can also be visited on tours with Hoi An Jeep Adventures and Hoi An Motorbike Adventures. Two-day/one-night tours (per person from US$350) from Hoi An include meals and sightseeing around stunning scenery near the Lao border. Transport can be in a US jeep or an air-con car, and a longer three-day/two-night tours (per person from US$525) is also available.