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Tourism remains far away from Hue village’s reach

(No.3, Vol.9, Jun-Jul 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Text and Photos by Hoa Ha

Villagers in the 550-year-old Phuoc Tich Village on the outskirts of former imperial Hue City have dreamed of bumper tourism in the village for 10 years, but their dreams have yet to come to fruition.

Today, authorities’ plans to restore several old houses that stand prominently in the community remind the villagers of their tourism dreams, but locals regard them with both doubt and hope.

Authorities in central Vietnam’s Thua Thien Hue Province, where the village sits, eyed the development of the old village over a decade ago and they started to bring projects aimed at making the village attractive to visitors.

In 2009, experts from the Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts in Hue came with a project funded by the country of Luxembourg to restore a kiln use traditionally to burn terracotta.

Phuoc Tich was the only supplier in the capital during the monarchic time to provide terracotta for the Nguyen Dynasty’s royal family as well as daily needs by capital city dwellers.

The craft of terracotta making was forgotten when the dynastycame to an end. With the project, tourism policy makers in the locality believed that the restored kiln would bring back the craft, offering some more activities at the village rather than just walking around to look at the old houses.

In the meantime, there was a surge of visitors, mainly domestic tourists, arriving in the village to satisfy their curiousity about a village that has retained an almost original structure for centuries.

Local authorities then had the soil paths running around the village paved with bricks. They built a stone dyke in front of the village to replace the earthen embankment marking both the border of the village and the edge of a local river.

With recognition as an ancient village, local authorities formed a managing unit that worked as a promotion centre, believing that better travel management at the village would be needed.

However, no more tourists have been seen in the village since the early surge. Travel agents’ studies showed that visitors, especially foreigners, felt it was boring visiting the village.

The craft of terracotta failed to lure tourists as its products having nothing different compared to the others popular on local market. The kiln and the craft workshop so far have been left unused. Green ambiance was the only item in the village that visitors fell in love with. The brick road and the stone dyke, however, spoiled the green beauty.

Earlier in May this year, local authorities in Thua Thien Hue Province invested 5.6 billion dong for the repair work at nine of the old houses in the village. Each house will receive about 600 million dong to 820 million dong.

This is the continuance of a funding project that commenced last year, which completed the repair work at five houses in the village at cost of 3.6 billion dong. The work included rebuilding of ruined walls, fixing and replacing weak wooden beams and pillars, repairing roofs, doors and windows, installing new internal lighting systems and preventing the development of wood worms in the structure.

Authorities expect the facelift of both indoor and outdoor of the house to lure tourists. Owners of the houses getting funds from the project signed commitments with the project, ensuring they would allow tourism service in their homes.

Furthermore, athorities wanted to run nine tourism services in the village. They include the service of visiting the houses, a village biking tour, a terracotta tour, and homestay service.

The houses in the village were built in nha ruong structure, a typical housing form of the old Hue. Almost all of them are more than a century old.

‘Nha ruong’ structure makes a wooden house with many beams and pillars, which connect each other by a special conjoining  mechanism. The conjoint allows the whole structure to stand firm against strong wind without using any nails. Roofs of the ‘nha ruong’ house are typical as well. The roofing process requires the laying of lots of wooden rays on the beams to create the holders for tiles, which is in a shape that once arranged, will stay firm and look like a fish scale.

The whole edifice can stand on a flat surface without anchoring or concrete foundations. It often lays in a system of the Oriental concept of feng shui, including components of regular yards, an ornamental man-made mountain or a single rectangular wall built to shield the dwelling from the wind, a fish or lotus pond, maybe a man-made stream, areas for perennial trees and areas for flowering plants and bonsai.

The villagers, certainly, are delighted at the project as it allows them fixing their homes for housing needs as to worship their late ancestors, a key feature in Vietnamese life.

For almost a decade, the villagers have been banned from repairing or doing works that could change the original structure of the houses, though many of them were ruined and demand for living space has been increasing among the families.

However, owners of the houses which got repaired last year have expressed their concerns over the quality of the repair work as well as the possible changes in authenticity of each house.

Le Thi Hoang, 88, owner of the house named after her husband, Ho Thanh Yen, said she was not fully pleased with the repairs, as the craftsmen were not competent carpenters. Several complicated carving patterns on the beams disappeared after the work.

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