Hue's Garden Houses

(No.9, Vol.6,Nov-Dec 2016 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Photo: Truong Minh Hieu

Photo: Truong Minh Hieu

Photo: Nguyen Van Loi
Photos: The views of garden houses in Hue

As the night fog slowly dissipates, the early morning August sun peeks through, and the Imperial City of Hue is serene. The city’s inhabitants are starting to stir, waking up with the natural rhythms of the sun.
On the east side of the Imperial City, Phan Thuan An, a renowned cultural and historical researcher, author of ten books on monuments and landmarks in Hue, burns incense to Princess Ngoc Son, of whom he is a descendant. He is preparing to show his garden home to a group of fellow researchers. Across the way on the west side, an elderly man also meditatively tends to his garden, quietly sending prayers to his ancestors. This ancestral worship courses through the veins of Hue people and then pulses through every brick, every rock, and every tree.
At first glance, the Former Imperial Capital of Hue, when compared against Vietnam’s more formidable cities, has neither the elegance of Hanoi, nor the dynamism of Ho Chi Minh City, nor the sprawling development of Danang. Fortunately, the most alluring parts of Hue are often the most unassuming.
Garden houses, or nhà vườn, comparatively humble and discreet, are scattered between the decadent palace and opulent tombstones of kings laid to rest. These garden homes could easily be missed, as they are tucked away down dirt paths located in all directions around Hue. The riches and splendour of past monuments haunt Hue, but it is the remaining garden houses that exemplify the city’s harmonious existence of its people and its land. Within these humble garden homes, Hue’s spirit thunders.
Because of this belief in the oneness between humans and nature, Hue people have constructed garden houses, homes encased by gardens, according to the principles of Feng Shui. This means the house must be built on blessed land. In addition, the main door of the home must face the owner’s auspicious cardinal direction, with a masonry screen built in front to misdirect bad or negative spirits from entering the home. The most important aspect of all Vietnamese homes is the altar in which families pay respect to the deceased, and nowhere else is that more prominent than in the architecture of garden homes, where the altar is placed in very middle of the home.
Standing at his front door behind the protective masonry screen, Mr. An warns, ‘Nature and people are a singular entity. If we take from nature, nature will come back full force.’
And nature has exacted her force on Hue in many ways. Nearly decimated after the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, the once-regal walls of the former Imperial Palace are crumbling, bearing its battle scars and bullet holes. Annual flooding and heavy rains continue to threaten Hue’s monuments and landscapes.
‘We consider ourselves one of the luckiest families in the city,’ Mr. An gratefully reflects, ‘because our garden home is still intact after so many wars and so many bombs.’
Mr. An attributes his family’s good fortune to the protection his ancestors and their spirits over the past century. Ngoc Son Garden House stands virtually as it was nearly a century later, and Mr. An spends his days preserving his garden house for his descendants and present-day tourists alike.
On the opposite side of the city, after more twists and turns on small, unpaved roads, an unassuming elder also cares for this private garden house. He is not a descendant of royalty, and his garden home is his alone. While most of his surrounding neighbours have sectioned off and sold their garden homes or have turned the homes into economic opportunities, including those in the famous Phu Mong area, his garden is for his leisure. At 70 years old, he is proud of the way he lives, spending as much time with his plants and trees as his friends. He loves receiving visitors, but only after his morning ritual with his garden. He considers his time in his garden, amongst the plants and fruits for each of the four seasons, to be sacred.
‘A lesson that can be learned by the growth of a tree, or two ants carrying each other; the way nature supports each other, only a person who is close to nature can understand that,’ he muses, now sipping his mid-afternoon tea.
When asked whether he will leave his garden home to his children, he smirks and states that it is entirely up to them.
‘I respect each of my children, and they each have a choice. So for the future of this garden house, I can’t really answer,’ he says. For the moment, he is content to share his garden’s harvest with his grandchildren. He sits underneath his willow tree, with the evening sun nestled on the horizon.
Serenity can be found at any time of the day in these garden homes, but in the early morning is when the city is most calm. One may sip tea with Mr. Phan Thuan An at Ngoc Son garden house as he expounds on the significance of garden homes in Hue. For an afternoon respite, one can find solace in Phu Mong, an entire alleyway of nhà vườn on Kim Long Street near Thien Mu Pagoda. Right behind Phu Mong, though, is a smaller dirt road called Pham Thi Lien Street, where Café Dan Xua and other residential garden homes will provide the most intimate and spiritual experience of Hue.

By Ai Vuong
Following the tunes (“Spring comes to Muong Hum hamlet high up the mountains with heart-rocking distant singing…” ) of talented composer Nguyen Tai ...
In the heart of the darkness of Saigon's backpacker land,ambling along down raucous Bui Vien Street and wishing I had not come out without my ear ...
How do you like our website?
Khách sạn giá tốt