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Wooden stilt houses

Vietnam Heritage, September-October 2011 -- Nghia Do Commune, Bao Yen District, Lao Cai Province, in the mountainous northwest of Vietnam, has over 900 families of the Tay ethnic group, living in 700 traditional houses on stilts.
The Tay (rhymes with ‘bay’) are unlike other ethnic minorities in Vietnam in not being nomadic.
They are farmers.
Tay stilt houses have four styles, lều (literally ‘tent’, in Vietnamese), the most basic structure, quan ma, a variation of lều with four compartments and posts deeply sunk for protection from wild animals, cai tư, a variation on quan ma that usually has five compartments and pillars secured with big stones; and con thong, the most popular style today.
A con thong and a cai tư (all terms are given in Vietnamese) are basically alike, but con thong has a veranda along the front. Tiger fangs, wild-boar teeth and deer horns are hung there.
The ladder to get into a stilt house is made of wood and often has nine steps, one for each of the souls of a Tay woman. A host must go down to the foot of the ladder and protectively wait while his guests ascend.
The houses usually have three fireplaces, one in the main compartment, where guests are received and a fire is kept for the other kitchens and for heat, one next to the beds of the older inhabitants, to keep them warm in winter, and one for cooking, usually in a different compartment.



Mr Ma Thanh Soi, a Tay traditional craftsman in Nghia Do Commune, said that according to legend long ago when the Tay had migrated to Nghia Do they had stood on the peak of Tham Khau mountain and seen only treetops. They had used this vantage point to find places to live.
It had become a tradition that trees used in the building were placed with their top ends towards the main door. Other ethnic groups had come later and learned the Tay method but placed the bottom ends of trees towards the door, in order to distinguish themselves from the Tay.

Text and photo by Phung Nam Trung
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