Finding Ancient House: An absolute must
One of my absolute favourite things to do in Hoi An is to visit Ancient House. There are a couple of places that call themselves ‘Ancient House’ in the Old Town, but the best by far is this one on Thai Phien. Just outside the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Ancient Town, but easy to find, especially on foot or by bicycle. There is a small sign outside indicating the destination and the front of the building is covered in beautiful flowers and hanging baskets.
The Main Room
As you walk up the path and step into the hand-crafted building through stone pillars and over a small step, you are greeted by the glowing smiles of the family that have lived there for 8 generations. The main room is spacious with a high ceiling and centred by a gorgeous red silk lantern display, an Instagram worthy shot if ever there was one! An old wooden bed sits in one corner, and a few long tables with benches are spread around the room. Straight away, you feel an air of generosity and kindness. Free to wander around their home, the family are also there to guide you, pointing out the intricate carvings that were lovingly and painstakingly forged over 250 years ago.
Symbols and Traditions
Next is the introduction to 93 year old grandma who tends to just sleep in one of the rooms, but is occasionally awake to stare at you as if to say ‘What the hell are you doing in my bedroom?’ A fair point, but I was assured that she was grateful of the company as she doesn’t get out much anymore! The building is all still original wood, with only a few modernisations, such as electric lighting which has been recently added, literally a few years ago. Up until then, they were still using oil lamps. Almost everything you can see in the house has been hand made by the family, from the building itself, down to the decorations and the furniture. An interesting thing to note about the furniture is that it is all built on wheels. Being in such close proximity to the river, during the winter months, Hoi An is prone to fairly severe flooding, (some ingenious people even take bamboo boat tours through the streets of the town during the floods!). The furniture is built on wheels so that it can be moved to higher ground easily to save it from ruin in the flood waters. You will also not find any metal used to build the furniture, with wooden pegs and dowels used in place of nails. Moving further through the house, the shutters on the windows hark back to the olden days, vertical to represent a Vietnamese family, horizontal to symbolise Chinese. Many other symbols can be found throughout the house, the Yin Yang and representations of the elements, carved directly into the body of the family home. The doorways are traditionally Vietnamese, in that they are very low, for me anyway! I had to remember to duck each time if I wanted to avoid a headache!
Be More Hang
Hang, a silversmith by trade, 7th generation and current head of the house, is hands down, the nicest man I have ever met. His laugh is truly infectious and his ‘ruummm ruummm’ impression of an electric drill had me in stitches time and time again. He is so accommodating and loves nothing more than getting you to guess the job of tools his ancestors used to build the house which he is so proud of. He happily gives demonstrations day after day using original tools and equipment including a ruler (which you would never guess is a ruler), a hand drill, files and planes, dragging people to the front to have a go!
Next up are some family heirlooms, as Hang passes them around for his guests to inspect and guess, with an ecstatic shout of ‘Youuuuu’, you can’t help but fall a little bit in love with him! His great grandmother’s dowry box is particularly stunning, as with everything else, hand-crafted and passed down through the generations. Hang’s niece gives a beautiful explanation of what the box is used for in Vietnamese tradition, after, of course, everyone in the group has had their guess of its purpose!
Finally, Hang expertly demonstrates his trade and passion of silver making. He runs through the process of making jewellery, from the 100% silver sheet he passes round, to the firing, the shaping and the finishing, before seamlessly leading you through to the family silver shop at the back of the house. The pieces are truly beautiful and unique, I couldn’t resist buying one of his silver creations, and then another, and then another! It is so easy to part with your money here, but absolutely zero sales pressure from anywhere, the beauty just speaks for itself.
After this, the family always has time to invite you to join them at the family table to enjoy lotus tea, traditional bean biscuits (I can’t decide whether I like these or not) and homemade fro-yo (to die for). They like to talk and find out about you and where you are from. Hang brings out his prized guestbooks and will find entries from people from your country for you to see. He got extremely excited, and even more animated than usual upon finding out a guest was from Guam, a first for his guestbook! Reading the wonderful things people from all over the world had written about this place was quite emotional actually, having visited a number of times during my time in Hoi An, I felt a huge sense of pride for the family and what they have created here. On my last visit, I wrote an entire page in the guestbook, and I could have written more. I was made to feel so welcome here on each visit, and was always greeted with a warm hug and a huge smile, Hang’s zest for life will stay with me for a very long time.