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Crumbling walls - Bao Vinh in Thua Thien-Hue

Bao Vinh could have been another Hoi an but sadly this forgotten town, long left by the wayside, has slowly fallen asunder through years of neglect
While the Old Town of Hoi An in Quang Nam is well-preserved and renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bao Vinh in Thua Thien-Hue province, despite its similarities, has crumbled to the brink of oblivion.

Bao Vinh is located on the banks of the Huong (Perfume) river and is just a few minutes drive from the former Imperial City of Hue From the river, the line of old houses will remind you of the streets of Hoi an though Bao Vinh’s history only dates back just over 200 years.

At that time, Thanh Ha along the bank of the Huong river used to be a busy little trading port in Hue. But trade at Thanh Ha became unsustainable when the river silted up after heavy flooding. As a result in the 19th century trading activities shifted from Thanh Ha to Bao Vinh as the river alongside the latter town was deeper and wider. Once Chinese and Vietnamese traders would have traded commodities such as silk, sugar, cinnamon, textiles and ceramics wares at the bustling port.

Life was good until 1885, when Hue was conquered by French forces. Subsequently much of Bao Vinh was destroyed and faded into oblivion. By 1991 there were 39 traditional houses and now only 15 houses that are more than 200 years old still stand.

Although locals are trying to salvage what’s left of the old port town, it seems destined to fold under the weight of new developments. Most of the traditional houses have been replaced with modern buildings and the ones that remain are severely degraded. Now it is hard to spot Bao Vinh’s heritage buildings, most of which are crumbling away surrounded by clusters of ugly modern concrete buildings.

The rate of industrialisation in Vietnam has been swift and town planning has often lacked discrimination. In Bao Vinh you can also find a dozen nha ruong, a traditional wooden house indigenous to Hue, leaning against concrete buildings. These houses, some more than a hundred years old, fail to reflect the golden era of Bao Vinh’s day as a prosperous port. Some houses defy definition with modern and even temporary extensions tacked onto the original wooden structures. An inconsiderate mix of past and present betrays the hopelessness or ignorance of the owners in the conservation of traditional values.

While time has taken a toll on the houses of the once bustling port, extreme weather has compounded the problem. Every year, after enduring the challenging climate of Central Vietnam, these old houses are subjected to drastic extremes of steaming hot sunshine then cold, wet weather. The lengthy rainy season and frequent floods hastens the rate of deterioration.

“In this area the floods can be very deep,” says local resident Phan Thi Dieu Lien. “So we intend to raise the foundation of our houses a little bit higher.” In most nha ruong in Bao Vinh, the rafters and walls, as well as the pillars, are made of wood, which in such a testing climate easily start to rot. Obviously, renovating these houses will require a huge investment of capital and time as well as talent.

Renovation would require skillful and experienced carpenters since each detail of the nha ruong must be meticulously fitted out. As traditional carpentry is not as popular a trade as before, it is difficult to find qualified people to undertake such a restoration.

The owners cannot be expected to stay still as the houses deteriorate. Some have resorted to modern materials to fix leaks or mend holes in the wooden walls. Others have given up trying to protect their traditional houses as maintenance is too costly and replaced them with modern houses. Unfortunately, there are few sponsors willing to help preserve these relics. Many understand the importance and urgency of protecting traditional houses but not much action has been taken.

“After a survey, UNESCO promised to offer us financial support to renovate the house but we haven’t heard back from them yet,” says Lien’s husband. While these traditional houses are at the risk of crumbling into the history books, no one appears to be willing to stand up and call for drastic measures.

A decision on the preservation and development of Bao Vinh ancient town was made by the People’s Committee of Thua Thien Hue province back in 2003, but it appears to have had little effect on salvaging the traditional homes. Further efforts may prove to be too little too late.

(Source: Timeout/VNN)

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Crumbling walls - Bao Vinh in Thua Thien-Hue
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Bao Vinh could have been another Hoi an but sadly this forgotten town, long left by the wayside, has slowly fallen asunder through years of neglect