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Wooden House Restoration, Restoring a Culture

Amidst development in nearby areas, an old town in Hoi An is standing its own ground in its one-of-a-kind culture which has in fact earned its recognition not only in its locality but worldwide: wooden houses. And perhaps what’s more amazing is that all the success was achieved through the sheer passion and hardwork of a simple but dedicated carpenter.


Open to the public since 2002, the unique community has 18 wooden houses and 15 other wooden structures and is considered a museum of traditional architectural styles from different parts of Vietnam. Le Van Tang was a member of a third generation carpenter’s family in what used to be a popular place called Kim Bong Carpentry Village. The village had 400 wooden houses that were as old as 150 years but were all in poor condition either due to bad weather or lack of money to repair, or even both. With pure love for the art, Tang couldn’t take it and decided to quit his job as a local officer, borrowed money, bought a house in Binh Nam Commune and began to make his longtime dream come true.

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Tang borrowed two million dong and with the help of two workers, he started restoring the house. He was so surprised when the next day, three men approached him and asked him to sell the house to them for six million dong. When Tang refused, they doubled their offer to twelve million dong and finally raised it to VND28 million wherein Tang couldn’t say no to anymore. He used the money to buy even more wooden houses for restoration, even travelling to other provinces to search for structures that were either in good or poor conditions. Whether he needed the whole house or just a part of it, Tang bought the whole building because of his passion for his work.


According to Tang, even a well-restored wooden house today only achieves 50%-60% of its original state because workers these days are not as skillful and dedicated as in the old days, and that is why, too the more he felt the need to save them. Tang is so dedicated and experienced in the craft of restoring old wooden houses that he can tell its age or origin even when it has been brought down for repair. He also started a workshop wherein he trained 300 local carpenters and sculptors from Van Ha and Kim Bong villages in Quang Nam Province.



Among the highlights of Tang’s work include replacing the frame of a temple for Ong Ich Khiem, a general under the Nguyen Dynasty (1831-1884). Tang and his team changed the whole frame that has gotten so dilapidated but did so without having to remove the roof and tiles of the structure. The ancestor’s family was pleasantly astonished with the result. The most trying job Tang ever encountered was restoring a 140-year old French-style wooden house in 2000 wherein it took 40 carpenters and six months to complete the reconstruction process. But the challenge didn’t come from the job itself than from the owner Si Hoang who was an ao dai designer and therefore very fastidious and detailed in what he wanted for his house.


Tang’s work entails a lot of challenges including having to make difficult decisions of having to move a house from its original location to another. The long time and hard work he and his team has to put on every house they restore is something that needs a lot of patience and dedication with. But Tang’s genuine love and passion for the craft far outweigh any obstacle he and his group may encounter, that is why it’s no wonder that they have reached this level of recognition and success in their work through time.


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