Ho Chi Minh City’s last century-old street, Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street in District 5, famous for its traditional trade in Chinese herbal medicine, is being threatened by modernity.
A cluster of houses located at the point where the street intersects Trieu Quang Phuc Street in “Cho Lon,” the city’s so-called China Town, are collectively referred to as Hai Thuong Lan Ong.
Home to Chinese-Vietnamese herbal medicine traders, many of them were built in a mix of western and Chinese architectural elements in the mid-1800’s.
According to a study released earlier this year by the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, it is the last standing old street in the city.
But only 16 of the houses retain their original façade though their interiors are nothing like how they looked a hundred years ago.
Most others have been replaced with modern structures, some were torn down and replaced with three- to five- storey buildings.
The house at 70 Trieu Quang Phuc Street has been converted into the head office of the North Asia Commercial Joint Stock Bank.
“It used to be a beautiful, old three-story house but its original structure was destroyed after it was leased out to different tenants,” a local resident, who asked not to be named, said. “It has now become a bank’s head office with a giant billboard blocking the house’s front.”
But not all residents here have turned their back on the old relics.
Nguyen Thi Mai, owner of the house at 57/4 Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, said she is trying to preserve the original design of her century-old home.
“The old paint is still in good condition even more than 100 years have passed, the patterns on the ceiling are never out-of-date,” she said.
But Mai has not been able to avoid renovating her house since the building needed reinforcing.
“No matter what renovation I have to do, I’ll definitely keep all these old designs,” she said.
But the so-called renovation work is nevertheless causing damage to the structures.
“There used to be a Chinese octagon up here [on the terrace] but after some work in 2000, it was replaced by a lion’s statue,” Ba, a man who has been living in the area for 20 years, said.
“The house’s roof used to be made of tiles that looked very beautiful but now the house has a corrugated iron roof. No one can call it ‘old’ anymore.”
Local residents said they cannot help but renovate their houses or lease them out since they are worried by their deteriorating state.
“If people want to preserve the old street, we need support in terms of planning, house repair, and even tourism development to generate income for the people here, like in any other old street in the world,” a local said.
Tran Huy Cuong, deputy chairman of the urban planning department of Ward 10, District 5, said he has urged local authorities to protect the old houses, including by banning construction of new houses in the area.
There will also be restoration done of the structures, he said.