The architecture of the Hoi An Ancient Town

Painted mustard yellow, sometimes sporting teal blue doors or emerald green windows, Hoi An’s timber-frame shophouses are some of the most photogenic buildings in Vietnam. As you wander the streets of the Ancient Town, you can spot several distinct architectural styles. Each one tells a different story about Hoi An’s past. Here’s a guide to appreciating the architecture of Hoi An.

The original Hoi An

The fusion architecture you’ll see in Hoi An dates back to the 18th century. Between 1773 and 1802, the wooden houses of Faifo — the former name of this trading port — were largely destroyed during the conflict between the Trịnh army and Tây Sơn rebels. The town of Hoi An was rebuilt after the Tây Sơn Rebellion, and those are the houses you will find today.

One-story houses (1770 - 1850)

When you pass a one-story house or shop in Ancient Town, chances are it was built in the late 18th century. These are the oldest structures in Hoi An, and they have either a single roof or split, two-level roof. You can find several of these houses on Trần Phú Street.

TIP: The Đức An Old House on 129 Trần Phú Street is a great example of a one storey house. It was built around 1830 and was once a Chinese language book store.

Two-story houses (1850 - 1888)

As Faifo grew more prosperous, some shopkeepers and merchant families decided to construct two-story houses to have more space for living and storage. The first versions of these houses had short second floors that were only about half the height of the first floor and narrow, shaded balconies.

Two-story houses

In time, timber houses with two floors, each a full height, appeared in Hoi An. Many of these two-story houses had full balconies covered by an overhanging roof, where merchants and families could sit and observe the street below.

TIP: You can see an example of a full two-story house at 6 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street, near the Japanese Bridge. Note its tubular tiled roof and second-floor balconies.

Colonial-style houses (1888 - 1954)

During the French colonization of Vietnam in the 1880s, houses of wealthy people across Vietnam often took on elements of architecture found in Paris and other French cities, such as shuttered windows, arched entrances and ornate columns. The Museum of Sa Huynh Culture is housed in a well-preserved colonial-style building close to the Thu Bon River.

TIP: For those who enjoy Indochine-era architecture, blends French and Vietnamese styles throughout its rooms.

Colonial-style houses

The colonial-style houses in Hoi An were not built by French, but by Chinese merchants who were encouraged by the French to settle and do business in Hoi An. Wealthy merchants built brick and concrete houses with grand facades, however the interiors were usually adapted to match the Vietnamese climate.

Fusion houses (1930 - )

The most recent style of architecture you’ll see in the Ancient Town is a fusion between the wooden two-storey houses and colonial-style houses. These houses have stacked timber windows and shuttered windows, French-style balustrades on the balconies, as well as the traditional tiled roofs of Hoi An. The house at 80 Nguyễn Thái Học is a perfect example of Hoi An’s fusion architecture. This building was built in the late 19th century for Chinese merchant Diệp Ngộ Xuân, a pharmacist and expert in traditional medicine.