Sapa is not only a promising land of cuisine, scenic view of nature and culture but also a destination of the unique local architecture as well as the remained architecture from the past. The style of buildings in Sapa can be divided into two main styles. One is the traditional style of local ethnic groups, the other is the Western style with French architectural buildings dating back to the colonial era. This is one of Sapa’s unique architecture.
Sapa’s unique architecture: The stilt house of Tay people
The houses here are made mainly from a strong wood such as “ironwood” called Lime. Tay houses are built on stilts, with the traditional palm roof to resist the summer heat. They are often surrounded by balconies and open on all four sides to let the breeze in. Stilt house generally has a reasonably large area to live and is divided into many rooms. Traditionally, the center room is placed with an altar to worship ancestors.
The blank space underneath the house is used for storing tools and sometimes raising cattle. There are three stoves in a typical house. One is placed in the center room for guests, another is put near the bed of the elderly and the last one is placed in the kitchen for cooking. Tay people build only one door and there is a staircase to get to that door. In Tay people’s belief, the stair must have 9 footsteps which symbolize 9 souls of the woman.
Sapa’s unique architecture: Hmong house
Visitors setting foot in Sapa may easily catch sight of the ground house of H’mong people in Cat Cat, Lao Chai, and Ta Van villages. The unique architecture reflects in the way they make it.To build the walls and roof, Hmong and the Dao people use one of the most popular woods in the area, peumou (Fokienia Hodginsii) also called “coffin wood” because it is the same wood to make coffin to bury the dead people. Insects do not attack peumou and it does not deteriorate when contacting with water. Roofs made of peumou shingle will last up to about 70 years.
A traditional H’mong house has 3 rooms, 2 doors and 2 windows at least. Among 3 rooms, the left one is the bedroom of the spouse, the right is room for guests with a stove. The altar is solemnly placed in the middle room. Besides altar, H’mong people also count two pillars as the must-have part which is indispensable in their house. It symbolizes the righteousness, stability, and strength of the host. When taking a Sapa Tour particularly a homestay tour, visitors will have the chance to take a close look at the distinctive architecture in this place and experience the life of people here inside their house.
Sapa’s unique architecture: Stone Church
Besides houses of ethnic groups which were built in traditional style, French-style buildings are also the point to attract tourists. Time passing by, those buildings have been damaged somewhat but they can still preserve their timeless beauty. One representative building of this architectural style is the Catholic Church (or Stone Church).
The Catholic Church is situated in the center of Sapa town, in front of Ham Rong mountain and several historical vestiges surrounding. The Church was built in the shape of the cross in Gotic Roman architecture. That style is expressed through the roof, bell tower, and arches which have the shape of serene pyramidal. The whole church was built of hewn stones; that’s the reason it is also called “the Stone Church”. The Catholic Church in Sapa is a famous attraction of tourists. Despite having some restorations to strengthen the lifespan, the Church still almost remains the same as the ancient time.
Sapa’s unique architecture: The Nung and Tu Si houses
This style of architecture has become rare until recently. The roof tiles are wholly made of clay, which is baked at high temperature in the wood kilns buried within the ground. After 5 days of baking, the hot tiles are brought out and sprinkled with water. The one that does not break after that process will protect the house for at least 1 century.
This technique, known as “rakou”, has nearly disappeared because many kilograms of wood needed for baking the tiles and those wood are also hard to find. King Hoang A Tuong’s castle in Bac Ha is also covered by this traditional clay tiles and some of those can still be found in the north of the Muong Khuong, Si Ma Cai and Bac Ha districts.
Those unique architectures present the art of making settle and how people here maintain and still using their ancestor method of house building. This will be an interesting part for tourist participating in Sapa tour to discover and understand the life and the culture in this place.