Architectural heritage – in the Lào Cai province, the buildings of specific architecture fall into two main categories: – the traditional buildings of the local ethnic groups – French buildings dating back to the colonial era.

The Tày stilt houses:

The Nung and Tu Si houses with traditional baked clay roof tilesMade of strong durable wood (such as « iron wood » called Lime), these houses are built on stilts, with the traditional palm roof to keep the summer heat away. They are often surrounded with balconies and open on all four sides to let the breeze in. Three thousand palms are necessary to cover an average-size house (8m x 12m). One single family does not own enough palm-trees to make a roof, so the whole village helps: relatives and neighbours bring their palms and their know-how, in return for which the family will provide food and alcohol for everyone until the roof is completed. The most beautiful stilt houses are found in the districts of Bảo Yên, Bảo Thắng and Văn Bàn.

The rotproof wood Hmong housesThese wood-frame houses have become very rare. The roof tiles are made of clay, baked at high temperature in wood kilns buried in the ground. After 5 days of baking, the still hot tiles are sprinkled with water. Those that do not break will protect the houses for a century at least. This technique, known as « rakou » tends to disappear because the hundreds of kilos of wood necessary to bake the tiles are hard to find. King Hoang A Tuong’s palace in Bac Hà is covered in traditional clay tiles. Some can still be seen in the north of the Muong Khuong, Si Ma Cai and Bac Ha districts.

To build the walls and roof of their houses, the Hmong and the Dao use one of the most popular woods in the area, peumou (Fokienia Hodginsii) also called « coffin wood » because the Hmong and the Chinese like to bury their dead in it. Insects do not attack peumou and it does not deteriorate when in contact with water. Roofs made of peumou shingle will last up to 70 years. Some can be seen in Cat Cat, Lau Chai and Tavan.

Some vestiges of colonial architecture

Many French architects living in Indo-China borrowed building techniques and decoration patterns from Vietnamese and Chinese architecture. The few Sa Pa buildings that have survived the wars show how these influences have mingled, with the palace of Hoang A Tuong in Bac Hà as best example. Some of Sa Pa colonial-era villas and the houses along the main road in Muong Khuong testify to this cultural syncretism.

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