Restoration Efforts on Vietnam’s Historical Structures Face Many Hurdles

For a country with a long and rich past, Vietnam’s Southern delta ironically holds history of only about 300 years. Its oldest surviving structures only date back between 160 and 170 years old. Having survived the devastation from American warplanes during the conflict make these structures hold so much value. The problem: looks like these historical treasures will soon be wiped out of Vietnam’s history. Many factors have contributed to the building’s quick degradation. Though alluvial soil, tropical humidity and a host of pernicious insects did most of the damage, the people’s lack of interest to preserve them poses a bigger threat of eventually losing some of Vietnam’s most important memories.
Money plays a huge role for this lack of interest. To restore an old house alone could cost around USD $50,000-100,000. Especially for poor communities like Tien Giang, such amount is simply too much for the government, much more for the residents. Locals whose houses are in areas that are lucrative for tourism may give it a thought as such can help them earn from welcoming travelers looking for home-stays and an authentic experience. Otherwise, people who have nothing to gain from tourism simply won’t consider spending a dime on restoration.
The lack of incentive for pursuing historical recognition could be one reason for residents’ apathy on these soon to be lost treasures. The daunting task to get financial assistance for restoring their private homes is another reason that’s keeping them from putting in more effort. Not only the process is very lengthy, the paperwork involved to have their property acknowledged as a historic-cultural relic is a greater hurdle. Under most provincial authorities, historical structures are classified as either wartime relics or those that pertain to the general culture and history of the community. Wartime relics are now with the least priority.
On top of economics, most of locals now desire to live in more modern homes. Renovating or rebuilding entirely their old homes offer them more convenience than going through all the costs involved and the lengthy process of restoration.
The Long An Province has the fewest and most neglected historical buildings in the region. During the August Revolution in 1945 and subsequent armed struggle against the French, the provincial government operated out of a house in the center of Tan An Town known as Dinh Tong Than, or “provincial governor Than’s palace. The now centuries-old structure was demolished and they have constructed a new one in place which roughly modeled the original design. At the same time, the province’s former colonial headquarters was remodeled into an office utilized by the provincial People’s Committee.
The once gorgeous old homes in Chau Thanh District have now been reduced to debris. The only sight that remains of it is in the popular television series Nang Huong (Huong Lady) from 15 years ago where the area was featured. Many other parts of the region share the same sad state. In Long An, people removed two iron bridges built by the Eiffel Construction Company in 1886 to make way for the Saigon-My Tho train route. Co Gong Town claimed to have cradled most of the old architectural buildings in Tien Giang Province making it a known tourist stop. Now, most old houses in the town are quickly degrading.
The Palace of Go Cong Province, a 110-year-old house in Dai Dien Commune, Thanh Phu District, Ben Tre Province is close to turning into rubble. But in order to secure money for restoration, the house must be acknowledged as a national historical-cultural relic. In 2002, the residents of the property applied for historic-cultural relic status. The process has stalled numerous times and eight years later and not yet acquiring the status, the most Ben Tre Museum has done was to treat the house for termites. Authorities of the Provincial Museum say that at present, there are just 300 homes dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Of these structures, only one has been officially recognized as a historic-cultural relic.