One of the oldest existing buildings in Hoi An, it self a UNESCO World Heritage Listed town, is something truly remarkable and, not surprisingly, a thing of surpassing beauty, Brett Davis investigates 200 Years of History at The Quiet American Hoi Anh.
The timber and stone house has stood at 41 Nguyen Thai Hoc in Hoi An’s Old Town for more than 200 years. It has had many incarnations over two centuries, from family abode to shop house and guest-house for wayward travellers. In it’s latest evolution, it has morphed into being part museum, part cocktail lounge, but what ever form it takes it will always be imbued with the history of the town and the family that has safeguarded its legacy.
The house is currently the home of The Quiet American bar, a reference to the 2003 film starring Michael Caine that was shot, in part, at the house. One of the rooms off the main hall in the lower floor of the house is known as ‘The Michael Caine Room’ as the actor stayed there for several nights during filming.
It was built over 200 years ago by a rich merchant family who specialized in exporting dried herbs such as betel nuts, cinnamon, sugar and beans to Hong Kong, China and Europe. The family used to store the goods for immediate sale on the ground floor, and goods for later sales were moved upstairs by hoisting them through hatches which you can still see today. During that time, the business had over 100 employees that, remarkably, all lived on the premises.
The building’s design displays a rich Chinese cultural influence. Woodworkers were brought in from China and Hong Kong to carve most of the wooden features, giving the house a distinctive look, with Chinese writing and symbols of good fortune adorning nearly every room.
The upper floor of the main house has now been turned into a small museum, with many old family photographs, books and objects from the everyday lives of those who had lived here over the decades. The house has been in the same family for the last five generations.
There are many unique design touches throughout the house, including the famous Dragon Head Stairs, the pumpkin-shaped pillar bases, and the fish carving at the entrance signifying good fortune and prosperity. The most striking feature however, is the large mosaic carving on the wall in the centre of the house.
In the centre of the mosaic you can see a traditional alter for Buddhist prayers with holders for incense-sticks. To the left there is a carving of a tray of fruit and on the right a vase with flowers. On the far left is a deer, which represents the desire for a steady income and wealth. Under the incense, there are two fish which symbolize the desire to always have an abundance of health, wealth, offspring and so forth. Finally, on the far right, you will see two Salangane birds, which are said to bring good luck to the house where they nest.
The courtyard at the rear of the house is now home to The Quiet American bar and café. It really is a quiet and peaceful oasis away from the throngs of tourists wandering the streets of the Old Town. The cool, green space is the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing juice or smoothie during the heat of the day, or one of their inventive and delicious cocktails in the evening.
It is places like this that make Hoi An a magical destination, a discovery of something akin to a time capsule. Almost unchanged since it was built two centuries ago, 200 Years of Hoi An and The Quiet American should be on everyone’s list of discoveries.