Dream home

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Neither the word "estate" nor "village" do justice to Viet Phu Thanh Chuong's Vietnam's own Xanadu.

Renowned painter Thanh Chuong's greatest work of art may be his own home. From a distance it's hard to tell what he's built.

It looks like a large pagoda. But it also looks like a fruit orchard. Or maybe it's a farm, or a temple, a citadel, a royal court or a university.

For Chuong, it's a place to hang his hat.

The artist says it was his father, well known short story writer Kim Lan, who inspired him to build the 1-hectare country paradise, now also a tourist attraction known as Viet Phu Thanh Chuong, or "Thanh Chuong's Vietnamese Manor."

Chuong says as a child he relished listening to his father's tales of the north Vietnamese countryside and its ancient culture.

The descriptions inspired visions and dreams inside young Chuong's head that stayed there until he made a fortune as one of the country's most renowned painters.

With a successful career behind him, Chuong set out to build his dream home - a reflection of the traditional Vietnam his father had described to him - about 10 years ago.


Thanh Chuong's Vietnamese Manor is a combination of delicate gardens and old-fashioned stonework


The tiled roofs of Viet Phu Thanh Chuong


An earthen gate at artist Thanh Chuong's traditional Vietnamese estate

Miss Vietnam World 2007 Ngo Phuong Lan gazes out at the view from Viet Phu Thanh Chuong's 5th-floor living quarters

Patchwork

Chuong spent billions of Vietnamese dong collecting pieces of Vietnam's past to put in the home, located some 30 kilometers from downtown Hanoi at the foot of Soc Mountain in the capital's Soc Son Commune.

Creating the authentic look of each building was no easy task.

He had handmade bricks sent in from across the north and hired artisans from around the region to contribute their specialties to the project.

Workmen from Nam Dinh and Bac Ninh provinces were summoned to construct old wooden houses while the thatched roofs "had to be done by workmen from Thai Binh," says Chuong.

Visitors enter Viet Phu through an archway flanked by a pair of stone Kylins, which are considered holy guardians in Vietnamese culture.

Walkways are paved with tiles and stepping stones from Hanoi's famous Bat Trang handicraft village and the estate's courtyard boasts a country-style garden with a fish pond and a poetic stone bridge.

Chuong even brought in an old well from the Vinh Yen archeological site in the central province of Thanh Hoa.

The centerpiece of the manor, a traditional Vietnamese house moved from Nam Dinh Province, is made of ironwood, which was traditionally only used by mandarins and royalty in old Vietnam.

Red boards at the main entrance are engraved with parallel poems in gilded Chinese characters.

Inside, the house has been converted into a gallery, where Chuong displays a lifetime's collection of antiques and paintings, as well as his own work.

Near the house is a five-story building with a bell tower that can be easily mistaken for a pagoda. But in fact, this is where Chuong and his family live.

"Multi-level buildings are not popular in traditional architecture ... but sometimes a breath of fresh air from high off the ground is necessary," said Chuong.

Outside the home there is a tranquil bamboo garden, a small rice paddy, a fruit orchard with bananas, longans and lychees and even a small farm with poultry and cattle.

Spirit of simplicity

Chuong says he tossed and turned for many nights trying to define the national spirit of Vietnam, so that he could build it into his home.

"You may find a traditional Chinese house with big, shiny pillars while an old Vietnamese house is made from materials available at hand: decayed wood can be fixed with cement and cracks can be patched with wooden planks. It is the spirit of simplicity," he says.

"At Viet Phu, you may find a courtyard with stepping stones or tiles that don't match, as if they've just been mended. Cracks in the cottage near the pond have been patched up."

Preservation

Chuong allowed visitors into Viet Phu free of charge for over ten years.

But after some of his antiques began disappearing he reconsidered.

The final straw was when picnickers ruined his bonsai garden. Now Viet Phu charges VND 70,000 (US$ 4) to see the grounds and an extra VND 30,000 to enter the gallery.

Though some visitors have said the price should be cheaper, Chuong says he's happy with the way things have worked out.

The visitors' book at Viet Phu is still filled with "thank yous."

"It's normal to say ‘thank you' for a free service," says Chuong. "But if they say ‘thank you' even when you charge them, then it comes from the heart."

 

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