More to love than the Lover’s House

Thanh Nien News

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The Lover’s House. This is what brings many foreign tourists to Sa Dec, a town in Dong Thap Province that is some 140 kilometers southwest of Ho Chi Minh City.
The 119-year-old house, that combines French and Chinese architectural styles, belonged to Huynh Thuy Le, a rich Chinese-Vietnamese trader who was the inspiration behind the male protagonist of the famous novel “The Lover” (L’Amant) by Marguerite Duras.
It was also one of the backgrounds of a film adapted from the novel made in 1992.
No one can deny the attraction of the house, which recorded more than 30,000 visitors last year. However, Sa Dec, with its history dating back to the 17th century, has a lot more to offer to tourists other than just the famous house.
According to the town’s website, before the Nguyen Lords, who ruled the southern half of Vietnam in 1558-1777, expanded their territory southward, Sa Dec belonged to Champa Kingdom (7th century-1832).
It was then a thinly-populated low land and called Phsar Dek, the name of a water god worshipped by the Cham people.
After Nguyen Lords took over Sa Dec and established it as the center of one of their administrative units in 1757, the area soon became a busy town with Vietnamese people living with Cham people, and Chinese immigrants.
The mixed populations brought in their own architectural styles which can still be seen in many old houses, temples, pagodas and other buildings. The dominant styles are Vietnamese, Chinese and French.
In fact, according to some documents, there are 17 houses dated to the 1900s with Western architectural styles that are still intact and in use across the town.
Standing out among the town’s religious buildings is the Kien An Cung or Ong Quach Pagoda built in 1924 by Chinese people from Fujian Province.
The 1,000-square-meter pagoda’s design has been praised for the fact that it does not have any real beam, but wooden columns joined together. Its roof has three layers: tiles, bricks, and tiles, and its front wall and doors have many Chinese paintings.
It is said that most of the pagoda’s furniture and building materials were imported from China.
Older than Ong Quach is the Ba Pagoda, which was built in 1885 also by Chinese people.
The Vinh Phuoc Temple, built in 1852, carries the typical architectural style of a southern Vietnamese temple: the whole frame made of wood and supported by beams and columns, texts and images sculpted on columns and walls.
All the three above-mentioned buildings are located along an 800-meter stretch between the town’s Sat Quay and Cai Son 2 bridges.
There are also buildings with mixed styles like Phuoc Hung Pagoda, also known as Huong Pagoda, on Hung Vuong Street.
Some historical records say the pagoda was first built by a Vietnamese monk in 1838, but a few years later, for unknown reasons, it was incorporated with a Chinese pagoda. Then, it underwent massive repair work during the French colonization of the country.
As a result, the pagoda’s front now looks like Vietnamese houses with reliefs of flowers and leaves usually found in Western-style homes. Inside, it has decorative details typical of a Chinese pagoda.
Flowers and noodles
Besides old buildings, Sa Dec also boasts one of the biggest flower villages in Vietnam.
Founded over 100 years ago, Tan Quy Dong Village in the eponymous commune covers more than 250 hectares where nearly 2,000 families earn their living by growing flowers like roses, daisies and peonies, as also ornamental trees.
It has many famous gardens like the Vuon Hong (Rose Garden), which has over 50 species of roses, including a blue one.
Going along the village’s Road 848 and enjoying (not to mention capturing on camera) endless rows of colorful flowers is a highly recommended experience.
No visit to Sa Dec can be complete without trying the hu tieu Sa Dec (Sa Dec’s rice noodle), a local specialty that has gained nationwide fame.
Believed to be a variant of hu tieu Nam Vang (Phnom Penh rice noodle soup), the dish is known for its chewy and milky noodles, and quality broth cooked with pig bones. Its toppings are almost similar to those of the original dish with prawn, squid, lean pork, pork liver, and pork heart.
While hu tieu Sa Dec has a kho (dry) and an uot (wet) version – the noodles and the broth being served separately and together, respectively, the former is apparently more favored.
For the dry version, the noodles are not served in a bowl, as is conventional, but a dish. The toppings do not have prawn and squid but pork meat and innards that are cut into big slices almost covering the noodles. Finally, a kind of thick sauce cooked with tomato and seasonings is poured onto the toppings.
It is worth remembering that The Lover’s House is not all that Sa Dec offers visitors. It has enough attractions to cover a one to two-day tour, and these can beckon you back again.

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