Ngoc Son Garden House
Princess Ngoc Son was a daughter of Emperor Dong Khanh - when she married, her father granted her the land to build a home. Today, it is one of the best garden houses and has been maintained largely in its original form.
The present owner, Phan Thuan An, is a direct descendent of the Imperial Court. His grandfather was Emperor Khai Dinh’s senior Mandarin, a post he also held under Emperor Bao Dai. Mr. An is a tall, urbane, elegant, cultured man devoted to his house and the culture of Hue and Vietnam. An ex-History Professor, he has written several books including the seminal work on Hue’s culture and architecture.
Mr An is a mine of information, which he dispenses in measured amounts in the manner of a committed teacher. He dresses in the male version of the ‘au dai’, Vietnam’s traditional costume, and his erect posture and calm manner clearly identifies his royal lineage.
The house is a classic Vietnamese house with three bays and two wings. In the middle of the central bay stands an altar to Buddha, and behind it is the altar used for ancestor worship.
Mr. An has a fascinating collection of artefacts and mementos from the days of Empire. A valuable collection of ceramics, including a Ming Dynasty bowl, medals, photos and personal items once owned by his ancestors is a window to the past.
One of his treasured items is an ancient copy of National Geographic with an article and many photographs of the Hue Royal Court. He’ll show you the picture of his ancestor alongside the Emperor and point out the rectangular medallion pinned to his chest as his badge of office. Proudly, he then reaches into his cabinet to place the heavy silver medallion in your hand to examine the Chinese characters denoting his rank.
Both garden and house have been planned methodically in accordance with the rules of geomancy and the principles of feng-shui. The house faces in the correct direction to minimise the influence of malevolent spirits. The rear of the house backs on to a busy road: the consequent muffling of the traffic noise was an unforeseen benefit at the time it was built. There is a screen to deter ‘bad’ winds, a pond with symbols and plants representing the elements of Vietnam, the attendant dragon and lying tiger, guardian lions, and all the other elements to balance the ying and yang of the garden house, and thus its inhabitants.
The overall effect is a pleasing harmony of architecture, humanity and the nature, another world away from the noisy, effervescent atmosphere of modern urban life in Hue.
The integrity of the elements of the Ngoc Son garden house makes it a priceless cultural treasure and a compelling destination for anyone interested in Chinese and Vietnamese traditional culture.