A most unlikely place - Vietnam's cutest village? - Rusty Compass travel blog

A most unlikely place - Vietnam's cutest village?

| 20 Jun 2017
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20 Jun 2017

It’s an unlikely place to be described as Vietnam’s cutest village, but Quy Hoa, outside of Quy Nhon, is a charmer. It’s home to an amazing collection of colourful colonial era and Vietnamese modernist cottages and public buildings. It’s set on a stretch of serene, undeveloped coast and enclosed by lush green mountains. The locals are friendly and welcoming. Remarkably, it’s also what remains of a leper colony, with some fascinating historical tidbits thrown in.

I’ve written before about Quy Hoa, south of Quy Nhon, on Vietnam’s central coast. In that piece I mentioned Quy Hoa’s connection to Han Mac Tu, Vietnam’s most celebrated modern romantic poet. Han died a leper in the colony in 1940. I also mentioned that Quy Hoa may be the only place in southern Vietnam with plaques commemorating US soldiers from the Vietnam War.

Last week I headed back to take a closer look at Quy Hoa - especially its mix of cute and colourful Vietnamese modernist, architecture.

This place deserves a heritage listing. There’s enough natural beauty, architectural charm and history, to create something very special. I’d love to know more about the story of the leper colony too - but there’s no information - though visitors are welcome.

There’s nothing morbid or voyeuristic about a visit to Quy Hoa either. You’re unlikely to see a leprosy patient. And the disease is now treatable. The village feels completely normal - well, that is except that it's unusually peaceful, clean and beautiful.

Han Mac Tu’s standing as a national figure hopefully means Quy Hoa already has some protection.

Vietnamese modernist architecture took root during the 1950s 60s and 70s across what was South Vietnam before 1975. It was pioneered by internationally trained Vietnamese architects. Its ubiquity is extraordinary, both in cities and in the countryside.

The embrace of modernism in rural areas is especially intriguing. You might expect rural cottages to be traditional. But Vietnam’s rural dwellers seem to have embraced the local version of modernism with the same enthusiasm as their city counterparts. From Kontum to Phan Thiet, Dalat to Hue, the modernist residence became mainstream. And the style remains visible throughout cities and towns today.

Vietnamese architects added their own flourishes to the style. And the buildings in Quy Hoa, while modernist in inspiration, feature some endearing colours and shapes that distinguish them from the coldness of some modernist architecture.

Quy Hoa is a living museum of the style.

I made some other discoveries during my most recent visit too.

I previously wrote about the plaque commemorating US soldier Troy Thompson on one of the houses. On my recent visit I discovered two other similar plaques on cottages around the village.

One referred to a former special services soldier Joseph D. Pellegrino. The other, a catholic bishop, Richard Feiten, of Winona, Minnesota.

I did searches on both of the these names. Joseph Pellegrino was killed in action around Quy Nhon in May 1966, just two months after the commencement of his tour. You can read more about Pellegrino here.

It would seem that the Minnesota priest referenced, Richard Feiten, also deceased, ended up embroiled in child sex abuse scandals in the US. All the articles referencing his name in search results refer to child sexual abuse allegations. 

What remains unclear - none of the locals I spoke with could enlighten me - is the connection between these men and the Quy Hoa leper colony. We do know that the catholic church was, and remains, very visible in the community. And that foreign nuns worked here before 1975. But why these men are remembered on specific buildings is unclear.

Check out the gallery and video above for more.

The parish church, Quy Hoa, Quy Nhon
Photo: Mark Bowyer The parish church, Quy Hoa, Quy Nhon
Cute colourful cottages - Quy Hoa, Quy Nhon.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Cute colourful cottages - Quy Hoa, Quy Nhon.
Delightful architecture, Quy Hoa, Quy Nhon
Photo: Mark Bowyer Delightful architecture, Quy Hoa, Quy Nhon
Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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