Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

If “ngõ” and “ngách” make Hanoi different, “hẻm” (alleys) make Ho Chi Minh City special and unique.  Hidden in the busy Saigon (common name of Ho Chi Minh City), Hao Si Phuong Alley in District 5 is lined with colorful ancient houses containing the time and cultural features. The alley has been home to Chinese people in Saigon for over one hundred years. Entering Hao Si Phuong, visitors feel like being in a Chinese street because Chinese characters are everywhere, people talk to each other in Chinese and listen to Chinese music.

Location

206 Tran Hung Dao Street, Pham Ngu Lao Ward, District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. CLICK HERE to see the location of Hao Si Phuong Alley on Google Maps.

The alley is limited by two streets: Tran Hung Dao Street and ends at Ngo Quyen Street.

Tran Hung Dao Street, Ho Chi Minh City

The crowded Tran Hung Dao Street.

Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

The signboard read Hào Sĩ Phường 豪仕坊 206B – name of the alley in Vietnamese and Chinese, its address.

Architecture – colorful houses

The houses in the alley are similar to apartments in two parallel two-story buildings. The houses have connecting corridors and balconies. The staircases are different from that in many other buildings in Ho Chi Minh City.

The alley has been always colorful for over a century although the houses have been painted many times. The wrought iron railings are painted blue (or green). Each owner paints the windows, doors and walls at his wish. The most popular colors include green, blue, grey, yellow, white and brown.

The buildings were designed in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese style. Some houses have been restored and have characteristics of modern architecture as well as materials. However, Hao Si Phuong has been said to not be changed so much. Wooden louvered window and door shutters, iron horizontal shutter doors and gates, tiles still remain. There are a few modern iron doors and houses with metal roofs, modern decorations, plastic glass windows, tiled walls in the area.

Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Two lines of colorful houses on two floors, a mix of modern and traditional architectures.

Traditional Architecture

Green wooden louvered window shutters at Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Green wooden louvered window shutters and horizontal rolling doors made of iron, yellow walls, nice decorations under the roofs, blue wrought iron balcony railings.

Modern Architecture

Modern decorations on the facade in Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Modern decorations on the facade of a house which has just been restored.

Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Modern brown iron glass door shutters and glazed ceramic wall tiles.

Tiled walls and plastic glass windows Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Tiled walls and plastic glass windows.

Unique Staircase

narrow staircase Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

The narrow staircase leads to the first floor.

iron staircase and railing - Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

The iron staircase and railing.

Green spaces

Although the houses are old and there are not spacious enough for living and arranging furnishings, residents in the alley love to grow trees, plants, vines and flowers. Hao Si Phuong has not only concrete buildings but also small “gardens”. Most of the visitors are surprised at the plants and green spaces. The alley is usually called “green alley” thanks to the green walls, doors, windows, trees and plants.

Dracaena fragrans, golden trumpet, pomelo tree, red aglaonema - Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Dracaena fragrans (thiết mộc lan), golden trumpet (huỳnh anh), pomelo tree (bưởi), red aglaonema (cây phú quý) are put in the corridor. A guard of thrown-away electric fan and a grid are used to keep the pomelo tree and the golden trumpet tree from falling over.

green spaces in Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Most of the houses grow plants and trees.

Ochna serrulata and Bougainvillea in Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Ochna serrulata (mai tứ quý) and Bougainvillea (hoa giấy) are popular in Hao Si Phuong Alley

beautiful flower at Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

The beautiful Bougainvillea (hoa giấy) and Frangipani (hoa sứ).

Community of Chinese People

According to Mr. A Ton, there was only one Vietnamese family in Hao Si Phuong alley before 1975, the others are from Teochew and Hainan, China. So that visitors can see 五 福 臨 門 (Five fortunes through door) panels or papers above entrances, lots of papers with Chinese characters, and Chinese altars mounted on the walls or put the floors. Incense burners, altar tablets with Chinese characters, red pockets, vases of flowers, plates of fruits are usually arranged on altars.

Many old Chinese people have been living in this alley their whole life. Mrs. Diep Lien who is nearly 100 years old has lived here her whole life, she can not speak Vietnamese. They all talk to each other in Chinese, some of the residents still read newspapers in Chinese and listen to Chinese music. At lunch or dinner, the smell of Chinese foods spread over the air.

altar, dried leaves, bird cage at Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

五 福 臨 門 paper is above the entrance, two altars with altar tablets and incense burners are mounted on the front wall. A dried bunch of leaves is hung on the left of the door in order to protect the house from devils and ghosts. An altar is also mounted on the stairway wall. The host even hangs his beloved bird cage in front of the house.

altar in Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

A simple altar made of a wood panel on which there are an incense burner with dragon pattern, an altar tablet, a red pocket.

stainless steel wall-mounted altar at Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Besides incense burners and altar tablets, flowers and fruits are also arranged on stainless steel wall-mounted altar.

The oldest woman in Hao Si Phuong Alley

Mrs. Diep Lien who is nearly 100 years old has lived here her whole life.

Peaceful Oasis in Hustle and Bustle Saigon

Escaping the busy, crowded and noisy Tran Hung Dao Street and entering the alley, visitors are lost in a Hongkong or China residential area. Old people sitting on small chairs, sipping some tea, listening to slow and relaxing Chinese songs while talking together in Vietnamese and Chinese. The relationship between neighbors in the alley is rather good. They usually help each other, sometimes sit together, chat leisurly, sip some drinks and share their stories, especially in the morning and at night.

In the late afternoon and evening, adults come back home after work, talk together and laugh, housewives cook delicious foods when children run around and play together. The alley is a peaceful place to return, relax and forget about difficulties in the life.

Neighbors help each other at Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Neighbors usually help each other. The alley is quiet during the day when residents go out, work or study.

Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Old people stay at home, chat leisurely together.

Local Life in Hao Si Phuong Alley

There is a small drink stall at the entrance to the alley, with a cabinet containing soft drinks, coffee, tea, glasses, straws and ice, some plastic chairs and tables arranged along the wall. The vendor ist behind the cabinet and is happy to serve her customers refreshing drinks at cheap prices. She also takes care of visitors’ motorbikes and bicycles and charge them a small fee. Residents farm chicken, dry their clothes on lines and tracks, arrange tables, chairs, vehicles, even washing machines in corridors or on balconies because the houses are not spacious enough. In the alley, poor people collect carton boxes, bottles and other recyclables and sell them to make money.

drink stall, recycling collector in Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

The vendor uses an umbrella to protect her drink stall in front of the entrance to Hao Si Phuong Alley from the sun. A recycling collector ties cardboard boxes before selling them.

vendor keeps motorbikes at Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

The vendor keeps motorbikes of visitors and waits for customers who would like to enjoy some drinks.

Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Residents dry clothes on lines, put motorbikes and washing machines in front of their houses because there are no enough spaces inside the houses.

Chicken in a cage Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

Chicken in a cage in the alley.

chicken cage in Hao Si Phuong Alley, Ho Chi Minh City

This chicken cage is put in front of a house.

Electrical power system in the building

Tangled wires cause chaos around the building, electricity meters, air conditioners are hung on the front walls. Nearly ten fluorescent lamps are hung between two lines of houses to light the alley at night.

Tangled wires, electricity meters, air conditioners, fluorescent lamps.

Name of Hao Si Phuong Alley

Most of the visitors wonder what Hao Si Phuong means, when and how it was founded. Hào (hào hiệp) means generous, sỹ (văn sỹ) means writer, phường (in the phrase “buôn có bạn, bán có phường”) means trading has friends, selling has associations. Generosity, literature and trade association are characteristics of this alley.

According to Mr. A Ton who is over 68 years old and has been living in the alley for over 50 years, Hao Si Phuong was owned by Hua Bon Hoa Company of Uncle Hoa or Chú Hỏa who was one of the richest Chinese people in Saigon at the end of the 19th century and famous with the story The ghost in Hua Family. Uncle Hoa had built and leased the houses since 1910. He named the alley “Hào Sĩ Phường”. Some families in the houses still keep the contract with his company.

According to some researchers, the name of the alley came from the job of residents in the alley. The French government let Chinese people construct Saigon China Town (Cho Lon) themselves. Alleys in Chinese style had appeared and their names usually ended with “Lý” (hamlet), “Hạng” (family), “Phường” (same job). Hào Sĩ Phường is the place where workers of a soap factory owned by Mr. Hào Sĩ.

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