You can’t walk far in Hoi An without confronting a mythical beast with a fish’s body and dragon’s head; though they’re found all over northern Vietnam they seem to have struck a particular chord with Hoi An’s architects. One of the most prominent examples tops a weather vane in the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, but there are plenty of more traditional representations about, carved into lantern brackets and beam ends, or forming the beams themselves. The carp symbolizes prosperity, success and, here, metamorphosing into a dragon, serves a reminder that nothing in life comes easily. To become a dragon, and thereby attain immortality, a fish must pass through three gates – just as a scholar has to pass three exams to become a mandarin, requiring much patience and hard work.

Another typical feature of Hoi An’s architecture are “eyes” watching over the entrance to a house or religious building. Two thick wooden nails about 20cm in diameter are driven into the lintel as protection against evil forces, following a practice that originated in the pagodas of northern Vietnam. Assembly halls offer the most highly ornamented examples: that of Phuoc Kien consists of a yin and yang with two dragons in obeisance to the sun, while the Cantonese version is a fearsome tiger. The yin and yang symbol became fashionable in the nineteenth century and is the most commonly used image on houses, sometimes set in a chrysanthemum flower, such as at the Tan Ky House, or as the octagonal talisman representing eight charms.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Vietnam features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: Vietnam's last paradise?

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: Vietnam's last paradise?

Planning a trip to Vietnam and keen to explore some of its most spectacular scenery? A little north of the 17th parallel – the demarcation where Vietnam was o…

18 Apr 2017 • Rachel Mills insert_drive_file Article
7 places to get off the tourist trail in Vietnam

7 places to get off the tourist trail in Vietnam

The verdant limestone stacks of Ha Long Bay and the bustling streets of Hanoi are well established (and essential) stops along Vietnam’s tourist trail. But th…

04 Apr 2017 • Rachel Mills insert_drive_file Article
The 10 most beautiful places in Vietnam – as voted by you

The 10 most beautiful places in Vietnam – as voted by you

Here at Rough Guides we’ve always known that Vietnam is magical. The gleaming skyscrapers of the country's booming cities have a singular kind of beauty that …

27 Jan 2017 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month