(No.6, Vol.7,Dec 2017-Jan 2018 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
A stone road
A stone well
A stone cage
A stone house
A stone grinder
Seen from afar, the 200m long, 50m wide Plate Piles Cascades in An Ninh Dong Commune, Tuy An District, Phu Yen Province looks like a gigantic bee hive. This rock formation, a national natural treasure, is unlike any other on Vietnam’s shore, and may be very rare in the world.
According to scientists, about 200 million years ago, lava from volcanic activities oozed right into the sea water. Too-quick hardening and cracking due to the sudden change in temperature created this otherworldly effect.
Around the Plate Piles Cascades, Phu Luong, Phu Hoi, and Phu Son villages have groups of very exotic stone houses.
In his book Cultural Heritage of Phu Yen, Mr. Nguyen Hoai Son, Chairman of the Phu Yen Coalition of Associations of Science and Technology wrote, ‘Walking into one of those villages, I felt as if I had strayed into a world of rocks. Houses, wells and roads, even graves are built with stones. It seems that people here are born from rocks, grow up among rocks and come back to the rocks when they die. Everything here is built from countless natural, uncut stones without any bonding material.’
To have a 60-70m2 house or stable, it takes builder Tran Van Tinh two years to select and transport the stones back to the place. Then he and three others have to spend 45 more days to pile the walls and make a roof of tiles, thatch or corrugated iron sheets.
As I pushed a wall to test its strength, Mr Tinh assured me, ‘It’s half a meter thick, and unmovable. Just stones, without any metal reinforcement, or concrete or lime for bonding, but none of the houses here suffered any damage through so many devastating storms.’ It is baking – 38oC outside – and so cool and so comfortable inside.
Mrs Nguyen Thi Luong, who is over 70, shows us a 6 meter deep village well with a beautifully built round wall of rocks. She told us, ‘This well is nearly a century old. As a child, I used to wash myself here. Grown up, I always came here to take water home for family use.’ I took a bucket of water from the well and rinsed my face. The crystal clear water was so cool and refreshing in the midsummer heat.
We followed Mrs Luong, crossing a golden sea of ripened rice to come to a plate – like grave which stood amidst rectangular and opal ones. Mrs Luong shared her thoughts, ‘Some of these graves are centuries old. My grandparents and my parents say they have seen these since their childhood. They expressly wished to be buried in ones like those when they died. I, too, want to have one for myself when the time comes.’
*The article in Vietnamese version was printed on www.tienphong.vn, 8 June, 2017