A Past Attempt to Garner Increased Attention and Funding For the Cham Museum, Da Nang, Vietnam

My presentation for the conference, “Developing Danang into an International Center of Tourism and Service Industries”, Oct. 24th, 2014

I am happy to report that many of the conservation and other issues at the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture, discussed below and more thoroughly in a previous presentation that I may post here at a later date, are being addressed or will be soon.  However, there are a number of issues that still remain.  Enough to keep me out of trouble for the next decade or so. 


Da Nang, the Destination

Xin Chiao tat ca qui vy.  Toi ten la Nathan Lauer, va hom nay toi rat vui toi co the noi ve Bao Tang Cham va Than Pho Da Nang.  Nhung ma, toi biet tieng viet cua toi khong du, cho nen toi muon noi xin loi, boi vi bay gio toi phai noi tieng anh

During the 4 years I have been in Da Nang, I have had the opportunity to observe, and occasionally meet, many Western and other overseas tourists.  From most of these observations and conversations, a common thread has appeared.  To quote one young British couple, whom I met earlier this month,  “We didn’t even know Da Nang was  here, we thought it was just an airport.”

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the heart of Da Nang’s problem.  The city and businesses here have done wonders over the last few years, but for far too many travelers,  Da Nang is still just a transportation hub, not a destination.  We are not part of their tour of Vietnam, but a means to get to the next stop.  Whether that stop is Hoi An, Hue, or the resorts, the problem for the city of Da Nang remains the same:  how do we attract more tourists to come, and stay, in Da Nang?.

The question of how we attract more tourists to stay here is the focus of my presentation today, and I will begin by saying that this is a concern for the surrounding resorts as well.  There are hundreds of beach and seaside resorts around the world, so the resorts here in Da nang and Quang Nam face the challenge of attracting customers away from numerous competitors and regions. Therefore, Da Nang becoming a tourist destination, and not just a travel hub, is also in their best interests.

To rephrase the original question, “How do we bring more tourists to Da Nang?” :

If I am an American, German, French, Australian, Japanese or other overseas tourist…. why should I spend thousands of dollars to come and stay in or near Da Nang?  What is going to bring me here, and not someplace else that is maybe closer?  What is the star attraction that grabs my interest, drawing me here from thousands of kilometers away?

The City has accomplished much over the last few years to make this area more attractive to tourists.  However, we still don’t have a star attraction for the city.  The resorts and beaches are from among too many to count globally, the bridges and Ba Na Hills are more of a regional attraction than an international one, and our events are only a few days here and there.  What is going to get a foreigner to spend a lot of money to travel and have a vacation here rather than another place?  The most powerful answer to that question is, culture.

In terms of culture, Da Nang is both blessed and handicapped.  This is a new city, which means we don’t have the normal historic attractions and neighborhoods that bring so many people to Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi. This is a significant handicap in trying to draw people here.

However, this city has something others don’t … something unique to Da Nang, and unique in the world.  It is under marketed, underfunded, under visited, and under appreciated.  It is also a UNESCO verified attraction, encapsulating all that Westerners tend to look for in visiting Asia:  The romance of a mysterious lost underdog civilization, with an ancient history and religion shrouded by the fog of time, represented only by the art and ruins it left behind. And, it is readily available for viewing by everyone from retired people to young families with children. Day trips are available to associated ruins, which will bring them back in time for dinner and their hotel or resort bed.  Da Nang holds in its hands a potential marketing bonanza and tourist draw, yet its existence remains a surprise for many visitors, and even residents.  It is, in it’s long title, The Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture … or, as I shall call it from here, the Cham Museum.

For a beach resort area to have an ancient cultural draw of this potential magnitude is rare, and therefore full of opportunity.   I tried to think of another similar situation, and could only think of the use of Mayan ruins in the branding of Belize and Mexico ….

Slide 2: Here are the top 4 results of a search of ‘things to do’ on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.  The First and the Fourth are both museums of ancient Mayan art and architecture.

These parts of Central America are among the most visited resorts beaches in the world, and not just because of their proximity to the U.S., but because of their archeological heritage.


Slide 3: This is an old advertising brochure for the region, showing the branding of the area, which continues today.  Note the mixed use of beaches and cultural artifacts.

The advertising and branding of that region is dominated by mixed pictures of ruins and of people on beaches .. and there’s a reason for that.  There’s also a reason for the fact that, while the bathing suit styles have changed over the decades, the presence of the ruins in their advertising has not.


Da Nang has a similarly potent symbol for tourism, it just hasn’t been developed properly yet.  The museum is in disrepair due to lack of funding and attention, and the various ruins are in a similar state.  However, this can be remedied, and with a little care, for less money than the development of some of the other attractions that have been built here over the last few years.


In a sense, this timing is good.  It can be painful to see the condition of the museum and its collection sometimes, and even more painful to see how it is only a side-note for most of the visitors who even make it there.  However, to best develop and improve such a tourist draw requires infrastructure.  The progress of Da Nang over the last few years has made the developing the potential of the museum easier and better.  Now, Da Nang has the Dragon Bridge to draw geographic attention to the locale. There are hotels and resorts to house the potential visitors. Shopping still lags behind, which I’ll mention briefly later, but other services are growing.  No one thing can be the sole attraction to a city, it is in the conglomeration of things that real success happens.  And, Da Nang has, or is starting to develop, the elements of that conglomeration.

So, the time is optimal to begin to develop the Cham Museum into what it can and should be;  the star cultural tourist attraction and branding element for the Da Nang area.

Some of you may be wondering why I focus on the Cham Museum, and not the various ruin sites. I would certainly agree that remains of Tra Kieu, Dong Duong, and of course My Son should be included in the broader planning for this.  As should the various other sites and Museums.  The 18th century fort the Da Nang Museum sits on top of would make a wonderful attraction for them if they highlighted it. The more the merrier, the more people see the longer they stay, eat, and shop; and, thereby supporting the preservation of these national treasures.  And, the more they can see, the more likely they are to come.  However, as with any show, movie, restaurant, or other consumer driven business, one needs a key attraction.  For Da Nang, the best, and possibly only, suitable candidate is the Cham Museum.  It provides the necessary combination of cultural, visual, and historical elements that make for the perfect core element of a city and region’s brand identification.


The French, when they first created the Cham Museum in 1915, had a good point.  One central location for the study and preservation of the Art of Champa.  It is in Champa that we find that rare combination of romance, mystery, and beauty that will draw people from afar and the Cham Museum is the beginning of any successful exploration of their culture and art history.  It provides the visitor with the most comprehensive collection of Cham Art in the world, and a necessary introduction to the other sites.  From a business perspective, the museum is also the most accessible, and starts people in the heart of the city, which is, after all, our goal.  Get people to the city, and make Da Nang a destination, not merely a waypoint.

Before I moved to Da Nang, I had studied the artifacts held in the museum for 7 years.  I was very excited to be able to finally see them in person.  When I did, I was moved to tears.  What struck me as very sad also has a negative impact on the average Western visitor.  They may not see the risk which the artifacts are under, due to various moisture related problems and touch damage from unrestrained visitors with backpacks. However, they do see the mold and algae, the peeling paint, and lack of climate control.

Slides 4, then 5

They also see the lack of lighting, security, signage, and other factors that impose a lot of negatives upon their experience.  Some they are aware of, others maybe not.  However, anybody with knowledge of marketing and advertising can tell you this:  these things inspire a lack of respect, diminish the sense of importance, and take away much of the potential enjoyment of the Cham Museum.  Hence, they have a negative impact on the visitors’ view of both the Museum and of Da Nang, and the brand image that Da Nang has.

The staff of the Museum has been doing what they can, and notable improvements have been made.  However, the funding and support simply aren’t there to make some of the drastic changes necessary.  The building, itself a monument to early 20th century Cham inspired French architecture, has spent 100 years in this climate, and it shows.  It was not designed for the 20th century, let alone the 21st century, nor was it designed to hold quite so many pieces.  As it is, the Museum simply doesn’t have the resources to perform its function, and it is decaying.

That being said, it is a monument, and needs to be preserved.  It can be reorganized, re sealed against moisture, and the roof can be reinforced and repaired.  Windows can be remodeled without changing the existing framework, making them more beautiful and allowing for some degree of climate control.  It can be repainted, with modern paints designed to protect the underlying concrete and brick.

One of the biggest problems the museum has is traffic flow.

Slide 6

5 entrances that double as exits, galleries that require one to criss-cross back and forth to get to other galleries.  These things inspire confusion.  Most modern museums focus on one entrance and one exit, and are organized in such a way as make circular traffic patterns for visitors, allowing them to find, visit, and revisit galleries and objects in a comfortable and easy way.  Proper organization of the museum could duplicate this to a large degree.  Most importantly for some, all of these things, and more, can be done without detriment to the structure itself, and will allow it to make much more money for the city and the region as a major tourist attraction.  There is far more risk to the Cham Museum, to its collection and to its architecture, if major repairs and refurbishments are not done.  From a business perspective, if not improved and developed, the Cham Museum will be able to do little to enhance the number of tourists that visit Da Nang and the resorts.

There is much more I could say regarding the potential the Cham Museum has for helping bring tourists here, and for what can and needs to be done to preserve and optimize the museum.  Unfortunately, my time is limited.  I will finish with briefly mentioning two other facets, though I invite any who are interested to chat with me further afterwards.

Some successful museums in the world have found it useful to have an outside advisory group, to help them with issues beyond the day to day, month to month operation of their institution.  Such groups help to preserve long term planning and goals, interface with government departments, businesses, and educational institutions, and generally act a little like an older uncle in advising the museum.  To my knowledge, the Cham Museum has no formal group such as this, and it may be useful to create one by drawing on former directors and other interested parties from government, business, and elsewhere.  This could assist not only in advising the Museum about long term planning, but act as an interface between the various government and business sectors and the Cham Museum, encouraging growth and cooperation.

The second is something that is of importance to any museum.  The gift shop/cafe’s of significant museums around the world are multi-million dollar enterprises, with several branches, that sell quality products that serve not only as income, but as marketing for the museum in question as well as it’s city and region.  Official Museum shops are trusted sellers of quality cultural souvenirs, and the Cham Museum, as well as the City, needs one.  It will need the products, the shop, and the cafe.   The Museum and the city need it to be of higher quality, with good and unique products, and because of this, it needs to have some degree of oversight by the Museum’s directors.  Because of cultural differences in shopping, one or more foreigner advisers may be desirable as well.

Slide 7:  Here is an example of a modern Museum Shop, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Official Museum Shops are an integral part of any successful museum, and upgrading the current set up to a higher level would increase revenues and serve to market both the city and the museum.  In fact, the most successful museum shops have three or more outlets, and Da Nang would be greatly served by having one on Tran Phu Street and one at the airport as well.

To help explain how this is important in the quickest possible way: please think of the lowly t shirt, one of the most common tourist souvenir purchases globally.  Now, picture a high quality t shirt, in western sizes, with art motifs taken from Cham art history, but in a contemporary and stylish manner.  Add a good, simple museum/city logo.

Historically, word of mouth advertising is the most singularly effective way to bring customers to a business, and the role of the t shirt is similar in marketing psychology.  A quality t shirt, with an interesting design and that states a location, says ‘ I like this place,I had fun here’.  The greater the quality and design, the greater the impact of this message is…..and the more often an owner will wear it.  It is like a travelling banner advertisement, legitimized by the fact that someone has chosen to buy and wear it.  It is profit making product that drives more profit to the seller……and therefore, the seller’s region.  Ultimately, this is the role of all souvenirs. So….a system of museum shops, or even just a single museum shop, can act as a potent marketing agent for its city as well as an improved income source.

Official Museum shops are the internationally trusted sellers of quality cultural souvenirs, and if quality standards are created and maintained, they can make a very strong positive impression upon tourists, as well as assist in driving the growth of the outside souvenir and tourist shopping sector as well.

Slide 8:  Here is a picture of a modern museum cafe, from a cultural museum in the Phillipines

Conversely, a museum shop that does not meet the quality and criteria of a museum can be a significant detriment.  As it is usually at the end of a visit that tourists encounter it, it can make for a bad overall impression of the museum, and can represent a variety of missed opportunities.

Slide 9

Personally, for the Cham Museum, I picture something like Madame Lans’ restaurant on Bach Dang Street, adapted to be a cafe/gift shop.

This would suit the museum and it’s location wonderfully.  Other locations could be more contemporary.

Slide 10

To conclude, I hope that, in this brief time, I have been able to communicate to you the strategic importance of the development and improvement of the Cham Museum to the short and long term growth of Da Nang.  To all of us who wish to see Da Nang grow and thrive as a city and a tourism destination, The Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture is the greatest single potential attractor for the City of Da Nang, and should be paramount in any planning for the growth of the tourism industry of this city.  Thank you for your time, and please feel free to discuss this further with me should you wish.

Notes on the Materials, Architecture, and Construction of Traditional Wooden Houses of Vietnam

  • Notes on the Materials, Architecture, and Construction of Traditional Wooden Houses of Vietnam(Specifically, Central Vietnam, excluding the multicultural architecture of Hoi An)

Typically, all the joinery in a traditional Vietnamese Wooden structure is mortise and tenon, and nails were not used. This is one reason Vinahouse Space (Vietnam’s Largest Museum of Traditional Wooden Architecture, near Hoi An.  http://www.vinahousespace.com) was able to move the historic houses in their collection, and be able to keep them as original as they are.  It is also a testament to the craftsmen who made these houses, as all the various pieces had to be cut and fit precisely for the house to stand firmly.  Often, the interior supports and beams were highly decorated with wood carvings, adding to the time and effort required to create these architectural elements and the houses that incorporate them.

In Vietnamese descriptions, these houses are usually divided into sections and sub sections according to the space between rows of pillars.  The central section was usually used as a worship area, with side sections and subsections used as family or living space.  These sections were usually in odd numbers, 1, 3 and 5, as these are considered good Phong Thuy (Fengshui).

Adapted to the heat and humidity of the region, traditional wooden houses in Vietnam are usually open, both in terms of the interior space, as well as a lack of exterior walls.  Series of doors often substitute for exterior walls, letting in the air during the heat of the day.  These can then be closed for the evening or during inclement weather, often with small slits or slides to let in the breeze.  The wooden bases of these doors, sometimes referred to as “The Buddha’s Shoulders”, tend to be raised above the floor, allowing for the movement of air as well as minimizing damage from floods.

Traditional bamboo and thatch farm houses differ from this, due to the nature of their construction.  Rather than being open on all sides, the front of the house was often composed of movable oversized thatch and bamboo walls, which can be raised to act as sun or rain screens during reasonable weather, and lowered to close off the house during storms or cooler evenings.  The exterior kitchens were constructed similarly, except in that the three structurally supporting walls were composed of woven bamboo filled with a mixture of buffalo dung and earth.  Purportedly, the dung kept the insects at bay.

The floors of Bamboo Farmhouses also differed from the wooden houses of the upper classes and Mandarin officials.  The wooden houses used stone or ceramic tile.  Many of the farm houses used a mix of earth/clay, salt, and ash.  The salt and ash acted as desiccants, which when mixed with the earth/clay, made for a rock-hard packed earth floor.

Many of the most valuable of the Asian hardwoods are found in Vietnam, and have been exported since the 14th century if not earlier.  The wood used in the construction of the traditional wooden houses was usually Jackfruit or Ironwood (Tieli or Jichi mu*) for the pillars, with decorative work being done in a variety of different woods including Ironwoods, Rosewoods (Hua li, Huang Huali, Hong Suanzi mu*), and some kinds of Asian Mahogany.  Jackfruit pillars are particularly popular in Central Vietnam, both because it was relatively easy to source and because it is rot and insect resistant.

Wooden pillars are one of the most important features of these houses, and almost always sit on stone bases, which were frequently carved.  Pumpkin form bases are one common type, the pumpkin representing fertility.  These stone bases may have foundations that lead deep under the surface floor of the house, and separate the wood from the moisture in the ground.  The joinery of the wooden beams at the top of these pillars is often decorated as well, various dragon forms being one of the more common themes.  Pillars are usually cylindrical in shape; however, they may be square as well.

Roofs were tiled, usually in three or more layers using 2 or more types of terra cotta tile.  The three most common styles of roof tiling are known as: Yin-Yang tiling, for the convex and concave tiles that fit together to form the exterior or top layer; Fish Scale Tiling, for the pattern of the flat rounded overlapping terra cotta shingles: Crown Tiling, which is similar to the Fish Scale tiling, but with squared flat terra cotta shingles as opposed to rounded.  These styles of tiling are extremely effective at shielding a house from the elements.

In Vietnam, fragments or even entire dishes of glazed ceramics, often of Chinese origin, were and are used in the mosaic decoration of water features and statues, as well as for architectural decoration.  Entire plates are usually reserved for the decoration of architecture, and sometimes furniture.

The wooden houses of the upper classes usually integrated a garden and main gate as part of their Phong Thuy/Fengshui.  Among the elements recommended for good Phong Thuy are a water feature, something representing a mountain, and a large natural rock or carved wood screen placed somewhere between the gate and the house.

Documentation I have read refers to the purpose of the centrally placed natural rock or carved/decorated wood screen as being for privacy and contemplation.  I believe there is also another reason, but have yet to officially confirm my theory.  In Sino-Asian/Confucian cultures, one old belief is that ghosts and evil spirits must travel in straight lines, and cannot turn corners.  A centrally placed privacy and contemplation piece would require that anyone entering through the gate walk around said piece to enter the house.  So, I think it is reasonable to assume that it also served to keep bad spirits and bad luck from entering the house (I continue to get positive poll results on this theory, but documentation may have to wait a few years while my Vietnamese language skills grow).

*  Pin-yin Chinese names for woods used as a reference, as Chinese provides a more comprehensive nomenclature for Asian hardwoods than English.

**  Pictures courtesy of Vinahouse Space


About Me

Source: About Me

I began my study of Vietnamese Art History and Culture as an antiquities dealer and conservator in the Seattle area.  In 2010, after the economic downturn, I came to Da Nang, Vietnam to do some research, and then decided to stay.  I continue to study while volunteering and working with museums in Da Nang and Quang Nam, and look forward to many more years of the same.

This blog is my opportunity to help fill in some of the gaps left by tour guides and guide books. For those that are interested in this sort of thing, I hope it will increase their enjoyment of Vietnam.  This is not intended to be an academic, lengthy discussion of the minutia of Vietnamese art history, merely a general source of often missed information, interesting tidbits, facts, and theories surrounding some of the art historical, culinary, and cultural aspects of Vietnam

Some of the things here will be excerpted from writing I have done for other purposes: conference presentations, guide books, seminars, articles, etc.  I will try to edit them to make them interesting in this context, and organize them to maintain some sort of cohesiveness.

In the future, one may find bits and pieces concerning living here as well.

Contributions and comments are welcomed, though I am not tech savvy enough to say that I know precisely how to deal with them at the moment.  I will nonetheless attempt to be prompt in approvals and responses … and requests for information.  I am happy to oblige as I can.

Thanks for Visiting!

Religious and Cultural Influences in Vietnamese Art and Architecture: Part 1

Religious and Cultural Influences in Vietnamese Art and Architecture

  • Fengshui: 

Fengshui, or Phong Thuy in Vietnamese, is an important part of both the interior and exterior design and decoration of Vietnamese homes, and is an important part of Vietnamese culture as well.  This is still very true today.  Often, the design or placement of objects within a new business or house is influenced by a Phong Thuy advisor, and wedding dates, grand openings, etc. are also subject to their advice.

Phong Thuy is both mystical and practical in its use.  Essentially, it embodies the rules of spatial arrangement in order to maximize the flow of positive energies.  It also includes auspicious or lucky symbolism to ward off negative energies.


  • Ancestor Worship

Strong reverence for the ancestors, associated with Confucianism, is a strong part of Vietnamese culture.  Today, in houses belonging to people of the two most dominant faiths, Buddhism and Catholicism, one can still usually find small altars with pictures of both male and female ancestors, for whom candles and incense are lit, and offerings of food and other items presented.

Upon special occasions and certain holidays, burnt offerings are made as a sign of respect and, in the case of engagements, weddings, and similar occasions, a request for approval.  Birthday celebrations are a relatively recent addition to Vietnamese culture; however death anniversaries have been and continue to be important occasions for families.

The traditions of ancestral worship in Vietnam are very similar to those of China.  However, there are significant differences, including the fact that in Vietnam, women may participate in and co-officiate the ceremonies and celebrations for the ancestors.

The term, “Ancestor Worship”, dates back to at least the early 19th century in English, and is something of a misnomer.  Ancestors are not deified, but revered and respected.  This reverence and respect can be seen among the living as well, as elders are generally respected and deferred to in Vietnam much more strongly than in Western cultures.

  • Confucianism

Based on the works of Confucius (China, 559-479 BCE), Confucianism is a socio-political humanist philosophy, and covers everything from common individuals and their obligations to their community to the governance of society.  In short, it focuses on the morality of the greater good and governance by meritocracy, with the family having gender specific roles and forming the foundation of society.

In practice, Confucianism was the foundation of the basic systems of governance for Confucian countries.  Education (one of the essential merits of a Confucian meritocracy), not inheritance, was the means by which one could attain rank in government.

The Confucian Exam System, by which theoretically anybody could enter the ruling class, was a dominant political force in Vietnam from the 11th century through to 1913.  In English, we tend to refer to successful examinees that become officials as “Mandarins”, in reference to their Chinese counterparts.  In Vietnamese, they are referred to by  a number of terms, depending upon the level of exam and the degree of success of the candidate.  Interestingly, the term for a person who passed but without any particular distinction, “Tiến Sĩ” , is the title given today to someone who has a PhD.

The influence of Confucianism in Vietnam remains strong, in spite of the fact that the Confucian exams were suspended in 1913 by the French.  It is reflected in both the reverence and language used for the educated as well as for elders, and in the importance and style of the education system.