Why Are Houses in Vietnam Narrow and Long?

Many visitors traveling to Vietnam are surprised by the fancy architecture of small – narrow – long – tall houses in big cities, like Saigon or Hanoi.

These thin buildings are also known as tube houses – nhà ống in Vietnamese, or with a beautiful name that is modern box houses – nhà hộp.

tube houses in vietnam
Houses in Vietnam | ©phamvanduc94/pixabay

Why are there many tube houses in Vietnam? Please check the reason as the following:

Forming the tube houses in Vietnam from historical factors

Many opinions suggest that the tube houses came from the tax policy of the feudal regime.

The feudal state charged a fee based on the width of the street house facade to collect taxes. One of the ways to reduce the cost of taxes, people divided lands into small chunks that were long with slim front faces to build.

houses in Hoi An Vietnam
Tube houses in Hoi An Vietnam | © Vietnamdrive

The consequence of the construction was tube houses in Hoi An Old Town and Hanoi Old Quarter. Although many old buildings were replaced with modern structured architecture works in Hanoi, Hoi An Ancient Town still keeps this style of old architecture relatively intact.

Despite that, the people who like to study Hanoi Old Quarter can find the narrow primitive houses in paintings of Mr. Bui Xuan Phai – one of the famous Vietnamese painters – specializing in drawing about ancient Hanoi.

Hanoi Old Quarter
Hanoi Old Quarter of Bui Xuan Phai painter | @philomena.07

Architecturally, these corny houses usually have two floors, and the main material is usually made of wood, roofing yin-yang tiles, supporting them with concrete walls.

Besides, most houses were built adjacent to each other for the purpose of supporting them in coping with the harsh winds and storms blowing from the East Sea. Since then, the neighborhoods have had tube houses formed, existed, and developed up to now.

Tube houses existing by the influence of expensive real estate

Nowadays, in addition to the Old Quarter of Hanoi and Hoi An, we see new tube houses constructed in some big cities, typically in Ho Chi Minh and the new areas of Hanoi.

As you walk around a city, from small alleys to busy streets, the presence of boxed houses is everywhere. They become the exciting background of many photos of tourists when visiting Vietnam.

narrow house in hcmc Vietnam
A typical thin building in HCMC, Vietnam | ©Peter Addor/Flickr

In the main cities, life is expensive, especially landing and housing prices in Vietnam are really high (there was a research survey showing that house prices got 25 times higher than people’s income).

At the same time, almost everyone wants a house facing the street to facilitate travel and business. Thus, land and house prices have kept going up; typically, the price increases in proportion to the width of the facade.

Therefore, people often divide the land into small pieces for a lower price, better suited to the income of most Vietnamese people.

This second factor contributes to creating a series of unique flat houses, which seem to be found only in Vietnam.

houses in hanoi Vietnam
Box houses in Long Bien, Hanoi | ©Hòa Nguyễn/Flickr

These modern tube houses have two floors and sometimes get up to 4 or 5 storeys made of modern materials, creating a fragile feeling.

Most owners use the first floor of the houses for business, trade, or lease. Family members live in the back and from the second floor up. So almost everywhere on the streets of big cities, you will find small shops right in front of the narrow buildings.

The phenomenon of high-rise buildings having very small facades and thin-long-tall bodies comes from several reasons:

  • The number of family members increases while the house-attached-land price is costly, and the need for more living space is indispensable. Thus, families continue adding more stories or building new houses with more floors to meet crowded members. Therefore, when you travel to Vietnam, you can come across a family of generations sharing living space in narrow houses.
  • In part, the movement of the population from the countryside to the city also creates pressure on land and housing, increasing the need to rent or own an estate. The long and narrow houses are suitable for the needs of most middle-income workers.
  • Next, there are some groups of people from the countryside, who come to work and live temporarily in the cities. Thus, they don’t pay much attention to the house comfort because they see the city as a place to make money. Meanwhile, in the countryside, they also have larger and more beautiful houses. Therefore, they choose the residence with priority on price and convenience of movement.

The above factors in the present life are also the premise for thin houses with low-cost, small frontage to develop, and suitable for business needs.


The tube houses in many places in Vietnam are a typical feature of the local architecture and lifestyle. The formation and development of these box houses are also the results of history and expensive living standards in urban areas.

In terms of feng-shui, typically in bedroom feng-shui, indeed, these houses are not preeminent, because they are too narrow to create a sense of comfort for the homeowners. A lot of people don’t want to live in such thin houses but have no other choice.

However, as life develops, the sharp growth rate in urban areas in Vietnam creates a great demand for real estate. Many attached-land houses continue to be built in the tube-house mode on a narrow strip of land, with a tiny living area, mainly for economic and business reasons.

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    About the author

    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.