Have you ever waken up in the morning asking yourself what on earth should you do to get out of sight of the busy streets and the 4.5 million motorbikes in Hanoi? I decided to reward myself today with a day excursion to Bat Trang ceramic village and the nearby Van Giang flower village for the feel of countryside of Hanoi.
A WONDERFUL DAY IN BAT TRANG CERAMIC VILLAGE
The wind went through my helmetless hair when I was riding my scooter on the dyke separating the famous Red river and the other side of Hanoi. Right when I came across the river I faced with beautiful rice paddies and green guava gardens, fish ponds and pagodas along the way.
The dyke leading to Bat Trang along the Red river
My first stop was the Bat Trang ceramic village. Unlike other northern villages, here in bat Trang every house is a pottery workshop. From the elderly to young children, everyone is busy with molding, painting, firing or just simply playing with clay. All together making an interesting working atmosphere here in the well known Bat Trang ceramic village.
A girl cleaning vases freshly taken out of molds in Bat Trang village
Since King Ly Thai To moved the capital city to Thang Long, which is now Hanoi, in the year 1010, Thang Long became the political center of the old Vietnam. Some potters from Bo Bat traditional ceramic village (in Thanh Hoa province- 150 km south of Hanoi) also migrated out here with the call to build Thanh Long into a mighty capital city. That is believed to be the beginning of this village. Bat Trang village has been extended and is divided into two zones: the new Bat Trang ceramic village and the ancient area. Not too many tourists know about the old part of the village that is located along the river with unique architecture, ancient kilns and narrow alleys. People here told me they had to build the alleys that narrow to prevent invaders from coming into the village.
Narrow alleys in the old part of Bat Trang village
I went in every workshop along the way and was amazed by how skillful the artists are in making beautiful ceramic products. In the past they used coal to fire their products. In this part of the Bat Trang ceramic village I could still see some ancient wall with coal sticking on them. Nowadays kilns are fired by either gas or electricity which is good for the environment.
The old style kiln that uses coal in Bat Trang
Pies of coal stacked on wall
On the way strolling I noticed many children playing with mud on rotating dishes. And I realized they were learning to make some products themselves. That’s a good way to know how hard it is to form mud into beautiful shapes. These boys I met seemed to be enjoying their “art work” a lot. Hope at the end of the day they can bring some of their own products home from this Bat Trang ceramic village.
Trying to create some ceramic art out of mud
Leaving Bat Trang ceramic village I was heading to Chu Dong Tu temple which is located on the Red river bank, 3 kms from the ceramic village. The wind breezing from the river made it nice here when I was sitting down listening to an old man telling me about Chu Dong Tu- one of the Fantasy Four, I mean the four immortals of Vietnam. Chu Dong Tu was born in a very poor family, too poor that he did not even have a short to wear. He naked the whole day and night fishing in the river. One day princess Tien Dung came to that river bank where Chu was fishing (naked- of course) for a sightseeing. Chu was freaking out and he hid himself in the sand. After some nice walking around, the princess wanted to have a bath and she accidentally stripped off her clothes right where Chu was hiding. They saw each other naked! And that made Chu Dong Tu became the king! I know it escalated quickly but that how the legend goes! The old man never told me why Chu Dong Tu became one of the four immortal of Vietnam but I know for sure one day I will try to hide my naked body in the sand here waiting for Megan Fox to show up.
With a short walk from the temple of Chu Dong Tu and Tien Dung I found myself strolling along the Van Giang local market. And this kind of sight never fails to excite me. Farmers selling their greens freshly pulled from their gardens. Chickens and fish that are still kicking being checked by buyers. Food stalls that sell all types of countryside food right next to tables filled with meats and things I I have no idea what they are ( but eatable ). This Van Giang local market provide food and stuff for the whole village nearby for years now. I bought some green veggie and flowers just to get to know some locals to ask for the ancient house of Mr. An- which I heard is one of the oldest house in the area.
Van Giang open air market
Riding my scooter along green alleys with banana gardens and orange bushes passing by my two sides, I finally found the gate to Mr. An’s house. It is such a pretty house with a green garden in front. Mr. An welcomed me with a firm handshake and hospitalized me with a really nice green tea (which was marinated with jasmine taken from his garden) and interesting stories about his prod house. The house is a typical kind of house for wealthy landlords in the past with low celling made out of red clay titles and tick wood with lots of “buc ban” doors and windows (same type of doors coming into pagodas and temples where they make it bit higher than the ground- believed to prevent bad spirits to come into the house- which I doubt- as I guess spirits or ghosts can fly- if they even exist). He got this house from his father who tried so hard to keep the house in one peace during the “land reform” time of North Vietnam during the war.
Ancient house in the village
As the tradition the family house can only be passed on to the oldest son of the family. And he has to have one son at least to keep that tradition alive. Now he is living here happily with his wife taking care of the house for his oldest son, who works in Bat Trang ceramic village, at a later stage.
Ancient house 160 years old
We were talking under the shades of his trees in the garden when an Irish family came to visit the house. That was the family I met earlier in the Bat Trang ceramic village! I realized Mr. An hosts tourists to visit and his wife does them cooking demonstration. The stories of Mr. An interestingly continued about the village and people here while the two boys running around the house checking out things they can hardly find in the home country – Ireland.
Around noon we were invited to have a cooking class taught by Mrs. An. We learnt the process to make spring rolls- a traditional food for Hanoi. So traditional that the Irish family told me they had it every meal in Hanoi so far. We tried to make the rolls ourselves and it was fun.
The reward of those hard to make rolls was a nice lunch prepared by Mrs. An. We had lots of traditional northern Vietnamese food under the shades of trees in the garden. They atmosphere was so nice that I agreed to have some “special wine” offered by Mr.An. I never knew what’s in the wine but he said it would be “good for men”. Well I trusted him! (And no I didn’t drink that snake wine or that bird wine!!!)
In the garden Mr.An also owns some very impressive bonsai that are around 50-60 years old. Having bonsai around the house is one of typical hobbies of elderly Vietnamese in the northern part. Mr. An introduced me the herbs and plants in his garden that are used as traditional medicines. In the old days many Vietnamese believed and used those leaves, roots and barks of some special plants and grass to cue their sickness. An told me he only uses those things since born and still alive. I guess it works !
Saying goodbye to Mr and Mrs An and the Bat Trang ceramic village I got back on my scooter heading back to Hanoi via the dyke. A day out to these village really made forget about this busy life ( for a while ). I will have to come back here to meet more interesting people like Mr and Mrs An and listen to their stories about the old time.
By Pham Tuyen