Out of Hanoi, Hanoi
Hanoi is well worth spending a week, but what if you become bored by it? Why not check out the villages in the vicinity of Hanoi? They will provide you with a unique view of Vietnam's rural life and you'll be amazed how untouristy this country can be. Not to mention the incredibly friendly people...
The best way to visit the villages is by motorbike. I believe that there are organised tours that can be booked somewhere in Hanoi's Old Quarter, but I always preferred going with a Vietnamese friend of mine. Moreover, students of the city's universities often offer guided tours of Hanoi's sights but also its surroundings in order to practice their English (or German, French, Spanish, you name it).
If you choose to go on your own, the first thing to do is getting a motorbike - go to Hang Bac street and rent one. There are plenty of shops and if you bargain a little (or keep it for longer than just a day), you'll get quite a reasonable price. Second, get yourself a map of Hanoi. Good ones can be purchased in Trang Tien street in any one of the bookstores. Third, practice driving! As stupid as this sounds, Hanoi's traffic is awful (though very funny if you finally find out how to survive it) - your normal driving skills won't be enough. In the countryside, the situation is better, but still not really safe. If you've done all that, you can finally start your exciting tour through the villages and the countryside.
As Hanoi is encircled by the Red River (Song Hong) to the north, it is not easy to leave the city in this direction. Basically, there are only two bridges crossing the river - Chuong Duong bridge to the east and Thang Long bridge to the north (and the airport). Nevertheless, it's a wonderful tour if you leave Hanoi via Chuong Duong bridge. If you turn right immediately after the bridge, you'll find a dike road that follows the river. This road finally leads to Bac Trang village, known for its beautiful and partly incredibly kitschy ceramics. Don't be surprised if you find St.Bernardine dogs with a basket for easter eggs on their back, porcelain figures of little naked boys that stand upside down or misspelled English inscriptions a la "I loove you" on china animals. What you should do instead is consider buying a very beautiful tea service or the like. It's really cheap but still good quality. Furthermore, you can watch the porcelain makers working in some open factories. Bac Trang is a good place to start a tour through Hanoi's vicinity.
Instead of leaving the main road just behind Chuong Duong bridge, you may as well go straight on. Unfortunately, this road is heavily populated by all kinds of vehicles (such as oxen carts, bicycles, twenty-ton trucks, buses...). It's not in the best condition, either. The good thing: You can leave it anywhere you choose. If you turn to the left, you cannot get lost because this is the area between the airport road and the one you just left. Sooner or later, you'll end up on one of them. I would recommend driving on until Yen Vien and shortly after the town turn to the left at a white bridge. You will then find a village that is fully committed to steel production and processing. It's impressive to see: the machines are as old as the industrial age, there are no security provisions whatsoever, but there's an enormous amount of hard and rather badly paid work. I talked to people who punch ten-metre steel poles into smaller pieces for as little as $2 a day! Others melt steel and produce these poles - they have to work in temperatures of about 80-100°celsius. It's a big advantage if you've got some Vietnamese speaking person with you as this will make it easier to get into contact with the people. They are very friendly and probably as curious as you are. But be careful where you walk and stand - there's hardly any security and steel can be very destructive!
If you choose to follow the main road for a longer time, you will soon find signs that advertise furniture of any kind. Turn to the left and you'll come to the furniture village. This village focuses on wood processing. Almost every household seems to do nothing but carving, engraving, planing, hammering... The village produces everything from an ordinary table to a beautifully engraved four-poster bed. You may also purchase a Buddha statue of some 2 metres. Unfortunately, none of these items is easily transportable...
Another tour might lead you to the area south of Hanoi. Leave the city via Ha Dong town and you'll soon be approaching beautiful Ha Tay province (in fact, you've already entered it when you're in Ha Dong). A first stop could be the so-called silk village just outside the city limits. Then you may consider driving further to two famous pagodas: Thay Pagoda and Tay Phuong Pagoda. Both are about 35km away from Hanoi. They are not too easy to find - a guide may be a good idea. Thay Pagoda is a tranquil place located on top of a mountain. The first thing you'll see is a lake in which a water puppet festival takes place annually in late March or April. The next thing will be dozens of children who try to sell souvenirs of all kinds as Thay Pagoda is very popular with Vietnamese tourists. Ignore the children and climb up the steep hill until you reach the actual pagoda which is built in the middle of the rocky summit. It's really beautiful. In addition to it, you should not miss climbing up to the very top of the hill because of the marvellous view from up there. Tay Phuong Pagoda is also located on top of a hill - but this time it's an earthen hill. It's not as beautiful as the other one, but the pagoda is less crowded. However, there are also many souvenir vendors who are even more importunate than those in Hanoi. You should plan at least half a day for a trip to these pagodas
A second day trip that we carried out involved a visit to the Perfume Pagoda. This pagoda is situated in the mountains about 60KM southwest of Hanoi.
The Perfume Pagoda, Chua Huong, is called the perfume pagoda because of the fragrance of the blossoms that surround it in spring time.
To get to the Perfume Pagoda first you must travel by bus then journey by rowing boat up a river valley surrounded by hills. We loved looking at the boats passing us and were delighted when several carrying dragon dance costumes to celebrate Chinese New Year came towards us.
When you get off the boat you must climb a steep path up the mountain to the pagoda. Our guide gave us a set time and we thought we had stuck to it, but took the wrong path on the way down and ended up lost. So lost we expected our tour to leave without us. When we eventually made it back to the boats, our guide was looking for us. We were embarrassed at having held everyone up. Then we discovered that half the remaining tour passengers were also lost. Our poor guide was off up and down the mountain looking for them, too. Close to an hour past the time we had all been told to come back, we all refound the transport. It was quite funny.
The pagoda has several shrines and parts occupy a dark cave.
Our trip to Hanoi came with a choice of half day tour. I choose the trip to the ceramics village and snake farm because the other options were things we could easily do by ourselves. Our very sweet guide tried to disuade us saying we would not enjoy the tour, but I would not budge on the issue. Now the snake farm was awful consisting of an unpleasant man with a deformed finger, due to a snake bite, thrusting snakes and bottles of liquor containing snakes in our face. Our guide was quite scared of him. So were we. However the ceramics village was great - so much choice and incredibly cheap. I bought a tea pot, bowl and octagonal jar. We also visited a temple on this trip.
On the same trip that took us to Tam Coc we also visited the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu is near the town of Ninh Binh.
Hoa Lu was once the site of the ancient capital of an old Vietnamese Kingdom called Dai Co Viet. This small Kingdom was only 300 hectares in size. This kingdom existed from the 10th century, during the Dinh and Le dynasties, to the 11th century, during the Ly Dynasty.
There are not many remains, but the mountain scenery and agricultral land are beautiful.
A tour to the Bat Trang Pottery Village was included in My CITY TOUR.
This village is located in the countryside and is a famous trade village, with over 6,000 people in 1,500 families living and working here. Most men in Bat Trang follow the traditional work.
Here, we were taken to a workshop where we saw the potters working, and the whole process through to it being handpainted and fired, and of course, the finished product on the shelves for us to buy.
A rather heavy souvenir, and there are some extremely big, beautiful pieces.
After looking at the workshop, I went for a wander around the village, looking at other Pottery for sale.
The men on their push bikes, laden with heavy pots was an interesting sight to see.
The also was an Ox for the tourists to take a ride on, I didn't do it, an extra charge for this.
Bat Trang also holds a annual village festival.
Location: Bat Trang Pottery Village is located in the south east of Hanoi, passing Chuong Duong Bridge turns right and go about 10km along the dyke of Red River.
Bat Trang belongs to Bat Trang Commune, Gia Lam District, Hanoi, Vietnam.
I did it on tour, but you could get a Taxi to bring you here.
The Ha Dong Silk village (a trade village), is in the centre of Ha Dong town, Ha Tay Province, and is the ...............
BIGGEST SILK PRODUCING AREA IN VIETNAM
For 1000's of years, Silk has been weaved here. You can visit a home where weavers operate power looms. Silk patterns have now been computerized which cuts down the time from 20 days per pattern to 3 days per pattern.
The Museum shows the history of Ha Dong throughout the ages.
In Van Phuc, there are 730 households, with 1600 people earning a living here by weaving Silk.
I came here on my own, by Motorbike Taxi. On arrival, I was taken into the factory to watch the process of making Silk, then I went for a walk along the street, visiting various Silk shops. One thing I found here, was there wasn't any hard sell.
There was a big choice of silk products and material.
Tours come here or you can come on your own as I did.
LOCATION........ To reach Van Phuc village, travel south west out of Ha Noi on Nguyen Trai Street until you reach the border of Ha Tay province. Then turn right and drive for about 3km. The village lies to the left, some 12 km from central Hanoi.
This was a fantastic experience with many different people there. From Hanoi tourists can reach the Huong Pagoda by taking a car to Ben Đuc, the entrance of Huong Son Range in My Duc district, Ha Tay province. From there they take a boat along Yen spring.
If you travel in the early morning when there is still fog, you feel as if you were in paradise. It is interesting that the water of Yen sping is very clear, but its wharf is named Đục, which means muddy. So when tourists ask why, residents explain that their ancestors wished to allude to their belief that before starting the trip to the pagoda, the souls of visitors are muddy. They become clean during the boat trip to the pagoda.
During the trip you can see Yen spring with the green of rice fields on both banks, trees that provide a blaze of red flowers and the twinkling mountains and hills beyond. Along the stream are mountains with the shape of the mythical dragon, kylin and tortoise. This way leads to Cho Quay, the waterway's terminal, where Cho Pagoda stands. From the quay pilgrims can walk about 5km on a mountain path to Huong Pagoda or they just can take the lift.
The Huong Pagoda Festival, Vietnam's biggest religious festival, lasts from the sixth day of the first to the third Lunar month (around end of January to April).
Located in Ninh Binh province, the Tam Coc caves are known as the inland Ha Long bay. It is 3 hours drive out of Hanoi. At the river docks, you board an open-air sampan which you hire with a rower. The boat ride takes you through a winding waterway which passes through 3 caves (Tam Coc). You must actually duck a bit as the boat does through the caves to avoid scraping the roof. Look out also that you do not hit any of those stalactites or stalagmites!
On the last of these caves, a group of traders on sampans will try to sell you drinks and tit-bits. Some actually ask you to buy a drink or two for the rower only that the rower will not actually drink it, she'll most likely trade it back later on.
The rower will also likely try to sell you embroideries and paintings. Bargain abit, buy some if you fancy. But if they pester you too much, you can actually note down the boat number and lodge a complaint at the tourist police office at the dock. My experience was the rowers are quite nice and they don't create any trouble.
The village at the dock has many stalls selling T-shirts and other kind of hand-made linen. Prices are quite cheap. There are also restaurants and cafes. The specialty here is baked mutton wrapped in rice paper!
Cat Co beaches - there are 3 beaches. Was told that a storm destroyed part of the beaches and re-construction continues. The sea view is also nice and people wake up at 5 am to exercise and jog at the beaches.
You have to walk up a steep road before reaching the beaches.
There is a long platform connecting the beaches, take a walk and enjoy the cool breeze....you can to see local ladies posing for pictures too :)
I enjoyed the ride on the sampan best. The soft rhythmic strokes of the paddle complemented the serene surroundings. Soon you will find yourself belending in with nature. Along the river, you can spot villagers living in caves, fishermen picking up bamboo containers to check their catch, hawks hovering around waiting for a chance to hunt and duckies swimming around. But try to wear long sleeve cotton blouse as the sun be sorching hot if it is at noon and wear good trekking shoes. At the foot of the mountain, you can choose to take a cable car or climb up. It takes about 30-45mins to climb up and 5mins but 150000VND to take a cable car. When I was there, the locals were celebrating a festival and the area were packed with hawkers and monks. It was an interesting sight. It is difficult to go there by yourself as the whole trip from Hanoi to Perfume Pagoda already took about 4 hours with chartered transport. Use ODC travel it is about USD 15/ pax for the trip.
As we drove out of Hanoi to Ha Long, we passed by miles and miles of rice fields like this interspersed by small towns or commercial centres. These towns were typically rows of antiquated looking shops flanking both sides of the road. The shops provided a hotch-potch of products and services from hardwares, provisions and household items to hair salons, coffeeshops & bicycle repairers. They reminded me of what Malaysian rural towns must have been like 30-40 years ago.
While life for most is undoubtedly hard, the people do not go hungry. They may not have the modern luxuries of life but their basic needs are met. I did not come across any beggers in Hanoi and it’s surrounding areas unlike my experience with some more advanced countries