HANOI & SURROUNDINGS
|Hanoi||Bat Trang||Thay & Tay Phuong Pagodas|
|Chua Huong (the Perfume Pagoda)||Phat Diem||Hoa Lu - Tam Coc - Bich Dong|
A tour in HANOI is to steep yourself in history, tradition, and legend in a capital that has been inhabited continuously for almost a millenium. Visitors often note that the city is quieter, greener, and "cooler" than other big cities of Vietnam. Indeed, Hanoi itself, and the Northern Vietnam, have quite clear four seasons, and October to March are lovely pretty cool months whilst other towns southward just have dry and rainy times. It probably influences in the mentality of the inhabitants and the city seems attract more intellectuals and artists, while Saigon is great for entrepreneurs and hustlers.
Hanoi's present architecture is mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries, and the French-built section of the town is largely intact. Yet, the city preserves many old religious temples and shrines dedicated to the nation's heroes or deities, who supported the farmers to cultivate and protect the fertile land on the Red River right bank and gather the first commercial guilds to form what later became an exciting urban town. Hanoi street life now is fascinating. In the early morning, you can see people both young and old practicing "tai chi quan" or martial arts in the parks and joggers along pretty lakes. Outdoor barbers with mirrors simply hung on the street walls and women selling great French baguettes and flowers are also at every street corner. If you go for a walk, the motorbikes and cyclos may make you wonder a bit which directions they move on, but as soon as you get a chance to try one of them, you could say they are not so risky like they seem to be, as the local drivers have extremely special skills to avoid one another (!). Thus a deliberate Cyclo tour for one or two hours is so far the best way to visit the Old Quarter, 90% of which are narrow and short streets.
During the two Indochinese Wars in 20th century, Hanoi had been heavily damaged, but there is virtually no evidence that now and the particularly thin, tall, often awkward-looking buildings that you see on streets are not a result of bombing, but are created by landowners who own only a thin slice of land so build up rather than out. Hanoi has a number of lovely parks and big Lakes which inspire the ancient architects to build graceful temples nearby, and Museums with precious exhibits of Vietnam's Fine Arts, Ethnology, History and Recent Wars that attract not only historians but foreign visitors and local people. Finally, the Hanoians are reckoned the warmest and most approachable in the country. Though English is not as commonly spoken as in Saigon, most of the shopkeepers have learnt English quite enough to discussion on the commodities and price, and many of the older generation have a working vocabulary of French. Regardless of language, people will attempt to chat with you irrespective of whether you can understand them. Many of the cyclo drivers speak some English and often have very interesting pasts that they are now willing to discuss with foreigners. At times in Hanoi, you could be sitting in a cafsipping excellent coffee that Vietnam plant in the Central Highlands for domestic use and export, eating great pastries that is a pleasant trace of the French time, chatting in French to an old beret clad gentleman, whilst as you look out the window you can see posh French-style villas in the shadows of fig trees or malabar-almon trees. Then you can really wonder just what country you really are in. In a single word, Hanoi is a city to be savoured, which is attractive for all tourists who opt for Vietnam tours and enjoy Vietnam holiday and Vietnam travel.
Separated from the Hanoi downtown by a bridge over the Red River and 15km dike in between green rice paddies and old villages, Bat Trang is worth a half-day visit not only for its wellknown cottage industry but also for the poetic surroundings.
According to historical records, the villagers have featured some kinds of excellent ceramic for domestic use and export sincludee 15th century. From time to time, the Vietnamese overseas people and diplomatic corps have found their products ? valuable antiques now - not only in neighbouring countries like China, Korea, Cambodia but in far states includeluding Egypt, France and Portugal. The masters of Bat Trang now are not only supplying a big deal of porcelain for Vietnam but receive numerous orders from Japan, France and USA and are proceeding to recover traditional samples that somewhat have been lost during the war time. Stop-off at the village is an interesting mixture between watching the real production of ceramics and walking around for some light but fine and sophisticated porcelain. You can find in a factory the workmen mixing clay or dipping burnt vases into glaze to highlight their crackled lines, the painting masters, usually young girls with dexterous hands drawing on raw terracotta before they are heated at 900oC to 1,700oC ovens, taking inspiring pictures of coal-dust bakes pasted on the village's walls. Daily life of the village with a small exciting market and the wharf at the Red River where the products shipped are also very fascinating. You should go with a local guide to discover the family factories behind the shops in front, as it may not easy to communicate with the villagers who speak no English.
If Bat Trang say they are proud that about 1,000 households live by traditional job, other cottage industry villages surrounding Hanoi would be shy a bit. Dong Ky village ? 30km northeast of Hanoi, has only hundreds of families specialized in handmade wooden furniture with mother-of-pearl and marble inlay. Whilst local people come here for ordering cupboards, tables and wardrobes by their designs or in catalogues' styles, you would be interested in wooden statues or sophisticated utensils made of ebony, redwood, rosewood and pinewood. Another village 14 km West of Hanoi called Van Phuc is famous for the traditional silk and you can find here many families using motor looms weaving silk or washing them after completed. Villagers from Le Mat, 08 km northeast of Hanoi, catch and breed snakes for foods and wine. Serpents can be found hereabout in compounds around the house, in readiness to export or to be dipped in snake wine or traditional medicine. Different kinds of other snakes are to be cooked and served to the people mainly coming from Hanoi, especially men. In Hanoi old quarter sometimes you can also buy medicines made from Le Mat snakes. Dong Ho village along the Duong river in nearby Ha Bac provincludee produces traditional woodblock prints. In the old time, a picture printed that way is a must to decorate a Vietnamese house in springtime of "Tet" ? the Lunar New Year. Some families in the village now change to make paper articles to burn at the Vietnam's ancestral anniversaries to send "utensils" and "money" from the alive people to their dearest dead relatives, with a hope that those things will be assisting the dead souls to "survive" well in the Hell. As the villagers' job is somewhat seasonal, a visit to Dong Ho should be combined with a sightseeing to the large But Thap pagoda nearby, which was restored in 17th century with impressive antique statues and stone-carved balconies and towers.
To the South of Hanoi there are a few interesting sights within a day-tour. If you love a visit to see magnificent limestone ranges edging a poetic river, come to the Perfume Pagoda or to Tam Coc. The trip to Tam Coc is to combined with visits to Bich Dong pagoda nearby and to the two temples which are remains of an ancient city called Hoa Lu, all belong to Ninh Binh provincludee. Also in Ninh Binh you can visit Cuc Phuong, one of the few national parks in Vietnam. To the North of Hanoi is Tam Dao, an old French hill station with beautiful landscape from a height and to the West is a combination of several Buddhist temples, of which Thay and Tay Phuong Pagoda are most sight worthy. Please see details of them hereunder.
From Hanoi to two different pagodas, Thay and Tay Phuong are very often combined in a day trip or half-day trip from Hanoi sincludee their neighbouring locations. Thay pagoda, located 40km west of Hanoi in a tranquil and beautiful village, is combination of Buddhist pagodas and a Taoist Temple, which is dedicated to Tu Dao Hanh, a Taoist hermit lived in 12th century who was considered one of the karmas of king Ly Than Tong. The temple preserve many precious worshipping objects like the statues of Tu Dao Hanh describe three "karmas" of this figure, wooden and stone bas-relieves and steles, lacquered statues, thrones, bells. If you have much time, take a walk surrounding to reach the higher pagodas on the mountainside or visit the cave where they have found some skeletons and ancient coins in early 20th century.
Thay Pagoda is also known for a big pavilion in the middle of a pond facing the main temple. Water puppetry performances take place here at festival time, particularly in the third lunar month where pilgrims rush in. Two ancient roofed bridges over the pond built in 1602 includerease the natural beauty of the combination.
8km away from Thay pagoda is the Tay Phuong pagoda, sited on the hilltop. There are 239 laterite steps uphill to the pagoda, and from this height opens a wonderful aerial view of the surrounded fields, laterite mountains and villages. Most of the structure was rebuilt in the 17th and 18th century and has a big significance of classic architecture. Almost the tiles, wooden relieves, rafters are preserved well with their traditional ornaments like lotus-shape, marguerites, banyan leaves, dragon, tiger which are quite popular to Vietnamese decoration style. Inside the pagoda are 75 famous jackwood Arhat statues, which are considered the best of the plastic arts and sculpture of Vietnam. The statues either describe different legends of Buddha and his disciples, or express the meditation and will of the people to release themselves from ordinary pains and reach the enlightenment. Both Thay and Tay Phuong pagodas are easy to reach and suitable for either visit by bus or biking tours.
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