Neil’s trip to Duong Lam ancient village

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Welcome to my experiences working and travelling in Vietnam.

Travelling extensively through Indochina, especially Vietnam, I haveexperienced some wonderful, hospitable, and at time hilarious memories. Here is one of many.

Neil on motor Bike

My colleagues Mr Ngan, Mr Vinh and I, we all work for a medium sized travel/tour company owned by young Vietnamese men, often on a Sunday  would ride our motor bikes to take a look at some of the historical sites around Hanoi. One such place was Duong Lam Village, one of the oldest in Vietnam. A truly fascinating and beautiful place and it is like stepping back in time seeing and walking around the old original houses. The houses remain exactly the same and the residents are 3rd and 4th generation families. There is a central meeting hall in the middle of the village, open on 3 sides, where there is a large gong to call the villages to a meeting. What always fascinated me is the wonderful terracotta tiles, hand made bricks and small doorways with different carvings on them that make up these buildings. It’s totally unique to Asia and is very peaceful and pleasing to the eye. (Good Feng Shui).

300 YO house in Duong Lam

We were invited into one local house by Mr Hai (number two) and his wife for a traditional Vietnamese lunch, prepared probably the same way for centuries, cooked on a small charcoal BBQ, and it was delicious. We had fried tofu, BBQ pork, water spinach with garlic (called morning glory), BBQ chicken (Vietnamese prefer stringy chicken rather than soft and often they call it fighting cock, obviously not a good fighter who lost and ended up being invited to dinner) and a myriad of unusual vegetables. These are always served with dipping saucers ranging from MSG with lime juice, fish sauce and many other tasty home made sauces. Of course there is also a plate of very hot chillies which I still have trouble managing to eat.  The hospitality shown by Vietnamese people is great. Always you are offered home made rice wine (poured from a plastic 5 litre container, very warm and delicious but, great headache material if you over-indulge), Fresh fruit consisting of some varieties I have never seen in my country (fruit in Vietnam is sweet and fresh from the tree or vine) and to finish off, green tea served from a small teapot into eggcup style cups. Mmm. Good food! Wonderful friendly delicious and informative hospitality. Traditionally they would sit on the floor but being a chubby westerner (Tay) they thought it better to sit me at a regular table.

Owner's preparing our lunch

Here is our Lunch, Yum Yum

The area where they eat is in one main room in the house. This room contains floor sitting area, an altar and a large, very, very hard bed. Sort of like a multi purpose area. The cooking area is usually in a small room off the side of the house (some of the cooking is done in the courtyard on charcoal BBQ’s) and the toilet is usually some distance from the main area (mostly squat style but I have noticed western styles slowly creeping in).

Usually, in the courtyard, there are always many terracotta pots containing different fermenting foods. Some contain rice for wine, other to make sauces   or shrimp paste and this area is set aside for this purpose to make some extra money to support the family. Of course they also have some type of fruit or vegetable growing. No space is wasted.

Terracota Pots

They were very proud to show me their photos of their children, grand children and ancestors. There is usually an altar in every home for ancestral worship. Their altar had photographs of their deceased Mother, Father, Grandparents and great Grandparents. Vietnamese families are very close knit and the children and grandchildren are often looked after by the grandparents while the mother and father go about making a living. This can be going through the village collecting recycling, they may have a small roadside stall selling tea or sticky rice or home made food selling plastic wares (brooms, bowls slippers etc) from the back of an overloaded push bike or labouring in the rice paddies or construction sites.

300 yo house

Next we walked through the village to the oldest house. The owner and his family welcomed us warmly and proceeded to serve tea and show us around the house. Amazing! It has never changed (apart from the western style toilet built outback) since it was built some hundreds of years before. Of course there were some 40 or so large terracotta pots fermenting wine (vodka as they call it) in the courtyard. We sampled this and, WOW, rocket fuel! They proudly showed us some extremely old photographs of their ancestors. Again, like most Vietnamese people, very friendly and welcoming.

harvesting crop

The road to the village is very good by Vietnamese standards. You travel along the newly constructed Thang Long Highway and it takes about ¾ to 1 hour. There are full day tours where you also visit some historic Pagodas and include English speaking guide, lunch, any entrance fees and transport (air-conditioned bus or car). A truly cultural, interesting experience to remember the real Vietnam and its people!

Footnote:

Ngan was on the back of my motor bike (very brave man) and on the return to Hanoi, travelling at about 70 to 80 kms an hour, the back tyre punctured. Up until then Ngan seemed reasonably comfortable but I could feeling him grab on when he thought I was going to panic and hit the front brake hard and send us spinning. I didn’t much to his relief. As it was dusk and we were in the middle of rice paddies and villages, we pushed the bike back in to a small village to find someone to help repair the tyre. It obviously was quite spectacle for people coming and going into the village as almost everyone stopped to see or help the westerner. Eventually two very helpful men, one a real character who laughed a lot and a young guy who had his roadside tea and soft drink stall packed two stories high on the back of his bicycle, went around the village to find a new tube and tools to fix it. When it was repaired, they didn’t want to take any money but after a bit of persistence, they finally accepted 50,000 Vietnamese Dong, about $2.50. Once again the friendly and helpful Vietnamese nature comes to the fore.

Cheers

Neil In Vietnam

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