Around Hanoi

Craft villages
There are the many craft villages around Hanoi. Bat Trang, specialising in the production of good quality pottery and ceramics, Van Phuc, a silk weaving community, and Dong Ky, famous for its carved mother-of-pearl, are three examples. The range of products produced in craft villages is bewildering – cane birdcages, fine silk, knives, rattan, cooking oil and dozens more.

Le Mat, where many families are famous for their skill in breeding snakes for medicinal purposes, food and ‘snake wine’ (popular with Vietnamese men as a boost for virility), is one we avoid. The snakes are collected indiscriminately from the wild by peasants – a recent police raid discovered well over a hundred snakes in the Red Book of endangered species from a single restaurant.

Several larger villages have traditional temples, pagodas or communal houses. Some have local customs and forms of artistic expression, singing, dancing and so on. One village is known for its marionette performances. If you’re interested, we’ll try to arrange a demonstration or performance for you. It won’t be a polished ‘attraction’ designed for tourists – the local people will provide something impromptu, and entirely authentic.

A gentle cycle ride through some of the rarely-visited villages near Hanoi is an agreeable way of encountering aspects of the rural culture of the Red River Delta and meeting some of its inhabitants. An excursion by car is more practical for visiting the more distant communities in the next province.

Further away
The remains of the ancient citadel of Vietnam, Co Loa, are to be found 18 km north of Hanoi. Built in the 2nd century BC, little remains today, but the site would be attractive for those interested in archaeology.

There are many opportunities for day trips to places such as Mai Chau (ethnic minority villages set in beautiful scenery), Cuc Phuong (National Park), Tam Coc (boating through spectacular scenery along a languid river), Haiphong (attractive city centre and surrounding countryside) and Ha Tay Province (wide variety of craft villages).

A day trip to Ha Long Bay is possible, but doesn’t really do it justice – an overnight stay on a boat is more rewarding. Cat Ba Island and the northwest mountains take a minimum of two days, but an excursion to Ba Be Lake needs at least three days.

Travellers coming to Vietnam for less than a couple of weeks often find that being based in Hanoi with visits to Ha Long and/or the northern mountains offers a more fulfilling experience of Vietnam than attempting to cover the whole country.

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