Satisfy your bucolic yearnings

by Cong Thanh

Different world: Duong Lam village in Son Tay, 60km west of Ha Noi, is one of the most visited sites by local and foreign tourists alike. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam

Different world: Duong Lam village in Son Tay, 60km west of Ha Noi, is one of the most visited sites by local and foreign tourists alike. — VNS Photos Hoai Nam

A culinary treasure: Jars of soya sauce ferment on the sunlit patio of a 163-year-old house in Duong Lam Village.

Duong Lam Village in Son Tay Town, 60km west of Ha Noi has become increasingly popular half-day trip for weekend travellers.

Ha Nguyen Huyen, owner of the 163-year-old house in the village, has welcomed tourists since 2005 when it was recognised as a National Cultural and Historical Relic.

The 51-year-old man, who is the ninth generation of his family to live in the 1846-built house, said he provides different options for tourists who wish to stay longer.

It takes one-and-a-half hours by car from Ha Noi to reach the village, which is home to hundreds of old houses.

"Visiting the villages gives tourists a good overview of rural life. It's the reason I maintain a stove that burns firewood and keep farming tools in my house," Huyen explained.

Duong Lam Village, which sits on Son Tay Town ringroad, is an ideal half-day trip.

Road 32 has bus links between Ha Noi and Son Tay Town, but it takes an additional 15 minutes to get to the village by motorbike taxi.

But don't despair if you don't like independent travelling, travel agencies throughout the north offer package trips to the old village.

"It's amazing. After just an hour's journey from hectic Ha Noi, the village seems to be from another time. There is no noise, no traffic jam and so fresh," said Nguyen Thi Thanh Phuong, who is a second-year student at Ha Noi Social Science and Humanities College.

Phuong, said she was impressed by the main entrance of the village – which is sandwiched by a 300-year-old banyan tree and a lotus pond.

The 20-year-old student was also surprised about gates to the old houses because there lack doorbells, instead they just have a small wooden handle.

"It's very special. I was wondering how to get into one of the old houses when I turned the handle. It made a clacking and the owner opened the door to invite me in," Phuong explained.

Despite the increased levels of urbanisation, most of the families inhabiting the old houses have retained the lifestyles of their ancestors.

Villagers nowadays use gas stoves, but Huyen reserves a firewood oven to either cook or give demonstrations when he hosts tourists.

He says his family alone has more than 1,000 visitors annually, of which 70 per cent are foreign tourists.

Soya sauce is a job that helps Huyen's family lure tourists.

"Visitors can see how soya sauce is made at my house. It's not only a food, but a treasure," Huyen explained.

Huyen's house has become a favourite choice for big travel companies.

"It's because the house has charming architecture, while the host is very hospitable. The owner has taken the time to preserve two-century-old house's original features," said Focus Travel deputy director Nguyen Viet Trinh.

He also said his company will list the half day trip in Duong Lam Village as a new tour.

"A half day tour to the village provides a break from Ha Noi's city life before touring Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province or Tam Coc-Bich Dong in Ninh Binh Province." he said.

Huyen rents bicycles to visitors for VND50,000 (US$2.7), tourists can then explore the village themselves at their own pace.

"Most tourists like going by bicycle around the village rather than using motorbikes, it's more likely that they'll make more stop-offs," said the old house owner Nguyen Thi Vuot.

The 46-year-old woman also said she cooks ordinary foods such as morning glory and fried tofu and soy.

"Tofu and spring rolls are the popular dishes with visitors. They sometimes can make them themselves. Vegetable and tofu are eaten with soya sauce. Fresh water crab soup and fish are also included for lunch."

Last year, the local tourism authority organised a training course on tourism for the owners of ten old houses.

Conical hats displaying on bamboo stalls, peanut sweets and molasses cakes are village specialities.

Harvesting in the fifth lunar month is the best time to catch the farmers working in the fields.

Mong Phu commune house, which was built in 1684, and a series old houses are main destinations for tourists. Mia Pagoda and the tombs of King Phung Hung and Ngo Quyen are other sites worth a visit.

The village is the birthplace of Viet Nam's first two kings – Phung Hung (791-802) and Ngo Quyen (939-944) – who were famous for their struggle for Vietnamese independence.

Duong Lam Village is also the birth place of 17th-century scholar Giang Van Minh (1573-1637), who has a Ha Noi street named after him.

Mia Pagoda has 286 Buddha statues made of bronze, jack fruit wood and clay lacquered dating back from the 18th century.

In recent years, the village has become a favourite location for wedding photographs, artwork and film making.



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