With remarkable historical places, French heritage buildings and labyrinthine streets, Hanoi has its own charm that few cities can match. However, leaving the bustling and hustling inner city behind, traveling to a new-style rural criterion in Hoai Duc district, and visiting Son Dong wood carving village, you will witness a new side of Hanoi, quiet and peaceful. Coming to the suburb, you will have a chance to not only visit such an attractive part of Ha Noi, but also experience a signature Hanoi farming and cooking class in the village.
Located about 16 km in the west of Hanoi, Hoai Duc distric is an agricultural area that grows rice, fruits, and vegetables, and is home to some traditional craft villages. There are 128 “cultural villages” in the district, 12 of which are certificated traditional craft villages and every hamlet in it has a house for community cultural activities.
Son Dong - wood carving village (Source: Internet)
Among those, Son Dong is a wood-carving village in which its fame of wooden objects has been becoming a national phenomenon. The main products are statues of Buddha, national heroes, objects of worship, lacquered boards with parallel sentences, and altars. Son Dong’s statues, especially Buddha statues, have reached not only nationwide renown, but also international fame. Unlike most traditional craft villages where only a few elder artists are keen on their age old occupation, this carving village has a very talented young craftsman generation. Son Dong keeps a national record of 4000 skillful craftsmen (which marks 50% of the village population). Being inspired by the passion and talent of wood carving artists, Son Dong’s children are soon to fall in love with their village occupation rather than anything else.
Son Dong carving craftsman
Since a long time ago, most of Vietnam’s population still makes their living through agriculture, and all aspects of their life (social, devotional, and family) revolve around the procurement, preparation, and the shared the pleasure of nourishment. Therefore, the market (or market fair, the Vietnamese traditional local/regional market), where many traditional items (especially agricultural items and food) are brought to trade, plays an essential role in Vietnamese rural living. People not only bring their products to sell but also take advantage of the market to meet the others and socialize. The picture of old woman chewing betel and areca nuts, sitting under the canopy of an old tree in a bustling and colorful market, is classic image about traditional Vietnam village. To start a day in Hanoi’s suburb, there is no better way than going to a local market. Vạng Market is the most famous market in the region (of Son Dong village) where everyone from surrounding villages comes in to trade. This market is held monthly on the 2nd, 4th, 7th, and 9th (of the lunar calendar) and starts from early morning till noon.
If you join a day tour to explore the outskirts of Hanoi with a local guide, this is a perfect time for you to begin to learn about typical Vietnamese’s cooking, and you can buy some fresh ingredients for the lunch. Despite its small scale, Vạng market is a great place for trading cultivating tools and other necessities of suburban living. It is successful in preserving and promoting this great tradition of the village.
Right next to the marketplace lays Tien Le vegetable village. Recognized as a specialized cultivation area, the village is hugely invested with the latest irrigation systems. Farmers are also taught about new farming techniques and have introduced a closed production process (from planting to consumption). Thanks to those investments, Tien Le has enjoyed stable production and successfully developed its brand, as well as set a goal of becoming a satellite urban center of Hanoi. Coming to the field, prepare to get dirty and work like a true farmer. The tasks will vary depending on which season you go in, but they will most likely involve raking, sowing, watering, or picking greens.
Tien Le vegetable village
This is a great chance for you to not only talk to the farmers about the local cultivation techniques and lifestyle, but also listen to stories of Hanoi farming history. They are likely to be fairy tales and parable, and some of them are really interesting as a demonstration of a part of Vietnamese village culture.
After visiting the field, it is join a local family to learn how to cook a typical Vietnamese lunch. The Vietnamese greatly value the importance of family meals, as it is a time for all members to sit together, talk about their day, and strengthen the family bonds. Unlike a normal cooking class in Hanoi, if you join in a local cooking class right on the village you will be taught from zero to hero. Start with the easiest part of washing and steaming rice (although it is not as easy as it seems) to the hardest part of making the right color of caramel sauce (for the dish of caramelized pork/fish). Vietnamese cooking is not difficult to learn. To be honest, it is quite easy to remember the basic formula and it is flexible to cook to your taste. You will cook rice, boil vegetables (or stir with sauce), make some special savory dishes, and finish with a big bowl of soup. Vietnamese cuisine emphasizes two main things, which are fresh ingredients and perfect seasoning. You will be taught how to cook with the best and most fresh ingredients we have on the farm in each season. Like my favorite quote, in Vietnamese culture, “eating is really about emotional wellbeing”. It is not only about the food, it is also about the chance for family members to come home and be together. We eat, we talk, and we share our stories as well as our feelings. During the meal, we can share with you a lot of interesting stories about Vietnamese rural life and Vietnamese family customs.
Vietnamese traditional meal
In the afternoon, we will leave the cooking class and visit the nearby Ky Da Pagoda to admire its beautiful architecture and natural scenery. This is an ancient pagoda with a long history that was badly damaged throughout time. In 2017, the pagoda has been successfully restored and embellished, based on traditional architecture. The new complex consists of large halls, courtyards, and enclosures. Located in Son Dong, the village of wood-carving, the pagoda includes sophisticated Buddha statues and wood structures with traditional Vietnamese design aesthetics of curve finials and corner eaves soaring outward and upward. Wandering around the pagoda (and in the village), you might notice a zesty and fresh fragrance of grapefruit, as well as admire many laden grapefruit trees. Being large in scale, patent in detail, and full of greenery, Ky Da Pagoda is definitely a must-see place when you travel to this beautiful village of Son Dong. On the way back to the city, you might visit Dien Phuc Pagoda and Thay Pagoda.
In Vietnamese culture, the village is considered to be the last stronghold of the wet rice farming culture in the north of Vietnam. So, a journey to a village is definitely tracing back to the origin of Vietnamese culture and tradition. Away from the noisy and busting center of Hanoi, a day living in the suburbs and farming and cooking with the local will give you a fresh perspective on Hanoi.
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