It’s like a child’s painting of the countryside – that’s what I initially thought about Duong Lam Village and this is still my impression of the place. For someone whose grandparents or whose self had lived in the countryside, red tile boat-shaped roof and banian trees aren’t anything special, rather, it’s childhood, it’s nostalgia. So why am I writing this article? Because for foreigners don’t know what a Vietnamese nostalgic rural area is like, the best way to explore that is going on Duong Lam tours. This most iconic countryside village in Northern Vietnam will certainly inform you about that.
Where to start a Duong Lam tour?
The obvious answer to that would be the entrance. As I said, Duong Lam village is an iconic Vietnam village, and so is its gate. The traditional village’s gate always consist of: Two stoned pillars, a huge banian tree (maybe the biggest one in the village), possibly a water well and a roadside tea vendor. The reason for these components is because this is where villagers are welcomed home after a long day of labor in the field, they need some shade, water and somewhere to sit down, relax, have a cup of tea and gossip about what happened during the day.
Duong Lam village entrance (Source: Internet)
Unlike Southern people, Northern people give great importance to appearance, the examples of which are the village’s gate and the village’s community hall, two must-stops on Duong Lam tours. We’ve already talked about the village’s gate, but what is a community hall? The community hall (or đình in Vietnamese) is a vital component of any Vietnamese village, it is the gathering point of all villagers, where religious as well as intimate events take place. The place, thus, is the pride of every villager, from its location to structure and materials, everything must be chosen from the best.
Mong Phu Hall, Duong Lam’s community hall, was built to face the Eastern South, a wonderful direction according to Feng Shui, which brings wealth and fortune to the village. The hall was built on the theme of dragon (an also very lucky and high-classed animal in Asian culture), the hall itself is in the shape of a dragon’s head, with two wells on each side being the dragon’s eyeballs, all pillars inside are also carved with pictures of dragons. Vietnamese people love the natural wind so there’s no walls in this building; However, it’s got wooden balcony all around and a big tile roof acting as rain shelter. Speaking of rain, since this area of Northern Vietnam is known to have annual floods, the community hall was also wisely designed to avoid that. The center yard of the hall was actually built lower than the rest of the village, so that when rain comes, water can flow in and come out at the two small gates at the back of the building. Quite smart for something built hundreds of years ago, isn’t it?
Mong Phu community hall (Source: Internet)
But of course you wouldn’t come on a Duong Lam 1 day tour just to see 2 locations then leave, the special thing about going on a Duong Lam tour is the fact that every single house here is worth visiting and peering inside (not that every owner would let you do that, though). In total, this place consists of over 900 ancient houses, some of which were even built in the 14th-15th century! If each house is considered a historical artifact, the village itself would be one of the biggest museums in the world! But what do Vietnamese ancient houses look like? Is it the same as other Vietnamese houses in the rural area as well? The answer is yes and no.
There is one unique aspect in Duong Lam’s housings that no architect in Vietnam has: the fact that most of the houses here were built with laterite bricks, a naturally exploited types of brick which has holes inside! These holes are actually tiny ventilators, making the house airy, warm in winter, yet cool in summer. What’s more amazing is that in the old days, laterite can only be dug up from the ground cubes by cubes, then shaped into bricks by hand! Imagine how valuable these houses are in term of craftsmanship and architecture.
Laterite brick, Duong Lam’s unique material (Source: Internet)
Besides that, a Duong Lam Village tour will generally give you an insight to a typical household in any Northern Vietnam countryside. Each house is not only a house, in Western architecture, they might be called mansions, as every house, no matter how big or small all include a garden. The garden can be said to be the most important aspect in a Vietnamese house, because in the countryside, most families grow their own vegetable and raise their own poultry, that’s why markets sometimes only open once a month. The garden, thus, has to consist of the most basic needs in the household, which is vegetable, fruit trees (most likely star-fruits or tamarind – popular garnishes in Vietnamese dishes), then betel tree (of which fruit, betel-nut is a very common snack of old women back in the day as well as an inevitable item on the family’s altar) and don’t forget giant jars containing either water or sauces (fish sauce, for example).
A typical Vietnamese rural garden (Source: Internet)
Inside, the interior design of Duong Lam’s ancient houses is just as iconic. The house is divided into big rooms and small rooms, the number of rooms of course depend on the size of the house. But the biggest room is always in the center, is decorated most nicely and used as the living room. If the room is big enough, it can also contain a bed, usually the bed of the most important person in the family (either the oldest or the only man) and/or the ancestor’s altar. If beds in living rooms are not weird enough, another special thing that separates Vietnam’s architecture with any other country’s is the fact that we always live close to nature. Most windows and doors in the old time would be made with wood and there are windows opening up to the garden in every room, making it possible to have a green view everywhere you look.
Inside a Duong Lam’s ancient house (Source: Internet)
So coming to Duong Lam Ancient Village, you will learn about how much the Vietnamese appreciate nature, how important community in our culture is, and most importantly, how beautiful and intelligently designed our households are. Maybe on your way back, if you’re an architect or artist, you might be even inspired by this unique Asian artistry. That by itself is worth paying a trip to this land of history, what are you waiting for? Grab your backpack and go!