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Discovering Craft Villages in Vietnam

 | 
Sylvie Fanchette
, 
Nicholas Stedman

Itineraries of craft villages and of cultural heritage

Itinerary 9. Food-processing villages (west of Hà Nôi)

Texte intégral

The craftvillages
Lacquered wooden statues: Sõn Ðộng;
Food processing and processed foods: Cát Quế, Dýõng Liễu and Minh Khai.
Cultural and architectural heritage
Chùa Thầy or Pagoda of the Master.
An itinerary devised by our guest contributor, Dr. Guillaume Da, specialist in the food-processing industry.

SÕN ÐỘNG, THE BUDDHA SCULPTORS’ VILLAGE

1On the road leading to the cluster of food and agriculture villages lies Sõn Ðộng. The village, renowned for its wooden Buddhas and bàn thờ – ancestral shrines richly decorated with lacquer and gold leaf – is well worth a visit. However, what you find there could be very different depending on whether you arrive in 2009 or at the end of 2012: Sõn Ðộng Commune, along with those of Cát Quế, Dýõng Liễu and Minh Khai, is about to change radically. Between now and then, over 3,500 hectares of farmland in Hoài Ðức District are to be redeveloped as housing and industrial parks. The Láng – Hoà Lạc motorway, passing through the satellite town of An Khanh, will be linked to the north of the province by wide highways. Sõn Ðồng Commune will hand over three-quarters of its farmland and in return become a major communications hub and home to the big urban housing development of Khu Ðô thị Sõn Ðồng. The other villages on this itinerary will also see large parts of their territory gobbled up by another urban scheme, the Khu Ðô thị Hoài Ðức, an extension of the present district capital, Trạm Trôi. Although villagers on this itinerary earn three-quarters of their living from handicrafts, rice farming provides a vital supplement to keep households financially afloat. The loss of food security at local level, although a staple of farming policy in Vietnam as a whole, is likely to take its toll on the less well-off artisans.

GETTING THERE

2Go out as far as the International Conference Centre west of the capital and take the Láng – Hoà Lạc road (at the time of writing (late 2008), this road was in the process of being widened to form a giant 150-metre-wide motorway). Continue straight for about four kilometres, then turn right onto the road heading towards Nhổn: Ðýờng Tây Mỗ in the Từ Liêm District (that is, assuming it’s still possible to leave the road at this point). After three and a half kilometres, you will reach the crossroads-village of Kim Hoàng. Here you turn left towards Sõn Ðộng, about four kilometres further on.

CONTEXT

3According to Hữu Ngọc (2006), Sõn Ðộng was famed for its large number of scholars and laureates at the triennial examinations, but it was also known for its woodworking skills, used in the manufacture of statues and artwork in lacquered wood and handed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years. Craftsmen also create statues representing divinities and other Buddhist figures (Buddha of the thousand eyes, arhats, sky spirits – Ông Thiện and Ông Ác, etc.), celestial animals, shrines, etc. A number of these works can be seen in religious buildings, such as the Pagoda of the Master (Chùa Thầy) in Sõn Tây, at Đỏ Pagoda in Hải Phòng, and at the Vãn Miếu Temple (Temple of Literature) in Hà Nội, as well as in the citadel at Huế and elsewhere. If you visit the Chùa Thầy Pagoda or the Perfume Pagoda, you might come across craftsmen from Sõn Ðồng recarving a lintel or unveiling a new statue.

4Today, Sõn Ðồng is a busy centre for religious sculpture, with over 300 specialist firms together employing over 4,000 workers and artisans. However, things have not always been so thriving. Collectivisation and conflict delivered a hard blow to the age-old woodworking traditions of the village; for a time the hammers and woodworking tools fell silent. The renaissance came in the 1980s when the village master craftsmen Mr. Nguyễn Đức Dậu (Fine Arts teacher), Mr. Nguyễn Ðức Týờng (specialized in making Buddha statues) and Mr. Trần Ðình Thúy (specialized in lacquer painting), re-started the industry, opening training centres to ensure skills were passed on to younger generations. After 18 months of training, 30 apprentices won their laurels, and 25 years on, they comprise the village elite, the die-hard exponents of a once diminishing craft.

5Among them are Nguyễn Chí Quảng, Nguyễn Viết Thắng, Trần Ðinh Cýõng, Nguyễn Hồng Viết, and Nguyễn Viết Tạch. All are now in their forties. Nguyễn Viết Tạch became an entrepreneur in 2005, specialising in gold-or silver-plated wooden objects. His creations have been shown at the Vietnamese Antiques Export Fair in the USA, Europe, and Southeast Asia. He now has three workshops and a complement of 40 craftsmen. He carves large statues from jackfruit wood, including Buddhas several tonnes in weight. You get a sense of the scale of this endeavour when you visit his new workshop, situated a hundred metres along the road bearing right from the village crossroads. On our last trip, we saw visitors greeted by an immense, three-metre-high smiling Buddha. Such sculptures require a team of five or six, labouring over three or four months, using the wood from no less than 10 trees. Other craftsmen, like Nguyễn Chí Quảng, create high-quality lacquerware. Nguyễn Viết Thắng, grandson of Nguyễn Viết Tạch has opened three workshops in the village and employs nearly 30 highly qualified workers. As well as traditional sculpture, these craftsmen have been involved in the restoration of the ancient capital of Huế. Artisans have specialised, either in particular products (small statues, ancestral altars, mythical birds, Buddhas, etc.), or in particular stages of production (carving, lacquering, finishing, assembly, sales, etc.).

6There has even been collaboration with a pottery village (Bát Tràng, see Itinerary no2) to develop “Gốm phu”. Launched in October 2005, Gốm phu brings together Bát Tràng porcelain with one or more layers of Sõn Ðồng lacquer, producing a gorgeously rich finish, much appreciated for votive objects.

7With economic growth, a rising middle class endowed with the means to purchase sumptuous ancestral shrines (gilded specimens may cost 30 million VND), and spirituality once more in favour after the lean years of collectivism, a bright future would seem assured for Sõn Ðồng. All this, as Nguyễn Hồng Viết Anh, proprietor of one of Sõn Ðồng’s workshops, proclaims on the village website (www. mynghesondong. com. vn): We are grateful to the Buddha and religious effigies, because thanks to them, we can earn our living and make a profit!” Nonetheless, artisans here face one real problem: a lack of raw materials. Jackfruit wood, known for its flexibility and longevity, is becoming harder to find and has to be bought and brought in from Laos and Cambodia.

Sacred art meets ‘saucy’ animistic ritual

antique lacquered panel with gold leaf

8The village festival, on the 6th day of the 2nd lunar month, is a reminder of ancient fertility rites that formerly held sway at Sõn Ðộng. In the words of the folk song:

For the Sõn Ðộng festival, wrapping bamboo in spathes of areca palm, we grind our dáy and cuôn cakes to offer to our friends.

9Hữu Ngọc (2006) recalls how the cake-making ritual unfolded: sticky rice was laid out on a winnowing tray and beaten with regular blows from a wooden pestle wrapped in the spathe of an areca palm (evoking the sexual act). The flour obtained was used to make round, flat cakes (bánh dày), and elongated, sausage-shaped cakes (bánh cuốn), resembling male and female organs.

10According to tradition, another game, a contest to grab a length of sacred bamboo (cýớp bông), is thought to guarantee a male child for the victor. The sacred dance commences in the evening, outside the communal house, as girls and boys dance in a symbolic act of coupling with the aid of a areca palm spathe and a piece of bamboo. When the dance is over, the objects are thrown to the ground. Bystanders fall upon them, hoping to snatch the prize and its lucky promise. Before the collectivitation era, for three months after the festival, the village youth would enjoy unbridled liberty; neither the offspring born of these festive encounters nor the mothers of these lovechildren would be expelled… and the young fathers were exempted from paying marriage tax to the village!

CÁT QUẾ, DÝÕNG LIỄU AND MINH KHAI

CONTEXT

11Located along the Ðáy River linking Hà Tây Province to the mountainous northern provinces, this group of vermicelli-, noodle-and starch-producing villages was originally (in the 1960s) well supplied with raw materials (cassava, canna and other tubers) by river transport. Proximity to Hà Nội and its markets provided valuable outlets for producers. Though not necessarily profitable, these trades were conducted in tandem with farming and thereby helped local artisans, most of them formerly weavers, to diversify after co-operative industry put an end to rudimentary peasant weaving.

12In 2005, craft villages in the Hoài Ðức district produced an abundance of different commodities: 38,000 tonnes of tapioca (tinh bột sắn), canna (tinh bột dong riềng, tinh bột dot) and kudzu starch (tinh bột sắn dây), 5,900 tonnes of cassava (tapioca) and canna vermicelli (miến sắn, miến dong riềng), 5,400 tonnes of dried rice vermicelli (bún khô), 5,600 tonnes of maltose syrup (mạch nha) and cane sugar syrup (ðýờng mía) and 3,500 tonnes of sweets (bánh kẹo).

13Some of this activity is seasonal: the first round of food processing is at harvest time, when cassava (September to April) or canna (November to March) are brought in. Raw materials grown in the surrounding mountains (e. g. Hòa Bình, Yên Bái, Phú Thọ, Nghệ An Provinces) are freighted in by local merchants. Lorries, often overloaded with roots, have to weave between the heaps of cassava and canna piled high in Dýõng Liễu market place and the nearby alleys. This is one of the most densely populated regions of the Delta (3,000 to 5,000 inhabitants per km2), and the artisans find what space they can along the dykes and the maze of alleyways to dry their wares. Other activities are year-round, among them second-stage processing of wet starch or other processes involving altogether different species of plants: the shelling, sorting and drying of legumes, notably the green (đậu xanh) and black (đậu đen) mungo bean for example, which are used for sweetmeats (chè). There is also large-scale, on-site manufacturing, notably biscuits (bánh qui) and even chocolate (sô cô la).

CÁT QUẾ: THE TAPIOCA VILLAGE

GETTING THERE

14Getting to Cát Quế from Sõn Ðộng is very simple. Most of the workshops you can visit are located on the main road that you came in on, so follow this road to the crossroads and turn left. There is a sign for Cát Quế. One kilometre further on, after you pass the big Viettel satellite dish, a little concrete road goes off to the right. Follow it for a little less than a kilometre until you reach the old communal People’s Committee building opposite the Mầu Temple (Đền Mầu).

15The Cát Quế Commune is located in the west of Hoài Ðức District. The commune is split by the Đáy River dyke into a village quarter (miền làng) and alluvial farmland (miền bãi). Food processing activity is concentrated in miền làng, the more densely populated sector.

16Food processing and animal husbandry provide the livelihood for the people of Cát Quế. The main foodstuffs are those derived from cassava roots (Manihot esculenta). Cassava (tapioca) starch is obtained from a multi-stage process, its key phases being the washing and rinsing of the roots, grating, screening of the ground pulp, and sedimentation in vats. After settlement, wet starch is cut into blocks, which are laid out on tiles prior to being sold straight away or stored in the ground for later use.

17Tools and equipment used in the production of wet cassava starch have been made locally since the industry began operating in the early 1980s. Some major technological improvements came along in the early 1990s, with the arrival of electricity introduced to cut labour and increase capacity. The first of these was mechanized screening, and since 2007, most of the main stages of processing have been mechanized across all three of the communes on this itinerary. However, these innovations require vast amounts of power and water; wastewater treatment is still a significant environmental challenge for the cassava processing industry.

Initiative and diversification

18In colonial times, the most important weaving centres, where primarily cotton but also other textiles such as mosquito nets were manufactured, were in the Hoài Ðức and Ðan Phýợng Districts in the north of Hà Tây Province. This largely female industry provided work for several thousand women workers. The cloth, generally quite coarse, was used by the village population. Weavers used to buy cotton thread made in the factories at Nam Ðịnh from the market at Dýõng Liễu. They also dyed their cloth.

19Villagers with land outside the dyke’s protection along the Đáy River (including those from the three communes covered in this itinerary) grew the mulberry trees used to raise silkworms. With the arrival of collectivisation and craft co-operatives, these traditional textile activities underwent change. The weavers, now gathered together in these cooperatives, would produce cotton fabric 120 cm wide at home, using machine looms. The co-operative provided the thread and handled the retail side by means of state shops. The few weavers not belonging to a co-operative continued to produce 40 cm-wide coarse cotton cloth in secret, on their traditional looms. When the co-operatives were wound up at the end of the collectivist era, cotton weaving vanished entirely as weavers could no longer obtain thread.

20The men, meanwhile, had turned to food processing: sugar cane could be cultivated on the alluvial soil beyond the Đáy River dyke, and this could be processed into molasses and raw sugar for the confectionery industry. From the producers in La Phù (see Itinerary no4 p. 186) who had relinquished this stage in the sugar production process to concentrate on making the sweets, they learned how to make maltose syrup, or nha. As agriculture could not provide enough food to feed the villages, the local authorities, despite the official ban on individual production during the collectivist era, had turned a blind eye to this activity.

21The Hoài Ðức and Ðan Phýợng Districts were linked to the mountainous highlands of northern Vietnam – an important centre for cassava and canna production – by the Đáy River. With the liberalisation of markets in the 1980s, these food-processing trades developed and grew, while sugar production came to a halt, forced out by big business. The weavers thus switched crafts to become specialist food processing workers (canna for vermicelli, miến, rice for alcohol, bún or other kinds of noodles, cassava for tapioca starch, shelling green mungo beans, etc.).

22The commune also produces maltose syrup. This is obtained from hydrolysis of cassava starch as it reacts with enzymes contained in young rice seedlings (although rice shoots are gradually being supplanted by commerciallyproduced enzymes). The sweet syrup is a prized ingredient in sweets, biscuits and traditional confectionery (banana cake, almond paste, jam, gingerbread, etc.). A biscuit factory and a sweet-making facility have recently opened in the commune (see walk p. 301).

23The fattening of pigs is another important activity for the commune, though a rather more smelly one! (There are around 30,000 pigs, more than two for every inhabitant.) Villagers buy piglets at 15 kg and sell them on the hoof, six months and 70 kg later, and pig farming interacts strongly with food processing industries, with pigs often fed on by-products from food manufacturing (the waste left over from cassava processing and maltose syrup and cane-sugar molasses production, etc.). The village also engages in other traditional Vietnamese rural activities, such as growing rice, market gardening, gardening, etc.

Recipe for vanilla biscuits

Ingredients

Grams

Wheat flour

250g

Butter

125g

Sugar

125g

Maltose syrup

100g

Vanilla 1 pod

1 pod

Egg

4

Salt

Baking soda

25g

24Make a hole in the centre of the flour. Add all the other ingredients. Mix and knead into an elastic dough. Cover with a cloth for one hour. Roll out the pastry until it is no more than 5 cm thick. Place in a pre-heated oven and bake until golden.

Recipe for lemon drops

Ingredients

Grams

Sugar

150g

Maltose syrup

50g

Water

50ml

Lemon flavouring

quantity as required

25Dissolve the sugar and maltose syrup in water and heat to 150° C. Pour into a greased pan and cool quickly by placing in cold water. When the temperature drops to 50-60° C, mould the sweet paste into shapes as desired. When they have cooled, wrap the pieces in wax paper. The wrapped sweets can be packed into polyethylene bags.

cassava plants growing in the highlands

settlement vats for starch making

canna roots in the market square at dýõng liễu

canna starch films on the production line, dýõng liễu

DÝÕNG LIỄU: CANNA STARCH AND CANNA VERMICELLI

26From September to April, Dýõng Liễu is the cassava and canna root capital of the region, and when the harvest season is over, sugar cane, sugar-apples and other products destined to feed the citizens of Hà Nội and the numerous communes of the Delta, abound in the markets here.

27Like neighbouring Cát Quế, the commune of Dýõng Liễu is home to a number of cassava starch producers. In addition, Dýõng Liễu is a busy canna-processing centre. Canna is a perennial plant originally from Latin America. It may grow to a height of 2.5 metres and its broad green leaves are characterised by their protruding veins. Found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions, it is alleged to withstand typhoons. There are two types of canna: one an ornamental plant (Canna indica) with broad, often vividly coloured leaves, the other an edible species (Canna edulis), cultivated in Vietnam for its rhizomes. The processing of edible canna involves grinding the rhizomes to extract the starch, the main form of energy synthesised and stored by the plant. Wet canna starch is produced locally or imported from China and used in the making of vermicelli, which are eaten especially around the Tết holiday.

28Two types of producer groups handle the conversion of canna rhizomes into vermicelli: the first group is the starch makers who purchase rhizomes at the Dýõng Liễu market and set about processing up to 15 tonnes of rhizomes per day for three or four months of the year (December to March). They then either sell or store the wet starch product locally that will then be made into vermicelli all year round by the second group. However, the weather and access to drying space has a major impact on the success of vermicelli production. Once manufactured, the still-wet vermicelli are laid out on bamboo racks which will then be fetched out to dry each day wherever space can be found around the commune, including in some less obvious places (roofs, courtyards, alleys, dykes, rice paddies, the lake, etc.).

29After packing and labelling, the vermicelli (miến) are loaded onto the backs of motorbikes and taken by the middlemen to the big markets in Hà Nội, or onwards for export. So far, there is no ‘quality-label’ to safeguard authentic, locally produced miến, which is highly prized by consumers for its specific identity and the local expertise behind it.

MINH KHAI:

RICE VERMICELLI, CANNA VERMICELLI AND RICE NOODLE VILLAGE

30Minh Khai is situated to the north of Dýõng Liễu. While it is hard to distinguish between these three communes, so densely packed are the traders and their many customers here in the heart of the village cluster, the fact is that Minh Khai is a less populous village than Cát Quế or Dýõng Liễu (4,900, 14,500 and 11,700 inhabitants respectively in 2004). Almost 50% of Minh Khai households are involved in food processing, namely the production and washingrefining of tapioca starch; the transformation of kudzu (Pueraria lobata) into starch (around the old communal house); and the manufacture of canna vermicelli. However, most households here use rice as the raw material for fresh or dried vermicelli (bún) or noodles (bánh đa and phở khô).

31For rice starch production, the rice grains need to be soaked, ground and then settled and filtered in vats flanked by little channels for collecting the liquid starch. Different households then reprocess the starch, cooking and shaping it in special ways to produce rice vermicelli or rice noodles. The finished product is dried in the sun in the same way as canna vermicelli.

32Noodles might be used fresh at local markets for the preparation of Vietnamese phở. There are facilities locally for processing other rice-based products (edible rice paper, cakes, etc.). Many of these are sold throughout Vietnam or packed for export.

Recipe for phở xào (fried rice noodles with beef)
Ingredients
Fresh rice noodles (bánh phở týõi)
1 piece of beef (một miếng thịt bò)
A few spring onions (hành ta) and one ordinary onion (hành tây) allium cepa
‘Soya’ sprouts = green mungo bean or gram sprouts (giá) (Vigna radiata)
1 ginger root (gừng) 1 tomato
A little pork fat
fish sauce, nýớc mắm, soya sauce (nýớc týõng), salt

33Cut the beef into thin slices. Crush the ginger and mix with the beef. Chop the tomato and onions, making sure to remove the skin from the bulbs.

34Preparation Part 1: Place the pork fat in a large wok. Stir-fry a few spring onion bulbs and the sliced onion (hành ta and hành tây) and tomato. Then add, one by one, in the following order: beef, bean sprouts, nýớc mắm, soya sauce. Remove from the heat and set aside on a large plate.

35Preparation Part 2: Again using the wok, fry the remaining spring onion bulbs in the pork fat. Add the fresh noodles and toss vigorously so they don’t stick. Season with nýớc mắm and nýớc týõng. Add the mixture you made in Part 1, then the hành ta leaves and a little salt, and serve.

rice grinding and sedimentation

rice vermicelli manufacture

canna vermicelli drying on bamboo frames, dýõng liễu

drying frames packed along the dyke at dýõng liễu

A walk through the food and agriculture villages

36Remember, this is one of the Delta’s most populous regions; during the busier times of year, the villages you pass through become a vast store-yard for raw materials (cassava, canna), sacks of starch and farm waste. With the exception of the areas beyond the dyke (meaning the areas not protected by it, from the Đáy River to the more scattered settlements), where there are still a few orchards, there is little in terms of architectural quality; a strange odour hangs over the villages, watercourses are soiled by run-off from cassava processing. Here you are witnessing a very rapid phase in the development of production, achieved under rather less than sustainable conditions, where waste management is still unresolved. You have been warned: this is not the most bucolic of walks. However, for anyone who enjoys seeing technological innovation at close hand, who likes to marvel at the artisan’s resourcefulness, to see agriculture and industry working in tandem, and to watch how strategies emerge for making the best use of limited space, this is a spectacle not to be missed! Wastewater treatment experts out there will note that an integrated scheme for the cluster is required: roll up! You are most welcome to invest! At the very least, come and admire the acrobatic display put on by the delivery men, bobbing and weaving through the alleyways astride motorbikes piled high with noodles, vermicelli and other products.

37On this walk you will be able to visit specialist artisans (and perhaps do some shopping while you are at it) involved in all the main activities undertaken in the village cluster: rice wine, tapioca starch, canna starch, canna vermicelli, rice noodles, biscuits, confectionery… We suggest you begin at the old People’s Committee building of Cát Quế Commune, opposite the Mầu Temple (Đền Mầuno1 on the map). Directions for getting there are provided above.

38Continue straight towards the dyke road (see map). Here, most of the tradesmen specialise in wet cassava starch manufacture. One exception is Mr. Phạm Sin (no2 on the map), who has given up this trade due to lack of manpower and now makes sticky rice wine, rýợu nếp hoa vàng. His quality brew, slightly sweet to the taste, is highly esteemed. It is not as strong (38° to 40°) as the classic white rice wine (55°). Mr. Sin sells his product after eight months but he may keep it for five years. He makes around 1,000 litres per month in the dry season. He buys the sticky rice from ethnic minority peoples in the Ðiện Biên Phủ highland region. He also rears some of the pigs who provide the ubiquitous soundtrack to Cát Quế and whose presence tends to assault city-dwellers with a delicate sense of smell! If you wish to buy rice wine here, bring some empty bottles, as this brewery sells only in bulk. Prices are still cheap. Mr. Sin’s brewery is down a blind alleyway, two alleys on the right before you reach the dyke road.

39Down the following alley on the right, you will find the premises of Mr. Trần Văn Tỵ (no3 on the map), a producer of wet cassava (tapioca) starch. You can see each stage in production, from washing of the cassava to settlement in vats, which is done in the narrow courtyard. Processing is seasonal (see explanations above). In the off-season, Mr. Tỵ keeps busy refining the stored wet starch.

40Go up onto the dyke road and turn right towards Dýõng Liễu Commune. On the dyke, you will see bamboo-drying racks covered with all kinds of noodles, vermicelli or starch left out to dry. Every square inch of free space is occupied, in hygiene conditions that leave a lot to be desired! A large workforce is employed in handling these racks, which have to be put out at first light and moved when the products are dry or when rain threatens.

41After roughly 300 metres, you will see a large covered market on the left in the area beyond the dyke wall (no4 on the map). Now take the first street on the right which leads off the dyke road and ends at the open-air market (no5 on the map) where you will see huge piles of stored canna and cassava tubers. The market runs from September to April. Go straight on. You will pass the old People’s Committee building of the commune (on your left). Turn into the second street on the right and look for the church (no6 on the map). The entire neighbourhood on your left, forming a maze of tiny alleyways, is used by canna starch and vermicelli producers. It is bursting with activity and the relentless dodging and weaving of motorcycle and trolley traffic. From here, the wet starch is taken to the canna vermicelli makers, the miến dong riềng. You can ask Mr. Nguyễn Thiện Tuấn (no7 on the map) if you can see inside his workshop, on the right just after the church.

42Continue straight on, and at the end of the street with the church a sign points left, saying “lên ðê (meaning “towards the dyke”). Turn left here to come back onto the dyke from where you can reach the commune of Minh Khai, the next section of the walk. It is a somewhat tortuous street taking you past the very fine nhà thờ tổ họ (no8 on the map) belonging to the Phí family (chapel of the Phí clan), which may well have been pressed into service for drying starch for refining.

43When you get to the dyke road, turn right towards Minh Khai Commune. At the third road on the right, you go down from the dyke and through a large gateway.

44From four in the morning, early risers may watch the making of miến dong riềng, or canna vermicelli, at the home of Mr. Đổ Văn Chi (no9 on the map), which is opposite (on the right side of the alley) the old People’s Committee building of Minh Khai, in the first alley to the left as you go through the gateway.

45You can also visit Mr. Đổ Đức Hạnh (no10 on the map), a specialist rice noodle manufacturer, whose factory can be found in the same alley as that of Mr. Đổ Văn Chi. To get there, go back the way you came and carry on straight ahead, leaving (to your right) the small street that leads to the entrance gateway. His workshop is just on the right. Most producers of bún or fresh rice noodles, however, are in the sector of Minh Khai beyond the dyke, and, like the rice wine brewers, they also rear pigs. To reach them, go back up to the dyke road and turn right. Take the first street that drops down to your left. You will see racks loaded with rice noodles put out to dry. There are noodle makers galore in this area: take your pick.

46To conclude the itinerary, we suggest you visit some of the small factories making biscuits, confectionery or chocolate, or the yards where the equipment used in the different food producing stages is repaired. For this, you should follow the dyke road southwards (see map) and turn back towards Cát Quế, where you began the walk. Before you do however, you should make a cultural stop at the Hýõng Trai Pagoda and Dýõng Liễu Temple, ideal places to catch your breath after the hullabaloo of your walk. These two fine buildings are situated below the dyke (i. e. on the right, in the sector beyond the dyke), a short distance before the covered market.

47A little further on, level with the street where you came out onto the dyke after leaving the church, lying across to your right, down in the sector beyond the dyke, is the workshop of Mr. Huy Výợng, the leading maker of machinery for the food processing industries. Still on the right, past the covered market, you can take the road leading down from the dyke and stretching away towards the Đáy River. This gives you a chance to see the effect of the sluice constructed on the Red River to regulate the Đáy: between the high dykes built up to keep it at bay, the turbulent river is now no more than a stream. On the road, you walk through a mini industrial estate where the Việt-Pháp chocolate factory (no11, on the map) stands.

48Go back onto the dyke road, and turn right towards Cát Quế. When you draw level with the street where you came out onto the dyke at the start of the walk, take the track going down to the right. You can visit a large biscuit factory down here (no12 on the map), and even buy some delicious petits-beurre. A little further on, also below the dyke, is a sweet factory, which uses maltose syrup produced by a refinery established in the commune of Sõn Ðồng. The wet starch obtained from the village artisans whom you have visited, is thus returned to the village workshops whence the starch originated, in the form of maltose: the cycle is complete. You can watch the different stages of production. The very young (not to say juvenile) workforce you will meet here reflects poorly on the spirit of initiative and economic drive shown by these villages. It is an incongruous sight especially for a sweet factory!

49We suggest you conclude your foray into the villages by visiting the Pagoda of the Master, Chùa Thầy, which is barely five kilometres from the edge of Cát Quế. The road crosses the area beyond the Đáy River dyke, where orchards and sugar cane plantations merge (see map).

Cát Quế, Dýõng Liễu and Minh Khai

Cát Quế, Dýõng Liễu and Minh Khai

THE PAGODA OF THE MASTER (CHÙA THẦY)

50Chùa Thầy (in the village of Thụy Khê, Sài Sõn Commune, Quốc Oai District) dates from the 11th century, but has been restored numerous times. It is dedicated to Từ Đạo Hạnh, a monk renowned among local people for his great spiritual powers. He lived most of his life here, in prayer or making healing remedies. He is also the founding ancestor of water puppetry.

51The pagoda site, against the backdrop of Mount Thầy, or Mount Sài Sõn, and flanked by Mount Long Ðẩu, faces the Long Chiểu Lake (Lake of the Dragon). The main pagoda (Chùa Cả) is surrounded by covered bridges: on the left, Nhật Tiên bridge leads to Tam Phú Temple, built in the middle of the lake; on the right Nguyệt Tiên bridge leads to the foot of the mountain. In the middle of the lake is a pavilion used for water puppet performances. Chùa Cả comprises three parallel buildings, the highest of them dedicated to the cult of Từ Ðạo Hạnh. Beyond the Nguyệt Tiên bridge, a track winds up the mountain towards the Cao Temple, where legend has it that Từ Ðạo Hạnh was first admitted to the holy order. Behind the temple is a grotto, Thánh Hóa (metamorphosis of the saint), where the monk, upon his death, was reincarnated as King Lý Thần Tông. Following the track along the mountain, you will come to more grottoes: Cắc Cớ, a meeting place for lovers at festival time; and Bụt Mọc, with its stalagmites in the shape of the Buddha. Several of the small pagodas well away from the crowds, west of Mount Thầy, all built at different times, are worth a visit.

52The pagoda’s festival is held from the 5th to the 9th day of the 3rd lunar month. Several nearby villages take part, among them Ða Phúc, Khánh Tân and Sài Khê, which are also the sites of famous pagodas. During the festival, the statue of Từ Ðạo Hạnh is anointed, and there are games, chèo theatre and, of course, water puppet shows at the pavilion on Long Chiểu. On the 7th day of the feast month – the anniversary of Từ Đạo Hạnh’s birth – a procession makes its way around the four villages and commemorative tablets are brought out in the monk’s honour.

drying of rice noodles

a much sought-after pitch on the dyke at minh khai

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