Spring travel: Step into the past in Duong Lam Ancient Village
Let's follow Thuy Duong (The Vietnam Economic Times) on a journey to explore the ancient village of Duong Lam, where some of the oldest houses found in the Red River Delta are preserved.
Forty-five kilometres to the west of Hanoi, Duong Lam is a fine example of traditional life in the Red River Delta. (photo: Khongai)
On a nice Saturday morning our gang of four girls started out on our adventure to Duong Lam ancient village by car, armed with mobile phones and Google maps. The journey took us over an hour from the centre of Hanoi, including three stops to ask for directions after losing our way.
Forty-five kilometres to the west of Hanoi, Duong Lam is a fine example of traditional life in the Red River Delta. A herd of cows and child ‘shepherds’ were passing through the village gate and heading out to the fields. An old banyan tree cast a wide patch of welcome shade. Behind the gate an old lady flapped her palm-leaf fan at the persistent flies buzzing around her tea stand. Sipping strong tea from tiny china cups, local men discussed current events.
‘Mr Lan’s son will get married very soon, but the couple will not stay in the village because their old house is too crowded as the main area has been turned into an exhibition space for tourists,’ and ‘Ms Xinh just sold a piece of land to someone from Hanoi who wants to build a huge old-style house,’ were two of the topics of conversation. We joined in the gossip, hoping to get some inside information on Duong Lam, its past and present.
Centuries of sunlight and rain have turned their walls dark yellow and as hard as stone. (source: vietnamwonders)
‘Duong Lam’ is not the real name of the village. Duong Lam is actually the name of the district, which has nine ancient villages: Mong Phu, Dong Sang, Doai Giap, Cam Thinh, Cam Lam, Phu Khang, Ha Tan, Hung Thinh and Van Mieu. But the old houses in the area are mostly concentrated in Mong Phu village and part of Dong Sang and Doai Giap villages, so tourists call the area by the common name of ‘Duong Lam Ancient Village’.
Having experienced thousands of years of history, the tourist site consists of many famous historical and cultural relics, including the Ben Ma archaeological relic, dating back to the new stone age of the 6th century BC, Emperor Phung Hung’s communal house, Emperor Ngo Quyen’s temple and mausoleum, Mia Pagoda, and Mong Phu village’s communal house, among others.
Mong Phu’s ancient houses
Alongside the pride of being the only village in Vietnam where two great emperors were born - Phung Hung and Ngo Quyen - the people of Duong Lam are also proud of their ancient houses.
Mong Phu ancient village bears the specific features of an old Vietnamese village in the Red River Delta. While Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Hoi An ancient town may be regarded as ‘urban relics’, the ancient village of Mong Phu is considered a ‘rural relic’ for its centuries-old houses.
Like a bridge linking the past and the present, the old houses were made from an unusual material - laterite. Centuries of sunlight and rain have turned their walls dark yellow and as hard as stone. The tiled roofs sag as though bearing the weight of time. Grass grows thickly along the base of the walls.
Tourists explore Vietnamese traditional soya sauce making process in an ancient house in Duong Lam (photo: Van Phuc)
According to studies made by the Hanoi Tourism Administration, Mong Phu is the only remaining representative of Vietnam’s water-rice farming villages. Laterite stone is the building material for houses, wells, walls, and village paths, and it’s seen everywhere on a magnificent scale in simple but sophisticated architectural styles. Rough natural stones are worked before they are put together in walls, and are arranged in such a way that they exhibit great beauty.
It’s a fantastic place to lean against a stone wall and have your photo taken, where you may appear as though you’re lost in the past.
Mong Phu, Cam Thinh, and Dong Sang villages have more than 800 ancient houses still standing. Each has a gate, a laterite stone wall protecting the house, a front courtyard, a garden, a hall (the main building), a supplementary house, a kitchen, a toilet area, a poultry yard, and a well. The old houses typically have a wooden door fitted with vertical wooden pegs for opening and closing.
Surrounding the old houses is the village road, winding laneways of palm trees, perennial gardens, and the village’s communal house, churches and pagodas.
We went into a house owned by Mr Nguyen Van Hung in Mong Phu village, one of seven preserved as heritage properties and the most beautiful and untouched among them. The house is said to date back to 1649 and has been home to 12 generations. The ancient gate is made from laterite stone with mud and straw ash used as a kind of mortar. The house itself has five main rooms and two supplementary rooms, with the mail hall for ancestor worshipping while the two side spaces are for welcoming guests and have two old wooden settees. The two supplementary rooms are where Mr Hung and his family take rest.
The house was built from wood, with a tiled roof and wide doors facing south, to keep the interior cool. Place a traditional Vietnamese bamboo pallet in the middle of the yard, take a sip of hot tea, and try a piece of Bánh Chè Lam rice cake - specialties of the land - and it seems that time passes so slowly.
Mong Phu’s communal house
Leaving Mr Hung’s house, we walked past other stone houses and simple wooden gates covered with green leaves of mulberry trees, down a path alive with wild flowers, and finally reached the village temple, built 390 years ago. The temple is in a typical Viet Muong style, raised on 48 large wooden stilts 50-60 cm wide with a steep tiled roof that curves up a little at its four corners. The artistry of the builders can be seen in the dragons, phoenixes, and tortoises elaborately carved on the corners of the roof.
Mong Phu communal house (source: Viet Landmark)
Some of the elderly villagers explained to us that Mong Phu Temple is built on top of a dragon’s head, whose eyes are the two wells. The front courtyard of the temple was built lower than the surrounding area to collect rainwater, as a good supply of water represents abundance and a happy life. Two ditches were dug on both sides of the temple to drain the rainwater. From above, the ditches look like dragon’s whiskers. The courtyard is also used for ritual performances on the first ten days of Tet.
We left Duong Lam late in the afternoon, just as the sun was about to set. Walking along the village path, we could see a line the stone walls line shining in the sun, and we agreed that almost nowhere else is as beautiful and peaceful as this land./.
( VNF/The Guide )