Among the tourist sites surrounding Hanoi, the Bat Trang pottery village with 500 or more years of history, is an ideal place to visit, attracting a large number of people from the city â€“ and foreign tourists.
Just 14km from central Hanoi, the village is easily reached by motorbike â€“ the most popular transport means in Vietnam.
If youâ€™re too lazy to drive yourself or are not game to sit on the back of a xe om or hired motorbike, you can catch a bus at Long Bien Bus Station.
This way takes three times as long, but itâ€™s so cheap! Tickets only cost VND3,000 â€“ about US$0.10. The bus will take you to the village pottery market, where more than 100 stalls present tens of thousands of ceramic and pottery products.
The items include fine celadon from an ancient tradition and other great examples of ceramic arts and crafts. The high quality porcelain is decorated with dragons and phoenix, flowers and images of people and landscapes, all reflecting daily and spiritual activities in Vietnam.
Visitors can spend several hours just browsing among the endless little shops, each with different wares produced in a different family kiln.
According to the head of the market management board, Tran Quoc Viet, the market welcomes a large number of visitors every weekend.
A group of middle-age women look happy with heavy sedge bags containing pottery products they bought in the market.
"Although my family has every household product, sometimes I and other neighbours call each other and go to the village. Itâ€™s the way we unwind," a woman cheerfully said.
For these women, beautiful ceramic objects, mostly at surprisingly affordable prices, are the main attraction. "Iâ€™ve bought a charming vase with the lotus motifs for just VND20,000," another woman said.
Thuy Linh, a grade-10 student, said she sometimes went to Bat Trang with a group of her friends. "Unlike other people who usually buy ceramic household products, we only pick up cute stationary or ceramic jewellery," she said.
"Iâ€™ve just bought a black-and-white Japanese Monokuro Boo pig, plus a keyholder with the ceramic initial â€˜Lâ€™, the first character of my name, carved on it. My friend bought a wind chime and a cute piggy bank," she said.
Thereâ€™s more than just searching among the stalls, tourists can also experience pottery artists a work â€“ on the spinning wheel, painting objects when they dry or loading up the kilns.
Visitors can also make their own cups, dish, bowl, vase or animal â€“ and they will receive the finished, fired product within a few days. Many villagers offer this service for VND10,000 to 30,000, depending on the size of product. "I relived my childhood when fiddling with a piece of clay," said Tuan Nam, a first-year student.
Recently, a new and relaxing way to see Bat Trang has been offered. A buffalo cart takes tourists around the village.
According to Nguyen Minh Hai, director of the Minh Hai Ceramic Company, who offers this first-ever service in the village, most who tour the village this way felt relaxed and interested because they could view the scenery at their leisure.
"The idea of using a buffalo cart to carry tourists was initiated when I went to Japan looking for business opportunities for our products. I realised the buffalo was easily recognised as a symbol of Vietnam â€“ a rice producing country. So why not use farm animals to transport tourists around the village?" he said.
Before starting their cart journey, tourists are shown the way ceramic products are made in a workshop. Teams of young men and women work on production lines, baking, sanding and painting.
A journey around the village, a distance of about 2km, takes an hour. The price ranges from VND50,000 to 100,000 depending on the duration of the tour and how many stops are made. There are two buffalo carts working in the village, providing tours for about 100 visitors a day.
Like other villages in the north, the village hold its main festival in the second lunar month. This year, this fell in March. During the three-day festival, many traditional activities were held in and around the village temple, situated close to the steep banks of the majestic Hong (Red) River.
Among the various ritual activities held during the festival, the most important is a boat procession by village elders and monks to the centre of the river to collect the purest flowing water.
Before they set out, the boats made offerings to ask the Water Genie for permission to take the water.
The water was then scooped from the river by two prestigious elders, brought to shore and then paraded around the village before being taken to the communal temple.