Tag Archives: private guide

Laquer brightens a village

All involved: About 500 families living in Ha Thai are involved in the lacquer ware business. — Photos Mark Carle

by Mark Robert Carle

Last Saturday morning, I met a group of friends for a trip to Ha Thai traditional lacquer village. I had visited it four years earlier and was interested to see the changes.

I presumed it was still a working village because there was so much lacquer-ware in shops in the Old Quarter. In fact, it was doing so well that many people had shifted their homes and workshops to a more spacious area. This also enabled them to open showrooms and galleries.

Ha Thai is only a short distance from Ha Noi, but the trees and green fields are rapidly disappearing as new buildings crop up everywhere. But the day was ours. The sun was bright and the Autumn weather kept temperatures cool. An occasional cool breeze swept across our faces.

We were smiling of course because the lacquer ware was bright and plentiful. Workers everywhere were using their talents to decorate vases, jewelry boxes, tissue covers and other pieces.

Ha Thai village is in Duyen Thai commune next to National Highway 1A, about 30km south of Ha Noi city. The 500 or so families living there are nearly all in the lacquer ware business.

Out to dry: A quiet road is used to dry vegetables.

The rural scenes surrounding the village are reflected on many of the craft works. Rice fileds, people resting in hammocks, buffalo grazing, women on bikes, mountains and sunsets are reproduced everywhere.

Years ago, the colors used were dark and muted, but now they are bright and vibrant. Where once the artwork always displayed Vietnamese scenes, artisans are now finding a market for abstracts and copies of Monet, Van Gogh and other European artists.

The material used for the bowls, boxes and chopsticks is usually bamboo, rattan or wood – sometimes even ceramics. It is a tedious job. Workers squat or sit on small stools as they sand, paint and polish for hours on end.

The results are magnificent, even if they were tissue boxes by the hundreds for a hotel chain. The prices were set and there was no bargaining. On my last visit four years ago, I was able to bargain for everything. What a difference a few years makes. Back in Ha Noi later that evening, we visited the night market and were surprised to find the prices were exactly the same as at Ha Thai village.

Anyway it was a nice day for a trip. We had dinner at the Viet Kitchen in Hai Ba Trung District when we returned. The presentation was decorative and the tastes were near perfection. In fact, the calamari was the best I’ve ever had. It was a perfect end to a nice day in the country. — VNS


Ha Long Bay cruise delights on Viet Nam tourist trail

Idyllic scenery: A view of the spectacular Ha Long Bay from the entrance of Surprising Cave, some 134 stone steps above the boat pier. — VNS Photo Khanh Chi

by Nguyen Khanh Chi

I have been to Ha Long Bay many times but have never experienced a cruise. So when my parents asked me to join them on an overnight trip, I jumped at the chance.

We opted for a two-day, one-night excursion in late October and were thoroughly enchanted.

The US$80 ticket covered the cruise, the bus journey between Ha Noi and Ha Long City, the tour guide and all meals. Early in the morning, a bus picked us up in Ha Noi. When enough passengers were on board, we left for Quang Ninh Province’s Ha Long City. In our tour group were Australians, Russians, a Vietnamese couple and a French family.

At noon, we arrived at the Ha Long boat wharf, which was packed with two-tier and three-tier boats of different sizes and standards.

About half an hour passed as we checked in and sailed off. We were then free to enjoy our lunch of oyster soup, fresh grilled prawns, fried fish, and steamed cutter fish whilst feasting our eyes on the incredibly beautiful scenery surrounding us.

We felt as if we were in paradise. We saw pagodas along some islets, caves, small villages and many fishermen in their boats.

The wooden junk surfed gently over limestone rocks, and the guide Vu Van Khoa started telling us about our surroundings.

All aboard: Tourists sit on the deck, sipping fresh drinks while enjoying the breeze.

On the right side of the junk, he pointed out a rock that resembled a dog. Ten minutes later, our boat sailed towards two magnificent rocks shaped like a pair of roosters facing each other; this was Ga Choi Island.

“The image of these rocks in front of you is printed on the face of the 200,000 dong note,” Khoa said, raising the note high in the air for all to see.

This was Australian tourist John Gibson’s third visit to the bay and his second experience of a cruise. He still considers it worth the trip.

“I think Ha Long Bay is probably a wonder of the world, and UNESCO has to agree,” joked Gibson, who hails from Brisbane.

“This time, I’ve brought my wife. She has never been here before. Now, she has seen it for herself and has the same opinion as I do,” said Gibson.

“The food is entirely Vietnamese cuisine, which adds to the excitement and the comfort of our stay. That’s the way to do it [by enjoying the bay views on a junk boat]. It is safe, and the service is very good.”

Scenic paddle: Tourists take a closer look of caves from their kayaks. — Photos Bang Van

The changing shades of colours in the sky differ from those typically seen in the bay. There were rocks of different shapes and sizes, and a light fog followed us on our three-hour sail from the port to one of the floating villages on the bay, where we hoped to see oyster pearl cultivation activities. Not one second was wasted.

At the Ha Long Pearl museum, the museum guide gave us a summarised history of the area and noted the categories of pearls originating from both Viet Nam and other far-off regions such as North America. Visitors also got to know how pearls are raised and extracted from the oysters.

Later, we docked at Titop Island, which is named after the Russian hero, cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. Here, we could swim, play sports, or climb to the top of the Titop mountain, some 200 metres above sea level. When I reached the summit, I was spellbound by the spectacular panoramic view of the bay, even though it was not a clear sunny day.

A shower followed by a feast of seafood dishes with eye-catching decorations in the romantic setting of candlelight and soft music made me feel completely at ease.

Friendships were easily struck up within our company after the dinner service. A Russian couple gifted us some souvenirs imprinted with the logo of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Gibson performed a few magic tricks for the kids, and the 4-year-old son of the French family crooned the nursery rhyme Incy Wincy Spider. Later that evening, I lay on a recliner on the upper deck, enjoying the cool breeze and humming along to the melodies wafting in from elsewhere on the boat.

Lights glittered on the tens of boats teeming around us, making the bay appear like a small city by night.

I awoke early the next morning, so I could catch the sunrise. The guide had told me it was best viewed from a junk boat. Sunsets were said to be equally breathtaking. I enjoyed watching the sun’s rays reflect off the boats.

Later that day, we went to one of the islands to visit the Surprising Cave, and indeed, it was surprisingly large and beautiful, with three chambers.

“This is my family’s first time seeing such things. It is really fascinating and so peaceful here,” said the French lady Delphine Meistermann.

“The experience is totally different from anything we’ve done before, so I would certainly recommend it to my friends. The rocks seemed very mysterious yesterday, when the fog was swirling around them,” she noted.

“You know you are in the middle of nature here, even though there are many boats all around us. It’s cosy and comfortable.

“I wouldn’t do it for a whole month, but for one or two nights, it’s nice and really, really different from the sounds, smells, and level of comfort one experiences in the city.” — VNS

Temple of literature – the first national university of Vietnam

Temple of literature is the first national university of Vietnam. it is on top of the historical and beautiful sightseeings of the beautiful capital of Vietnam.

The very first stop-over of any foreign tourist in Hanoi is always Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam (translated as Temple of Literature), which reveals the Hanoians’ spirit of study in the past!

Situated at the south of Thang Long citadel, is on top of the historical and beautiful sightseeings of the beautiful capital of Vietnam. Please follow us in a brief tour of exploring his beauty and deep values.

Constellation of Literature pavilion

historical temple of literature

Tourists, particularly the foreign ones, now flock to the site for taking a look into its profound traditional meanings of both a Confucion temple and the first university of Vietnam. Văn Miếu or Temple of Literature, known as “pagode des Corbeaux” during the period of French colonisation, was founded as a Confucian temple in 1070.

Only parts of the Văn Miếu complex date back to the earliest period, although much of the architecture dates to the Ly (1010 – 1225) and Tran (1225 – 1400) Dynasties. In 1076, Vietnam’s first university, the Quốc Tử Giám (or National University), was established within this temple to educate Vietnam’s mandarin class. The university functioned for more than 700 years, from 1076 to 1779, during which, 2,313 doctors graduated. Hence, the complex has been attached to the name of Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam up to now.

A beauty-spot of architectural values

This ancient Confucian sanctuary is now considered one of Hanoi’s finest historical and cultural sites. “The ever special architetural style of Van Mieu dates back to the 11th century, evoking an inspiration of classical creativeness of many of us”, one of my tourists remarked. Just take a look into the art of architecture, you will share the feeling! The temple is based on Confucius’ birthplace at Qufu in the Chinese province of Shandong. It consists of five courtyards lined out in order, entrance to the first, via the impressive twin-tiered Van Mieu gate leads to three pathways that run through the length of the complex. The centre path was reserved for the King only, the one to its left for administrative Mandarins and the one to its right for military Mandarins.

Well Of Heavenly Clarity

The first two courtyards are peaceful havens of ancient trees and well-trimmed lawns where the scholars could relax away from the bustle of the city outside the thick stone walls. Entrance to the third courtyard is through the dominating Khue Van Cac (constellation of literature), a large pavilion built in 1802. Central to the this courtyard is the Thien Quang Tinh (“Well Of Heavenly Clarity”), either side of which stand two great halls which house the true treasures of the temple. These are 82 stone steles. Another 34 are believed to have been lost over the years. They sit upon stone tortoises and are inscribed with the names and birth places of 1306 men who were awarded doctorates from the triennial examinations held here at the Quoc Tu Giam (“National University”) between 1484 and 1780, when the capital was moved to Hue.

Doctor stelae – Temple of literature

The fourth courtyard is bordered on either side by great pavilions which once contained altersl of 72 of Confucius greatest students but which now contain offices, a gift shop and a small museum which contains ink wells, pens, books and personal artifacts belonging to some of the students that have studied here through the years. At the far end of the courtyard is the altar with statues of Confucius and his four closest disciples. The fifth courtyard contained the Quoc Tu Giam, Vietnam’s first university founded in 1076 King Ly Can Duc, but this was destroyed by French bombing in 1947.

Though having gone through lots of restoration work, the temple still retains its very first original shape, to be one of the visit-worthy sightseeings of Hanoi, captivating to a huge number of tourists elsewhere.

In the run-up to the Vietnamese New Year celebration, calligraphist tend to assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Hán tự, which are popular amongst Vietnamese as gifts or to be used as decoration at home for auspicious occasions.

A space of peace, green trees and solemnity covers the whole temple of historical and traditional love for study, making tourists feel like they were lost in a land of Confucion and traditional values. If you are in Hanoi, you should really come and explore it yourself!

If tourists in Vietnam Travel have chance to visit Hanoi, Temple of Literature is a must-see place that should not be missed!