Lying about 35 km Northeast of Hanoi, Bac Ninh is by and large an underrated destination in most travel guide book. For the two thousand years in existence, Bac Ninh is vivid in Vietnamese mind as a land of the talents: there were times that the province contributed as much as 25% of people with doctorate degree in Vietnam. The talent is not only shown academically but also artistically.
Bac Ninh is where, without doubt, concentrates the highest density of handicraft villages in Vietnam. These include Dong Ho woodcut painting village, Đồng Kỵ wood and carving village, Phu Lang pottery village. Besides handicraft villages, Bac Ninh also has a variety of temples and pagodas, many of which are considered the craddle of Budhism in Vietnam.
Bac Ninh town has almost every modern life facility one can ask for. However, surrounding districts are more rural-based with more than half of the population working on the farm. Due to its almost absence from visitors’ attention, much of Bac Ninh remains untouched and unstaged like other popular destinations found elsewhere in the world.
Phu Lang Pottery Village
Phu Lang has become a brand name like Bat Trang in terms of pottery and ceramics products. However, thanks to its distance from the urban centre, much of the pristine scenery as well as traditional production have moved forward for centuries without being over-commercialized. Through times, there are only a few families left who continued their tradition. The yard is packed with firewood and clay. Indoors, there are a large collection of pottery wares, from flower vases to tea pots. Bat Trang is special by its simplicity: from the decorative style to the natural brown color of clay. Villagers are very friendly: they will take you in and give you a quick tour to see how their every activities unfold.
Dau Pagoda, located in Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh province, is considered the oldest Buddhist pagoda in Vietnam according to researchers. The pagoda is about 1 hour away from Hanoi Old Quarter, making it easy for a morning trip off the city noise.
In the past, the region where Dau Pagoda was built today was the capital of Giao Chi district, the political, economic and cultural center of Vietnam. About 1,800 years ago, the Indian monk named Khau Da La came to this area to do the missionary work and founded the first Buddhism center in Vietnam called Luy Lau. There were many pagodas, citadels and market built in the area at that time and Dau Pagoda was among them.
As Dau Pagoda was the biggest pagoda in the Buddhist center region, many monks from either India or China came there to do research and spread Buddhism to the local residents.
Dong Ho Painting Village
Dong Ho Village with its famous paintings has become an aesthetic symbol in Vietnam culture. Located to the left side of Duong River, Dong Ho stood for centuries making their unique art work. From over 100 families in the 1950s, currently there are only a handful of families still making the traditional craft. Most villagers have now turned to joss paper making, since the regulation has relaxed and again allowed for religious practices that were once deemed “unfit of the revolutionary”. The families of Nguyen Dang Che and Nguyen Huu Sam both run their own galleries and employ a number of workers. To everyone’s relief, the essence still remains and thrives.
Dong Ho paintings are places for artists to reflect their wishes for lucks and their perception of everyday life in the village. Common themes that are found consistently include animals (which has goodluck symbol on them), everyday life (such as Jealous Fight or A Market Day), and folk tales (Saint Giong or The Frog Teacher). The paper used for the painting is made from bark tree so that the texture can retain color for a long time. Each family develops their own mold for the painting. Each mold are then replicated and filled with a separate share of color. The paintings are made by stamping the mold into the paper, one at a time to add more and more color to the picture.
Dong Ho paintings are simple, meaningful and created for the mass. Patrons use to come from agricultural and low-income families, some of them are illiterate and can not afford other more exquisite art works. But the meaning is the paintings is, by no means, sub-par. It reflects both reality and dream of the people.
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