50 km away from Hanoi, Đường Lâm ancient village in Sơn Tây Town (Hanoi) is a well-known scenic attraction which was recognized to be a Vietnam National Cultural-Historic Relic in 2006. While Hoi An Ancient Town or Faifo (Quang Nam) is famous for its significance in urban life of the upper-class in the 16-17th century in the Inner Land (Dang Trong) with customs, festivals and architecture reflected features imported from Japan, France, Portugal and China, Đường Lâm Ancient Village is like a “living museum” of agriculture and rural lifestyle of the Red River Delta.

What to See?

Đường Lâm Ancient Village actually consists of 5 villages which share culture and life style for hundreds of years. Houses were built by traditional materials of Doai Region (xứ Đoài) like bamboos, clay bricks, mud, straws and especially laterite brickstones which guarantee the houses to be cool in summer and warm in winter. The roof is made of tiles arranged layers by layers like fish fins. A house usually has five or seven sections (“gian”); the main section should be the largest one where the ancestor altar is put together with precious objects for worship. Besides residential houses, Đường Lâm Village has a large number of worshiping houses where ceremonies are held to commemorate respected people who were born here and became national heroes. One of the most famous ones is the worshiping house for Giang Van Minh (江文明, 1573 – 1638), a son of the village, a talented officer in the 16-17th century under the reign of Revival Le Dynasty. In 1637, he was sent as an envoy to the Chinese Ming court by King Lê Thần Tông. He was beheaded by Chongzhen Emperor (崇禎) after he courageously replied to a Ming officer’s insult on Vietnam. 

Giang Van Minh’s Worshipping House [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

The worshiping house was built during the reign of King Tự Đức; therefore, it reflected this era’s architectural features like bricks of the period 1847 – 1883 and the structure resembling the letter “er” in Chinese (“number two”, literally translated into Vietnamese) facing the south. Today it is the 13th generation of the Giangs that takes care of the worshiping.

Another main attraction of Đường Lâm Village is Mong Phu Communal House (đình Mông Phụ), which was built in around the 14th century and worships Saint Tản Viên – the Mountain Saint, one of the four immortals in Vietnamese folklore culture. The House was expanded in 1859 and remained ever since.

Mong Phu Communal House [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Mong Phu Communal House [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

380 years old, the Mong Phu Communal House reflects the Viet – Muong architecture: it has above-grown wooden floor resembling the stilt house in the northern mountainous area of Vietnam. Carved wood pillars and house frames are the highlights of this structure. Legend has it the Mong Phu Communal House was built on the head of a dragon, the two eyes of which were the two village wells. The yard in front of the Communal House is where main festive events of the village take place.

Sophisticated carvings inside the Communal House [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Sophisticated carvings inside the Communal House [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Chùa Mía or Mia Temple (崇嚴寺) is another must-see when you come to Đường Lâm Village. This is the temple holding the most artistic Buddhist statues of Vietnam (287 statues). Originally a small and abandoned temple, in 1632, Mdm Ngo Thi Ngoc Dieu, a concubine of Lord Trinh Trang, together with her parents and local villagers renovated the temple. The villagers later worshiped this concubine in this temple and called her Goddess Mía after her home village. The architecture of the temple remains unchanged until now. When coming here, remember to pay a visit to the tower Cuu Pham Lien Hoa (Nine storey Lotus Tower) which stores the Relics of the Buddha.

Cuu Pham Lien Hoa Tower inside Mia Temple [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Cuu Pham Lien Hoa Tower inside Mia Temple [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

What to Eat?

Food in Đường Lâm Village is simple and rustic just like the life here. They are not something fancy that can be only found in expensive restaurants. Instead, they appear in every day meals of any family in the Red River Delta.

Tương – Fermented soybean paste

“Tương” has been made in Đường Lâm since centuries ago and no one could remember exactly when. Every household here has some big jars of fermented soybean paste outside their yards. Having good paste is not easy. The villagers here use water from Giang Well, which is a laterite brickstone built well near Giang Van Minh’s Worshipping House, because the water in the well is pure and has a natural sweet taste. The soybean paste jars are left under the sun during June to let the soybean be well-fermented. With the soybean paste, the villagers have created a lot of tasty dishes including pickled raddish with soybean paste or boiled pork dipped in soybean paste.

Fermented Soybean Paste [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Fermented Soybean Paste [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Mía chicken

Together with many famous breeds of chicken in the Red River Delta like Đông Cảo, Hồ, Tân Sơn or Yên Thế, Mía chicken is famous for its rich sweet taste. The chicken is fed with corn, rice and cassava. Mía chicken has nice texture, not too soft as factory chicken but not too chewy either. It is best when served boiled and dipped with the mixture of salt, pepper and lime juice.

Thịt quay đòn – Roasted pork belly on bamboo pole

Roasted Pork Belly on bamboo pole [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Roasted Pork Belly on bamboo pole [Photo Courtesy: Thu Ngo]

Perhaps this is the most famous dish in Đường Lâm Village. The pork belly is well marinated for at least half an hour with pepper, spring onion, fish sauce and especially well-chopped guava leaves. Then, the meat is wrapped around a big bamboo pole covered with banana leaves and tied with bamboo strings. The oven is brick-built and uses charcoal, which gives the belly a tasty smoky flavor. It takes around 6 hours to cook the dish from scratch. The skin is crunchy and the meat inside is very juicy. This dish is best served with the fermented soybean paste.

In short…

Perhaps for foreign tourists, Đường Lâm is not as popular as Hoi An or Hanoi’s Old Quarter because the two later have the gaudy and magnificent urban vibes which Đường Lâm cannot exude. However, the village’s charms lie in the rough and rustic appearance with generations of villagers born, growing up, and still living and working there. This makes Đường Lâm, even though a bit messier and noisier, livelier and closer to one’s heart.

By Thu Ngo

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