A passage to Vietnam

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A tourist area in suburban Ho Chi Minh City brilliantly showcases Vietnam's history and culture


A little girl operates a loom in the corner of Ha Dong silk weaving, a traditional craft in Hanoi

In the past year I have visited Mot Thoang Viet Nam (Passage to Vietnam Crafts Village) in Cu Chi District six times, every time discovering new things and having interesting experiences.

With dozens of areas on Vietnamese history, traditional trades, and architecture, the 22.5-hectare site situated 55 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City helps tourists understand about the country.

The trip to early Vietnamese history starts at the entrance with a huge egg to remind visitors about the legend of the country's origin. It is said that Vietnamese are the descendants of the Hung kings, the first of whom was the eldest son of Lac Long Quan, a dragon, and Au Co, a fairy. The couple had 100 children, all born from eggs.

Right past the entrance is a long corridor decorated with photos and exhibits dating back to thousands of years ago - like Dong Son bronze drums, a cultural symbol of the Bronze Age Dong Son Culture (2,000 BCE-200 CE).

A phoenix head from the Dinh Dynasty (968-980CE), a bronze string instrument nearly 2,000 years old are among other magnificent exhibits in this corridor named "A return to the roots."

There are giant maps of the country's 65 provinces and cities with mountains, rivers, national parks and other features marked clearly.

A 70-meter-long map floats on water and each province and city is made of soil collected from there.


A woman makes rice paper in the food court of Mot Thoang Viet Nam

Tourists can delve into the spiritual space of Vietnamese at the Xa Tac altar, which also means "nation." In ancient times kings held ceremonies at the altar to pray for their country and people.

The altar here is also made of earth and water from all over the country. Placed next to it are three stakes that were among the hundreds that kings and generals set up in the Bach Dang River in the northern province of Quang Ninh to fight foreign invaders in 938, 981, and 1288.

Visitors are invited to burn incense sticks at the altar. On special occasions like the 15th day of the lunar month, 100 hundred drum rolls are sounded as if to call out to the mountains and rivers and to the souls of deceased people to show the respect being paid to ancestors.

Houses, trades and plants

Mot Thoang Viet Nam has models of traditional houses from different regions of the country north, center, south, highlands. Among the eight are those of people in the central province of Binh Dinh. They are considered "intelligent" houses because they are cool in summer, cozy in winter, and fire-resistant thanks to clay-straw walls and roofs.

The H'Mong people's houses are made from the rare wood of the Fujian cypress, which gives off a pleasant scent and also keeps insects away. The roof comprises of a few planks and so can be removed to let in sunlight.

The stilt houses of the ethnic Bana and Muong peoples, and the long house of the Ede people are also on display.

One of the main attractions here is the trade village where 12 traditional crafts from various regions - like the making of do, a traditional paper made from the bark of the Rhamnoneuron Balansae tree in the north, weaving, carpentry, and sculpture are demonstrated.

Interested visitors can try their hand at the task, or even spend a couple of days with the artisans to learn to make a souvenir for themselves.

The herb garden has a variety of plants from rare and precious wood like the kim giao (Nageia fleuryi), which was used to make chopsticks for kings in olden times since it was believed to help detect poisons by changing color, to more common ones used as food, like Peperomia pellucida.

There are also nearly 100 species of bamboo, the symbol of Vietnam.

The site has a resort based on Vietnamese countryside style with bamboo rooms and furniture, allowing visitors to stay overnight and enjoy other activities like fishing, playing folk games, and watching cultural performances.

For foodies, there are dishes from the northern, central, and southern parts of the country.

Mot Thoang Viet Nam is open for all visitors at weekends, from 8.30am until 5pm, and for at least 20-people reservation on weekdays.

HOW TO GET THERE?

* By car/motorbike:

- Cross Quang Trung overpass in District 12, reach Hoc Mon Market. Turn left, go along Road 15 for around 30 kilometers to An Phu Commune. Turn right at the third intersection (a T-intersection).

- Alternative route: Cross An Suong overpass. Go along National Road 22. Turn right into Road 8. Reach Tan Quy intersection, turn left into Road 15. Turn right at the second intersection (a T-junction).

* By bus:

Take bus No. 4 in front of the gas station opposite Ben Thanh Market. Get off at An Suong Station. Then take bus No.122 and get off at An Nhon Tay Station. From there:

- Take a xe om to the site four or five kilometers away.

- Or take bus No. 614 and get off at the T-intersection with a panel indicating Mot Thoang Viet Nam. Walk about 1.2 kilometers to the site.


Rattan weaving is among traditional crafts reproduced at the tourist area


A close-up of a sculptor working at the craft village in Mot Thoang Viet Nam

By Nguyen Van My
Nguyen Van My is the director of Lua Viet Tours based in Ho Chi Minh City.

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