A village without distortions

By Ngo Huy Hoa, Thanh Nien News

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Tho Ha in the northern province of Bac Giang was once famous for its pottery, but now is better known for its original look and delicious rice crackers

A man carries long bamboo mats where rice papers are dried before being made into crackers and noodles at Tho Ha Village / PHOTO: NGO HUY HOA
Located some 50 kilometers from Hanoi, Tho Ha is often praised for being able to keep its look – that of a typical village in northern Vietnam – even as many of its cousins look distorted.
The very entrance to Tho Ha, which is situated on the banks of the Cau River, will easily remind a Vietnamese citizen of how a northern village once looked.
On the right side of an ancient giant brick-built gate is a centuries-old banyan tree, and on the left is a pond.
Right after the gate is a communal house, which was built in 1692 and is one of the oldest of its kind in Bac Giang Province.
The structure is famous for a variety of finely-sculpted images, ranging from the Four Holy Beasts – namely dragon, qilin, turtle, and phoenix, to animals like the elephant and horse. There are also images of fairies dancing and riding dragons and phoenixes, and flowers and leaves.
At the house, locals worship Thai Thuong Lao Quan (or Daode Tiazun in Chinese) – one of the three highest Gods in the Taoist pantheon, and Dao Tri Tien – one of the three founders of pottery in Vietnam.
Behind the communal house is a pagoda officially known as Doan Minh Tu. It is unknown when the pagoda was built, but a text on a pair of stone dragons at its gate suggests that it must have been established before 1580.
A banyan tree, a gate, a pond, a communal house, and a pagoda are indispensable assets of a village in northern Vietnam, but these are rarely found these days.
Besides sporting an old architectural style, houses and other buildings in Tho Ha are remarkable for being built with red bricks and unglazed ceramics like containers designed for keeping the deceased’s remains.
The building materials are relics of the trade of pottery making that thrived from the 14th to the 1990s at the village. Tho Ha’s pottery wares were famous for their high quality despite being buried underground or soaked in water.
However, there is only one potter at Tho Ha now. Most of other families have switched to making rice crackers and rice noodles which is much less time-consuming and demanding.
Walking around the village these days, people no longer see ceramic items arranged along its narrow roads, but long bamboo mats where rice papers are dried before being made into crackers and noodles.
The scene, regardless of the change, is attractive and worth being captured on cameras. The best time is early in the morning when the drying process is at its peak.
When visiting Tho Ha, you should park your vehicles at its market and walk around, because local roads are just wide enough for two people.
At the market, do not forget to eat banh duc (rice cake) topped with minced pork and shredded mushroom, or rice crackers with hot tea.
Rice crackers, especially those topped with peanuts and coconut, are also ideal gifts for your friends and families. Each is priced VND8,000-15,000 (about 3-7 cents).

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