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Traditional souvenir villages make for the perfect day trip

Update: May, 23/2013 - 08:40
by Mark Robert Carle
A perfect purchase: Traditional embroidery depicts a piece of countryside life. — VNS Photos Mark Robert Carle

It's been more than three weeks since my eye surgery and I was chomping at the bit to go on a road trip out of town. I had turned down a chance for a long weekend trip so I really needed a day out of the city. I planned a day trip for Sunday morning but I slept really poorly and cancelled it in the early morning hours. But I got a second wind after a few hours sleep and we decided to make a later start. I was glad my friend Hang was ok with my spur of the moment decision because it turned out to be a sunny yet still cold day. Trips on the motorbike can make it colder so overdressing is a better decision and I am glad I layered on the clothes because despite the sunshine the wind was still cold.

Two of my favourite villages - and I have many favourites - are the Thang Loi embroidery village and the Thuy Ung horn village. Both are close to each other so we first visited the furthest, the embroidery village in the hope of picking up a few more gifts for my visit home.

Mouthwatering: A sticky rice cake stuffed with mung bean and wrapped in banana leaves.

The artists here are really quite adept at embroidery. I often have to look really closely to prove to myself that the images they create aren't photos. I usually see at least two that I love and then have to stop myself from spending too much cash. Even though I know the same work in the US would easily be sold at 3-4 times the cost, I just need to stop myself as I know it will cost me so much more to get the slightly heavier framed items home. But I always enjoy watching the artists work on the tiniest of details with their needle and thread.

We spent about an hour driving up and down the narrow, windy lanes and alleys looking for every artist's house we could find. The drive itself was worth the trip because these villages have so much character of their own. Each village has its own old time style house and entrance gates. The kids all yell "Hello" when they see me and people are always so friendly and helpful.

After a few visits to the embroiderers we headed back toward Ha Noi and the horn village. The horn village is really just one family selling their craftwork here in the village, all of the others only sell in Ha Noi. I have been to this house I think four times now. Every time, I buy something, and of course this time was no exception. I love the little spoons made from the horns and then warmed to form the curves and polished to a high gloss. They are perfect for eating yogurt and would be great for the smaller mouth and hands of children. The combs are also beautiful. They had stacks of horns in the area between the houses waiting to be put under the artists' keen eyes and designed into many of the beautiful - and in many cases unique pieces of useful art. The colours are what make them so unique as there are never two alike in colour or design. Finding ones that ‘match' is really in the eye of the beholder.

On the way home we stopped to buy some banh day from the many ladies selling it along the road. It's a sticky rice cake stuffed with mung bean and wrapped in banana leaves. They come in two kinds, sweet and salty - I got one ‘pack' of each.— VNS


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