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Archive for December, 2013

Within the context of this blog, we wish to share and spread the story of Tho Ha village, a fascinating one with a rich pottery tradition, alas almost entirely conjugated in the past tense. Tho Ha is built on a script of land slightly raised above river level, but outside the protective perimeter of the dike. Everywhere in Tho Ha, the traces of a more glorious past can be seen: the host of fine old public and private buildings, in particular the famous “Đình” and the “Đòan Minh” pagoda.

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Getting there
If you come to the town of Bac Ninh by N1 Highway from Hanoi, it’s about 40 km away and it took about 1.5 hours by car. Look for a church on your right at a crossroad. At this intersection, turn left onto a street call Đường Thiên Đức , cross the railways tracks. After 800 m, turn right on Công Hâu and continue 2 km. You are travelling along the bank of the Cầu river, with Thổ Hà opposite, in the district called Xã Vạn An.

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The Craft
As we have already mentioned, Tho Ha was once famous in the Northern Delta as a supplier of burial caskets, as well as of non-enameled ceramic products of a light brown or dark grey colour such as jars, vases or perfume-burners…
Since at least the 17th century (a native of Tho Ha claims that archaeologists have found traces of kilns dating back to the 9th century) until after the end of colonial period, Tho Ha was a very noted center for the production of ceramic items.
Tho Ha ever boasted at least 50 wood-fired kilns within a very dense urbanized space, but today only traces of old kilns remain – mainly “frog kilns” (lò cóc, literally toad-shaped ovens, the smallest and oldest type of kilns found here). There still remains one household in the village where, with the help of a small frog-kiln in their courtyard, they produce a small quantity of ceramic items. They are trying to revive ancestral know-how and to train other artisans in order to re-establish the village’s traditional activity.  Nowadays, Tho Ha has changed and today it is famous for its “bánh đa” – small, very thin rice pancakes used for making spring roll.

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Things to see

Even though there is practically no pottery production to be observed currently in Tho Ha. One of the greatest pleasure of a visit to the village is the beauty of the half light filtering through these translucent pancakes, put out to dry on bamboo racks, forming a delightful roof over alleyways no more than a metre wide. Racks of rice pancakes can also be found in front of the pagoda, on rooftops, balanced on walls, leaning against graves in the cemetery…Therefore, try to arrive at Tho Ha as early as possible in the afternoon or in the morning, on a dry day…and when the power is on, to admire this sight! The villagers start to take their racks of rice pancakes inside from 3 or 4 pm.

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The communal house: If you walk straight ahead with the main ferry behind you, you will come almost directly upon the area of the village that contains most of the religious buildings and which splits the village in two. You must first cross the village marketplace, then a large open space lined with low buildings that have been recently renovated. The DINH is now right in front of you: one of the biggest in the whole Delta (27m long and 16m wide), it is really impressive by dint of its imposing size, its decorative details and its good state of preservation.

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The Doan Minh pagoda: If you carry on futher through the village, you will come to the pagoda. Predating the communal house by about 60 years, it betrayes a strong Chinese influence, simillar in design to the super But Thap pagoda in Bac Ninh province.  The imposing entry gate to the village, on the north west side, near the pagoda is worth to seeing as well.

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The subtropical climate in Vietnam can make your packing list a little more difficult. During the months of December, January and Febuary, the North of Vietnam is at the coolest time of the year. While in the South and Central of Vietnam, it’s cooler and dryer.

Generally, casual clothes are recommended. Loose fitting, lightweight cotton materials are the most comfortable for hot weather, layers of warm clothes for colder weather and a warm water/windproof jacket is really useful for the North in winter. At the special occasion such as banquets and shows, smart casual dress is expected.

If you use Vietnam Airlines for domestic flights, their luggage allowance is 20kg for check in and 7 kg for hand luggage.

Here is the short must-bring list:

–          Your travel documents and passports: make a few photocopies of your passport (main page) in case it’s lost/stolen. Or simple you can give this for the receptions if they insist on keeping your passport. On day trip, it’s recommended to keep your passport at the hotel and just bring the photocopy one. However, on any overnight trips, original passport is must bring.

–          Luggage padlocks: lock up your luggage while you are out on day trip. I often have some Zip ties and it comes handy when you have an extra luggage by the end of the trips (excess shopping, no surprise!!!). They are light and small so it does not hurt to throw some into your bag.

–          Day bag: a smaller bag to carry with on day trip.

–          Clothes: depend on your trip length so you can decide how many you will bring. Though consider about laundry is generally cheap here so you don’t need to bring too many. Going into temples, pagodas require a more conservative dress code.

–          Walking shoes and socks: sturdy and comfortable shoes. For those who goes on trekking trips in rainy season, consider the water-proof shoes.

–          Sun protection: hat, sunscreen and lip balm.

–          Personal medical kit including insect repellent. Please remember to bring some Imodium  Loperamide HCl just in case you had a bad tummy react to the local food.

–          Antibacterial wipes: very useful for more remote areas.

–          Scarf or bandana: useful to protect your face against dusty wind at high altitude.

–          Small bath towel: the quick dry one is useful on overnight train trips.

–          Spare glasses: unless you are in big cities, it’s not easy to get your prescription glasses to be replaced.

–          Energy bars/ munchy foods that you cant live without: Granola bars is useful for long trek or save you on a long drive. Buy some of your favourite in case you couldn’t find them in Vietnam.

–          Tech stuffs: Laptop, Camera, batteries, memory cards, Ipad, Kindle or any electronic devices you are bringing: it’s advised to bring extra batteries cause the batteries is not as good quality in Vietnam.

Either in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, there are many minimarts/supermarkets cartering for travellers so you can easily find stuffs you need for the day trips. It’s good to pop into these store and buy a few things before you go to the more remote areas like toilet papers, wet napkins, insect repellent (very limited choices), energy bars and snacks.

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Pack light and enjoy the trip!

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Written by: Ms Tham Tran – our young active travel consultant

If you have chances to visit Vietnam and enjoy traditional Vietnamese cuisine, you will never forget the taste of sauce named nước mắm in a small bowl put in the middle of a meal tray. Nước mắm presents in all authentic Vietnamese meals from luxurious to popular ones.

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So what are the roles of fish sauce in Vietnamese dishes?

+ The main function of fish sauce is to add typical savor to food and being sauce for steamed, dried boiled food. People normally add chopped garlic, small sliced chili, sugar, and a few drops of lemon juice. Based on different food, cooks have separating recipes to prepare suitable bowls of fish sauce.

+ Nutritionally speaking: fish sauce is usually made of sea fish, so it contains a lot of protein and axit amin such as valin, methionin, isoleucin, etc., and vitamins including A, D, B1, B12, B2, phosphor and canxi.

+ Culturally speaking: That a bowl of fish sauce is put in the center of a tray, and all people around use it together shows solidarity and sharing values in Vietnamese culture. In addition, dipping food into the bowl reveals your characteristics and behavior in society. A person leaving food in a fish sauce bowl after dipping is considered a clumsy one. Or if he or she fails to dip food into the bowl some times, he or he will be judged to be indecisive and unreliable. Therefore, older people in family always pay more attention to teach younger ones these table manners from early ages.

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What is the process of making fish sauce?

When I had an opportunity to guide my American friends to a coastal village in Nam Dinh province, we witnessed detailed procedures of fish sauce production. In order to have most tasteful fish sauce, local farmers experience very careful and strict steps from choosing fish, proportion of salt, weather, supplement materials to preservation.

First, sea fish to make fish sauce must have high content of protein such as anchovy, mackerel and scad fish. The fresher fish are, the better taste fish sauce has. After purchasing fish at the morning market, the fish are promptly mixed with sea salt, and within hours they are placed into big earthen jars or concrete tanks. The containers are covered with a sheet of galvanized steel, and left to sit for 12 months. The salt content is 27%, which prevents any impurities or bacteria from entering the container, even though the cover is not airtight.

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And then, the farmers add certain amount of dried pineapple shell and over-roasted rice remaining husk to enhance the color and savor of fish sauce. The step just exists in the locality we visit, said the fish sauce makers.

After 12 months of fermentation, the fish become totally hydrolyzed, and the fish sauce has risen to the top. About 12 inches from the bottom of the tank, there is a filter system which acts to separate the sediment. During the months, the farmers have to daily control and maintain most sanitary environment, suitable temperature to ensure highest quality of fish sauce. The ideal time to get best fish sauce is 2 years of fermentation.

Once a containers’ fish sauce is ready for bottling, the fish sauce liquid will be transferred to other tanks via a pipe and filter system.  Here the fish sauce is filtered again, mixed with sugar (1%) and carefully bottled one-by-one in a low-volume but sanitary, closed environment.  Each empty bottle, already sterilized, is filled with fish sauce and capped and transported to launch in the market.

Since Vietnam owns a long coastal line and many islands, you can see these once you travel to these lands. However, the fish sauce in Phu Quoc island is quite famous among of them all. Though not all of travelers can’t handle the smell, but the taste of dipping fish sauce can make a significant taste to the meal, especially to the popular stewed pork and other stewed dishes.

Bon appetite!

 

 

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