If you are staying in Hanoi and have had enough of the noisy streets and alleys of the Old Quarter it might be a good idea to have a day trip outside to the countryside. You could visit Duong Lam, a village near Son Tay Town about 60km west of Hanoi. The Ministry of Culture and Information of Vietnam recognize it as a national relic.
According to the local history two of Vietnam’s kings, Phung Hung (761-802) and Ngo Quyen (896-944) were born in Duong Lam, giving the village its prestige. This village claims to have a history of about 1,200 years with houses dating back up to 400 years.
Duong Lam has one special thing – it is that most of the buildings are made of laterite and mud, two materials that are abundant in this area. Laterite is used on house walls, gates, wells, temple walls, and so forth. The mud is taken from ponds.
Duong Lam has about 21 relic sites, consisting of temples, pagodas and tombs. Ten of these have been classified as national and provincial relics. In recent years, many relics in the villages such as Mia Pagoda, Phung Hung Temple, Ngo Quyen Temple and Mong Phu communal house have been restored.
Depending where you arrive you will have different views of the entrance. The main point for the tourist approach is a porch with two massive wood folding doors. A big banyan tree shadows it. In former times the doors had wheels to close the doors.
Following the small street, which is winding to the hamlet you arrive at a big paved square with the Communal House as center building. The small streets are bordered with old houses that are hidden behind laterite walls. There are different special houses which gives you an insight to the rural live here. A visit to Nha Co, where a fermented corn sauce is prepared should not be missed. The whole courtyard is full of different sized terra cotta jars with lids for maceration or filtering.
Just behind this building you can reach the market square and visit the Mia pagoda. All around the village there are paddy fields to see, which is as well a good photographic opportunity.
On your way back to Hanoi about 30 km southwest of Hanoi you can find the Master of Celestial Benediction pagoda in Sai Son called Thay Pagoda, alias Thien Phuc Tu Pagoda. This pagoda has been constructed under the reign of King Ly Nhan Tong (1072 – 1127) in the 12th century.
The pagoda has been dedicated to the illustrious bonze Tu Dao Hanh, the creator of the water puppets and to the Sakyamuni Buddha. The complex has three buildings, which have different purposes. The Ha Pagoda as first building is for offerings and ceremonies. The second one, called Trung Pagoda, is for the deicated worshipping to Buddha. The third and last building named Thuong Pagoda is in honor of Tu Dao Hanh. You can have an utter atmosphere of tranquility here if there are not too many other visitors.
In front of the pagoda is Long Tri pond, in the middle of which is a stage called Thuy Dinh, where water puppet performances are held. Nhat Tien and Nguyet Tien Bridges (moon and sun bridges), built by Doctor Phung Khac Khoan in 1602, are located on each side of the stage. An annual festival, officially held on the seventh day of the third lunar month and lasting for at least a week, pays homage to folk hero Tu Dao Hanh. The festival begins with Buddha worshipping and platform running, a religious performance accompanied by traditional music in a solemn atmosphere. Numerous traditional games are played during the festival, the best-known of all the activities is the traditional water puppet show given on Long Tri pond, in front of the Thuy Dinh Temple.
Interesting sites can be visited in the surroundings of the pagoda. For example, Phat Tich and Cac Co Caves are located not too far behind the pagoda. A hole in the dome of Cac Co Cave lets one see outside the cave.