Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Vietnam – visiting the Village of Dong Ho, the great cycle of West Lake

The deeper you delve into Hanoi the more that comes to life. It’s not the shabby city I thought it was on arrival, the Old Town, the Old French Quarter, the West Lake and beyond this city is expanding by the day.
Land is the price in Vietnam, explaining why buildings a slender and going up by the month. Families are using the space to the max, adding new floors to expand their home. In some areas these brightly coloured rendered home fronts show a very cosmopolitan feel, while in other areas it looks disheveled. But it very much reminds me of Europe.

Building appears to be the life of Vietnamese. It is obvious they WANT people to build, for the people to prosper. As we escape the city towers of bricks line the roads, huge clay craters tell the tale of construction. Hanoi is stretching for kilometers. House after house, fresh, new and simply designed. The year of construction firmly, proudly labeled affronts the roof. This is real brick, not cheap wood design.

Day two we take a cycle out to the Village of Dong Ho, about an hour from the city centre. Here we are dumped in rural Vietnam, surrounded by acres of paddy fields and banana plantations. We come across the home and business of artist Nguyen Che who produces original hand drawn designs from Papyrus paper, which is still handmade today. Colours made from the stone, leaves and seeds of the soil.

The landscape has been built in response to the local habitat, the villages have been protected from the over-flooding Duong River – as we cycle the great dykes that feels like a fortress of the city. Yet the river runs drier each year in response to the dam in China.

Day three we cycle the West Lake, the leisurely 23km ride takes us around the city visiting paragodas and temples along the way. The lake is the meeting place, where lovers canoodle, and friends while away their time – motorbikes and cycles line the road, dogs roam the streets. The backdrop a very dusty grey city sat upon a muggy sky, the people in modern designer brands clutching cigarettes.

I’m in the North and hear I see change on the horizon. Hanoi is about culture, people, community and family. There is much traditional here, and there is an obvious split between town and country. Market traders cycle or bike into town every morning to sell their goods, sometimes hours of commuting a day with their bikes stacked high with trade. How long can this last? How much more can this city sustain this dual lifestyle?

I leave Hanoi with questions in my mind as we climb aboard the mini-bus for Hy Long Bay