There are numerous villages surrounding Hanoi that specialize in particular cottage industries. Visiting these villages can make for a rewarding day trip, though you will need a good guide to make the journey worthwhile.
Bat Trang is known as the ‘ceramic village’. You can see artisans mass-produce ceramic vases and other pieces in their kilns. It’s hot sweaty work, but the results are superb and very reasonably priced. There are, of course, masses of ceramic shops but poke around down the lanes and behind the shops and you’ll find the kilns. Bat Trang is 13km southeast of Hanoi.
So is known for its delicate noodles. The village even produces the flour from which the noodles are made. The flour is made from yams and cassava (manioc) rather than wheat. So is in Ha Tay province, about 25km southwest of Hanoi.
Van Phuc is a silk village. You can see silk cloth being produced on a loom, and buy or order custom-made clothes. Many of the fine silk items you see on sale in Hanoi’s Pho Hang Gai originate here. There’s a small daily fruit-and-vegetable market here in the morning, and a village pagoda with a lily pond. Van Phuc is 8km southwest of Hanoi in Ha Tay province.
Dong Ky was known as the ‘firecracker village’ until 1995, when the government banned firecrackers. With that industry now extinguished, the village survives by producing beautiful traditional furniture inlaid with mother-of-pearl. You can have handcrafted furniture custom-made here and exported directly to your address abroad. Dong Ky is 15km northeast of Hanoi.
Le Mat, 7m northeast of central Hanoi, is a snake village. The locals raise snakes for the upmarket restaurants in Hanoi, and for producing medicinal spirits. Fresh snake cuisine and snake elixir is available at this village, and for around US$6 or US$8 you can try a set course consisting of snake meat prepared in around 10 different ways. On the 23rd day of the third lunar month is the very interesting Le Mat Festival, featuring ‘snake dances’ and other activities.
Other handicraft villages in the region produce conical hats, delicate wooden bird cages and herbs.