Mary has travelled and worked in many countries for more than 40 years now and has used different types of accommodations.
The Village of Bat Trang
The Village of Bat Trang
Bat Trang's ceramics cover the whole pottery spectrum from traditional dinner sets to historic vases onto the most modern of European designs. The family kids often do the painting after school with grandma providing equal parts of teaching and tradition.
Some of the decorative art painted on clay tiles are beautiful and show the lens through which some Vietnamese look at life. Often, they are complex. Almost always, they draw you into yourself. Of course, if you are a triumphal Philistine, the crafters have learned over the last 700 years how to smother a giggle and not spit on your shoes.
Poking about and shopping is fun, but getting your hands muddy and learning how to throw a pot is even better. Kids come from schools and immediately parked at the wheel each and with a fine paintbrush, their fingers learn another piece of Vietnamese history.
Local Bat Trang Factory for Ceramic Glaze
Why Bat Trang Prospered as a Pottery Village
This little pottery village of Bat Trang reaches back perhaps 700 years when each family along the street had its small factory at the back of the house and a sales area right at the front and spilling on to the streets. What a contrast to the vast factory colonies along the highways from Hanoi.
Tucked into the Hong (Red) River's left bank and between two ancient trade centres of Tha Long (Hanoi) and Pho Hien, Ba Trang prospered in its pottery making. It has readily available clay perfectly suited for ceramic work.
It makes pottery for daily use and decorates and designs some of the best pieces to fit into religious rituals. The creations are usually hand-painted, and painters pass on the intricate techniques used to do these from generation to generation.
In the Village is a division of labour that accounted for much of its success. There is a factory that makes the glaze and supplies this to the potters. We visited one factory that makes only traditional teapots and supplies all the village stores.
The Village organizes itself to keep the tradition going. Recently, this cooperation has moved to welcome tourists and day-trippers from Hanoi to the area. They have made their Village much more interesting than just pottery.
A Hidden Street in Bat Trang
Things to Do in Bat Trang
Here are some of the interesting things you can do while visiting Bat Trang:
1. Walk around the Village of Bat Trang
About 10 km. from Hanoi, Bat Trang is an easy day trip. You will have a chance to peek at a more rural setting, a reprieve from the crowded streets of Hanoi.
The walk around the Village offers many exciting highlights. Some temples are open for anyone interested to poke around. Follow the narrow streets and venture into some of the narrow alleyways. There is a whole experience waiting for you as people open their homes, workplaces, or factories. They even invite you for tea.
But for those whose primary interest is to look at ceramics, there are streets with hundreds of stores offering all kinds and colours, a mix of traditional and modern design.
Walking in the main street, we met many Vietnamese families looking at ceramics for their homes while they're in the Village. The ramping up to the TET festival has started, and the glazed eye shoppers would do well in a pre-Christmas sale in North America.
Bat Trang Pottery Tradition
2. Learn about Vietnamese Ceramics
Vietnamese ceramics are distinctive, and Bat Trang produces some of the best. The Vietnamese have a folk legend that tells of Vietnamese suitors promising the ladies they are courting to make them homemade Bat Trang bricks if they marry them.
While many ceramics have adapted modern designs, many still stick to traditional techniques. Such traditional symbols are meaningful expressions important in Vietnamese culture. Most common are lotus flowers, peonies, chrysanthemums, cherry blossoms, clouds, tigers, and dragons. Take note that the dragons only have three claws as only the king is allowed to have five claws in the dragons.
The Irishman in our group admired how the Bat Trang locals designed the ceramics, most especially the vast wall frames. Some of the designs are three-dimensional and very intricate. Often, these are the ones reserved for the temples.
Make your own Pottery
Bat Trang Potter
3. Try your hands on the potter's wheel in Bat Trang
That day we were in Bat Trang, we saw many young students getting into learning the basic hand skills and creating a piece of art on the potter's wheel.
At first, it's a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time while trying to make your thumbs work into a design. Grumpy says it's like learning how to play the bagpipe.
When we first went, there was only one place offering lessons on how to make pottery. The second time around (after two years), there are several places right in the main street where you can try your hands at making the unique design you have always wanted.
I limited myself to ask one of the local crafters to show me how he did the pottery I purchased from his store. But it would be more fun to try doing your pottery. Everything is made ready for you except the design. So have a design in your mind before you go.
Watch this video on Vietnamese ceramics
Traditional Designs of Bat Trang Pottery
This traditional design highlights the lotus flower, which is a powerful symbol for Buddhists. Lotus grows in swamps, often with murky water. It symbolizes the purification of the soul, beauty coming out of the gray, the dark and dirty. It speaks of fidelity, coming out of what is unclear to seek enlightenment. It is rising from suffering and become life-giving.
For Buddhists, the various colours of the lotus flowers each have a special significance. Red, in these plates, means compassion. White symbolizes purity of spirit. Pink represents the history of the Buddha. Blue is for wisdom and logic towards enlightenment. Purple symbolizes spirituality and mysticism. The colour to top these is gold as it represents the enlightenment of the Buddha.
Typical Vietnamese Design
More Traditional Ceramic Products in Bat Trang
More Modern Designs in Bat Trang
Bat Trang: Pottery Making for Seven Centuries
4. Get some Bat Trang Pottery
If you go to Bat Trang, you must come back with a memory. We already had a few pieces featuring a very distinctive fish design, and we were lucky enough to stumble upon the little factory that is famous for this bit of art.
In this kind of shopping, we usually don't use a guide but try to talk to the local shop keepers and with hand signals, smiles and little drawings, discover what they think we should see. In several, we were hurried into the deep, dark depths at the back of the shop and found some lovely little treasures.
Talk with the Locals in Bat Trang
5. Talk with the Locals
The teapots were just unique. We had a great demonstration of how they make tea and coffee pots in these classic old designs. Little strainers inside little pots on top of ceramic heaters near tiny small teacups, imminently suitcase-able.
In one of these shops, the owner set up his little tea area, which was a delight. It also earned us the reward of a personal inspection of each of our pottery choices, and in fact, he found a flaw, and he changed it. We explained to him that we liked the flawed pot's texture, but he refused to sell it to us. At first, we couldn't find a replacement that had that lovely aged colour that makes the pot so unique, but in a few minutes, he came back with exactly what we wanted, claiming that he just stained it with a little more tea. We made good our escape with assorted bags of cups, teapots, trays and vases—each one selected as a gift for someone back home.
I also found some designs resembling Japanese pottery, which I like because of its natural colour. I bought a few, and while in the store, the owner offered to show me how he makes these in his potter's wheel. We were delighted to watch him.
Bun Cha in Bat Trang
6. Try some local Bat Trang Street Food
While walking along the Bat Trang streets, we smelt intense cooking in one of the street corners. They were grilling beef on skewers, and the smell was so inviting that we just had to try it. It was delicious.
The Red River Flowing in Bat Ttrang
7. Enjoy the flow of the Red River
Yes, when you have had enough of looking at pottery, go to the edge of the Red River and watch the ferries; some of these are huge, flowing steadily with their heavy burden of sand for the construction sites. There's so much life going on in this river.
Temple in Bat Trang
8. Visit the Bat Trang Temple at the edge of the Red River
You can't miss this temple when you walk along the Red River in Bat Trang. Go in and have a look at what 23 families in Bat Trang managed to build in thanksgiving for their pottery.
Here's your Challenge: Look in Bat Trang for this house of the Composer of Vietnam's National Anthem
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Mary Norton
Share your love for pottery - Let us know if you have been to any pottery village
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 01, 2019:
Yes, I did. I wish I had more time though.
Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 29, 2019:
This is amazing and beautiful. What a lovely adventure for you to see. Did you make any pottery yourself?
Tom on March 21, 2018:
Ba Trang is definitely worth the trip. Bought some great pieces of history.
Robert Sacchi on February 25, 2018:
That is a great way to travel.
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on February 25, 2018:
We do because we like those places and we travel when these are not overburdened so we could interact with the locals more.
Robert Sacchi on February 24, 2018:
Often times when people visit a country they don't venture out of the tourist spots. So it's great you get out and about.
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on February 23, 2018:
This is very close to Hanoi so easy to visit.
Robert Sacchi on February 23, 2018:
The pottery does look beautiful and unique. Thanks for posting this article.
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on February 05, 2018:
It truly is. Each time I visit, I still get delighted.
Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on February 04, 2018:
I would love to wander the streets of Bat Trang and learn how to make pottery. What a charming place this is. I enjoyed reading this article Mary. You did a marvelous job!
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 29, 2018:
Thanks for the visit. It is wonderful to watch them make this pottery.
Billie Raucci from Illinois on January 28, 2018:
Great article! I have always been interested in pottery.
Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on January 12, 2018:
We have a kiln at our local Steppingstone Farm Museum. they make amazing stuff!
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 04, 2018:
Thanks Nell. It is worth visiting and not far from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Nell Rose from England on January 03, 2018:
How amazing! I would love to visit there. I love all sorts of pottery so this would be a lovely journey. Thanks for the 'visit'.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 01, 2017:
What a wonderful experience you had in visiting Bat Trang and getting to see how that wonderful pottery is made. Nice that you were able to purchase some and take them home as gifts.
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on February 26, 2015:
Bat Trang make many elaborate pieces for the temple and also wall pieces for their homes. Their best artists always do work for the temples. Thanks for the visit.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 26, 2015:
I thought pottery is about making vases but this place holds a big history behind the craft, awesome hub
Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 11, 2014:
Hi VioletteRose. Thanks for the visit. I love pottery that I just can't stop myself buying some in Portugal now. I really like the ones depicting village life.
VioletteRose from Atlanta on December 10, 2014:
Pottery is a wonderful thing to learn! The ceramic pottery from the village of Vietnam looks beautiful. Thanks for sharing so many beautiful photos and a great deal of information about Bat Trang.
Rob Hemphill from Ireland on March 26, 2013:
Another great lens from you. I once had a go at making a few pots and loved the process, but now prefer leave it to the pros!
hntrssthmpsn on March 17, 2013:
Such amazing color and detail! I'd love to see Ba Trang. I've tried my hand at pottery a few times, and everything I make looks like a wonderful sculpture of a lumpy rock!
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on February 02, 2013:
This pottery is not only a fabulous craft, but beautiful art. What beautiful art and artwork!
WriterJanis2 on January 18, 2013:
I used to make pottery and really enjoyed it.
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on January 18, 2013:
I do love pottery. This is different from any other pottery that I have seen. Thank you for sharing.
DuaneJ on January 18, 2013:
Definitely a place I'd like to visit.