There isn’t a tour agency in Hanoi worth its salt that doesn’t offer an overpriced day trip to Bat Trang, the famous ceramics village. This handy guide should enable you to make the trip yourself, for a fraction of an organised tour price and with a few little extra excursions thrown in for no added cost.
Not a Village
The first thing you need to do is mentally prepare. This involves lowering your expectations. Every guide, both online and in the flesh, waxes lyrical about the “traditional” or “ancient” ceramics village and its seven-century history.
Maybe once upon a time it was as poetic and charming as these guides would have you believe. These days however, Bat Trang Industrial Zone would be more appropriate.
The narrow roads around the village haven’t seen the same level of development and modernisation as the workshops, which means every lane is a dusty labyrinthine death-trap full of trucks and potholes.
Not a Day Trip
Given that Bat Trang is just 13km from Chuong Duong Bridge in Central Hanoi, it’s easily reachable in less than half an hour. Even with a two-hour pottery class, you can still wrap up the whole visit in under half a day.
A Grab or Uber xe om will get you there for around VND50,000, but the short trip is actually quite pleasant, so take your own bike if you have one.
If there’s no great rush, stop off at Tho Khoi; a complex of beautiful pagodas and a community hall either side of the DT378, which is on the main road from Chuong Duong Bridge to Bat Trang.
While this main road is the easiest way to get there, the best way is to come off the main road at some point around Thong Nhat and Xom Bai (small towns just after Vinh Tuy Bridge) and take a slow ride through the fruit fields.
And don’t forget; no matter how fresh, ripe and unguarded the bananas, star fruits and guavas look, definitely don’t help yourself to enough to fill up the space under your bike seat. Definitely don’t.
Tons of Teapots
Once you arrive, the whole place feels like one giant pottery emporium; it’s hard to believe that all of the shops have different owners, given the similarity between their products.
However, if you want to find something a bit different, head to Delicious Ceramics (227 Xom 4 Giang Cao, Bat Trang). The cute, minimalist shopfront is a good clue as to why; the products inside are less dusty and more original/modern than you can find elsewhere, and the owner is more than happy to just chill out with you and drink tea.
If you want to get your hands (and jeans) dirty by attempting to make your own little trinket, there are plenty of workshops devoted to this purpose; no English is necessary.
At Son Yen (251 Xom 4 Giang Cao, Bat Trang) you can rock up without booking, pay VND40,000 and get a chunk of clay, a bit of watch-and-follow guidance and access to all the paints you could want.
Over at Lo Bau Co (Xom 2, Bat Trang), you can find an excellent combo deal for just VND90,000. This includes the same pottery-making experience as above, plus a tour of the enormous old dragon kilns and old village, a pot of tea, and free delivery for whatever you make.
Organised tours to Bat Trang vary in price from around VND550,000 to well over VND2 million. If you drive yourself and have lunch there (plenty of buns, phos and banhs around), the whole trip will cost less than VND150,000.
Photos by Julie Vola