Jan 17 2012
After my enjoyable visit to Bamboo Village (Bang So) I was really looking forward to the trip to Vermicelli Village (Cu Da); I love food and am always keen to learn more about it. I was not disappointed, as not only was it fascinating to see and hear about the production of vermicelli but I found Cu Da to be an interesting and friendly spot.
Vermicelli noodles are called mien in Vietnamese and come in white and yellow versions. They are used mainly in noodle soup and in fried spring rolls. (I tried mien luon, or eel noodle soup, on my recent HanoiKids tour.)
Both white and yellow versions are made with arrowroot. The arrowroot is ground and mixed with water to make a paste which is spread onto large bamboo trays and dried. It is then cut into thin strips — the vermicelli — and dried again before being packaged. Although machines are now used for the spreading and cutting, it’s still a very labour-intensive process. Half of the village’s income comes from vermicelli production.
Cu Da is in what was originally Ha Tay province but is now part of ever-expanding Hanoi. It’s about 20km south of the centre of Hanoi on the banks of the river Nhu. The area has changed notably in even the past 10 years, with urbanisation making it more of a suburb than a village; and sadly the river is no longer the clean, beautiful trading route it once was but is dead — and rather smelly.
That said, Cu Da still has a lot to recommend to the visitor. Of course, there’s the vermicelli, but it’s also home to an interesting mix of architecture: traditional housing, tube houses, French influences and modern homes. In addition its main temple, Chua Cu Da, is attractive and well-kept and other cultural and interesting buildings are dotted here and there, such as the communal village house, family temples, the public well and hamlet gates. The people also seemed particularly friendly, perhaps typical of out-of-centre locations.
The easiest and best way to visit is on a tour. It’s hassle-free and really worth having a good guide who can not only show you around but talk to you more widely about the culture of Vietnam and the villages. I travelled with Exotissimo on a large group tour and my guide was Dan. They don’t run very often but it’s worth getting in touch as they will organise private tours as well.
If you prefer to do it alone, it’s feasible to get there by bus, taxi or motorbike from Hanoi. To do so, head out of town on Ton Duc Thang (alongside the Temple of Literature) and follow this for a few kilometres — it changes name twice — until you get to the flyover. Go over the flyover and keep going straight for quite some time. Keep an eye out for Song Nhue Hotel on the right — it’s a big yellow building — and turn left onto Duong Phung Hung. Continue along this road for a good few kilometres, this time looking out for the river and a dam on the left hand side. Just after the dam there’s a Petrolimex petrol station (there’s also one before the dam, but ignore that one). Take the right turn almost opposite the Petrolimex onto Ta Thanh Oai. The road becomes much narrower now. Continue to follow it until you get to the railway bridge, on the right. Jump out here if you’re in a taxi.
If you’re going by bus, get the No. 2 from Hoan Kiem to Ha Dong bus station on Nguyen Trai — after the flyover — where you can pick up the No. 37. That takes you along Duong Phung Hung so you’ll need to watch out for the dam and Petrolimex, and jump off on the main road then find a xe om or taxi to take you the rest of the way — or walk the three or so kilometres along Ta Thanh Oai to the railway bridge.
Once there, cross the railway bridge then turn right across the tracks, with the river on your left, and take the first right to see a factory spreading paste onto bamboo trays. Backtrack and walk along the road parallel to the river. Take the next right and if you continue to follow this road you’ll come across a similar factory but this time making white vermicelli. Note the small cutting machines on the floor. If you continue on this road you will see an old house down an alley on the left — on my visit they were very welcoming — and then a large public well which villagers traditionally took drinking water from.
At the T-junction turn right back onto the river road and you’ll pass the communal village house, the gateway to Xom Chua hamlet, a family temple and finally, the main village temple. If you miss the right turn mentioned above, take the right just before the village house and do that loop in reverse.
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