Home to the pottery families of Hanoi, Bat Trang village is also referred to as the ceramic village and makes for an easy half-day excursion from the city. It's one of numerous old villages on the outskirts of the capital that have specialised in a range of cottage industries for centuries.
Bat Trang has been producing earthenware since the 15th century, and is best known for its blue-and-white designs, though these days the 2,000 or so families based here produce a range of ceramic styles, as well as more functional bricks and tiles for export. While it used to be worth the trek here to pick up well-priced souvenirs, we reckon these days the range and cost is comparable back in Hanoi, and you can easily skip a visit without too much regret.
Shops selling merchandise ranging from the traditional blue and white plates and bowls to more modern designs start as soon as you enter the village off the main road. Follow this road along for a kilometre or so until you reach the main market ("cho"). A traditional coal-fired kiln is in operation just by the market, but signs strictly forbid entering and photography; most of the several thousand kilns here these days are gas-fired, but we still saw dried coal-pats being dislodged from walls to use as fuel.
The shops in the village seem more suited to tour groups—one shop had everything priced in yen—though they certainly sell retail to anyone. One shop attendant warned us that a lot of the ceramics are now imported from China, and said to only buy products marked with "Bat Trang" underneath. Whether this was a sales tactic or the truth, it did seem like the items so marked were of a higher quality.
The shops at the market surround a massive car park (we suspect it fills with tour buses) and sell a wide array of ceramics, but we honestly found the selection more alluring, and perhaps overall better priced, at the Oriberry cafes back in Hanoi proper.
On our second to last visit, you could throw a pot at a wheel or paint a mug from around 10,000 dong. If you wanted your pot or mug baked and glazed it cost a bit more and you'd either have to hang around in the village for a few hours or get it delivered to your hotel. The latter will only be practical if you’re in Hanoi for a while as it can take time. On our most recent visit, however, we asked at several shops whether we could do some pottery ourselves, but were told it was "wedding season" (it was March) so nobody was offering. At the market we found some pottery pieces suited for kids to paint, but staff spoke no English so we couldn't determine prices. We wouldn't come out here purely with the intention of making some pottery.
The village itself can be a peaceful place once you get off the main track, so take a wander. You'll see all kinds of ceramics being packaged up for export; we saw artisans hand-painting money-boxes as we walked around. Food and refreshments are available at various spots around town. Overall, we wouldn't have been disappointed to skip a visit here.
Bat Trang is easily be reached by bus, motorbike (55,000 dong for a GrabBike one-way—plus money for a drink while he waited for us to wander around) or taxi. Bus number 47 runs direct from Long Bien bus station to the northeast of Old Quarter, terminating at the village.
If you prefer to drive or cycle yourself, it’s very straightforward. Cross over Chuong Duong Bridge and turn right at the other end; you will initially see signs for Bat Trang but once you’re on the southbound road keep on it and eventually you’ll come to a right turn into the village. Look out for the shops full of pottery. The road is two-lane and gets busy in rush hour but is otherwise a pleasant enough drive.
By Samantha Brown.
Last updated on 30th March, 2017.
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