Locating some 60km to the west of Hanoi City, Duong Lam ancient village was recognized as a Vietnam’s national relic and the oldest village. The ancient village is famous for being a peaceful farming village with 1,200 years of history, and hundred years old architectures.
The village is more well-known among Vietnamese people as the homeland of two kings, Phung Hung (761-802) and Ngo Quyen (896-944), who led resistance wars against Chinese invasions. There are two temples dedicating the kings built in the village since 11th century.
To most visitors, Duong Lam ancient village is a favorite village to learn about resident communities in ancient agriculture in northern Vietnam, where even the banyan tree, common well, communal house… also tell a lot about village culture and farming life. Like a popular saying “Cay da, ben nuoc, san dinh” (The banyan, the river wharf, the yard of the communal house), referring to the essentials of Vietnamese village life.
To help you unveil the charm of Duong Lam ancient village, let’s discover some among the village’s 21 relic sites:
Mong Phu Village Gate
Build in 1553, Mong Phu village gate was considered as the door of every house. It not only brings good luck and prosperity to villagers (location and direction of village gates were always carefully chosen by elder people after consulting geomancers), but it also be iconic and carries the messages of community aspiration.
The village gate ties many families and clans into community with common customs, traditions and language. To most Vietnamese, a village gate is a proof to outsiders that the life behind it is peaceful and orderly.
Each village gate is unique, expressing the culture of those living behind it. Mong Phu village gate, with the village road, the banyan tree, the common well, the lotus pond, and rice fields … make a great picture of a village in northern Vietnam. One side of the gate is the 400-year-old banyan tree, on the other side is the poetic lotus ponds… which occupies tender spots in the depth of many hearts.
Duong Lam’s communal houses (Dinh)
Every village in Vietnam has a dinh, a communal house or temple. The dinh is where village elders meet and a guardian spirit - usually associated with a Vietnamese hero, founder of the village is worshipped. Every year festivals are held to celebrate this spirit.
Duong Lam ancient village consists of 5 smaller villages, so there are 5 communal houses. Doai Giap and Cam Lam communal houses dedicate to Phung Hung – the national hero who won the victory against invaders under Duong Dynasty; Cam Thinh communal house dedicates both the founder of the village and great mandarin Cao Phuc Dien – the hero under Le Dynasty. Dong Sang communal house worshiped the God but it was destroyed by fire and was restored by financial support from people. The god Tan Vien Son was dedicated in Mong Phu communal house.
So far, Mong Phu communal house is a gathering place of the villagers for cultural activities. The communal house was made carefully with sophisticated decoration details. It is considered as a flower of unique sculptural architecture.
Locating on a small hill in the middle of Duong Lam ancient village, Mia Pagoda is famous for being listed in Vietnam Buddha culture record for having largest number of art Buddha statues with 287 of all sizes (among 14.775 pagodas in Vietnam).
Built during the Tran Dynasty (1225-1406) and reconstructed in 1632 by Ms. Ngo Thi Ngoc Dieu, a concubine of Lord Trinh Trang. To show the respect to her, local people worship her in this pagoda after she passed away. Nowadays, local people still call her “Queen of Mia”, and the pagoda is also dedicating her.
Right at the Three Doors Gate of the Mia Pagoda hangs an ancient bell found in 1745, and a flat bell was found in 1846. Like other ancient pagodas in Vietnam, this pagoda also has a hundred years old giant banyan tree behind the gate with lush foliage offering a peaceful quiet atmosphere.
Mia Pagoda was built in the form of “noi cong, ngoai quoc” – a type of pagoda with two long corridors connecting the front house with a backyard on the back forming a rectangular frame surrounding the main altar. The layout of the pagoda is in the form of the word "Cong" (工), while the outside is surrounded by the word (口) in Chinese.
Such architecture includes three main parts: Bai Duong (Offering), Chinh Dien (Main Altar) and Tang Duong (Monks). Bai Duong is the place for the guest to prepare the offering to offer Buddha. In the left side of Tien Duong is a giant stone stele on the turtle back was made in 1632. The stone stele was decorated by traditional patterns: dragons flanking a moon, chrysanthemum flower, lotus.
Walking through Tien Duong is Chinh Dien with a large number of Buddha statues. Worshiping the solemn Buddha statues while listening the peal of bell will help the guest retreats their souls. The corridors in two sides are setup eighteen Arhats Statues. Tang Duong is the last part, dedicating to former monks who once lived in the pagoda and passed away.
Among 287 Buddha statues in Mia Pagoda, 6 statues were made of bronze, 107 made of wood, and 174 earthenware. Each statue has its own expression, design, color. One of the very beautiful statues here is Tuyet Son Statue (Historical Buddha statue).
Village’s Common Well
If the pagoda represents Buddha and the banyan tree represents the Protective Genie of the village, the water well represents the village’s sources of vitality. In Vietnamese rural areas, water wells in different shapes have different meanings. A square well represents Mother Earth and its water is considered the mother’s breast milk that helps her children grow. A round well represents the sun, while an oval well resembles a mirror, reflecting the peaceful daily life of the village.
Folklore researcher Tran Minh Phuong said: "There remain relics of ancient wells in the northern plain and Doai regions, especially in Hanoi’s Dan Phuong and Hoai Duc districts where ancient wells are still being used in daily life. They were often built of earth, stone or laterite brick in various sizes and shapes. The ancient wells are even more sacred when they are situated in front of pagodas, temples, or and royal tombs."
The common well was built in every hamlet in Duong Lam village. The well brings the name of the hamlet it is located. At present, each family possesses its own well but the common well has been protected because it maintains many imprints of the villagers.
Duong Lam’s oldest houses
Duong Lam currently has 956 traditional houses; oldest house was built in 1649. Characteristics of the old traditional houses are all built from blocks of laterite.
Nguyen Van Hung, the 12th generation living in the village the oldest house said: “My house was built in 1649 and is the oldest house in Duong Lam. In 2008, we received funding from JICA to restore the house. The work was completed after three months. My family recently received a UNESCO certificate of merit for preserving the house. This is a great honor for my family”.
Currently, Duong Lam is very well-known for tours designed for foreign visitors to experience the life of the Vietnamese countryside and it is also a preferred place for many newly-wed couples to take wedding photos. However, this ancient village still has many "sleepy" tourism potentials that need to be developed, awaiting you to discover.
Addressing the ceremony, Katherine Muller Marin, Chief Representative of the UNESCO Office in Hanoi, said “Duong Lam village has high potential for heritage tourism development, especially since it was recognized the first rural village to be a national cultural asset in November 2005”.