Who: The pottery-making experts of Bat Trang Village
Where: Bat Trang, Hanoi, Vietnam
Everything about Bat Trang village is an extreme. Lots of places have old towns, yes, but Bat Trang village is ancient. It’s not just a place where pottery is made – the entire village makes pottery. And they’re not just good at making pottery — they practically invented it.
Bat Trang village is just a 5,000 dong (about 25 cents) city bus ride away from the center of Hanoi, but when you’ve just spent days navigating the crazed traffic of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, it feels like a world away. In the country, leafy green trees and lush grass replace the motorbikes and street vendors of Vietnam’s capital. Cows and water buffalo are tied up to graze right next to the road to Bat Trang. You might pass a festival, marked by colorful flags and crowds of people, on the way there.
Getting off the bus, there’s really only one way to walk, and it leads right to the pottery market. I suspect the pathways of Bat Trang’s pottery market were designed to be as winding and confusing as possible to keep shoppers shopping. I also suspect most people don’t go much farther into town than the market, because it’s incredible: everywhere you look, there’s a new type of pottery – a beautiful, intricately hand-painted teapot, a smiling life-size bright orange dog, a green-and-white vase the size of a 12-year-old. Getting lost is the point of the market, and you probably won’t even notice you were lost until you find yourself somehow back at the entrance.
Even outside of the market, it’s impossible to look in any direction without seeing something ceramic. Dogs' water bowls are ceramic. Bits of broken pottery join gravel in the streets and line tops of walls for added security. Giant baskets filled with pottery sit in yards, stacked high and waiting to be shipped or sold. Charcoal patties, drying out to be burnt in chimney-style kilns, form patterns on alleyway walls. If you peek through open doorways, like I do, you might get invited to come watch a workshop making plates, vases, mugs, and bowls.
A potter I talked to told me that Bat Trang’s potters show their hearts to their customers through their pottery. After getting lost in the village and seeing just how deeply pottery runs through it, I believe him.
Up next: Stay tuned this week for a look at how pottery is made in Bat Trang, and how it is shipped out to the wider world.
Thanks, potters of Bat Trang, and Thu Duong for your translation help!
(Image credits: Lisa Pepin)