Travel to Huong Canh village
Travel to Huong Canh village, on the way to Huong Canh village in Vinh Phuc province, I see a lot of shops selling traditional clay pots, vases, jars and lamps.
Judging by the amount of wares being produced for sale, I imagine the village is still a bustling centre of potters producing all kinds of wonderful earthenware goods.
Legend has it that a mandarin under the Le dynasty named Trinh Xuan Bien was sent here to placate the disgruntled locals around 300 years ago.
When he arrived he discovered the villagers were living in abject conditions, so he decided to teach them how to make clay products so they could better their lot.
Forever indebted to the mandarin's teachings, when he died the villagers declared him as the ancestor of the craft.
But when I arrive I am also taken aback at the village's current condition. Okay, perhaps not quite as thunderstruck as Trinh Xuan Bien felt when came hundreds of years ago, but what once was one of the biggest earthenware craft villages in the land, now seems to be falling into oblivion.
There are still houses and fences made of assorted clay objects and paths paved with broken pieces of jars and vases. Several cold, broken, moss-covered kilns shaped like toads are scattered around the village.
After wandering around the village and admiring the houses, I visit one of the three remaining families making earthenware.
Here the man of the house Vinh is in the midst of creating a new range of earthenware artwork. His two assistants are preparing the fuel to light the kiln in the corner of garden while a woman is using her hands to knead a lump of clay into the shape of a big jar.
One would suspect little has changed in Vinh's house-cum-workshop. There is no modern technology used in the process.
Vinh's wife Vu says their family has always made earthenware products. It's in their blood.
"From generation to generation even the kids could make pots, jars or vases that are identical in shape and size without using a mould!" says Vu.
Vinh explains that over one tonne of firewood and charcoal is needed to burn 200 to 300 products and the baking temperature goes up to 1,500 degrees.
Besides the skillful hands of the craftsmen, the beauty of Huong Canh earthenware is said to be hidden in the clay and the cooking process.
Terra-cotta is still baked with wood, which is the traditional style, just like Phu Lang craft village but the products here are made of pure clay without the use of any glaze so the colours produced are naturally more diverse.
Travel to Huong Canh, Huong Canh earthenware is famous for being water proof, impervious to light and preserving the taste or fragrance of its contents. With a rugged appearance Huong Canh earthen items are also quite distinctive.
"Out of nearly150 households, we are one of only three families still keeping the craft," says Vinh. "The majority of the villagers quit this line of work. There just wasn't enough money in it to go round. It's hard to compete with pottery from Bat Trang and Phu Lang. Not to mention China."
Rather than have me sit and watch, Vinh insists I try to make something for myself. After 15 minutes struggling with a lump of clay on the pottery-wheel, I create what can only be described as one indefinable object! Vinh suggest it could be an ashtray and I'm happy with that.
After I leave Vinh's house I visit the workshop of Tran Van Hai, who is regarded as a highly skilled craftsman in the village, on Highway No.2A.
When I arrive he's busy making flowerpots as he's just received a contract to make 1,500 decorative pots and vases for a hotel in Sapa.
Working on a more industrial and larger scale than Vinh's, Hai's produces a wide range of souvenir and decorative products.
"I'm constantly trying to create new products to meet demand. I hope this will help widen our market so we can gain more contracts as well as help my village recover its traditional craft," says Hai.
Hai has signed regular contracts with hotels, resorts and pagodas around the country. While he might be able to restore the village's heyday of producing earthenware, he certainly helps uphold its tradition and reputation.
How to get there: Huong Canh village is in Binh Xuyen district of Vinh Phuc province.
From Hanoi city centre drive over Thang Long Bridge and continue for 5km, then turn left onto Highway No.2 and after 25km you should see the sign of the village on your right. You can't miss it!