Hanoi is home to over 90 officially designated handicraft villages. One of the most famous, Van Phuc, has a historical connection to the silk trade which dates back more than 1,200 years.
At 8km from the city centre, it’s one of the most convenient destinations for a fleeting visit, and offers ample opportunity for picking up souvenirs.
The convenience is one of the best things about Van Phuc. If anything goes wrong, you will find yourself repeating the phrase: “At least it wasn’t far.”
It’s the first day trip I’ve been on in Hanoi which doesn’t need any map checking; and at just under 30 minutes to get there, it’s also the first time I’ve arrived at the destination without an aching arse.
Van Phuc used to be a village in its own right, but like many others, has now been swallowed into the expanding mass of Greater Hanoi. Nestled against the nourishing bank of the Nhue River, it holds the title of most ancient silk village in Vietnam.
After you enter from the main road, you feel transported into a different world. It’s no longer Hanoi, 2016. It’s Van Phuc Village, and the year is 1802. The Nguyen dynasty has just begun, and the streets are filled with the sights and sounds of a bustling handicraft trade.
As you pass beneath the welcoming arch, to the left sits Van Phuc Temple. The sacred well hidden behind its ancient walls is said to bring peace to all those who pray before it. All it brought me was the smell of stagnant water, so I moved on to the main market street.
Arriving at the entrance to the main trading area, you should prepare your ears for some confusion.
There’s a repetitive, mechanical sound which becomes more than just a background whirring as you move deeper into the area. And yet, the sounds of haggling customers, shouting sellers and everyone caught in between; nowhere to be heard.
It’s low season, no one’s around. Despite this, the sellers aren’t snapping at our heels to try and make a sale.
Everyone looks pretty laid back, enjoying an ice tea, smoking a pipe or watching the dogs playing on the road. This is good news for us, as it feels like we have the place to ourselves.
The shops feel a bit copy and paste, some older or bigger than others, but stocking the same stuff. Shirts, ties, scarves and dresses, all available in a huge variety of colours, styles, weights and textures.
The most interesting sections are hidden away from the main road. By chance, we wander up one of the many side streets, drawn by the increasing volume of that earlier mechanical racket.
After the previous disappointment of finding the old-fashioned silk-weaving machines abandoned and covered with plastic, it was an exciting relief to find a silk warehouse in full swing.
The workings of the weaving machine were hypnotic. But the moment was somewhat ruined by a combination of remembering the film Wanted and seeing the silk weaver playing Candy Crush Saga.
Van Phuc is a sweet place to visit, especially for first-time visitors to Hanoi, as it’s the perfect place to pick up souvenirs. For everyone else, there are worse places to spend a few hours.
From Hanoi city centre, follow Giang Vo south. Keep going straight as it changes first to Lang Ha, then to Le Van Luong and finally to To Huu. When you get to the crossroads with Van Phuc, turn left. Continue along Van Phuc until you reach Van Phuc Temple, which is on the left. Just after it, the main entrance into Van Phuc Silk Village is under a well-marked archway at the beginning of Pho Lua, again on the left.