We should have known better. Day tripping during Tet is risky business; almost everything shuts down. Phu Vinh was no exception, but because of the way things often pan out in Vietnam, it was still an adventure, although not quite the one we expected.
An easy 45-minute journey from Hanoi by motorcycle, and you arrive in the village of Phu Vinh. Renowned for handwoven bamboo and rattan handicrafts, visitors can wander around a charming village, browse shops and buy products direct from friendly locals. Or so we were told.
The Trouble With Tet
Riding into the village, we stopped at Chua Phu Vinh temple. Strolling through the gates, we were greeted by a paved plaza, swept clean and lined with kumquat and peach trees in large pots. There was a hum in the air and I tracked the noise to a pergola on the right. Women of all ages were talking and drinking tea, and taking their turn to enter the temple to pray and make offerings. One of the women explained they were a women’s group who met to enjoy Tet.
The village itself was deserted, and eager for signs of life (and commerce), we peered into yards containing well-tended vegetable gardens and walked empty alleys. We followed the promising trail of bamboo hoops stacked high under bright tarpaulins to a villa. The owner invited us in and explained, through mime, that she made hula hoops. Not quite what we had in mind, but we did meet the matriarch of the house, her blackened teeth a reminder of beauty standards from a time past.
With assurances of bamboo shops, we were directed towards the high school. Children on bicycles and motorbikes indicated we were close, but we were distracted by a ghost housing development in the distance, drawn to streets full of houses that had never been finished. It was a photographer’s dream; all urban decay and overgrown vegetation. The overcast sky and cool humidity contributed to the eerie feel. The development could have been used as the set for a zombie apocalypse movie and I was on high alert for signs of the undead.
The Kindness of Strangers
Heading back towards the high school, we drove slowly through the streets, finding long bamboo poles stacked in tepee formations or in rows, but little activity. We were about to give up, when we glanced up an alley to see three women sorting bamboo strips into neat piles. After watching them, we were ushered into a large workroom and were given a demonstration of bamboo blind making by the women.
This demonstration was a festive affair, and a small group of men and women, young and old, gathered, keen to impart the techniques of blind-making. I was reminded of weaving, as twine on heavy stones was flicked over and under strips of bamboo, hands a flurry of action. The group chatted and cheered as we watched on.
By this time, it was lunch, and looking for somewhere to eat before heading back to Hanoi, we were invited into the home of one of the men in the group. Of course, we couldn’t say no, and the family was happy to feed a couple of wandering, curious westerners — even with my fussy “no meat” request. We exchanged pleasantries, and promised to return after Tet.
And that’s the thing about Vietnam; it surprises and delights you in ways you could never imagine. Phu Vinh, despite being closed for the New Year, was open in other ways.
Get to Dai Lo Thang Long Highway and drive west for around 10km. Turn past Splendora Housing estate onto Cau Vuot An Khanh Road. Drive a short distance, and you will find Phu Vinh Village on the right.