Cycling to Duong Lam Village

An old house in Duong Lam Village

An old house in Duong Lam Village – soy fermentation pots fill the court-yard

It’s been a pretty busy two weeks since the Angkor Half Marathon. On Sunday, Hanoi held its own smaller half marathon organized by the Red River Runners. I thought doing another half marathon after only a week might be a bit much, so I signed up for the 10k. Despite having a moment of panic when I discovered that my iPad hadn’t charged at the start, it was a fun race and perhaps that gave me more focus as I ended up coming first in the women’s category! I ran a personal best of 47 minutes 51 seconds – all results here.

Mr. Phong in front of the village Communal Hall

Mr. Phong – tennis coach and now in his new role of cycling tour guide – in front of the Duong Lam village communal hall

Two days later, instead of resting, we decided to do a 85k day trip out of Hanoi. It was all organized by Mr. Phong, my friend and tennis coach, who is part of a growing group of Vietnamese cycling enthusiasts. When I first arrived in Vietnam two years ago only students, old people, or very poor people rode bikes. Since then, cycling as a hobby has exploded amongst the more affluent. On Saturday mornings West Lake forms the meeting point for all types of clubs – fixies, vintage bikes, racing bikes etc.

40 kilometers down - 9am Pho Bo (beef noodle) breakfast at 9am

40 kilometers down – 9am a delicious Pho Bo (beef noodle) breakfast in Son Tay

Luckily, Mr Phong and his friend Ms. Dinh managed to borrow four suitable bikes for us, as I feared that my 100 dollar Taiwanese bike might not be up to such a long trip. It turned out that Ms. Dinh is an absolute legend. She is 67 years old and has cycled 6,500 kilometers around Vietnam since April. Last week, on a cycling trip to Sapa, she climbed Mt. Fansipan, Vietnam’s highest peak at 9,100 feet. She proudly showed us a video of her dancing around with a Vietnamese flag on the summit with spectacular blue skies – a rare occurrence on Fansipan which is usually shrouded in clouds.

The legendary Ms. Dinh showing off her Fansipan ascent from last week

The legendary Ms. Dinh showing off the video of her Fansipan victory dance from last week

After a 7am start, we smashed out 40 kilometers with Ms. Dinh leading the way first through the Hanoi rush hour and then on to Son Tay. Son Tay is famous for its ‘ancient’ citadel, although it emerged that the citadel was only built in 1822. Son Tay is also famous in American Vietnam War history as the location of a failed mission to rescue POWs – known as Operation Ivory Coast. The Nguyen Dynasty citadel now forms a nice park in the centre of town and there are some good opportunities for Angkor Wat style photographs as the gates to the citadel have become overgrown with beautiful Banyan and Boddhi trees.

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After Son Tay, we continued on up to Duong Lam Village. Duong Lam is one of the few preserved ancient villages in Vietnam. It has historical significance because two important figures were born there: King Phung Hung (r.761-802) who defeated the invading Chinese in 784 and Viet Ngo Quyen, who liberated the country from the Chinese at the famous navel battle of Bach Dang in 938. There is a memorial to King Phung Hung in a dinh near the village and nearby a commemorative temple to Emperor Ngo Quyen.

King Phung Hung's memorial in a Dinh

King Phung Hung’s memorial in a Dinh

Ringing a bell at the memorial to Emperor Ngo Quyen

The memorial to Emperor Ngo Quyen

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In the village dinh

The village is very picturesque with brick paved narrow alleys, walls made of laterite, old wells, and houses dating back 400 years. All the roads run to a central dinh or communal house. Duong Lam was the first Vietnamese village to be recognized as a national relic by the Ministry of Culture and Information. Although it is refreshing not to see signs of the modern age, in many ways the village has become a living museum, which apparently not all of its residents are happy about. Some families would like to expand upwards to increase their living space but planning restrictions prevent this. More details in a recent article here.

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One of the minority Christian households

One of the minority Christian households

Duong Lam's entry gate

Cows passing through Duong Lam’s entry gate

All in all it was a great day out getting to see the quieter side of Vietnam and learn more about its history. On our way back we picked up some local specialties: goats milk yoghurt and a delicious special sticky rice sweet with ginger and peanuts. The only negative was the rather long slog in and out of Hanoi before one gets to the more rural areas.

Does anyone know of any other good cycling day trips from Hanoi?

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