Story: Nguyen Thuy
Photos: Nguyen Thuy, My Linh
Not far from Hoi An in sunny Quang Nam province lies Triem Tay, a traditional village on the Thu Bon River
To reach Triem Tay village from Hoi An’s Old Town, visitors should head towards Cam Kim Bridge. The village is also accessible by boat. From the Thanh Ha Ceramics Village, take a boat across the Thu Bon River. Under azure skies, Triem Tay looks picturesque, with mountains rising in the background and bamboo hedges mirrored in the river.
On shore, stands of bamboo line the banks. Herds of cows graze in the fields. Village women are busy chopping rattan plants. Founded in the 17th century, Triem Tay has retained its rustic beauty. Village women still operate hand-looms to make rush mats. Nowadays, Triem Tay receives many visitors. Some locals can earn a living making and selling their famous mats, which have lucky characters woven into them.
Shichitoi plants grow in the alluvial fields off the river, and are collected three times per year, chopped and dried near the river. The villagers dye the Shichitoi threads in different colors. It takes two artisans two days to finish a mat. Mats woven with “Triem Tay” or “Centennial happiness” may look simple, but require a lot of skill and hard work to weave.
A traditional Vietnamese village always has bamboo hedges and a water well. Lush green stands of bamboo remain intact in Triem Tay. An old well has provided cool, fresh water for generations of Triem Tay villagers. No matter what challenges they face, the villagers here feel close to their homeland and keep the incense burning in the Pham or Le clan temples.
Vietnamese villages are close knit. Strolling from Phu Hoa Hamlet to Truong Tho Hamlet, both of which belong to Triem Tay, the locals all know and greet each other. They refer to each other as uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, children and grandchildren like a big family. They know which household does which job. This is the joy of living in Vietnam’s countryside.
Located in the Dien Ban District of Quang Nam, Triem Tay offers some quaint homestays, ranging from simple to luxurious. Local farmers run simple but charming restaurants that serve rustic fare such as boiled vegetables, grilled chicken steamed or braised with ginger, and bowls of water spinach soup. There are some surprising and delightful touches. Along with a cup of tea visitors are offered sweet finger-sized bananas.
The locals act as guides, introducing visitors to their homeland. Mr. Nguyen Yen, Head of Triem Tay Cooperative, explained how, over the past year, Triem Tay locals have been able to earn a living from their cultural treasures. After abandoning their traditional mat-making craft, this trade has been revived in ten households, including one that made woven-character mats for generations. Triem Tay’s farmers are eager to share their knowledge with visitors. “We were determined that the business was not just for tourism or anyone else, but for the posterity of Triem Tay. Not every place boasts such a strong cultural identity, so regardless of difficulties, we are seeking to preserve every single manual loom, bamboo hedge and tea vendor,” explained Mr. Yen.
Ms. Than, a “rural owner” in Triem Tay, laughed when asked about travelers. “They are fascinated by everything, so we are very glad. We once thought about moving away from Triem Tay, but now we can stay in our homeland, and even promote our local treasures to many more people.”
Mr. Bui Kien Quoc, a member of the French Architectural Academy and a Quang Nam native who has returned home, has played an integral role in yanking parts of Triem Tay from the grip of the “water gods” – ie. flooding. Having built an ecotourism site in Triem Tay, Mr. Quoc confided: “My wish is to preserve every single bamboo range and unpaved lane to the village. Many villagers find it strange, and construction is not synonymous with destruction, but balance is everything. In Triem Tay, we must balance the purely Vietnamese rural atmosphere and ordinary local life, while still spreading our arms to welcome travelers.”