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The ancient village of Duong Lam on the outskirts of Hanoi is also known as a museum of laterite, home to many houses built three or four centuries ago with lateritic bricks. It is also the birth village of two Vietnamese kings.
Many have said a visit to Duong Lam, some 60 kilometers north of Hanoi, is a trip tracing the origins of Vietnam's culture and traditions due to the large amount of well-reserved ancient architecture in the village.
Duong Lam has also been described as the last stronghold of northern Vietnam's wet rice farming culture. The only noticeable change that has taken place in the village over the past 400 years is its division into nine hamlets, including Mong Phu, Cam Lam, Cam Da and Mia. Of these, Mong Phu is its biggest and the most famous.
There are around 300 houses still standing in Duong Lam, 50 of which date back 300 years and the rest about 200 years. The interesting thing is that most of these houses were built from laterite and mud, both abundant in the area. Laterite was used for house walls, gates, wells and temple walls.
A typical example of laterite architecture is the Mong Phu communal house, which was built in 1638 to honour Son Tinh (God of the Mountains). The house's roof frames and beams are carved with complex designs and images.
Tourists to the village can wander along its narrow alleyways, visit temples dedicated to the two kings born there, and most interesting of all, chat with locals living in the ancient houses.
Mong Phu is the only hamlet whose original village entrance gate remains intact. The laterite-brick gate is roofed with yin yang tiles and has two iron and wood doors four-to-five centimeters thick.
Duong Lam village is also distinguished because it was the birthplace of two kings - Phung Hung and Ngo Quyen - both venerated for their staunch struggles against invasions from China.
Phung Hung (761-802) was the leader of a resurrection against the Duong Chinese dynasty in the eighth century. Wealthy and prestigious, he was reputed for his benevolence and extraordinary strength. In 791, he besieged and occupied Tong Binh (present-day Hanoi), liberating the country. He died after seven years in power and was respectfully called Bo Cai Dai Vuong by the people.
Ngo Quyen (897-944) was the hero that brought independence to the Vietnamese people after more than 1,000 years of Chinese domination. In 938, Ngo Quyen advanced troops from Ai Chau in Thanh Hoa province to beat Nam Han (Chinese) troops on the Bach Dang River. After ascending the throne, Ngo Quyen set up the royal capital in Co Loa.
It comes as no surprise that there are many temples in Duong Lam village dedicated to these two national heroes.
Mong Phu hamlet is a site recognised by the Ministry of Culture and Information as a national cultural and historical heritage. The Mia Pagoda, also known as Sung Nghiem Tu, sits on a small hill in Dong Sang hamlet. The pagoda, which was constructed before 1632 and has been restored and upgraded many times, houses 287 Buddha statues, the most beautiful of which is Quan Am Tong Tu, or Kwan Ying Bodhlsattva.
To reach Duong Lam village from Hanoi, drive along National Highway No.32 or Lang-Hoa Lac Expressway, turn right on National Highway No.21 and continue for another 50