Posted by: sharemore1 | September 27, 2010

A Trip to the Pottery Village

Fourteen dollars would buy a decent lunch in the United States, or a small piece of pottery or a few bus tickets. It might even buy you a chance to paint your own pottery. But it would most certainly not buy all of these and more.

In Viet Nam, where we’re living for a few months, we had a full day of food, fun and shopping for less than $14.00. Two of my husband’s students took us, and another visiting faculty member, to Bat Trang, a pottery village 13 kilometers southeast of Hanoi

We started out with an early lunch at Viet Nam National University, where my husband Moshe is teaching mathematics. For $1.25 we got a full hot lunch and then splurged on an orange smoothie (another $1.25).

Then we hopped on the number 01 bus (20 cents. I’m rounding up: it’s closer to 17 cents). That’s when the fun began. We’ve learned to get on the bus quickly, before it becomes so packed it’s impossible to move. It helps to have grey hair, as the youth will usually jump up to give you their seat. If they don’t, the ticket taker may tap them on the shoulder to remind them of their manners.

We were off through the streets of Hanoi, with buses and cars honking and motor bikes beeping as they wove deftly through the traffic.  At a downtown transfer station, we caught a number 47 bus (another 20 cents) that would take us to Bat Trang. We left the messy Hanoi traffic only to find ourselves traveling through a construction site. The road had been reduced to one lane while the second one was being resurfaced.

Loading the Cement Mixer

Workers in blue jackets and pink gloves, with masks covering their faces, were making concrete. They dumped bags of cement, aggregate and sand into the cement mixer, then topped it off with water. Just beyond, a dump truck was unloading piles of rocks for the next batch.

Bump in the Road

Suddenly the surfaced lane ended and the bus had to negotiate a drop of several inches onto a packed dirt road. At one point we came nose to nose with a concrete rolling machine and could go no farther. The ticket taker got out to guide the driver as he backed up the narrow lane past pyramids of rock to an off ramp.

When we reached Bat Trang, we first went to a shop where we could throw our own pots. A friendly young man offered me a seat on a tiny plastic stool before a wheel. He plopped a lump of wet clay on the wheel and started it spinning, motioning that I should wet my hands in a bucket of water and shape the swirling mass.

Sharon Throwing a Pot

Moshe Throwing a Pot

Soon our hands, pants and sandals were spattered with wet clay, but, for Moshe and me at least, it refused to turn into a pot. Our companions did better and managed to get a pot ready for the kiln.

Then we wandered through the ceramics market, with row after row of dishes, vases and figurines made in the village. We bought four mugs ($4.00), to replace the tiny tea cups that came with the apartment. We found a small tea pot ($1.75), and six tiny saucers to use for tea bags ($1.50). Finally we got a vase ($1.75), so we can bring home flowers from the market near our apartment.

Our final activity was to paint some pottery. Sitting at a low table on even lower stools, we had fun decorating ready-made pieces. I was somewhat more successful at painting than throwing pots, creating a delightfully kitschy fruit basket ($1.00).

Painting Pottery

Grabbing an ice cream bar (25 cents) to tide us over until we got home, we boarded the bus back to the city (20 cents). The bus, nearly empty when we left the village, became completely packed when we picked up a load of chattering students in navy pants and white shirts. They had been stranded when their own bus broke down.

We caught a second bus to our neighborhood (20 cents) and finished off the day at a favorite pho restaurant with a steaming bowl of noodle soup (85 cents) for dinner. As we made our way down the alley to our apartment, lugging our pottery in a rattan bag, we were sure we’d never had such a good time for $2.00 an hour.


  1. Your blog looks fantastic. Love your banner image – the mountains, sky and water are breathtaking. This will be a nice way to know what you are doing in Viet Nam and to give a picture of the country. I had no idea prices were so low relative to the US. The pottery-making sounds like fun. Can’t wait for your next post!

  2. I think my days are running at about $14 per minute. Your day sounded like so mucy fun and I love the blog idea…keep the stories coming.

  3. Sounds so wonderful…thank you for sharing your adventures.

  4. Sharon, this is such a treat. My kids tell me the ice cream is really good. This will probably be my only trip to Vietnam so thanks for including me. Keep the blogs coming.

  5. Sounds fun and incredibly familiar! Except people here mix cement without masks and the food might be even cheaper…I am tempted to loom up flights to come visit you instead of you coming here…or both!

  6. So great to hear what you’re doing this time around. Beautiful blog Sharon!

  7. Sharon – your blog is extraordinary! You tell and photograph your adventures beautifully. And, what adventures! I’ll be checking in from time to time to catch up with you.

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