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DIY pottery in Bat Trang, Vietnam: good, cheap fun

Posted by on June 28, 2012
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I aspire to travel like Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations, eating as the locals do, visiting anything but the touristy spots and doing it all with a fixer, a local who can navigate us across language barriers and through the inner workings of a place. And finally, in Hanoi, we founds ours.

Meet Daisy.

Daisy is a 25-year-old Vietnam native, who grew up in the nearby town of Hung Yen and has since moved to Hanoi, got married and works as a travel agent. We met her during our hunt for a Halong Bay trip. Like I said, she was the only one who understood that we wanted to see the real Vietnam.

And so after we booked Halong, we asked her about small towns or villages that would show us a better picture of local life. Bat Trang, known for its ceramic production and DIY pottery spaces, was top of the list, and she didn’t just give us directions; she came with us (for free)!

We took the local bus; no-frills all the way. We waited at the stop, ran to the bus when we saw it pull up and edged our way through the door, hoping for a seat. No seats. So we stood. And it was hot. And I dripped sweat. Our fellow riders, Vietnamese locals, wore sweatshirts and jeans — as they always do because the heat ain’t no thang to them — so you can imagine how they looked at me when I whipped out my hand fan. I hate standing out, but this was a dire situation. Two different men, who noticed me shvitzing, said, “Hot!” While wiping my face, I smiled and said, “Yes.”

After an hour ride through the suburbs and country, we arrived in Bat Trang, and not a minute before we had a chance to buy a bottle of water, a vendor had already come to sell her ceramics studio. Bat Trang has a few studios open to the public to make their own pottery and paint. It’s Color Me Mine, Asia-style. Daisy negotiated for us, while Eaman and I stood to the side, not sure what either Vietnamese woman was saying. In the end, the deal was $1.43 to sculpt and paint our own pottery. Yeah, I though, that’ll be juuust fine.

The studio.

They started by giving us a lump of clay. The instructor showed us some techniques before leaving us to our own devices. I had never actually worked a pottery wheel, but Eaman has had his fair share of spins from his childhood days.

I was more concerned with making a nice bowl, whether that meant major help from the instructor or not. (It did. So glad Daisy was there to translate, “This American needs help!”) Eaman was more concerned with making something, really anything himself. He started out with a nice shape that needed just a little mending, but the instructor completely changed it. He was bummed but stuck to his mission, started from scratch, and accepted the final product — a one-pencil pencil holder and 100% his own sculpting.

After about 30 minutes of letting our work dry, we painted.

And had it sprayed to seal the paint and lend some shine.

Start to finish.

For $1.43 a pop, if Daisy had more time and didn’t have to run off to work, I would’ve spent all day there, making all sorts of things to keep in my non-existent home.

But before we left, we had a chance to explore the town itself, which is basically just the ceramics market. It’s a great place to get gifts, just know that most people don’t know much English.

The items in the market run from beautiful to slightly weird to hilarious.

Other ceramics studio in the area.

We came home with this tea set for $10 thanks to Daisy negotiating on our behalf.

It’s a shame our guidebook had but a few meager sentences on Bat Trang. It’s a small, quiet place with little to do beyond ceramics, but it’s a fantastic way to get a feel for what families and teens do on the weekends — and walk away with a souvenir you had a hand in making.

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