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The Authentic Bat Trang Ceramic Village Tour and Pottery Class

We got lost in Hanoi, discovered SI Cuisine & Mixology, a beautiful restaurant across Trang Tien Plaza, and had lunch there. The food was superb but it was not the only thing on the table that’s worth mentioning.

Sam and I spent more than a few moments admiring the blue dining plates and bowls. Little did I know that, in less than 24 hours, I would get to see the factory where they were made.

…………………….

About a week before our flight to Hanoi, I was searching online for a pottery class. It was Sam’s first request. I came across a small selection. I chose one which I considered fairly priced and booked.

I cancelled that booking after landing on the website of Authentic Bat Trang that offers both a pottery class and a tour of Bat Trang Village. I chose the ultimate Bat Trang experience, of course. Nothing less for Sam.

…………………….

Our Bat Trang tour and pottery class was scheduled on the day after we had a late lunch at SI Cuisine & Mixology. The tour guide was picking us up from our apartment at 12.30 to begin the 30-to-40-minute drive to Bat Trang Village.

The ceramic factories at Bat Trang Village

The tour began with a visit to Authentic Bat Trang‘s showroom.

Authentic Bat Trang's showroom
Authentic Bat Trang’s showroom

My knees literally went weak. Whether that was due to the heat or the excitement, I couldn’t be sure.

MY. GOODNESS. The blue plates that we lovingly inspected at SI Cuisine & Mixology the day before? There were shelves and shelves of them. They were gorgeous. I heard them calling my name, and imploring me to pick them up and bring them home. Or, maybe, I was just hallucinating in the heat. It was a really hot and humid day.

Coffee cup with warmer

It did not enter my mind that the blue plates at SI Cuisine & Mixology came from that room. I thought that the blue glaze was a popular design and lots of ceramic factories made them. So, I really didn’t make any concrete association.

For the most part, we saw and admired. And coveted.

Ceramic teapot and cups. Bat Trang Village, Vietnam
Ceramic teapot and cups in a shade of blue that I don’t have a name for.
Authentic Bat Trang's showroom
I wanted to buy them all.

Unfortunately, bringing home too many breakable items is not a good idea. I’ve seen far too many videos of airport luggage attendants throwing everything around, including those marked FRAGILE, and I didn’t want to take the risk.

From the showroom, we walked the short distance to the factory. A narrow building with several floors. I’m not a fan of heights and the stairs, though not all that narrow, had no banisters on either side. There was a point… I can’t recall if it was going up or going down the stairs when Sam jokingly asked if I was still alive. Oh, I managed those stairs without assistance. Apparently, my fear of embarrassing myself was greater than my fear of heights. On that day, at least.

It was at the factory where we learned how those beautiful plates and cups and vases were made.

The three pottery processes

For the rest of this post, I use pottery and ceramic interchangeably. Just so it doesn’t get confusing…

Pottery is the process of forming vessels and other solid objects.

Ceramic is a compound material. Ceramic made with clay, like those produced in Bat Trang Village, is either earthenware, stoneware or porcelain. Bone china, made with bone ash, is a finer and stronger form of porcelain.

I use “pottery” in a generic sense here because during production, I am not sure if the formed clay objects will eventually end up as earthenware, stoneware or porcelain.

In Bat Trang, three pottery methods are used.

Making pottery by hand
Forming by hand
Making pottery by mold
Forming with molds
Making pottery by "3D printer"
Pottery using a “3D printer”

Yes, our tour guide called it a “3D printer” with amusement. The machine consists of a mold on a pottery wheel at the bottom and a kind of scraper at the top. The clay is placed on the mold, the top is lowered to it, the clay take on the shape of the bottom mold and, on top, the grooves of the shape of the scraper. And voila! Dinner plate.

But an even more amazing “3D printing” happens after that.

Designing a clay plate by hand
The final design is made with the forefinger

It was mesmerizing watching that part. I wanted to applaud by the time the lady was done.

Glazing and baking

The pottery is left to dry and harden, fired (baked), glazed and fired again. We’re not talking baking temperatures similar to bread making at home.

Glazing pottery. Bat Trang Village. Vietnam.
Glazing pottery

The first firing temperature goes way above 1000C. The pottery shrinks by about 20%, according to our tour guide. The second firing temperature is lower but still hotter than a pizza oven.

The SI Cuisine & Mixology connection

Outside the factory, we were taking a break and chatting with our tour guide. I was curious. There are 400 ceramic factories in Bat Trang. How does everyone manage to sell its produce? Surely, the average resident does not break all his dinnerware so often as to oblige him to buy a new set regularly to keep the factories going?

We sell to restaurants and hotels, the tour guide said. And then, I mentioned the SI Cuisine & Mixology plates. A client, he proudly exclaimed. And he showed us screenshots of the invoices.

Apparently, these businesses export too.

Hand painted ceramics

After our short break, we walked to another factory. This time, we saw even more skilled artists at work.

Hand painting ceramics. Bat Trang Village. Vietnam.
Hand painting ceramics

I think I was holding my breath as I watched the women paint patterns on pottery.

hand painting ceramics
No sketches on the pottery! How the artists manage to make the designs uniform escapes my comprehension. I wish I had a fraction of their talent.

What was even more amazing was seeing clay bowls that were painted inside!

Hand painted bowls. Bat Trang Village, Vietnam.
Hand painted bowls

And then I saw something I knew I would no go home without.

Tapered black coffee mugs with bamboo design. Bat Trang Village, Vietnam
Tapered black coffee mugs with bamboo design

But… we were in a factory. I doubt if they sold by piece. So, I figured I’d just take photos.

Our tour guide was chatting with the factory owner who was having tea. The latter didn’t speak English and the tour guide had to translate.

Would we care for some tea?

Oh, yes, please!

And I sat across the table from the factory owner wearing a silly smile on my face as I wondered how to get him to sell me one piece of those black coffee mugs with the bamboo design. Two cups of tea later, I still didn’t know how to bring it up so I just blurted out to the tour guide who again translated.

The factory owner said yes! Sam quickly took that to mean she could choose a piece for herself too.

Coffee mugs from Bat Trang Village, Vietnam.
Souvenirs from Bat Trang

You can guess which one is mine. Sam’s cost more than twice as much as my black mug. Much later, at home, her father would relate how, when I posted that photo on Instagram, he kept wishing that Sam’s mug was actually for him.

Speedy loves the design so much. He even got poetic about it. It’s like aging, he said. Getting all wrinkly but still looking lovely and even more dignified. I’m paraphrasing. But he did say something like that.

The design on Sam’s mug aren’t hand painted. They are grooved. So, the outside of the mug, including the handle and the top of the cover, is beautifully textured.

Well, that’s Sam’s. What I got for her father and sister came from Authentic Bat Trang‘s shop at the Old Quarter in Hanoi where we proceeded after the tour. But I’m jumping ahead. The tour wasn’t over yet when we left the second factory.

A 500-year-old kiln

Bat Trang Village has been producing pottery for over half a century. At the village center, a 500-year-old wood-fired kiln has been preserved.

500-year-old wood-fired kiln in Bat Trang, Vietnam
500-year-old wood-fired kiln in Bat Trang
Artwork depicting how the kiln was fired with wood. Bat Trang, Vietnam
Artwork depicting how the kiln was fired with wood

The ancient kiln is no longer used for firing pottery, however. It’s just a relic now, a reminder of the heritage of the village.

Sam Veneracion inside the 500-year-old kiln, Bat Trang Village, Vietnam
Sam inside the 500-year-old kiln

Visitors can go inside the kiln. A bit cramped but, yes, humans can fit in. I didn’t dare. I like cramped places even less than I like heights.

Sam Veneracion and a gigantic 200-year-old vat, Bat Trang Village, Vietnam
Sam and a gigantic 200-year-old vat

Next to the kiln stood a large vat. All of 200 years old, said the tour guide.

How did that ever fit into the kiln?

The tour guide explained that a kiln was built around the unfired vat then demolished after the firing.

Wow.

I asked Sam to stand next to the vat just to show how large it is. She obliged then saw a dragon’s head with its mouth open on the upper part of the vat. Of course she had to pull a Roman Holiday stunt.

The pottery class

The pottery class was held in a building on the side of the hall that housed the 500-year-old kiln.

Sam Veneracion making pottery. Bat Trang Village, Vietnam.
Sam wanted to make an ash tray. Made by her and only by her. Her project became a bowl instead which turned into a shallow bowl and, finally, a saucer.

Sam and I were assigned pottery wheels, a lady made a demonstration then it was our turn to create something.

Demi Moore made it look easy in Ghost but, heck, pottery making is not easy. Perhaps, after a few tries, when one gets the hang of it. But it wasn’t going to happen in an hour or so. Not even in an afternoon.

Connie Veneracion making pottery. Bat Trang Village, Vietnam.
That’s me learning pottery at Bat Trang. It’s not as easy as it looks.
These three photos were supplied by the tour operator, Authentic Bat Trang. Thank you!

Shaping a blob of wet clay into a fat solid cylinder with my wet hands wasn’t easy.

Pushing my thumb into the clay to hollow out the center was even harder.

Trying to smooth out the mouth made my creation collapse.

We may not have succeeded in creating anything usable but we had fun.

Into the old village

Bat Trang Village is old. You’d already have an idea how old with that 500-year-old kiln. But you don’t get to feel just how old the place is until you’ve walked through the narrow streets of the old village.

Old village, Bat Trang, Vietnam
Narrow streets of the old village

Rows of brick houses on streets so narrow it was impossible for two people to walk side by side. Surprisingly, motorbikes manage.

Almost every house has a kiln (which explains why they are made of bricks) because pottery is the only industry in the village. It has been the only industry for more than 500 hundred years.

It’s easy to get lost in that maze of narrow streets. Our tour guide, in fact, joked that we were lost. But he knew that village well. And people seemed to know him too.

A barge on the Red River. Bat Trang Village, Vietnam.
A barge on the Red River

We exited by the banks of the Red River. We chatted some more as we watched barges carrying sand move on the water.

We drove back to Hanoi in high spirits after a terrific afternoon at Bat Trang Village.

If you’re interested, click the links for Authentic Bat Trang‘s tour and class. Or send them a message on their Facebook page (that was how I got in touch with them).

Authentic Bat Trang Shop at the Old Quarter, Hanoi
Authentic Bat Trang Shop at the Old Quarter. 62 Hàng hòm, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Written By

I travel to eat, drink and learn new cuisines. I do some shopping too. Between trips, I write travel stories and share travel-inspired recipes. That is my idea of retirement with purpose.

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