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Ha Noi snake village lures visitors for spring festival

Le Mat Village, 7km northeast of Ha Noi, across the Hong (Red River), has become a destination known for its snake catching and gourmet restaurants.

Spring blooms: Le Mat villagers perform at the annual festival at the communal house on the lunar New Year. — VNA/VNS Photos Anh Tuan

Spring blooms: Le Mat villagers perform at the annual festival at the communal house on the lunar New Year. — VNA/VNS Photos Anh Tuan

A brush with history: Le Thanh Hai, one of the village's famous calligraphers, displays his skills for tourists. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam
A brush with history: Le Thanh Hai, one of the village's famous calligraphers, displays his skills for tourists. — VNS Photo Hoai Nam

It plans to host the first Australian tourists groups this June, following a co-operation between Ha Noi-based Focus Travel Company and the Australia Pacific Touring agency.

The snake legend

Many local residents are skilled at catching wild snake and some households in the 7,000-person village have prospered from snake restaurants since the early 1990s.

The elderly residents still talk about a particular snake legend that relates to the village's founding and history.

Nguyen Huy Tuong, 76, a guardian of the village's communal house, said the village was formed in the 11th century under the reign of King Ly Thai Tong.

According to the legend, the king's daughter was boating on what was then the Nguyet Duc River when a giant snake encircled her vessel, creating a whirlpool that tipped the boat. Hoang, a farmer, waded into the churning water, slew the snake, and saved the princess.

The King offered the heroic farmer gold, jewels and a position in the court, but Hoang refused. Instead, he asked for land west of the capital where he founded 13 villages, including Le Mat.

The village still honours Hoang, the village's patron saint, at a festival on the 23rd of the third lunar month.

Residents build a giant bamboo replica of the snake to re-enact Hoang's fateful encounter and the most beautiful girl in the village is chosen to play the princess.

The annual three-day festival draws about 6,000 visitors. During the event, villagers demonstrate net fishing in the lake in front of the communal house to worship the village patron saint and the princess.

Tran Nhu Rat, 70, the deputy head of the relic management board, said.

"The communal house was built in the 11th century, but it was then moved to a new site, which is its current location."

"I heard from old generations that the first house was built on the wrong site in astrological terms, which caused the diseases of villagers," the 70-year-old recalled.

Calligraphy

Snake killer: A man fights against a giant snake in a Le Mat village performance.

Snake killer: A man fights against a giant snake in a Le Mat village performance.

Le Thanh Hai, one of the village's famous calligraphers, has organised a calligraphy performance for tourists at an old house in the village. He encourages visitors to practice their writing, while exploring the old house.

Hai, 42, said he wants to introduce tourists to the art of handwriting that has had such a long history in Viet Nam.

"I demonstrate the reappearance of the prolonged art once seen in rural schools. Confucian scholars used to write letters in an old fashion while wearing an oriental robe and a turban," he explained.

Now, calligraphy is often written in the Han Chinese script or in Vietnamese characters on paper. Visitors often ask calligraphers to make them a letter during Tet as a sign of good fortune for the new year.

"I write many letters for Vietnamese and foreigners, not only during the Tet festival. People believe the letters will bring good luck and happiness to their family and friends."

Hai also explained that he uses different brushes to write thin and thick letters. He said most people ask for letters meaning peace, happiness or prosperity.

"Brushes made from chicken feathers or horse hair are used to write bold words, while brushes made from cat or rabbit hair is used for thin letters."

Tourists enjoy the art by writing words and then bringing home their creations after visiting the house.

Truong Van Mai, 60, the owner of a house that was home to five generations, said his house still remains the best old architecture in the north.

"The house's structure is made mostly from ironwood, which keeps the house cool in summer and warm in winter," Mai said, adding that the house was restored last year.

"I leave jars of rain water and plant areca and betel in a small garden. Northerners always offer visitors tea and betel chewing – a popular custom in Viet Nam."

He said the village has several old houses that have survived the rapid urbanisation in recent years. The construction of new houses has gradually taken the place of the village's thatched roof cottages. Visitors now only recognise the rural village by pictures of banyan trees and the lake in front of the communal house.

(By Cong Thanh)

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