But for how long, visitors to the northern village of Cu Da are bound to ask.
Most of the preparations being made to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the capital city next year only emphasize its haphazard emergence as a modern hub.
But thus far, one does not have to travel far from Hanoi to find vivid, poignant reminders of the last few centuries.
Just 15 km south of downtown capital city is Cu Da Village in Thanh Oai District, a living vestige of northern Vietnamese culture.
Cu Da is not only famous for its mien (vermicelli made from a kind of tuber similar to cassava) and tuong (soy sauce) but also for large old houses and villas with architecture typical of northern Vietnam.
Together with Duong Lam Village in Son Tay Town, Cu Da is one of only two old villages in Hanoi that still offers an ideal place to explore the culture of the Red River Delta region.
Duong Lam Village is famous as the birthplace of many feudal mandarins and intellectuals, and Cu Da Village was the land of rich merchants. Hundreds of years ago, when almost all villages in Vietnam were still mired in poverty, these two were already well-known as prosperous villages that had big brick houses and clean, paved roads.
The extrovert merchants of Cu Da also built many French-style villas, a popular trend at the turn of the 20th century.
Visitors to the village will still be surprised, pleasantly so, by the charm of old Vietnamese-style houses and the French villas, with vaulted gates and roads paved with slanting bricks.
The village boasts about 200 such old houses and villas, of which 50 remain virtually unchanged since their heyday. The main village road runs along the Nhue River and every small lane has a vaulted gate. The village also has a pagoda that has been recognized as a national relic.
The houses, the roads and the pagoda present the picture of a rich northern Vietnamese village at the beginning of the 20th century.
According to village elders, Cu Da has existed for hundreds of years. In the past, its proximity to the Nhue River, Ha Dong Town and Hanoi (once known as Thang Long) emphasized its important location.
Nhue River used to be a busy waterway for traders between Hanoi and Cu Da, making the village a hub for rice, fabric and other commodities supplied to Hanoi.
Not surprisingly, many villagers became very rich and the village was soon built like a town where, unlike other hamlets in Vietnam, all the houses and villas had their own a numbers.
We visited house No. 11 owned by Trinh The Sung which was built in 1874, featuring architecture typical of the Nguyen Dynasty. It is low, made mainly of wood, with delicate carvings on the beams and pillars. The roof is made of yin-yang tiles, and an ancestral altar, panels and parallel scrolls inscribed with poetry can be found in the middle of the house.
Not too far away, the two-story house of Dinh Van Tuongï¿½s family at No. 152 is a French-style villa built more than 100 years ago by Tu Bang, a rich merchant.
Tuong bought the house about 30 years ago. The houseï¿½s walls, yard, and gate are covered with moss. Its first story is decorated with occidental patterns and the floor paved with stone tiles. The second floor was ruined in 1947 in a battle against French colonial troops. Although the house has clearly suffered the ravages of war and other wear and tear, it packs a lot of charm for visitors.
Many other old houses in this village have similar stories. However, the old houses in Cu Da are not as lucky as their peers in Duong Lam where they have been recognized and preserved.
Visitors to Cu Da Village cannot help feeling sorry that many cultural heritages are apparently sinking into irreparable disrepair.
HOW TO GET THERE
The village is only 15 km south of Hanoiï¿½s center, so the easiest way to get there is by motorbike, following National Highway No. 1.
Cu Da Village is very close to popular tourist destinations like Ha Thai Lacquer Village, Quat Dong Embroidery Village or Nhi Khe Carpentry Village, so visitors can explore all of them in one trip.
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