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The Rustic Beauty of Hanoi's Red River Brick Factories

Living in a city as culturally rich and absorbing as Hanoi, it’s not unusual to discover new secrets in a place you thought you knew completely. The depth of the capital really is astounding. And yet, I wasn’t quite prepared for the striking, rustic beauty of the brick factories on the Red River’s north shore.

To find them, follow the dike road heading east for about 10 kilometers beyond Nhật Tân Bridge. The road runs parallel to the river for much of the stretch before entering a scarcely-visited area full of timber merchants. Shortly after, you’ll see nearly a dozen brick factories appear in an imposing line above the shoreline, their chimneys reaching into the sky.

The ferry crossing.

You have to cross on a ferry to reach them, and the boat weaves between heavily-burdened cargo ships before hitting the opposite embankment. Beyond the dust of the bank, factories stretch out into the distance. Many lie dormant; others have smoke billowing out of upper windows as bricks bake inside. There’s something magnificent about them, with their architecture straight out of the Victorian age.

The area is a hive of activity.

With laborers carting bricks around or carrying them on bamboo shoulder poles, the area is busy with activity. One of the men shows me around the area, pointing out wet, black bricks drying in the afternoon sun, and vast piles of finished bricks stretching out in rows between buildings.

If you look closely, you can see smoke coming out of the upper windows.

The bricks are made by mixing sand, clay, lime and metals before firing the mix together in a kiln — kind of like baking, but for builders. Adjusting the temperature or iron content of the materials affects the end color, and there’s certainly an earthiness in the mix of vermilion and burnt orange seen on site.

Chimneys reach into the sky.

Around sunset, the workers finish for the day, and many cycle down to the ferry to head home. Behind them, the factories are silhouetted before an expansive blue sky that turns to milk at the edges, smoke still pouring out of upper floors.

Vast rows of bricks separate the buildings.

Carrying bricks on bamboo shoulder poles.

Bricks ready for baking in the kiln.

A laborer shows off his work.

The hands of a hardworking man.

A truck driver who offered a ride around the site.

Factories stretching into the distance.

Bricks! Bricks! Bricks!

Catching the ferry home at sunset.

Chris Humphrey is a Hanoi-based writer, photographer and editor. 

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