10 Handicraft Villages in Vietnam
Vietnam has become a place where tourists come to experience unique cultures and see firsthand local artisans’ skills performed in traditional ways. There are at least 1,000 villages in Vietnam that are recognized as centers for handicrafts. Here are the 10 most well known among them, most located in Northern Vietnam.
Embroidery: Quat Dong village, Ha Tay province
There are many embroidery villages in Vietnam, but Quat Dong village in Hanoi is widely known for its high quality products. Located next to a national highway, the Quat Dong embroidery village is 1 of the 200 most well known traditional handicraft villages in Vietnam.
Embroidery has been developing around here since the 17th century; local skilled artisans were chosen to make sophisticated embroidered costumes for the Vietnamese King, Queen and other Royal family members before Vietnam
became a socialist republic country.
The first man who taught the local people how to embroider was Dr. Le Cong Hanh, who lived during the Le dynasty. He learned how to embroider while on a trip to China as an envoy, and taught the villagers of Quat Dong upon his return. Although these skills eventually spread across the country, the Quat Dong's artisans’ creations are still the most appreciated.
In order to create beautiful embroideries, an artisan must be patient, meticulous and have an eye for design, along with clever hands. Nowadays, Quat Dong products may range from clothes, bags, pillowcases, to paintings and decorations, which are exported to many countries.
Silk: Van Phuc village, Ha Tay province
Situated on the bank of Nhue River, about 10km southwest of Hanoi Old Quarter, the silk village of Van Phuc is renowned for its traditional weaving and premium quality silk products. Van Phuc is the most ancient silk village, with over 1,200 years of history. It produces the best silk in Vietnam
Van Phuc silk is known for its smooth, lightweight and elegant appearance. A traditional kind of silk called ‘Van Silk’, which has been traditionally produced in Van Phuc, is very insulative; it has the ability to make the person wearing it feel cool during the summer and pleasantly warm in the winter.
To satisfy the varied demand for their silk, the Van Phuc silk producers have expanded their silk garment goods to include embroidered silk, wrinkled silk, double layers of silk and a wider variety of silk colors.
Sedge Mats : Dinh Yen village, Dong Thap province
In Dong Thap province, hometown of endless rice fields and stunning lotus ponds, there is a handicraft village that is famous for its high quality woven sedge mats in Dinh An commune. The commune’s handicrafts tradition has been handed down generation to generation for approximately 100 years.
Weaving sedge mats is extremely hard work. Sedge is shipped from other nearby provinces by boat, and then it’s dried and split into thin strings. After that, the strings are dyed into different colors and dried again until they are ready to be woven. The weaving process is not very complicated, but two weavers have to work at the same time; one person puts the string into the loom in the correct color order, while the other pulls the strings together, in order to form the mat. The weavers can make up to six intricate 1.6x2 meters mats a day.
Weave mats used to be sold in the “ghost” market, which was set up at night and operated up to early morning, until the government built a new market five years ago. Dinh An sedge mats are widely used in Southern Vietnam because they are very cool and airy to sleep on, which is very appropriate for the hot weather. The all-natural materials and skillful hand-weaving techniques of the local artisans make Dinh An sedge mats a wonderful souvenir for visitors.
Ceramics: Bat Trang village, Hai Dung province
The 500-year-old ceramic making village, Bat Trang, is located about 10km away from Hanoi, to the right side of Hong River. The name “Bát Tràng” in Vietnamese means “a big yard”.
Five families from Bo Bat came to where the village is now, and joined the Nguyen family and Minh Trang family, in order to live together; their names were combined into “Bat Trang”, hence the village’s name. They chose this particular place to settle because the land has a large amount of white clay, which is very useful for making high quality pottery. It’s also located next to a river, which facilitates the transportation of their goods, to trade with other villages.
The Bat Trang ceramics are hand-made by local artisans. Both Royal families and normal farmers used them for hundreds of years, and they are still highly valued today.
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Poonah-Paper: Yen Thai village, Quang Binh province
Papermaking started being here during the 15th century. The Yen Thai guild in Thang Long specialized in producing different kinds of paper, such as edict paper, used to write royal edicts; and order paper, used to write orders from the King. Poonah material is taken from the bark of the poonah trees that are indigenous in many northern provinces in Vietnam.
To make poonah-paper, villagers must go through several complicated and precise processing steps, including selecting the material, soaking it in water, pounding it, flattening the pulp into paper, and drying it indoors.
The traditional production of poonah-paper in Yen Thai Village is mainly used for printing books, writing Han scripts or printing folk paintings.
Folklore Painting: Dong Ho painting, Bac Ninh province
Dong Ho painting is a type of folklore painting made in Dong Ho village, also known as Ho village, in Bac Ninh province, about 35 km from Hanoi. These paintings have been crafted since the 16th century and were traditionally hung during the Tet Holiday.
In the past, the people of the village started to make paintings in July or August to prepare for Tet Holidays, when most of them would sell their products to other villages.
Dong Ho paintings are made using “điệp” paper, a special paper made from “điệp” shell powder, which has the ability to keep the artists’ colors bright and long-lasting. The Vietnamese artisans create wooden embossed plates for every single color and stamp one color after another onto the paper, in order to form a picture. All of the colors are naturally made and need to be stamped in a particular order; red first, then blue, green, white, pink, yellow and finally black.
The Dong Ho paintings are very special, partly due to the unique techniques and skills they require, but also because they reflect rural life in Northern Vietnam, as well as expresses their creators’ wishes, and teaches a system of values to the viewers.
Conical Hats: Chuong village, Ha Tay province
Located in Thanh Oai district, which is located 40 km away from Hanoi, Chuong Conical Hat village is well known for its special product, “nón lá”, a type of conical leaf hat. This small village is crowded with many foreign and domestic visitors who come here not only to place orders, but also to witness the process of making the “nón lá”.
The main material of a conical hat is palm leaf. Only light-colored and evenly green leaves can be used to make beautiful hats. The bamboo must be split into very thin strings and then soaked in water in order to prevent tearing and any breakage. The main rings of the framework must be even, smooth and shiny. After taking several steps to whiten the leaves, the artisans then sew together the leaves and the rings.
Apart from being a symbol for all Vietnamese women, the conical hat is an indispensable accessory due to its useful functions. It protects the wearer’s head and face from the intense tropical sunlight or even the pouring rain, and it also works as a handy fan that can be used to cool off on hot summer days.
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Black Silk: Tan Chau, An Giang province
Tan Chau silk is highly valued and widely appreciated for its special softness, its durability and its high absorbency, due to the natural material that it is made from, just like the silk from Van Phuc.
Dyeing the silk is the most important and most elaborate part of its production, because it involves soaking the silk in the dye hundreds of times, in order to ensure that each silk thread will absorb the color equally. After each soaking, the artisans have to carefully wring the moisture out and lay the silk outside to dry. They must choose sunny days in order to dry the silk well enough, and reposition it about 4 times a day. If it is hung up in the rain or if it doesn’t have enough sunshine, its quality will dramatically decrease. After 40 to 45 days of this long dying process, the fabrics are then sewn into beautifully elegant clothes.
Besides the traditional brilliant black color of the natural dye that is made from local fruit, Tan Chau artisans can now produce multiple silk colors to meet customer demands, unlike in the past. This is a valuable opportunity for a famous craft village to restore its reputation and thrive.
Green Young Sticky Rice: Vong village, Bac Ninh province
"Cốm" (green sticky rice) is a delicacy that is made only in autumn and cherished by all Vietnamese people. The Vong village, on the outskirts of Hanoi, is said to produce the best “cốm” in Northern Vietnam.
To produce their famous “cốm”, the residents of Vong Village grow a special variety of sticky rice, which must be harvested at just the right moment. The rice is plucked off manually so that the grains are not broken. The young rice grains are then put into a large frying pan on small flames and stirred slowly for a specific period of time. They are then poured into a rice mortar and slightly pounded with a wooden pestle, rhythmically and at quick intervals until the husk is removed.
“Cốm” can be eaten with persimmons; ripe bananas; or used as an ingredient for “chè cốm”, sweet soup with green young rice; “chả cốm”, salty pie made of pork and green young rice; and “bánh cốm”, green square sticky cake. Bánh cốm is used at almost every engagement ceremony.
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Square Sticky Rice Cake: Tranh Khuc village, Hanoi
The Tranh Khuc village in Thanh Tri district on the outskirts of Hanoi is famous for making “Bánh chưng”, a typically square sticky rice cake for the Lunar New Year or Tet Holiday in Vietnam
. The cake that’s produced here is renowned for its distinctive flavour.
Each step in making “Bánh chưng” requires someone with experience. Normally, a household can make an average of 200 cakes a day, but during the week before Tet holiday, due to high demand, their productivity may increase up to 10 times the usual. In recent years, “Bánh chưng”, made by Tranh Khuc villagers, has been exported to many countries, such as Russia, Australia and Thailand, mainly because of the demand created by Vietnamese expats overseas.
As you can see, Vietnam has an endless list of handicraft villages that have been developed over the course of many years, all with rich histories and skillful artisans.
If you are interested in Vietnam and the culture behind weaving, please check out Wild Tussah’s blog
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If you have specific questions or comments, you can send these directly to Danica at danicaratte[AT]gmail.com
Danica Ratte is a sustainable travel addict who is now an expat in Vietnam. She is the Founder of Wild Tussah; a weave and leather handbag line that preserves ancient weaving cultures in Vietnamese ethnic communities. She and her team often write about women's empowerment, sustainable fashion, culture preservation, weaving traditions, eco-tourism and anything else Vietnam-related, which you can read on the Wild Tussah blog.