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The Traditional Craft Villages Close to Hanoi

Mary loves crafts and when living in Hanoi visited many of the traditional craft villages close to the city.

Embroidered Picture

Embroidered Picture

Visiting Craft Villages Close to Hanoi

Every second weekend when my husband and I lived in Hanoi, we hijacked the company's trusty Toyota and boogied to the boonies to discover new villages. Wikipedia was savaged, and local tourist information was translated from an unknown language looking like English into workable tour guides. Thom, our trusty driver, did map research in advance to get a general sense of direction for places he has not yet been to.

During these visits, we also tried out the local specialties ranging from yogurt to tiny chicken or crabs in tamarind sauce.

Traditional Craft Villages Close to Hanoi

Some great cities are planetary systems where the satellites spin around the solar centre. Hanoi is a city most easily seen, but the small craft villages which circle in orbit around it make the trip worthwhile.

In most cases, these were not set up for tourists, although they've become more tourist-friendly in recent years. Most large Asian cities have learned from Singapore that if you destroy your history on the road to becoming an industrial power, you lose your soul and an effective form of income through tourism and the support of local crafters.

The ancestors would be smiling today. The beautiful hand-painted pottery of one village, the intense colours of the lacquerware of another, and the imaginative embroidery creations of a third are quite justifiably world-famous. But beyond this, there's the silk village, the woodcarving and the mother-of-pearl inlay, models of thousand-year-old crafts.

Silk Village in Hanoi

Silk Village in Hanoi

Over 50 craft villages in Hanoi

Hanoi alone has over 50 traditional craft villages and they are worth visiting especially for those who are interested in traditional crafts.

Here are the top seven traditional craft villages close to Hanoi that we enjoyed visiting.

Ba Trang Pottery

Ba Trang Pottery

1. Ceramic Making Village

About 13 km. from Hanoi, Ba Trang has become a home to potters who settled here because of its white clay and proximity to the capital. After Tha Long (now called Hanoi) became the capital city in the 10th century, crafters came to supply the pottery needs of the growing population.

With such a long history of pottery, Ba Trang is now internationally famous and has become a popular destination for both local families and tourists from Hanoi.

It is an easy taxi ride. The first time I went, I just took a cab, and for $25, the cab driver brought me to the long line of stalls, waited for me for an hour and brought me back to my hotel. I went back again the second time and had a good walk in the village and, with some young Vietnamese university students, tried my hands at making some ceramics.

Lacquer Village near Hanoi

Lacquer Village near Hanoi

2. Ha Tai, A 200 Year History of Making Lacquerware

On our first visit, we arrived early and immediately liked what we saw. Tourism has not yet spoilt the village, so we enjoyed our walk in a reasonably typical Vietnamese village. But we were not fooled by the tranquil atmosphere.

As you peeked through the doorway of one of the opened houses, we saw the villagers working on their lacquer. Some were applying gauze on bowls. Others were finishing products and immersing the lacquer items in water. Lacquerware was drying everywhere, and the workers squatting among their products were an incredible sight.

We went into one of the simpler production houses, and as always, the ground floor surrounding the courtyard was the family home. The husband was finishing candle holders, and his wife, with two other young workers, were busily immersing items in water. Displayed on the drying racks were many things of finished lacquerware which were soon to be sent to Hanoi or exported to other countries.

The second courtyard was much more extensive, and it had a well-organized display place with a big group of young women all busy working and having fun at their jobs. It seemed to us that this village factory was exporting most of its products to Europe.

In both places, we saw how labour-intensive lacquer making is. They told us that the lacquer products go through as many as 20 steps, and they used specific kinds of wood for different items. Three finishes can be applied individually or collectively in Vietnamese lacquer making. These are surface painting, mother-of-pearl inlay or an excellent eggshell application. They only used hatched duck egg shells.

With all the different steps involved, the lacquerware can take up to 100 days before being ready for export.

Here's How Lacquer Is Tapped in Vietnam

Watch this video and find out where lacquer comes from. It is quite an experience to web right there and see for yourself how this is done.

3. Mother of Pearl Inlay Village, Chuon Ngo

Starting in Vietnam during the early Li dynasty (1009) by Truong Cong Thanh, the mother-of-pearl inlay craft now involves 95% of Chuong Ngo's 1,700 villagers and has helped many climbs out of poverty. Truong Cong Thanh, a master of literary arts, became passionate about this craft and gathered new ideas and innovations in his travels.

Some of the master artisans from this village produced trays and furniture for the royal court, and so mother-of-pearl inlaid tables became symbols of wealth. The intricate designs in some of this furniture take a long to finish as many pieces are tiny.

Mother of Pearl Inlay Frame

Mother of Pearl Inlay Frame

4. Van Phuoc Silk Village—Silk Weaving the Traditional Way

The village showcases the traditional looms used in silk weaving, and many still use these looms to produce some of the best natural silk fabrics.

With two thousand of silk-making history, Van Phuc is the place to get silk souvenirs. The houses in the village have become stores selling all kinds of silk products. But look into some of the stores, and you will find women still weaving silk in traditional looms. You can buy yards of these traditionally woven fabrics.

Traditional Vietnamese Loom

Traditional Vietnamese Loom

5. Embroidery Village, Quat Dong Village

This embroidery village has not yet organized itself for tours. Many women do the embroidery at home while tending to the kids and the farm, so they don't go to a central facility.

A lady in the village sells embroidery items for a group of 40 women. She is a master in embroidery and teaches these women traditional techniques and designs.

Embroiderer in the Vietnamese Village of Quat Dong

Embroiderer in the Vietnamese Village of Quat Dong

6. Traditional Vietnamese Wood Carvers in Dong Ky and Chun My

As in other crafts, the best work is often for the temples. Huge pieces depicting the gods are frequently commissioned by rich people or by the temples themselves. Wood for these is carefully chosen from the best hardwood and can last centuries. As mistakes are unforgivable, only the masters do these carving for the temples.

Apprentices surround the masters, and it's clear they start learning at a young age.

Carvings in Vietnam

Carvings in Vietnam

7. Bao La Bamboo Craft Village

If you want to learn some bamboo crafts, go to this village. They have a joint cooperative and an exceptionally well-organized workshop. The bamboo artisans there are proud of the quality of their products and the innovative design they have developed. Bamboo products have gotten more attention and long-term contracts now that people choose more environmentally friendly products.

The government started a cooperative, and today. They have about 400 designs of bamboo lanterns in various styles. The local artisans are happy to continue doing their craft and earning enough to support their families.

Are Craft Villages Tourist Traps?

Some reviews online of craft villages think that these are tourist traps. Meanwhile, the government, not just in Vietnam but in other countries, encourages towns to join programs on one village, one craft or product as they enhance the income of rural folks and stop them from immigrating to the already overcrowded cities. It also encourages tourists to visit other parts of the country, not just the major cities and tourist sites.

Some craft villages, not necessarily in Vietnam, are established as tourist traps. Maybe, the crafts there are no longer done by village crafters, to the utter disappointment of tourists who want to see the traditional villages doing the crafts.

What do you think? Are these craft villages tourist traps?

Hanoi—Vietnam's Capital City

There's nothing like Hanoi to show what Vietnam is—its soul and its dreams. Its tree-lined streets, its Old Quarter surrounding the calm Hoan Kiem Lake and its misty days are part of who we are, having now been in Vietnam for some months.

Touring some of the traditional craft villages, you will have a good picture of what life was like years ago in Vietnam.

© 2013 Mary Norton