Beautiful Vietnam
“New life” in Son Dong craft village
  • | | August 17, 2010 11:33 AM

Son Dong craft village in Hoai Duc district, Hanoi, is Vietnam’s largest craft village making wood statues of Buddha and objects of worship.

The village has set many national records for the quantity and quality of its wooden products and the number of people involved in the profession.

Arriving in the village in early July, the first impression for tourists is the strange but interesting sound of people busing carving the wood. In every nook and cranny of the village, the workers are concentrating on different kinds of statues. Each worker has his own task; some saw the timber while others carve the wood and paint the statues.

After painstakingly painting a horizontal lacquered board, Nguyen Viet Da, an 85 year-old artisan in the village, tells visitors about his village‘s profession. According to Da, the imitation antique statues are often made from three different types of timber brought in from the central highlands, Hai Phong or even imported from Cambodia. Only jackfruit wood can be used to carve the reproduction antique Buddha statues, as it is soft, durable and easy to carve.

From the raw timber, the skillful workers easily carve statues of Amitabha (the Buddha of Infinite Light) and the God of Prosperity, or create horizontal lacquered boards with parallel sentences.

The workers must go through dozens of steps before finishing a product including selecting the wood, carving it, then painting it. This highly skilled work requires great patience and concentration.

“These wooden objects are for worship, therefore the maker must have a good heart and mind,” said Da.

Sharing his point of view, Nguyen Viet Loi, another popular artisan in the village said the statutes can only be perfect if the workers put all their concentration into the work. This is why the statues made in Son Dong village are quite easily distinguished from others.

Sustainably preserving and developing the craft village and tourism is a concern of all the workers in Son Dong workers. To achieve that, the village has made considerable changes. Along with wooden statues, the villagers are now making objects that contain traditional and spiritual elements of the Vietnamese culture.

The familiar image of the areca nut, betel leaf, calabash and luffa can now be seen in many of the village’s unique products. Moreover, the statues of Buddha and fairies are now being made colourful and small enough to fit in a man’s hand.

Entering the shop of Nguyen Chi Thanh, is one of the trailblazers in making new products, and when visitors enter his shop they feel that they are in a mini museum displaying carefully designed wooden statues.

Thanh said that these new products have been very popular and preferred by the international markets. Foreign visitors are willing to pay high prices for these products, which helps generate work for most of the villagers.

However, the villagers still want their products to reach domestic customers and for their village to become more popular and attract more domestic tourists.

“I am considering a price frame for our products so that they will be appropriate for each particular market and also trying to fill a niche in the home market,” said Thanh.





Wood carving has existed in the village for more than 300 years and during some periods it seemed that the villagers could not maintain their handicraft. However, some of them secretly preserved their traditions and passed them on to the younger generations. Nguyen Duc Dau (1896-1988) is respected by the whole village for his outstanding skill. In 1986, he opened training courses for the villagers and worked with the Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Art to provide them with the necessary scientific knowledge and techniques for their work. Thanks to these courses, the traditional craft has been well preserved and today many villagers are owners of a traditional woodworking shop.


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