Vietnam Cultural, Hung Yen, A thick Scent In The Air

Sep 18 15:59 2011 John Mayer Print This Article

Trang Trinh visits a traditional craft village, which is applying modern technology to boost the capacity and quality of its prized product: incense sticks...

“Trang Trinh visits a traditional craft village,Guest Posting which is applying modern technology to boost the capacity and quality of its prized product: incense sticks.”

Riding down Highway 5 in Hung Yen province I can smell the fragrance of incense in the air, and I know we are near  our destination: Cao Thon village.

This traditional craft village in Hung Yen city's Bao Khe commune has been producing incense sticks for a hundred years, mainly supplying Hanoi, and other provinces in northern Vietnam, but also some neighboring countries.

"We sell mostly wholesale, but if visitors come to buy incense here directly we will welcome them!" says one local incense producer, who invites us into his workshop.

The fragrance of the incense is even thicker inside. Everything is covered by incense dust and other materials used to produce joss sticks. In the yard, two women are collecting incense sticks as a little girl — the workshop owner's daughter — runs around.

The largest and the most important area of the workshop is the yard where all the incense is dried. All the sticks are placed carefully on a bamboo frame and left to dry in the afternoon sunshine. The sunlight adds a yellow sheen to the sticks.

"People think this job is hard and dirty, but for me, it is not so bad," says Nguyen Thi Hang, one of the workers. "You might think a bunch of 500 incense sticks looks heavy, but in fact, I can carry it easily."

As a cloud rumbles overhead, Hang quickly clears the yard. Her reaction is instantaneous, near instinctive. She is 25 years old this year and already has 10 years of experience in the trade.

"I am very familiar with this job, and I do not want to change as I have been doing it since I was a kid," she adds.

The two women continue working as we snap some pictures. The sun starts to set casting a golden red light across the yellow of the incense dust to create a beautiful melange of colours, which signifies the deep tradition of the village.

Afterwards, we visit the house of Mai Huu Phai, a 50yearold man whose family home doubles as a workshop like many other's Cao Thon. There are piles of incense in every corner of the house, across the table, nestled in armchairs and even on his bed.

After inhaling deeply on his water pipe, Phai invites us to share some green tea while he introduces some of his products.

"We have two special machines for making incense," he says with pride. "Many workshops also have this kind of machine but these are the latest ones from Taiwan. Each one costs VND30 million.

“In recent times, industrialization and modernization have penetrated the lives of villagers living in rural Vietnam. A traditional village such as Cao Thon has benefited greatly from higher productivity.

"We started to make incense with these new machines a few months ago and have not exported to Hanoi yet, but the fragrance is stronger, more pleasant and lasts for longer as all ingredients are embedded in the wood," says Phai.

The price of incense made by traditional methods is VND40,000 for a batch of 100 incense sticks. Machine made incense sticks cost VND10.000 more per batch.

According to Phai, people here will shortly notice his workshop's conspicuous productivity and in a few year's times he believes every workshop in the village will be using imported machines.

Life in Cao Thon village has changed as a result of this revamped traditional trade. Living conditions have improved in general. However, people like Phai still play an important part in maintaining the village's traditional values and heritage. He trains the younger generation how to make incense both with old and new technology.

Phai and many other local residents recently joined the Hung Yen business association. This association was established in 2009 with the aim of helping its members to maintain and develop the traditional business of Hung Yen province. It's believed that with such skillful workmen like Phai. And with the help from local government and new technology, this traditional trade will retain its traditional values while boosting capacity and quality.

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John Mayer
John Mayer

The Timeout

This summer, take Vietnam tours at Hung Yen and discover amazing culture here and more Cambodia tours, Lao tours and Thailand tours.

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