Cycling or walking through peaceful Bao La village in the city of Hue puts you in the heart of rural life, where buffalo graze across lush, green fields just steps away from working artisans. Crafting basketry for more than 600 years, Bao La artisans take pride in their traditional bamboo knitting products, famed for durability and beauty.
An essential part of Vietnamese daily life, bamboo is used to craft everything from baskets to furniture, musical instruments and environmentally friendly bamboo straws. Simple, practical household items in Bao La village are specifically created with Lo O, a long, straight type of bamboo used for generations. Historically, the men of the village sourced and transported it before the elderly, women and children processed and created the products to send to the markets.
Strolling through the village offers an impressive showcase, with basketry at centre stage. Kitchenware and handbags are among the items that fill suitcases as ideal cultural souvenirs, while bamboo knitting chairs and tables stand next to exquisite rattan lamps woven into a variety of shapes and sizes, ready to decorate homes and hotels.
In both Vietnamese culture and in Buddhism, the bamboo tree symbolises virtues such as strength, diligence and adaptability. It has graced fairy tales, folk songs and proverbs.
On a more practical note, bamboo is considered a sustainable natural resource as it is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, taking only three to five years to mature, and able to quickly regenerate after being harvested. Bamboo groves also release 35% more oxygen than most tree species, potentially creating effective carbon sinks, while the material makes sturdy, durable products, which means they won’t end up in landfills as quickly.
For a time, the allure of such bamboo products had faded as plastic began to dominate the market for household items in Vietnam, as it did for the rest of the world. But the establishment of the Bao La Knitting Collective brought with it technology and support for the artisans of Bao La, to assist them in delivering their products to a world that’s turning its eye toward a sustainable future.
Exploring the village will also reveal that many of the artisans are women and elders, ensuring equality and opportunity throughout the village. Best of all, with new and innovative techniques keeping the tradition alive in today’s market, there is hope that younger generations will continue to learn and pass on Bao La’s cherished bamboo knitting heritage.
Bao La is just one of the many craft villages in Hue – a city known for the grand palaces and temples of the Nguyen dynasty. It was the royal artisans of Hue that inspired skilled creatives from across the country to converge in the region and establish a homeland of traditional crafts.
Bronze casting is one of the oldest in Vietnam and benefits from new technology to ensure waste and pollution is minimised. It’s still practised in Kinh Nhon and Ban Bo villages, along with the Phuong Duc bronze casting guild on the banks of the Perfume River.
Wild grass grown on a wetland has provided sustainable material for the eco-friendly mats Pho Trach village is famous for. Sundried for about a week after harvesting, it becomes durable for weaving and has long supplemented the rice-farming income of the village. Locals sleep on these mats to warm up in winter and cool down in summer, but the material is also used to make handbags, hats and homeware with colourful trims and eye-catching designs.
Perhaps the most recognisable of the crafts are the Thanh Tien paper flowers, with bunches of lotus and sunflowers symbolising festivals and art exhibitions. Spanning more than 300 years, the delicate and detailed art holds sacred and folkloric beliefs within its beautiful exterior.
From meeting the masters of bamboo knitting to choosing sustainable treasures as keepsakes, there’s always more than meets the eye while discovering traditional crafts in Vietnam. The heart and soul of generations is woven into products that blend culture, history and eco-friendly traditions with secrets we can all learn from.
Immerse in Vietnam’s intriguing craft traditions when you stay at Banyan Tree Lang Co, with tours to Bao La Bamboo Knitting Village and bamboo knitting products available at our retail outlet, Banyan Tree Gallery.