Are you trying to source products to sell online? Looking for new suppliers outside China? Or, perhaps you’re just an unconventional traveller who’s interested Vietnam’s manufacturing-miracle.
Whatever the motivation, some of our favourite places to visit in Vietnam are the manufacturing and craft villages around Hanoi. Some manufacturing villages have ancient origins as provisioners of high-ends goods for Vietnam’s bygone imperial courts. Some villages had their entire populace singularly dedicated to a specialized, well-honed craft such as pottery, silk-weaving, bronze-casting, bamboo-weaving, and more…
In this post, we showcase 13 interesting specialty villages where you can find high-concentrations of manufacturers and craftsmen singularly dedicated to a particular craft. Most of the towns are within a 2-hour motorbike ride from Hanoi, hidden in places rarely visited by tourists.
Whether you are looking for suppliers, or just want to witness a craftsmanship that has been lost in the deindustrialized West, these manufacturing villages are super interesting places to visits…
1) The Wood Furniture Village of Đồng Kỵ
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Đồng Kỵ is approximately 25 km (1 hour) away from Hanoi. The handcraft village has exploded in popularity, among both tourists and traders alike. The town is bustling with many retail shops and wholesale shops selling incredibly ornate carved-wooden furniture: tables, chairs, beds, cabinets, altars, wooden statues and religious ornaments, “antique” clocks. The variety of products and richness of woods (red oak, mahogany) are a feast for the eyes.
In particular, the wooden sofa-sets are truly gorgeous — albeit very uncomfortable. They are typical of upper/middle-class Vietnamese families and hotels to impress and seat guests in a receiving room while being served tea (if you’ve been to Vietnam, you’ll know immediately what we mean).
The success of the Đồng Kỵ market has spurred neighbouring town to ply their own wood-carving and export businesses, such as Hương Mạc and Phu Khe. Visitors looking for suppliers will have a large area to explore.
Some say that the residents of Đồng Kỵ key are not in fact the best or most talented carpenters or carvers. Instead, they’re uniquely attempt at trading and responding to market needs — they import rough-hewn products from nearby villages and quickly add intricacies and finishings for fast and effective value add.
Regardless, Đồng Kỵ is a fun, rich, and well-trod tourist destination to witness the hustle of Vietnamese craftsman.
2) Bamboo & Rattan-Weaving Village of Phú Vinh
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Before Vietnam tapped into the global-trade system, bamboo was the choice local material to make all sorts of domestic implements and kitchenware, such as baskets, colanders, backpacks, even tables and chairs. Cheap plastics have largely replaced all or most of these products which were once made by bamboo.
However, the bamboo weavers of Phú Vinh didn’t skip a beat: they adapted their weaving to a variety of fashion-accessories and home-furnishings, on both the low-end and high-end. The bamboo-export market is large and growing, especially for foreign customers hungry for natural-fibre products with an “ethnic” aesthetic. For instance, we really love the bamboo purses and lampshades (and so do Europeans and Australians, seemingly).
You can easily walk around Phú Vinh and find plenty of manufacturing-families and wholesalers a like. The manufacturers are usually small 4-5 family-operations who weave products for Vietnamese-owned wholesalers and distributors. They are easy to find and watch, working away diligently in either their homes or local factories. They don’t have good English capabilities, nor are they tech-savvy or business-savvy enough to sell directly to international customers. At most, they may post to Zalo (a Vietnamese social-network). Instead, if you want retail suppliers, or if you want to import large orders into your country, you’ll have to speak with the nearby distributors/wholesalers; they have showrooms where you can see products and chat about order-size, price, shipping, certificates, etc.
Just walk around the village. Look for small signs like “Xưởng May Tre Dan” (bamboo weaving factory)– can just walk in and chat! The factories and wholesalers will be super amateur in all their outward appearance: there will be kids running around, people may be sleeping on the floor, the showroom may double as a family kitchen. But don’t be discouraged, they are amazing weavers.
3) Copper & Bronze Casting Village of Đại Bái
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There are many villages around Hanoi which are renown for bronze and copper products. Here we focus on Đại Bái, approximately 35 kilometres east of Hanoi in Bắc Ninh.
In the past, the bronze-casters of Đại Bái they made all sorts of tools and common household products, such as pots and pans and agricultural tools. Now, their focus has shifted to higher-end products that are more decorative and/or quasi-religious. For example, if you visit the Vietnamese pagodas, you’ll notice ornate bronze statues of cranes and turtles, vases, massive temple gongs or bells, and the traditional Vietnamese bronze “drums”.
One type of impressive (and impractical) products are the massive paper-burning cauldrons — if you’ve been in Vietnam for over a month, you’ve likely notice the occasional gathering of people to burn paper-effigies as part of ancestor-worship. Increasingly, as young families move into suburban condos, the developers will purchase giant bronze cauldrons to facilitate their tenants’ paper-burning rituals, instead of letting start fires on the street.
For traders looking for marketable products that appeal to Western consumers, you may be interested in products like bronze buddha statues, or custom-made home-decor items like decorative railings, iron gates, and/or gable decorations — one of our favourite dream business-ideas is to design Victorian gable-decorations for import into American/Canada.
To find retailers and wholesalers, head to the street Đường Không Tên in Đại Bái — you can’t miss it. The street and back-allies stretch for a kilometre or more, lined with various small stores selling bronze and copper-cast products.
4) The Suit Tailors of Vân Từ
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If you are a man visiting Vietnam, there is no excuse not to get a tailored suit.
Of course, you can go to the tourist shops around the Old Quarter of Hanoi or old-town Hoi An, but for a little more adventure, and to see actual tailor workshops, head to Vân Từ, about 1 hour south of Hanoi on CT01. The drive takes you through pleasant paddies and duck-farms and rural-charm.
The little village has only one or two main streets, and about 20-40% of the shops seem to be dedicated specifically to suit-making. Look for signs like Complet Veston.
There are plenty of retail shops as well as many 5-10 person wholesale factory that don’t seem to mind if street-people wander in. The retail shops seem to be more focused on Vietnamese-men’s fashion, whereas the wholesalers have more European and Korean styles for export. You can expect retail prices between $100-$300 USD for a two-piece suit, and an extra $50-100 for a three-piece. You’ll likely need to speak Vietnamese to find the best deals.
Importers looking for suppliers will find plenty of experienced teams willing to take on large orders. For savvy tourists, there are great retail deals, especially by dealing directly with workers doing big orders for foreign clients — they usually have a lot of leftover material that is already expensed, and they’re allowed to use it as a sort of side tailoring side-hustle.
5) Ceramic Village of Bát Tràng
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Bát Tràng is a small village just across the river from Hanoi. The village is famous for exquisite pottery and ceramics, such as the iconic blue-on-white traditional vases that adorn the houses of wealthy Vietnamese families, as well as modernist-chic that find at Ikea or a Canadian boutique candle-store. Mostly, the items are meant for domestic consumption, catering to traditional Vietnamese notions of a wealth and prestige.
There are plenty of wholesalers, but also many of retail-facing storefronts where you can pick up a few items. Bát Tràng has also become a quasi-popular tourist destination. For example, tourists can attend by bus-tours and attend pottery-making workshops. There are delicious street-food options in the quaint town-square.
We’re personally not huge fans of pottery, but it worth to trip to get a sense of traditional Vietnamese aesthetics.
6) Fabric and Fast-Fashion Factories of Ninh Hiệp
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Approximately 20 km nort-west of Hanoi is Ninh Hiệp, a town famous for its huge variety of specialty fabrics and fashion accessories (buttons, zippers, lace, etc), and the go-to production centre for small and independent clothing designers in North Vietnam. Ninh Hiệp specializes in materials and garment manufacturing, but also has plenty of retail clothing shops as well.
The town boasts of 3 giant fabric markets (Chợ), each of which has a maze of highly specialized shops and booths focused on particular materials (e.g. some are focused entirely on denim, others on linen, others on wedding lace, etc).
The prices are cheap and variety is amazing. However, Ninh Hiệp isn’t really known for its high-end quality — it is more suited to fast-fashion chic and/or generic clothing. It is like the “wet market” of fabrics.
In the town surrounding the fabric markets are many small and medium-sized sewing factories. A few are super-professional (like Xưởng May Ninh Hiệp); most, however, are family-run businesses with an amateurish vibe; for example, you may see kids running around and bootstrapped protocols. But don’t let such appearances fool you: the workers are very skilled and highly effective.
If you have dreams of designing your own clothing-line, you can easily go to Ninh Hiệp to source materials and find a company to produce your products and export them. Many smaller brands and designers in Vietnam do exactly this. Ninh Hiệp isn’t really known for supplying garments for large international brands (like Nike) — they have larger factories elsewhere in Vietnam with proper safety, security and QC-protocols.
7) Silk Weaving Village of Vạn Phúc
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Vạn Phúc was once a great silk-weaving village on the outskirts of Hanoi, renown for making some of the finest silk in Vietnam. In the past, silk was associated with luxury and nobility. Today, it has been side-lined by more modern material — and with it, so has the focus and prominence of Vạn Phúc likewise subsided.
However, there are still plenty of retail shops and wholesale silk-weavers to visit. Visitors on the hunt for suppliers will be delighted by the variety and quality of silk, with many competitors all bunched together in close proximity.
Visitors can witness the tooling and silk-making process first-hand, thanks to various revitalization projects that seek to promote tourism and the craft-village’s traditions. The tourist area can be a bit corny, but visual spectacle of all the reams and reams of patterned silk are indeed interesting.
However, the indefatigable force of urban sprawl and soaring real estate prices have enticed many silk-families to sell their properties to housing and condo-developments. So, you should come visit Vạn Phúc before it is swallowed by Hanoi!
8) The Musical Instrument Makers of Đào Xá
Whether you are a music aficionado, or a collector of fine handcrafted items, or you just want a fun trip outside of Hanoi — we highly recommend visiting the musical instrument making village of Đào Xá.
The town itself is delightful, sitting in an expanse of rice-paddies and duck-farms, just 2 hours west of Hanoi. The instrument-makers are hidden away in a maze of small alleys, with workshops attached to their own homes — you’ll need someone adept at Vietnamese to ask the town-residents where to find them.
You can see hand-made đàn tranh (plucked zithers) and đàn nguyệt (two string banjo) and other traditional Vietnamese stringed instruments that are challenging to master, and probably more difficult to maintain.
Such hand-powered instrument-making isn’t necessarily scalable, nor is there likely to be a huge consumer demand in the West. However, for importers looking for high-end curiosities and fine-art pieces, the instruments of Đào Xá are exquisite, valuable, and worthy of any collector.
Their instrument-making craft has been handed-down generation upon generation along family-lines, surviving even the dark periods of command-and-control economics in which such activities were forbidden.
HISTORY: Many manufacturing villages disappeared during the hey-day of socialism, in which private-property and private-commerce were illegal. Those that survived have found revitalized markets as suppliers to Western and East-Asian markets, or as traditional luxury goods for the booming Vietnamese middle-class.
9) Grass Weavers of Kim Sơn
The grass-weaving district of Kim Sơn is in Ninh Bình province, approximately 2.5 hours away from Hanoi. As a visitor to Hanoi, chances are you’ll do a day-trip to the immensely popular karst-landscape of Ninh Bình, so it shouldn’t be too much of a detour to swing by the coastal area of Kim Sơn to see the grass weavers. There factories are spread-out and geared to operations rather than tourism. To find the weaver workshops, look for signs like “Xuởng Cói Bèo” along the streets here .
Technically, the grass weavers aren’t weaving “grass”: they use sedge (called Cói, or Cyperus malaccensis) and/or water hyacinth (called Bèo, or Pontederia), which look like long-blades of grass when dried and used for weaving.
Whatever the material, make wonderful ornaments and small furnishings that are immensely popular both domestically and internationally — especially for Western consumers who want natural-fibre “tribal” products. Among the grass weavers’ products are: mats, area rugs, vases and baskets, hats, purses, display ornaments, and wall-hangings. You’ll see similar products and styles made by the bamboo-weavers in Phú Vinh — a natural-fibre competitor. We especially like the sedge mirrors.
Funnily enough, the weavers of Kim Sơn don’t make the conical hats that are iconically Vietnamese (those are made in a different Village).
If do you visit Kim Sơn, be sure to visit some of the Catholic churches and landmark, such as the wonderful Phát Diệm cathedral which has a funny East-meets-West architectural style. Kim Sơn boosts some of the highest density of Catholics in Vietnam: about 46% of Kim Son residents are Catholic.
10) Silver Smiths of Định Công
The town of Định Công was once revered for its exquisite silver-smiths, whose craft was passed-down generation by generation. They still make all sorts of intricate jewelry and wondrous display-pieces. You can find beautiful bracelets, necklaces, and amazing home ornaments.
Today, the once-village has been entirely enveloped by Hanoi sprawl. A few silver-retail shops can be found around Định Công Hạ street. There are a few hard-to-find workshops, such as at the Đình Thôn Hạ pagoda — look for it nestled within a strange, quasi-religious compound with dilapidated temples, lotus-ponds, junk-piles, and a small hut for silver-smiths in south-east corner. The workers here make custom-orders for export to overseas labels. They also get get income from the a few tour groups who pass through.
The amount of silver workers in Định Công have dwindled dramatically over the years. The few remaining masters have a difficult time recruiting young people to undertake the intricate and arduous (and toxic) craft.
The workshop (Xưởng) at the Đình Thôn Hạ pagoda is fun to visit, at least to witness the fine-handiwork of the smiths, look at the few showrooms, and perhaps get some good deals. Also, the surround town has a lot of tasty Vietnamese food options.
11) Metal Workers & Machinists – Lý Nhân and Vĩnh Lộc
For importers looking for custom-designed small metal implements, like knives and farm-tools, head to Lý Nhân, approximately 60 km to the north-west of Hanoi.
For more specialty metal products for industrial uses, like sheet-metal or machine parts, check out the metal workers of Vĩnh Lộc.
Within Hanoi itself, there are also metal workers making a wide variety of small tools and commercial kitchenware along the streets of Hàng Điếu / Hàng Thiếc and Lò Rèn.
12) Paper Masters of Đông Hồ
This specialty village of Đông Hồ makes a strange and distinctly Vietnamese paper-product used in quasi-religious ritualisitic burnings. Without going into too much detail (read more here), the Vietnamese have a monthly ritual of using paper-products in the shape of luxury goods (like houses, cars, iphones, and more) and then burning them on the street as type of sacrifice for their ancestors.
Forget why, just know that a) it is a huge business, and b) the paper-simulacra are incredibly fancy — some of the burning-products are like ephemeral art-pieces.
The craftsmen are incredibly talented, and concentrated in the Đông Hồ, approximately 31 km to the east of Hanoi.
Of all the manufacturers detailed in this blog-post, it may be that the paper-masters of Đông Hồ are the least relevant to foreign markets. However, if a cunning business-person were to need a cheap source of well-crafted paper-art (for cards, fancy packaging, wedding invitations, dolls, Asian-Mexican fusion pinatas?), the craftsmen of Đông Hồ could be an interesting and out-of-the-box supplier for designs and production.
13) The Embroidery Village of Quất Động
Embroidery-art was once a must-have decoration among European elite households, but has since all but disappeared. Likewise in Vietnam, this painstaking and expensive craft of making embroidered thread-paintings has become less and less culturally-relevant, although you can still see a few very-old masters in Villages like Quất Động.
Some of the art-pieces are near photo-realistic; some are more-dazzling than actual paintings. There are landscapes, portraits, village-scenes, and more. Many pieces can take months or years to make. To behold one, is to look upon a timeless luxury and craft that is dying out.
In the past, there were many more embroidery masters and apprentices in Quất Động, and the entire town was somehow involved in the manufacture of inputs or production of art. Today, we could only find one elder master, and she is having a tough time attracting young apprentices to carry-on the tradition — this is despite the fact that she can sell her thread-paintings for tens of thousands of dollars.
We mention Quất Động, not to inspire any business-ideas per se, but to raise awareness about this amazing artform which needs new patrons and more global visbility, least it be lost forever (as it has been lost in the West).
Learn more about the artisanal Guild Streets of Hanoi, where you can find a variety of products and handicrafts made along Hanoi’s historic manufacturing neighbourhoods.
If you are interested in learning more about other specialty products and manufacturing villages, please let us know in the comments!