There are a few things that the Vietnamese do incredibly well and one of them is making beautifully elaborate works of ceramic.
Ceramics in Vietnam are part of a highly cultural tapestry of handicrafts which also includes embroidery, calligraphy, weaving and painting among many, many others.
Over the course of the country’s history, Vietnamese ceramics have improved to the point of reaching international standard, gracing rooms across Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond.
Follow Indochina Sails, one of the most trusted Halong Bay cruise companies, as we take a look at Vietnamese ceramics from their prehistoric beginnings to the present day.
A brief history of Vietnamese ceramics
Given that Vietnam’s infatuation with pottery began in the Bronze Age, it is no wonder than Vietnamese ceramics are now a huge part of the country’s identity. In some handicraft villages in present-day Vietnam, the techniques deployed in the Bronze Age (known as Dong Son in northern Vietnam) have changed little, and Vietnamese ceramics coming from here have a lot to thank their distant ancestors for.
Around the same time in south Vietnam and Borneo, Sa Huynh culture was developing its own pottery style for use in tombs and chests holding the possessions of the recently deceased. Both Sa Huynh and Dong Son cultures across modern-day Vietnam laid the foundations for the country’s deepening obsession with decorative pottery.
During the following ten centuries, the Vietnamese ceramics of the time took a much more Chinese approach. This ended in the 11th century when the Ly Dynasty vanquished China, made Thang Long (Hanoi) the capital and inspired a period of great national pride.
Jade-glazed ceramics coming from Hanoi reached international acclaim across East Asia for the next 200 years. The Ly Dynasty was followed by the Tran Dynasty, which continued a legacy of pottery making in northern Vietnam until 1400. The centre of production was moved from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa during this time, and the style of pottery was changed from green glaze to iron brown, but Vietnamese ceramics continued a glorious golden age across the country and the continent.
Vietnamese ambassadors to China brought Chinese techniques back to their homeland during this period, teaching them to villages that would go on to become powerhouses of ceramics in Vietnam. Bat Trang is now internationally famous in ceramic circles, but its history stretches far back to the early 15th century. The village perfected the art of white ceramic, while the nearby villages of Tho Ha and Phu Lang created beautiful red and yellow ceramic respectively.
During this time, Vietnam found a style that it would stick with to the present day. Blue colours on a white background became a style beloved of the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam’s final imperial family between 1802 and 1945.
White and blue ceramics taking on a royal tone are now referred to as Bleu de Hué, a highly sought-after style of ceramic that is produced widely today. Bat Trang is most famous for this style and it is hoped that an increase in production from this tiny village will one day be able to rival Chinese and French porcelain as the best ceramic in the world.
Where to buy Vietnamese ceramics?
Ceramics from Vietnam may be tough to transport home, but this does not stop many international tourists from loading any extra space in their suitcases with handcrafted ceramics from across the country. While ceramic can be bought in the major cities of Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend heading straight to the village source, where your unique souvenirs are more authentic and usually cheaper.
Bat Trang – The majority of people looking for where to buy ceramics in Vietnam will settle on Bat Trang, a tiny village with a big reputation. Bat Trang is located in the outskirts of Hanoi and is one of the biggest centres for ceramics in Vietnam, attracting both casual browsers and serious collectors. Many utensils and decorative ceramics have made it into many homes across Vietnam due to their cheap price and durable quality, found across the ceramic markets of the village and far beyond it.
Phu Lang – Along with Bat Trang, Phu Lang was founded under the Tran Dynasty and has been producing fabulous works of art to this day. The village is located in the province of Bac Ninh, which neighbours Hanoi to the northeast and provides easy access for tourists on a daytrip. Phu Lang established its reputation in the 15th century with yellow ceramics, but now focuses on large jars and pots for household use.
Thanh Ha – This highly picturesque village matches much of the beauty of neighbouring Hoi An and captures a part of the historic port town’s enormous charm. Located on the banks of the Thu Bon River in central Vietnam, Thanh Ha produces red pottery from rustic-looking houses. The large pots and bowls created here are usually for domestic use, but smaller trinkets are also available for visitors looking to buy Vietnamese ceramics in the setting of a gorgeous red-brick village.
Bau Truc – The notable differences in ceramics from Bau Truc are a product of the alternative techniques used in the village. Bau Truc is located in Ninh Thuan province, near to the southern town of Dalat, and its beautiful works of art promote the history of the Cham people, a civilisation that succeeded the pottery-loving Sa Huynh during the Bronze and Iron ages. In Bau Truc, pottery is fired in an open space as opposed to a kiln; a truly ancient approach to Vietnamese ceramics that has yielded gorgeous results across brown jars with Cham motifs.
Bien Hoa – Another village inspired by ancient Cham traditions is Bien Hoa, located in Dong Nai on the fringes of Ho Chi Minh City. The ‘village’ has since bloomed into a full city after reaching international acclaim from places such as Japan, France and Thailand. In many exhibitions throughout the 20th century, Bien Hoa’s terracotta products and copper-speckled glaze completely sold out and the city was inundated with requests for more. Visitors can see both ancient and modern methods in use when shopping for Vietnamese ceramics in Bien Hoa.
Vinh Long – Definitely a contender for the prettiest village to buy Vietnamese ceramics, Vinh Long lies on the banks of the Co Chien River in the expansive Mekong Delta. The ceramic-making part of this town may be hard to find, but those who manage it are rewarded with stunning views of gigantic red-brick kilns and perfectly rounded pottery. Vinh Long is set right into the lush nature of the Mekong Delta and this adds very much to its charm. It is also helped by the beautiful red ceramic that takes the form of many decorative items across the village’s humble workshops.
The Gorgeous Ceramics of Indochine Cruise – The most luxurious cruise ship in Halong Bay and Lanha Bay
Vietnam’s incredible ceramic tradition finds a home at Indochine Cruise, the newest ship to introduce luxury cruising in Lanha Bay. Our marriage of ancient Vietnamese and colonial French styles naturally led to a focus on ceramics, which feature heavily in the cultural make-up of both countries.
In many communal areas across Indochine Cruise, including the restaurant and the lounge, visitors can find incredible works of Vietnamese ceramics proudly displayed as opulently decorative touches.
Our lounge, for example, features jars and pots handcrafted in Bat Trang across not just bleu de Hue style, but also more elaborate works of many vibrant colours. These are placed in a central display case to boost the luxury of the cruise as well as ground it in attractive Vietnamese tradition.
In the cabins, passengers will sleep under an eye-catching piece of art completely unique to Indochine Cruise. Each cabin is enhanced by the presence of an incredible lacquer artwork, starting at the head of the bed and spreading across the ceiling in beautiful fashion.
Each design is completely individual and created by the artisans of Ha Thai, a village 30km south of Hanoi. About 650 families here are professional lacquer painters and have been since the 17th century.
Indochine Cruise - Indochina Sails
Pier Address: N22, Port 2, Tuan Chau Island, Halong City, QuangNinh Province