Early one morning, some friends and I went to the hat market in Chuong village about 30 kilometers from the center of Hanoi.
The craft-market in Phuong Trung Commune, Thanh Oai District specializes in conical hats and hat-making materials. It is open on days 4, 10, 14, 20, 24 and 30 of every lunar month.
Conical hats aren’t easy to make, it requires skill and experience.
For a light stable hat, there are many phases to the process. Choosing good leaves is a very important step. Palm leaves need to be rubbed in sand then dried in the sun until a very light brown. Then they are covered by fabric and ironed to be smooth without tearing. Makers often use sulfur to make them whiter and to preserve the color.
The hat is shaped around rings of bamboo and sewn together with silk thread. Then the hats are dried to make sure they don’t go moldy.
We arrived at 6 a.m. to a very busy market scene. Some brought hats to sell, some came to buy hats or materials, while others came just to look around like us.
As the sun came up the hats caught the light and looked almost white. We found a small tea shop in front of the village and ordered some tea, peanut candies and guava pieces, a bit of peace away from Hanoi. Cooling off with bamboo fans we listened to the stories old villagers told.
An old woman who was chewing betel said “No one gets rich by making hats but we make a living, so we will pass it on to the younger generation and our village will preserve the craft.” She said each hat is priced from VND10,000 to VND25,000.
Confident that this special craft would never die out, we left when the sun climbed above the bamboo.
The hat market is very busy from early morning
At Chuong Village, women sell the bamboo rings that make the conical hat frames
A woman loads hat frames on her bicycle to go to the market – Photos: La Anh Tuan