Fuck Agent Orange. Buy Handicrafts ART instead

Handicrafts Art

As part of a day tour to the Cao Dai Temple and the Cu Chi tunnels, we were also taken to an art factory (Handicrafts ART) where Vietnamese people suffering from the effects of Agent Orange are employed.

Handicrafts Art
One of the men from Handicrafts Art

What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was a horrific toxic chemical that the US Army used during The American War. For a decade, it was dropped from planes with the aim of destroying forest coverage and farmland used by the Vietnamese people.

Up to four million people were exposed to it and around one million Vietnamese now suffer from serious health issues because of it.

The chemical is capable of damaging genes and can cause anything from terminal illness such as unusual cancers to other horrible illnesses such as hodgkin’s lymphoma. The aftermath has seen a horrendous number of birth deformities and deaths and will carry on affecting families for generations.

The use of Agent Orange in Vietnam resulted in massive legal consequences for The US and lawsuits filed on behalf of both US and Vietnamese veterans sought compensation for damages.

Handicrafts Art
Cutting mother of pearly to be used in the art

What is Handicrafts Art?

This small enterprise employs people who have been directly affected by the effects of Agent Orange. It supports people who might not be eligible for work by teaching them the fine art method of lacquer painting.

The artwork is a combination of wood, eggshell, mother of pearl, paint and lacquer and by using intricate methods and meticulous attention to detail the artists create beautiful art based on traditional Vietnamese cultural symbols.

The art is part of a long process, which you can watch at every stage, and the final outcome is stunning! This is something that you really have to see.

Handicrafts Art
The art production line
Handicrafts Art
Handicrafts Art; Traditional lacquer painting

The history of lacquer painting

Lacquer painting or sơn mài as it is known in Vietnam is a famous ancient art technique. This style of painting has been found in ancient Vietnamese tombs dating back to the third and fourth centuries for the purpose of decoration and preservation.

During the 1930s it was fused with French techniques and was then considered as a distinct form of fine art.

Handicrafts Art
Duck egg shells used for the painting

Where is it?

Although Google lists this place as Handicapped Handicraft (Handicrafts ART)  it also goes by the name of NAMQUOC.

It’s about 25km north of Saigon, deep in the Vietnamese country (which is beautiful by the way) and the factory and shop are open to the public.

Anybody can visit and have a tour and we definitely recommend that you do. You can drive here by yourself, there is plenty of parking and the roads are in an average condition.

Book A Tour Here

Alternatively, you can book a tour here. We went with TNK Tours (opens in new tab)

Handicrafts Art
Some of the finished art work drying

Spend some time with the artists

We made our tour a little late because we insisted on spending some time with artists and I’m so glad we did.

They invited the kids to sit with them to watch how they made the art and then have a go themselves. It was an incredibly humbling experience with some thoroughly kind and generous people.

Handicrafts Art
The first steps to creating the art is gluing duck shell into place.
Handicrafts Art
An artist teaching Immy how to create lacquer painting.

What did we buy?

I fell in love with the lacquered art as did the kids and we purchased a jewellery box, a picture, some chopsticks, a fan and I’d go back to buy more!

The bonus is that they will ship large purchases for you and you can pay with a bank card.

Handicrafts Art
Art work

Can you buy it online?

Yes, yes, yes!! It’s wonderful because you can. Head over to the Namquoc website and contact them to place an order. We are so thrilled with our pieces and I would fill our (imaginary) house with loads of artwork because I find it really beautiful.

They ship to twenty-six different countries so there’s nothing stopping you lol.

Handicrafts Art
Mother of pearl with lacquer painting
Handicrafts Art
Finished art drying

Where Could You Stay In Saigon

I flew into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with the 3 kids and this was our first big international adventure back-packing together. In hindsight, we weren’t as adventurous as we could have been and we have definitely acquired these skills the more we travelled.

We stayed in this budget hotel (opens in new window), it was really close to the Ben Thahn Street food market (6-minute walk). It’s also close to the independence palace.

Alternatively, use this interactive map to search for everything from flights to hotels and self-service apartments. 

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On our recent trip to Saigon, we visited an art factory 25km from the city. The art centre employs people who have suffered from the effects of agent orange by teaching them the traditional art of lacquer painting. We were mesmerised by the art and were welcomed in by artists from Handicapped Handicrafts​ who allowed our kids to sit and help them in the process. I cannot recommend them highly enough and we can't wait to visit again and buy more art :)