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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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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