SOVIET STYLE DESIGN
LACQUER & SCULPTURE
AO DAI - NATIONAL DRESS
Nguyen Thanh Binh
IN THE RAIN
By Mai Anh
The Course of Life
By Troung Be
A lacquer process
H'mong Indigo and More
Vietnam Arts Tours
Artists are the ideal ambassdors to their cultures, and nowhere is this more true than in Vietnam. Most prominent local artists are fluent in English, have traveled abroad, as well as being astute observers of their own culture. We're always happy to make introductions with artists in Hanoi, where many of the country's leading artists are based, most of whom we know personally from our long experience since organizing the very first arts tours of Vietnam in the mid-1990s—a time when artists were only beginning to emerge from a long post-war slumber and poor economy. What a difference a couple of decades makes. Vietnam's artists have claimed the world-stage and the arts scene is Hanoi is one of the most vigorous in Asia. Meet privately with celebrated artists and discover new mediums, such as lacquer and thread art.
Your Host, NGUYEN DUC
Nguyen Duc, one of the foremost living Vietnamese writers and intellectuals. Formerly a San Francisco-based host of the public radio program Pacific Time, Duc retired to Hanoi in 2007, marking this move back home with the opening of an art gallery and designing of a mountain retreat set in the mountains, which was featured in the New York Times.
Duc’s books include Where the Ashes Are: The Odyssey of a Vietnamese Family and Vietnam: A Traveler's Literary Companion. Duc continues to write and runs a atmospheric café in the Old Quarter which has become a gathering place for young artists and writers, one of many projects that occupy his time in the capital.
Đàn Bau blues in the Old Quarter. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Water Puppets theater is the music and primarily the enchanting sound of the Đàn Bau, a traditional single-stringed instrument (now amplified) that creates a moody, bluesy sound. Let us arrange a visit into the Old Quarter family who
Plays at the Water Puppets Theater, witnessing their daughter play (right) and having a chance to learn how to play the instrument yourself. We recommend this over the Water Puppets show, although younger children will delight in the private Water Puppets experience we can arrange.
VX Art Gallery. Co-managed by our own Diep To, this Dong Da District showroom is the place to see example from all artists we know personally in Hanoi.
Khac Quan was born and grew up near the renowned Bat Trang ceramic village. Khac Quan’s clay works have made a strong impression as well as his ability to control the intricate porcelain making technique as form of sculpture. With Quan people witness his modern style and sophistication interpreted using only simple soil and enamel.
Dinh Quan (right) is one Vietnam's premier artists, working on large lacquer and sculpture. His home gallery, in the heart of the bohemian enclave on the West Lake, is a fascinating visit and he is a gracious host who is fluent in English.
Lionel Descostes, a French artist, has been taking on the Vietnamese embroidery "painting" technique (canvases appear to be in oil but up close are actually thread - sewn art work) and has reinvented it in his own way, moving it out of the realm of traditional craft and semi-artistic production onto the stage of contemporary art.
Tran Hieu is a painter, antique collector and dealer. Out of many antique collectors in the capital, Tran Hieu stands out. Born and raised in a Noble family in Hanoi, he inherited a rich collection of antique dating back up to five generations. Hieu continues to trade and collect from inside as well as outside of Vietnam. The collection includes wood, lacquer Buddhas and exotic statues, ancient ceramic, stone, porcelain, bronze drums from the Dong Son civilization which date back from thousand years ago.
Artist Viet Thanh lived and taught fine art, including painting, sculpture, lacquer, woodblock print in Sweden, but has recently moved back to Hanoi and is living and working from her White Lotus villa near the West Lake bohemian enclave.
Mai Anh is a widely recognized painter whose works have been exhibited in Asia, Australia, Europe, Bermuda and the United States. Solo exhibitions include Santa Barbara, West Hollywood, and Carmel Valley. The paintings of Mai Anh are, according to Ian Findlay-Brown, Editor/Publisher of Asian Art News, "quietly emotional and determined. In her impressionistic/expressionistic oeuvre she goes her own way, mining her memories and her experience and observing the rituals and concerns of women around her."
The works of Van Duong Thanh (above, right) show European influences of Impressionism, Expressionism, and semi abstract. She has combined harmoniously between these and Asian styles. She has had over fifty exhibitions around the world, including France, the U.S., Sweden, Singapore, and Germany with over 1,500 of her works in private reputable collections and art museums.
Water Puppets Theater is a fascinating, traditional performance art unique to Vietnam. We can arrange a private, hands-on performance learning the history of the art, stagecraft, and manipulation of the puppets with Master Puppeteer Mr. Phan Thanh Liem in his Hanoi studio. Children will be delighted and we will arrange water puppets gifts for your children after the performance.
Bui Mai Hien is one of a few groundbreaking Vietnamese painters (including Dinh Quan) who has taken traditional lacquer art and moved it forward into contemporary expression. .
Pham Thi Kieu Phuc is a celebrated and innovative interior designer who founded Module 7. Phuc loves the silent, discreet nature of lacquer products and her designs have many origins. Some are inspired by the objects of Vietnamese everyday life; colonial hat, fish trap, buffalo, rock and trees. Others are inspired by Japanese design principles, following the Zen philosophy ‘less is more’. She especially likes bronze handmade products, as she feels that the hammers marks left in the product reveal the artisan’s emotion. "If you buy a designer product, the most interesting thing is the creativity of the person who designed it" Phuc claims. More on Phuc Pham.
Tuong National Theater Troupe. Tuong was established in the 12th century and in the 17th century it was very much in vogue. The Tuong plays consist of songs and dances which are highly stylized, conventional and imbued with symbolism similar to Peking Opera. We can arrange a private visit to the beautiful theater house in the Old Quarter to meet privately with the troupe of actors in person. For families, the troupe will organize a full production with makeup, costumes and acting on the stage, a delightful experience.
Dao Anh Khanh (right) is a surrealist painter and controversial performance artist. He moves easily between painting canvasses, acrylic and lacquer with his very own technique. He may paint himself white and dance for hours in his own highly individual style. As a performance artist, Anh Khanh has performed all over the world including New York, Europe, and throughout Asia. Khanh is an internationally recognized leader among Asian artists who are breaking away from traditional, stylistic, and political constrains.
Musician Pham Chi Khanh is a traditional instrument maker and player who has been applying his passion in traditional music for more than 30 years. In 2010, he was in top of 100 "most special people" of 1000th anniversary of Hanoi city. Mr. Pham's daughter is a prodigy on the bluesy instrument, the Dan Bau, and will instruct you hands on if you would like.
Vietnamese calligraphy once played an important part, but is a disappearing from Vietnamese culture. Calligraphy has had a long history in Vietnam, previously using Chinese characters along with Chu Nôm. However, most modern Vietnamese calligraphy instead uses the Roman-character based Quuc Ngu, which has proven to be very popular.
In the past, with literacy in the old character-based writing systems of Vietnam being restricted to scholars and elites, calligraphy nevertheless still played an important part in Vietnamese life. On special occasions such as the Lunar New Year, people would go to the village teacher or scholar to make them a calligraphy hanging (often poetry, folk sayings or even single words). People who could not read or write also often commissioned at temple shrines. Calligraphy is still popular for sign motifs and advertising. We can arrange a workshop with a master of the art during your visit to Hanoi.
Sample Vietnam Arts Tour Itinerary
Day 2, Arrive Hanoi
Arrive at the rustic, war-era Noi Bai Airport outside of Hanoi where you will be met by our local representative who will take you to the historic Metropole, our hotel on Hoan Kiem Lake, featured in Graham Greene's The Quiet American.
After check-in in, introductions over refreshments and lunch orientation, followed by a cruise around the lake area by pedal-powered cyclo (pedicab), soaking up Hanoi's stoic atmosphere along busy streets and lively Old Quarter. In the evening, delightful water puppets theater, a magical puppet show where the puppets emerge from the surface of a small watery stage telling tales of old Vietnam, a performance art unique to Vietnam.
Dinner at Green Tangerine, a lovingly restored 1928 colonial in the center of the Old Quarter featuring French-Vietnamese cuisine.
Day 3 | Hanoi to Halong Bay
Transfer by private van. On the way, we will stop at Noodle Village, the childhood home of our culinary escort, Diep Leto, where we will meet the residents and see the delicious noodles being made for the famous traditional soup, Pho.
The Gulf of Tonkin was once the haunt of Vietnamese and Chinese pirates, and in Halong Bay the romance of old Vietnam still lingers, with scenic karst islets randomly scattered and the odd red-sailed junks lazing across the languid waters. With 3,000 limestone and dolomite islets sprinkled over an area of 1,500 square kilometers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a geographic wonderland.
Arrive Halong port and board private traditional wooden cruiser (replica junk) for a private tour of Halong Bay with a seafood lunch banquet prepared on board. Exploration of Sung Sot Cave, the largest grotto in Halong. Afterwards, optional assisted kayaking — paddling Halong Bay and exploration of the bay by kayak, including floating villages, hidden beach coves, caves and lakes. Dinner banquet prepared on board. Overnight in private cabin.
Day 4 | Halong Bay to Hanoi
Savor the opaque sunrise on misty Halong Bay and be warmed by Vietnamese coffee, noodle soup, and omelettes. You can leisurely explore grottoes, cragged coves, inland lagoons, and white-sand beaches before returning to Halong City port. After farewell lunch with crew, return to Hanoi, stopping at an interesting crafts center en route.
After arrival back in Hanoi, late afternoon and dinner will be on your own. We will provide a list of wonderful choices, such as Wild Lotus, a popular restaurant with pleasant decor offering delicious Vietnamese fusion.
Day 5 | Hanoi
Morning tour of this charming capital city, visiting the tranquil stilt house residence of Ho Chi Minh and his Mausoleum, Quan Thanh temple, Hanoi Hilton Prison site (Hoa Lo), and the Temple of Literature.
Luncheon with special guest Ms. Suzanne Lecht, art consultant who has lived in Hanoi since 1992 and manages the Vietnam Art Gallery in Hanoi featuring the most comprehensive collection of works from artists throughout Vietnam.
Evening cocktail party at the home of internationally-renowned artists Mai Hien and Anh Khanh and hosted by artist and PBS journalist Nguyen Qui Duc, who has retired to Hanoi after 20 years in San Francisco. Duc has intimate knowledge of the arts community in his native country and is fascinating lecturer on culture.
Dinner at Wild Rice, featuring traditional Vietnamese cuisine and contemporary fusion. Accommodation at the Metropole.
Day 6 | Hanoi
In the morning, transfer outside of Hanoi to explore typical villages of Northern Vietnam including the Noodle Village, the childhood home of our culinary escort, Diep Le To, where we will meet the residents and see the delicious noodles being made for the famous traditional soup, Pho. visiting a popular Noble family whose house is still well preserved followed by a short visit to the home of Mr Loi, the village herbalist. After lunch, we visit Cay Son Gallery to learn the unique Vietnamese styles of lacquer and silk painting as well as descriptions of techniques used. Stop to visit the Vietnam Art Gallery featuring the most comprehensive collection of works from artists throughout Vietnam.
Day 7 | Hanoi to Hue
Morning tour of Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts conducted by Nguyen Qui Duc. A highlight of our trip, the pleasant colonial-era museum features impressive work of the 20th century, including unique Vietnamese styles of lacquer and silk painting as well as descriptions of techniques used.
Afterwards, lunch at Café des Arts de Hanoi, a popular expatriate cafe with changing exhibits of paintings by local artists. Afterwards, transfer to airport for a one-hour flight to Hue, the ancient Imperial Capital and arguably Vietnam's most pleasant city set on the languid Perfume River. Afternoon tour of the waterfront by traditional pedicab (cyclo).
Dinner at the tranquil private home/restaurant, Y Thao, featuring delicious Hue specialties, including Banh Khoai, a Vietnamese-style crepe.
Day 8 | Hue
After breakfast, venture into the scenic hills around Hue for exploration of two of the finest examples of 18th century Imperial architecture: the tombs of Tu Duc and Khai Dinh. Return by traditional dragon boat, while our onboard chef prepares Hue delicacies for lunch.
Afterwards, sightseeing along the misty Perfume River and through the high-walled Imperial Citadel, where Vietnam's kings once ruled and a familiar sight from television images during the Tet Offensive in 1968. We will also visit to the Thien Mu Pagoda, Vietnam's most important Buddhist site overlooking the river. Enjoy traditional live music while having dinner at Tropical Garden Restaurant.
Day 9 | Hue to Hoi An
After breakfast, we depart for Hoi An pausing to take in picturesque beach views at Lang Co Lagoon and the spectacular coastline panorama of the Hai Van Pass. We will also visit the Cham Museum, with a private tour of the world’s finest collection of Cham sculpture that dates from the 2nd to the 15th century, the only signifant collection in the world.
Much of the country was destroyed during wars, but Hoi An survived intact, even through the traumatic 1960s and 1970s. Hoi An has a flourishing custom tailoring trade and the artist community has successfully established itself in the last few years. Afternoon exploring this charming arts and crafts town and its mix of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese architecture.
Accommodation at the exquisite Nam Hai, Indochina's premier beach resort, a a massive property with a pool, massage and beauty treatments. Here, you can also learn about Chinese medicine and have a tai chi session.
In the afternoon, meeting with craftsmen and artists in their home galleries in the old quarter area along the riverfront where we'll also spy locals at leisure, playing Chinese checkers and lighting lanterns.
Dinner overlooking the Thu Bon River.
Day 10 | Hoi An
Afternoon free for relaxing. Go beach combing at Cua Dai beach, take a boat cruise, and pickup your custom tailored made clothing or footwear, ordered the day before! In the evening, we have a cooking demonstration and dinner at the Cargo Club Restaurant overlooking the Thu Bon River.
Day 11 | Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Following breakfast, early morning drive to Danang for our one-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). After arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, we will transfer to our hotel, the new Park Hyatt, in the center of the bustling city.
After lunch and coffee tasting, we will visit historic landmarks including the Art Deco colonial-era post office, Notre Dame Cathedral, the former Presidential Palace, and the spellbinding War Remnants Museum (formerly the War Crimes Museum). Dinner at Nam Kha — Saigon's finest Vietnamese restaurant.
Day 12 | Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Morning visit to Cholon — Saigon's Chinatown — including busy marketplace and Quan Am Pagoda. Lunch at Quan An Ngon, an outdoor restaurant featuring food stalls with live cooking.
After a brief visit to Ben Thanh Market, afternoon spent exploring artist studios and galleries including Mr. Son's Tu Do Gallery, the first private contemporary art gallery in Vietnam. Dinner at the Temple Club, where almost all the furniture, antique and reproduction, is for sale.
Day 13 | Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta
Morning drive to the Mekong Delta — the "rice basket" of Vietnam — to witness its thriving agrarian economy, river culture, and spicy cuisine.
Upon arrival in Cai Be, board a motorized boat to visit a local family and nearby floating market. Continue by boat towards An Binh Island through small shade-lined canals, stepping ashore to visit an orchard farm. Learn about cultivation and nursery of longan trees while enjoying a lunch served with the local specialties and exotic delta-grown fruits. After lunch, we will visit a pottery factory and candy making cooperative. Afternoon return to Ho Chi Minh City. Dinner free, with our providing a list to explore the wide range of culinary offerings.
Day 14 | Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Depart Ho Chi Minh City for USA or Siem Reap for the tour of the temples of Angkor, or travel to Hong Kong or Bangkok
A N G K O R E X T E N S I O N
Transfer to the airport for departure flight or continue on Temples of Angkor optional extension tour.
One-hour flight from Saigon to Siem Reap, launching off point for Angkor. Check-in to Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor. Join our guide, the Under-secretary of State for The Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia, Dr. Sar Promnea and begin our tour exploring the spectacular Angkor Wat. Conclude the day with a panoramic view of the area and dramatic sunset from the summit Phnom Bakheng. Dinner banquet at the Raffles.
A N G K O R
Morning sightseeing includes the intricately-carved thousand-year-old Banteay Srei, the birth place of Khmer classical style architecture. Afterward, explore the mystical Ta Prohm where its original structure has been preserved by archaeologists as an example of what the entire Angkor complex may have looked like when it was first discovered.
Continued exploration of the south gate of Angkor Thom and the enigmatic Bayon (left). Visit other temples in the area including Ta Keo, Chau Say Tevoda, Thammanon, Banteay Kdei, and Srah Srang.
Afternoon stop at the Enfants D'asie Aspeca — a unique orphanage supported by a French organization Enfants d'Asie, where orphans from far-remote areas are trained the Khmer music and dance to preserve the traditional art. Afterwards, return to hotel to relax before dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for departure flight to Saigon for overnight.
Note: You may extend your time in Saigon, Siem Reap, and/or Hong Kong and we can assist with recommendations and arrangements. Please contact us for more information.
Ready to plan your Vietnam Arts tour? Read our suggested itinerary below and submit a contact request form below, or call us:
San Francisco at or (415) 680-3788 , or in Hanoi at [84-4] 3562-6665
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