a trip to a Vietnamese traditional mat-weaving village

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Vietnamese traditional craft_Indiechine

A reed mat (chiếu) used to be a must-have item in Vietnamese households when I was small. My family ate around a big round tray on a mat on the floor. One of my chores was to roll out the mat before meals and to neatly roll it back again after. In addition to using these mats as places to eat, we slept on mats instead of sleeping on a mattress. On hot summer nights when there was no power, my grandmother would put a mat on our roof top so we could lie there in the cool(er) air and I would fall asleep listening to her telling folk tales.

I found out about Cam Ne mat village last month when researching traditional handicraft villages in Hoi An bigger area. The village has been around since the 15th century and they used to weave mats for kings of the Nguyen Dynasty in Hue, which is about 100km from there. Obviously if the kings were sending for mats from so far away, they had some pretty good skills. I have always wanted to buy a couple of mats for our house because of my childhood nostalgia about them, and I was curious about seeing them made in the traditional method. So off we drove on our blue scooter to Cam Ne on a burning hot day.

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It takes both of them one to two days to finish one mat, depending on the size.

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Their workshop has a dirt floor; the walls are built from reeds, bamboo and coconut leaves. The place is really heat insulated, which is why they don’t need a fan on a 42°C noon.

My husband and I expected to see colorful reeds everywhere once we passed the village gate, but reeds and looms and mats were nowhere to be found. It took us half an hour driving back and forth and asking to finally reach an old lady’s house who was said to sell mats. It turned out that she and her partner together with another lady in the village are the last people who are still weaving mats. She said her daughter-in-law knows the technique but had switched to become a construction worker since the pay is so much better.

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A wooden boat is hung on the ceiling, waiting for flood season when water level can be as high as the roof.

Cong is 79 years old and her weaving partner, her niece, is 78. She said her family had been weaving mats for nine generations but she was not optimistic about who would continue the tradition. It was hard work after all, and nowadays people rarely use reed mats anymore. According to Cong, the village once wanted to develop tourism but the plan didn’t work out because of its remote location.

My husband and I bought two mats realizing that we are seeing what is likely the end of hundreds of years of handicraft in the village once revered for it. Sad, but such is the way of life. Most places producing these mats are doing it with machines now, which are much faster and more profitable due to their output.

Here’s how these traditional mats look like in our house now. What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “a trip to a Vietnamese traditional mat-weaving village

  1. avatar

    Just gorgeous! Oh I wish I could visit Hoi An one more time. Thanks for posting this article. It’s so nostalgic to me!

    1. avatar

      Thank you for checking out my blog and leaving such a sweet comment! I’m so happy when my blog posts can bring back good memories to readers! Hugs from Hoi An, Linh

  2. avatar

    The mats are truly beautiful. To be treasured forever. Nothing could accent your room better than these works of art..

    1. avatar

      Thank you Gabrielle! They look a lot more beautiful in person. Before buying them I was not sure how to ship them back to the U.S., but since they were 8$ each we decided to buy them no matter what. It made the two women really happy to have two mats sold!

  3. avatar

    Thanks for sharing their story. I remembered them too in my younger days. I would love to get some when visit VN. Your photos are beautiful!!

    1. avatar

      Thank you for checking out my blog and leaving such a lovely comment! These mats remind me of my childhood days too. It makes me so happy to know that somebody from somewhere outside of Vietnam also resonated with the story I shared here. Thank you again and wish you a Happy New Year!

  4. avatar

    I love these, Linh. The photo of the mat and the two lovely wooden chairs is Architectural Digest-Vietnam worthy! My girlfriend and I are visiting Hoi An for the first time next month. I can’t wait to discover such delights as you’ve unearthed here. THANKS.

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