For admirers of the art of lacquer, Tuong Binh Hiep Village is almost a sacred spot.
The village in the southern province of Binh Duong is mentioned in historical documents – Gia Dinh Thanh Thong Chi (Annals of the Gia Dinh Citadel) – as being well known for its use of lacquer as a decorative art more than 200 years ago.
That it continues to be a popular draw for art lovers and traders from all parts of the country to this day is by itself an indicator of how strongly rooted this tradition is in the village.
The lacquer paintings, boxes, plates, trays and vases from the craft village in Thu Dau Mot Town are famed for their glaze and longevity.
"The products have such high quality due to the thick resin extracted from the cay son (rhus succedanea) which has been used by generations of local artisans, " said Tran Van Khiem who has over 50 years of experience in the craft.
These trees, also known as lacquer trees, are commonly found in Southeast Asia. In Viet Nam, they thrive mainly in the northern province of Phu Tho where they produce a sap of superior quality.
"These days, many businesses use imported paint to substitute for the resin of cay son from Phu Tho. This has lowered the quality of local lacquer products," Khiem said.
Khiem who runs a family concern, is among many artists in Tuong Binh Hiep who have stuck to resin from the Phu Tho trees which is famed for lacquer that gleams for 30-40 years.
The 73-year-old said he learnt the craft as a teenager from a veteran artist in the village.
"It took me several years to master the techniques for mixing lacquer resins which is the first step in the process.
"The original resin is black. Artists can grind different coloured stones into powders which are then mixed with the resin to create a range of colours," Khiem said.
Artists paint the coloured resins directly on to the surface of wood, bamboo or metal. The resins stick fast to almost any surface.
"Then we spent many days polishing the surface, " Khiem said.
"Usually it will take us around four or five months to complete a 2 by 3m painting using this traditional process," he said.
"It is slow and costly. However, I'm determined to maintain this traditional technique within my family," he said.
"Every step in making lacquerware is important and demands skill and dexterity from workers," said Tran Le Tri, manager of the Minh Nguyet Lacquer Co.
With myriad designs worked out in eggshell and mother-of-pearl inlays, the village offers lacquerware in thousands of designs and models. Among the most common items are boxes, trays, vases, pots and paintings.
"Each product is not only pleasing to the eye, but also useful and durable," Mai Thi Hoa, said a satisfied customer from HCM City.
Over 100 households in Tuong Binh Hiep now earn their living from the craft which had been pushed to the brink decades ago.
Today, the number of contracts signed with traders around the country has increased; and the village has recruited many young people to train them in the traditional art.