For 400 years, the villagers in Thanh Thien, Vietnam, have been making beautiful handmade paper flowers using unique designs passed down through the generations. These colourful flowers are particularly significant in Vietnam during the lunar New Year holiday (Tet) and at one time the village was renowned throughout the country for this craft. It proudly displays a scroll issued in the 18th century by the Emperor of Vietnam recognising the significance of these unique flowers.
Reaching the Village of Thanh Thien
Today, Thanh Thien is regaining fame for its paper flowers as travellers journey to the village to try their hand at the traditional craft. Thanh Thien is a short trip from Hue (the former capital of Vietnam) by boat along the majestic Perfume River, by road or on a bicycle tour. Hue is one of Vietnam’s leading tourist destinations, well known for its historic monuments and listed since 1993 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By contrast, Thanh Thien is a small village reflecting the rural Vietnam of ages past. The landscape is typical of the Vietnamese countryside with vast swaths of green fields ploughed by oxen, children riding their bikes to school and village elders selling food and wares at the local markets. Visitors to this part of the country are struck by the regional customs, traditions and architecture, all of which are quite different from the rest of Vietnam, especially the traditional dress and the food, which is some of the best Vietnam has to offer.
Let a Thousand Paper Flowers Bloom
To develop a program to attract more tourists to the village, Thanh Thien has recently partnered with Rose Charities Vietnam. This has contributed to the revival of the paper-flower trade. Visitors to Thanh Thien can of course watch the skilled artisans, but now they can also participate in classes to learn how to make the iconic flowers themselves. The classes are a wonderful opportunity to engage with local villagers and to experiment with tools that have changed very little in the last 400 years. Shaping the flowers from split bamboo and naturally dyed paper requires patience, and students learn skills that have been handed down from generation to generation. The result is a bouquet of beautiful, realistic flowers, on sale for a very small sum.
Paper Flower lessons are offered in the Thanh Thien ‘Main House,’ recently refurbished as a Welcome Centre to accommodate visitors. The community is also busy restoring other historic buildings, including a number of worship rooms that have served as centres of prayer for hundreds of years.
This is a particularly good year (2012) to visit Hue and take a side trip to Thanh Thien, as the area has been declared the feature destination as part of Vietnam’s National Tourism program. The theme is “Heritage Tourism” and includes cultural activities, sports and heritage tours.
Rose Charities on a Flower Campaign
Rose Charities has been integral to restoring the economy of the village of Thanh Thien and helping the villagers develop their craft into workshops that teach tourists about the culture of the central coast of Vietnam. An international nongovernmental organisation, Rose Charities operates in 15 countries and its projects focus on education, public health and social enterprise.
Rose Charities was founded in Cambodia in 1998 by aid workers who were disillusioned by the waste and bureaucracy often seen in international aid. The aim was to deliver effective, sustainable programs directly to those in need, with minimal bureaucracy and with transparency at every stage. Working with people of different ethnicities and cultures, Rose Charities aims not to dictate its own agendas and values, but rather to listen to and help local people create their own solutions. With the early success of the paper-flower workshops in Thanh Thien, a healthy tourism future is beginning to bloom.