Impressions of Hanoi’s essence captured in distinctive souvenirs

Hanoi Creative City's strength lies in the seamless integration of artists' expertise with the exquisite lacquer craftsmanship of Ha Thai Village, resulting in the creation of innovative cultural products.


The famous Ngu Tao (Fish and Hornwort) lacquer painting by artist Nguyen Huyen (1915-1994) has been given a new life by lacquer artisans in Ha Thai Village, Hanoi.

To celebrate the New Year 2024 and the Lunar New Year, the young designers behind the Moon n Sun project drew inspiration from the Ngu Tao painting to create a gift collection that embodies traditional cultural identity.

Nguyen Huyen, who studied at the Hanoi-based Indochina College of Fine Arts (circa 1932-1936), is a renowned artist whose painting Blue Buffalo was selected to be featured on the Vietnamese 100 dong banknote (currently out of circulation).

The lacquer painting Ngu Tao was created by Nguyen Huyen in 1975.

The lacquer painting Ngu Tao was created in 1975 when the artist was 60 years old. It depicts four goldfish swimming around a few branches of hornwort, symbolizing vitality, perseverance, endurance, abundance, and prosperity in Vietnamese culture.

The Moon n Sun project combined the painting with the traditional lacquer material of Ha Thai Village to create the 2024 Tet Gift Collection. The collection includes lacquered boxes of various sizes and shapes with motifs of swimming goldfish, symbolizing blessings for the recipients. It is a wish for a New Year full of energy, peace, prosperity, and happiness, just like the symbolic meaning of the goldfish.

Lien, the initiator of the project, stated that the choice of Ngu Tao was driven by the desire to promote cultural values through applied arts. Young designers, who cherish the nation’s culture and values, will incorporate high-quality artworks imbued with Vietnamese cultural identity into their designs.

Hoang My Lien (center) and young designers from the Moon n Sun project. Photo: The Hanoi Times

The artists view each design they create as a folk tale, weaving together narratives of fine arts, talented artists, and Vietnamese craft villages.

“Cultural and artistic foundations are valuable materials for applied design products, which aim to add value to Vietnamese products while spreading culture in a new and attractive way as part of cultural industry development. We hope to tell the public many stories about Vietnam’s cultural quintessence,” said Hoang My Lien.

Nguyen Huyen is a prominent painter in Vietnam’s fine arts. File photo

Hanoi is in need of innovative and artistic gifts to impress international tourists, according to researcher Ngo Quy Duc. He aims to bring the cultural values of rural areas, traditional crafts, and Vietnamese craft products to the world.

Duc pointed out that Hanoi is famous for its more than 1,000 traditional handicraft villages. However, it lacks unique souvenirs.

“Any organization or individual dedicated to creating and reviving cultural elements through new cultural products is worthy of respect. Above all, it requires the cooperation of many industries and communities. We are very happy to accompany village craftsmen and local artists to create new cultural and tourist gifts,” he said.

Phung Quang Thang, Chairman of the Hanoi Travel Association, believes that souvenirs associated with cultural identity create a unique feature in each place. However, Hanoi’s gifts and souvenirs are often duplicated and monotonous, failing to express the city’s unique characteristics.

Souvenirs from the capital not only bring economic benefits but also help promote Vietnam’s image around the world. With about 3-4 million international visitors to Hanoi every year, offering unique souvenirs that visitors want to display at home can have a significant promotional effect. By word of mouth from tourists, Hanoi can attract a substantial number of visitors each year.