VietnamCulture and HistoryA Guide to the Vietnamese Conical Hat - Non La

A Guide to the Vietnamese Conical Hat – Non La

Beautiful craft works could be an exciting and unique souvenir from your trip to Vietnam. The Vietnamese conical hat is an iconic image that reminds people of the farmers working on the golden paddy fields or Vietnamese girls wearing the traditional dress, ao dai. The hat has been an item that evolved with Vietnamese culture, and is still used by many Vietnamese locals. From our Vietnam travel guide, you should know why this hat has become so famous, how much work the craftsmen have to put in, and, of course, where to buy this great souvenir.

Origin of the Vietnamese Conical Hat

Vietnam conical hat non quai thao

“Non Quai Thao” and “Non Ngua”

In Vietnam, many hats are made from palm or similar leaves. For example, “non quai thao,” a flat, round hat used mainly by women in formal events like festivals, or the most popular hat with a conical shape called “non ngua.” It has a small decoration at the tip and is used in horse riding.

Vietnam conical hat non ngua

The Poem Hat

The poem that, “non bai tho,” has a picture or poem layer between the two layers of leaves. There is also a general plain hat, “non la,” mainly used by farmers and elderly women.

The Origin Story of the Vietnamese Conical Hat

There are many stories about the origin of the conical hat. An early version of the conical hat was carved on the Ngoc Lu bronze drum and Dao Thinh bronze jar around 2,500 and 3,000 BC. However, many believe that the conical hat had become widespread and was widely used in the Tran dynasty in the 13th century. Women used it as an accessory even though it was thick and heavy. There is also a story in Than Village, Hanoi, about a princess who taught the villagers how to make “non chao rang,” an early version of the conical hat made by sewing the old palm leaves. The hat can symbolize labor and farmers, but it also represents the nobility in the past and the elegance of the Vietnamese girls.

The shape of non la inspires architectural designs

Usages of The Vietnamese Conical Hat

Farmers/fishermen wear conical hats to protect themselves from the sun while working

How Farmers and Street Vendors Wear Non La

The multi-usages, lightweight, and low price of a typical conical hat have made it the favorite headwear for many people in Vietnam, especially the farmers and street vendor sellers.

Of course, like any other hat, locals wear it to protect their heads from intense sun rays. But the conical hat is coated with a layer of waterproof varnish; it is also like a small umbrella, protecting them from the rain while working in the fields.

They can get a bit creative with it, too. Turning the conical hat upside down makes a perfect basket for small items. On hot summer days, the conical hat is like a cooling device, which they can use to fan themselves.

A street vendor wearing a conical hat when selling merchandise on the street

Protect Yourself from the Sun While Exploring Vietnam

While you can wear your typical cat or bucket hat, you can try switching to non la for a more authentic experience. You might be pleasantly surprised, as the thin materials make it so much cooler during hot days. The materials for making the hat are also environmentally friendly, helping you reduce your carbon footprint on your trip.

Wear a conical hat when you do outdoor sports
Or wear it while exploring the country

Non La Makes a Cute and Practical Vietnamese Souvenir

Among the must-have souvenirs you should get in Vietnam, the conical hat is among the most iconic and practical items. It symbolizes Vietnam, which will remind you of the country. Simultaneously, you can wear it to do gardening chores or to wear it on more trips.

Wear a conical hat to protect you from the sun or as a fashionable item

The conical hat is also a symbol of Vietnamese fashion. It would be less frequent to see a conical hat in urban than in rural areas, but there are still many young girls wearing “ao dai” or “ao ba ba” with the conical hats for photo shoots in places like the Notre Dame Cathedral and festivals in Ho Chi Minh City. The simplicity of the conical hat makes a perfect match with dresses like “ao dai” and “ao ba ba”, adding a touch of elegance to traditional Vietnamese dresses.

How the Vietnamese Conical Hat Is Made

Vietnam conical hat palm leaves

The material and the frame

The palm trees and palm leaves are easily found in any countryside in Vietnam, so this could be why they became the primary materials to make conical hats. The leaves are beaten to open the layers and dried under the sun to become more rigid and durable. The leaves are then ironed; this process is the most sophisticated because it requires the right amount of pressure and heat you apply. After that, two layers of leaves are placed on the hat frame. The frame is made of bamboo sticks that have been shredded and bent into circles of different diameters. The vertical bamboo strips will be used as the backbones of the frame, and circled strips will be placed from the bottom to the top of the frame into a conical net. People will sew the palm leaves together with small threads, which requires a lot of skill and patience from the makers to make the perfect shape and to knit the leaves tightly.

Vietnam conical hat bamboo frame

The strap

Two threaded holders will be sewn on two sides inside the conical hat. Those are where a silky neck strap is tightened to keep the hat positioned on your head. After that, the conical hat is processed with heat (on fire or under the sun) one last time to prevent mold and turn a lighter color. Finally, it is coated with turpentine oil, which gives a protective film and makes the conical hat a bit glossy.

Vietnam conical hat silk strap

Where to Buy Conical Hats in Vietnam

The Vietnamese conical hats have made it to the world; Amazon sells conical hats for an average price of US$18/piece. But you can buy it for a much lower price when visiting Vietnam. A typical hat in Vietnam is about VND 30,000 (USD 1.5), ranging to VND 100,000 (USD 4, depending on how it is decorated. Sophisticated hats like “non bai tho” should be about VND 60,000 (USD 3) and above.

As such an iconic fashion item of the Vietnamese, conical hats are widely sold as souvenirs at tourist spots

Hanoi

There are many craft villages in Vietnam where they make and sell conical hats. One of the most famous villages is Chuong Village in Hanoi. This ancient town has many old houses, and the traditional conical hat craft has been passed down for over 300 years. Annually, market sessions are held in June at Chuong village solely to sell conical hats.

Location: Phuong Trung Ward, Thanh Oai District, Hanoi

Nam Dinh Province

In Nam Dinh, many craft villages have become essential to this province’s tourism, and Nghia Chau Village is one of them. It has been making conical hats since 1940.

Location: 17km from Nam Dinh City, in Nghia Chau Ward, Nghia Hung District, Nam Dinh Province

Quang Binh Province

Another old village in Quang Binh, Ha Thon Village, has been making conical hats for 100 years.

Location: 50 km from Dong Hoi City, in Quang Tan Ward, Ba Don Town, Quang Trach District, Quang Binh Province

Hue

Tay Ho is a village in Hue famous for its light and elegant poem, “non bai tho.”

Location: 20 km from Hue City, by Nhu Y River, Phu Ho Ward, Phu Vang District, Thua Thien – Hue Province

Can Tho City

Traveling to the South, you can find a village in Can Tho that makes conical hats. They use the local palm leaves from the lady palm trees that grow in abundance in the Southern provinces of the Mekong Delta, like Tay Ninh, Phu Quoc, and Ca Mau.

Location: 35 km from Can Tho City, in Thoi Tan Ward, Thoi Lai District, Can Tho Province

Ho Chi Minh City

In areas that don’t have craft villages making conical hats, you can still go to the local markets and find shops that sell them. In Ho Chi Minh City, you can go to a market like Binh Tay market in District 6.

Location: 57A Thap Muoi Street, Ward 2, District 6, Ho Chi Minh City (temporary location for reconstruction in 2017)

Summary of the Vietnamese Conical Hat

In modern times, when most Vietnamese use motorbikes as their primary means of transportation, there is less chance to wear a conical hat, especially in urban cities. But it is still a gem in Vietnamese culture and the beauty of Vietnamese craft. Seeing how it is made will make you understand why it is one of the worthy souvenirs to buy in Vietnam, and using it will make you feel like it still exists against the flow of time.

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