Many traditional toys in Vietnam were invented a very long time ago and passed down from generation to generation. Depending on the region, these toys and games are varied. In this guide, here is a list of some of the most popular and iconic toys and games that represent Vietnamese culture.
Traditional Toys of Vietnam
Tò He – Toy Figurine| Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
What is Tò He? To He is a small figurine made from glutinous rice powder instead of plastic. It is one of the iconic traditional toys of Vietnam, especially popular in the northern countryside. This is also popular in the south, likely due to the artisans of the north migrating south. The clay of Tò He is made of flour and used as a substitute for the offerings in worship ceremonies explaining why they usually come in the shape of animals, such as chickens, cows, pigs, fish, or flowers like roses.
The Making of Tò He. Producing a colorful Tò He figurine includes preparing the dough, boiling the dough, adding food colors, and most crucial part – intricate details and creativity to form the figures. First, mix an appropriate portion of glutinous rice flour and water together (glutinous rice flour will keep the product’s elasticity, especially when the weather is hot and dry).
After that, the flour combination is soaked in water and mashed, boiled, and kneaded quickly until it becomes smooth and dry. Next comes the dying of the dough into four basic colors: yellow, red, black, and green. Other intermediate colors can be made by mixing these colors.
Previously, people used vegetable-derived colors but now industrial food colors are used as substitutes for convenience.
- Yellow: from pagoda tree or turmeric
- Red: from spiny bitter gourd fruit or cape jasmine
- Black: from false daisy
- Green: from galangal leaves
- Blue: from indigo leaves
Where to find Tò He. Artisans often travel around the markets, villages, and streets to make Tò He, especially during celebrations and festivals. Their toolkits contain simple tools like a small knife, bamboo sticks, beeswax, comb, and sponge to exhibit these traditional toys to children.
Diều – Paper Kites | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
Origins of the Paper Kite. Kites originated more than a thousand years ago. Ancient people believed that the flying kite could banish evil and unfortunate things. They wrote names of dangerous diseases on the kites and cut the strings when they flew up high. They wanted the wind to bring the kites with the plagues away from humans and prevent their descendants from being infected with diseases. Moreover, the kite was also an offering to the gods during the full moon night in the lunar calendar.
The Variations of Paper Kites. Nowadays, paper kites are commonly used as children’s toys and have become a symbol of childhood memory in Vietnam. Flying kites bring joy and encourage creativity when crafting kites of different shapes, sizes, and colors, attaching accessories like ribbons and flutes to make sounds, and mastering the art of the wind. Today, the kite gradually grows out of tradition and becomes a cultural exchange event with massive competition in places like Vung Tau.
Where to see Kite Flying. In the summer, several popular kite fields exist in the suburban districts of Ho Chi Minh City, such as District 12 or Hoc Mon District. People living near these places, especially children, usually gather to fly kites and hold competitions.
Lồng Đèn – Paper Lanterns | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
How Paper Lantern is Made. Paper lanterns are one of the familiar traditional toys of Vietnam. They come in various shapes and sizes, as well as different fabrications. The simplest type of lantern is made of paper and attached to the candle inside. The more complicated ones have stacked bamboo or metal frame, with delicate decorative paper wrapped outside.
Where to find Paper Lanterns. In Vietnam, paper lanterns are frequently used for decorations in pagodas or as toys for recreational celebrations, particularly during the Mid-autumn Festival.
In Ho Chi Minh City, Luong Nhu Hoc, a small street in District 5, is famous for the making of lanterns. This Chinatown area is highly crowded on the Mid-Autumn Festival with colorful rows of lanterns. Over time, for durability and safety reasons, traditional paper lanterns have been popularized by electronic lanterns running on batteries with paper covers powered with tiny light bulbs instead of candles. Most of the products here are locally made.
Traditional Games of Vietnam
Traditional games of Vietnam have played an essential role in Vietnamese culture over time. They are still very attractive outdoor activities for many Vietnamese children.
The most popular traditional games are “Rồng Rắn Lên Mây” and “Mèo Bắt Chuột”. These folk games can enhance and sharpen observational and social skills since children need to team up and effectively cooperate to win.
Rồng Rắn Lên Mây | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
Rồng Rắn Lên Mây is one of the famous Vietnamese games for every child in the country. There are two characters in this game: the catcher and a dragon. The long dragon consists of more than 5 people lining up, while just 1 person plays the catcher role.
How to play. When the dragon comes to the catcher’s house, they sing a song to call out the catcher. After the song ends, the snake will say “pursuit”, trying to catch the person standing at the very end, representing the dragon’s tail.
The head of the dragon (standing in front of the line) will have to move and stretch their arms to protect the line. Everyone else in line has to move in the same direction as the head to avoid breaking the line. That makes their line look wavy like a dragon flying in the sky, and thus, the game was given the name Rồng Rắn Lên Mây.
If the catcher can catch the tail, the next person in line from the end will play the role of the new tail. If the catcher catches every one of them or the line resembling the dragon breaks, the catcher wins. If the dragon succeeds in making a circle before the catcher chases, the dragon will win.
Mèo Bắt Chuột – Cat and Mouse | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
This game consists of more than seven members in one team. They stand in a circle, hold hands, and raise their hands over their heads to create a barrier. Then, they choose a person to play the cat and another to play the mouse. Both stand back to back in the middle of the circle.
How to play. On the count of three, the mouse starts running in the circle, and the cat must chase after it. The cat wins the game when the mouse is caught. At the start of the game, people in the circle also start singing a song, usually a folk song. Also, the children forming the circle can make it more difficult for the mouse or cat to run through them.
Nhảy Dây – Jump Rope | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
It is a traditional game that many young kids in elementary and junior high schools still play, especially girls.
How to play. The rope is usually made of a chain of rubber bands. The simplest form of playing is jumping over a stretched rope. The height will increase, and the one who can get over is the winner. Another form is making two parallel lines, triangles, or squares with the rubber rope and jumping around the sides. The height will also increase and the one who can finish the laps assigned at the highest level will win.
Banh Đũa – Catch the Ball | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
This is another popular traditional game, especially among girls. The requirements for the game are simple, including a tennis ball or any bouncing ball and 10 chopsticks (5 pairs).
How to play. Starting with all the chopsticks on the ground, throw the ball upward, pick up a chopstick with one hand, and catch the ball with the same hand. Continue until you have picked up all the chopsticks on the ground. This game is a good practice for your eyes and hand coordination.
Đá Cầu – Shuttlecocks Kicking | Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
This is a game and a test in the physical education class in junior high school. More boys over girls prefer kicking shuttlecocks or football during their break time.
How to play. If it is an individual competition, whoever can kick and keep the shuttlecock off the ground for the longest time is the winner. You can also play in groups, in pairs and practice coordinating with your team members by kicking the shuttlecock around and not letting it fall to the ground.
Other Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games Include:
- Lò Cò (Hopscotch)
- Bắn Bi (Marble)
- Kéo Co (Tug of War)
- Ô Ăn Quan (A Vietnamese board game for kids, Mandarin Square Capturing)
Simple hand games to decide the winner-loser, roles in the game, or players of each team like:
- Nhiều Ra Ít Bị/Ít Ra Nhiều Bị (turn your palm up or down randomly to decide which team you will be on)
Summary of Vietnamese Traditional Toys and Games
Nowadays, with the availability of hi-tech devices, these traditional toys of Vietnam are not as popular as they used to be. However, the benefits that these toys and games could bring to children are significant. The cultural value these traditions embody is priceless and should be preserved. When visiting Vietnam, you may still see these toys and games played by kids, especially in the countryside.