A Vietnamese woman, about 4’10” and not a day under 70, looks over with a gentle look of encouragement. She smiles as her daughter methodically kicks the wheel while she shapes the clay with her hands. Our sad excuse of a bowl wobbles before being cut with wire and placed in a row of others that have been expertly crafted. Although our bowl won’t hold pho anytime soon, we agree that it’s the perfect Mother’s Day activity, considering Megan’s mom could shape a ball of clay into a masterpiece with her eyes closed.
Over 400 years old, the Thanh Ha pottery village, a few kilometers outside of Hoi An, is like a step back in time. The narrow pathways are a maze through the villager’s simple riverside homes, each with clay stacked four feet high and the smell of wood burning in the kiln.
The history of pottery in Vietnam dates back thousands of years before the Chinese domination and has been essential for trade with China, India, Japan, the Philippines and Thailand ever since. Now, the village is sustained primarily by tourism and we’re happy to purchase a ticket to explore, as well as a hand-painted vase that will arrive in the U.S. in 3-4 months.
It's a rare feeling, to squat next to a potter's wheel and feel the wet clay against your hands. Regardless of the quality of the bowl, you've created something. Something people have been creating in this very spot for centuries.
Anyone looking for a more in-depth history of ceramics in Hoi An should also visit the Museum of Trade Ceramics, located at 80 Tran Phu Street in Hoi An.