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How to Make a Bamboo Basket Boat, as Demonstrated by Phú Yên Artisans

As part of the sweltering south-central coast, Phu Yen Province has cultivated strong roots in the arts of gathering and rearing seafood.

For centuries, the image of floating thúng chai, or basket boat, has been a familiar fixture in local fishing communities because it directly contributes to the prosperity of the region. The name thúng chai comes from dầu chai, a type of oil used to waterproof the wicker baskets.

Phu My artisan village in An Dan Commune, Tuy An District of Phu Yen is notable for its creations: bamboo thúng chai. Even though generations of young locals have left their hometown to seek opportunities elsewhere, a number of basket weavers passionate about their craft have been holding fast to their village’s signature product for centuries.

To make a thúng chai, weavers have to go through many intricate steps from the selection of materials to the final touches. Basketmakers pick out bamboo trees from one to one and a half years old — not too young or too old — to produce an enduring thúng. Each basket will become a close companion for fishermen on their daily trips out to the sea, fishing for cuttlefish at night, or even during maritime harvest festivals every year.

Deliberating which bamboo tree to pick to be made into baskets.

Bamboo sticks are sliced into thin strips.

Tightening bamboo strips into a lattice.

The bamboo lattice is cut into a big circle.

Turning the lattice into a dome by using one's strength to pound it along the surface of a dirt mound — a process called "lận thúng."

Shaping the edge of the basket.

Securing the basket mouth.

Cow dung is an important ingredient in filling in gaps between bamboo strips.

Lastly, a layer of oil is lathered inside the basket to waterproof it.

Complete baskets drying in the sun before being delivered to clients.

Trương Hoài Vũ is a Saigon-based photographer. See more of his work on his Instagram accounts.

Darkroom is a Saigoneer series documenting the beauty and stories of Vietnam and beyond via photographs. If you have a compelling story you wish to share, send us an email via [email protected].

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