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Incense making village in Hue keeps tradition alive

Incense making village in Hue keeps tradition alive


Arriving at Thuy Xuan village, around 7km to the southwest of the ancient imperial city of Hue, the first thing visitors notice will be giant colourful “bouquets” of incense sticks and the deep aroma of agarwood everywhere.

Many visitors to Hue try to spare some time to go to Thuy Xuan to buy its incense sticks, as this is one of the most famous incense making areas in the land of the former imperial capital.

Not merely a handicraft occupation, incense making is also part of the spiritual life of locals.

Thuy Xuan village is located in Huyen Tran Cong Chua road, at the foot of Vong Canh hill and beside the gentle and poetic Huong River.

Still outside the village, visitors can smell the aroma even though no incense sticks are in sight, which reminds one about the family altar and gatherings at Tet (Lunar New Year) or such occasions as ancestors’ worshipping.

Entering the village, the first thing one can see is big “bouquets” of incense sticks of various colours. Almost all households in the village are involved in incense making. Early in the morning, locals take out incense sticks to air, and the colourful sticks brighten the entire Huyen Tran Cong Chua road.

At the village, visitors can see with their own eyes the different steps in the process of incense making, from selecting materials for incense powder and bamboo sticks, to processing the materials and rolling the incense paste around sticks.

Materials for making incense paste include aloes wood, herbs such as cinnamon, cardamom, close and star aniseed, as well as other ingredients like dry pomelo skin, dry pomelo flower, among others. They are ground and mixed together. The sticks are made from bamboo, which must be dried under the sun.

The elderly in the village said the local incense making trade dated back to the Nguyen Dynasty. The occupation has been passed down through generations, because it is not only a livelihood but also a traditional way of life.

Thuy Xuan villagers produce and sell incense sticks of various aromas, such as cinnamon, citronella, jasmine, but it is agarwood that makes the name for the village.

In making this type of incense, the most important steps are processing agarwood powder to make incense paste and attaching the paste to sticks.

Though there are more than 40 establishments producing agarwood incense, agarwood essential oil and fine art goods from agarwood in Thua Thien-Hue province, agarwood incense sticks of Thuy Xuan are favoured for its gentle but lasting aroma.

In the past, incense sticks were made in only two colours – brown and red, but nowadays, the sticks can be found in rainbow colours. The sight of bunches of colourful incense sticks fanning out like bouquets of flowers catches the eye of anyone passing by.

Incense produced in Thuy Xuan village is sold not only in Thua Thien-Hue province but also major cities in the country such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. The product is also exported to overseas markets.

As there are many types of incense, the prices of them vary. The most popular type is priced at 80,000 VND (3.48 USD) a pack, and the most expensive one costs 200,000 VND. Cinnamon-flavoured incense sells for 40,000 VND a pack, while prices of agarwood incense cones range from 50,000 VND to 600,000 VND a box.

In recent years, Thuy Xuan village opens up its door to visitors, offering them chances to get an insight into the craft and even to try their hands in making incense.

Thanks to this, the village has become a popular tourism destination in Thua Thien Hue, welcoming 25-30 tourist groups each day./.