The last blacksmith in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

VietNamNet Bridge – Hanoi’s Old Quarter has long been famous for its architecture and traditional crafts, many of which have been lost to rapid urbanization. Nguyen Phuong Hung, 55, is the last practitioner of his family’s traditional craft of iron forging, in Lo Ren (blacksmith) street.


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Lo Ren Street is small like many others in Hanoi’s old quarter and its name also represents the trade that the residents here have traditionally followed.

However, in this day and age, it is hard to imagine this place used to be the hub of Vietnamese blacksmiths. The street has the same glittering color and is always bustling like any other street in the old quarter. Fortunately, there is only one address where visitors can learn about the place’s erstwhile trade.

Despite rapid industrialization and modernization, Nguyen Phuong Hung has continued his family’s craft of iron forging at 26 Lo Ren.

He is the only person still practicing this craft, for which the street was once famous. Hung says other smithies on the street have been replaced by shops and he is now the only in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

“In the past, Lo Ren Street was a familiar address for almost every farmer and construction contractor in Hanoi and its neighboring areas. To meet the demand of customers, my family’s furnace used to work every day from early morning until late at night,” Hung said.

“Smithies began to disappear in 1995 giving way to modern commerce and industrial production. I’m the last generation of iron forgers and I will never give it up. I love what I’ve been doing and am proud of it,” he said.

Hung’s family has practiced the trade for three generations but the golden period was during his grandfather’s time, he explains, “My grandfather brought the trade from Hoe Thi village and settled here. He was a skilled blacksmith who made the first weaving machine for Van Phuc Silk village based on a French version. My father mainly forged theatre instruments like swords, knives, etc.”

During his own early years in the family job, Hung forged agricultural tools like sickles, hoes, and ploughshares. “Now, machines are replacing them all. Also, our handmade knives, scissors … can’t compete with the cheap Chinese products on the market.”

Hung remembers that just a decade ago there were a few other families doing the work but now he is the only blacksmith on Lo Ren Street.

Hung said that because his smithy is the only one in Hanoi, it has become a popular tourist attraction: “I’ve told many people that I don’t need a visa to travel abroad because my smithy has become known to many tourists, who probably told their friends and relatives that there is only one blacksmith in Hanoi.

It’s sad that younger generations, including my children, don’t appreciate my work. I will allow them to do what they like, as long as they are good to themselves, their family and society.”

For years the street has been changing significantly with many shops opening and closing but Hung’s smithy still has a fire going.

Hung noted, “It’s deplorable that today’s society has become so commercialized, making traditional crafts obsolete. If this trend continues, there will be no more traditional crafts. Then it will be too late to regret.”

Hanoi has experienced rapid urbanization, which has resulted in the loss of many of its traditional crafts. Craftsmen like Mr. Hung are only a few people, who hope to preserve the beauty and cultural values of Hanoi’s Old Quarter for future generations.  

“Like many other streets in the old quarter, services are booming here. Renting out a small room can earn you tens of millions a month. So who will be crazy enough to do such hard work like me? My friends started looking down on my work and advised me to quit this hard, humble job but I think every job has its own glory. I am proud I can make more sophisticated products than many modern machines. I love my work and I’ll do it all my life.”

He seems sad that his children don’t want to follow their family trade, “Like most young people today, they just don’t want to do manual work.”

Today, Hung mostly makes borers and concrete drilling tools. However, since he is the only blacksmith here, he has many orders to keep him busy and earn enough to enjoy a comfortable life.

The compensation is small compared to the amount of work required.

Sitting beside his 200-year-old furnace, wearing a torn shirt, dampened with sweat and smeared with soot, the blacksmith talks in a loud voice and tells his visitors to do the same.

“Anyone who has done this work will have problems with their ears. We have to live with the deafening noise every day,” he explained.

He also shows us many scars on his arms and hands.

On a hot summer day, the middle-aged blacksmith still seems very relaxed. He says he is always happy to welcome visitors who want to learn about his work in a trade that seems to be disappearing.

The last blacksmith in Hanoi's Old Quarter at work:


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