Nowadays, Vietnamese people try to preserve traditional arts and traditions at Tet including calligraphy and asking calligraphy at Tet. Pham Ngoc Thach Street is called Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City because there are tens of calligraphy stalls where Saigon people can come for the calligraphy at Tet Festival. Saigon people call the street: Calligraphy Street, Calligraphy Master Street, Pho Ong Do, Phố Ông Đồ, Pho Thu Phap, Phố Thư Pháp.
Calligraphy is an important appreciated aspect of traditional Vietnamese culture. The famous Vietnamese poet Vu Dinh Lien wrote in 1936 the following poem which is the most famous one about Vietnamese calligraphy masters:
Mỗi năm hoa đào nở (Every year peach apricot flowers blossom)
Lại thấy ông đồ già (See an old calligraphy master)
Bày mực Tàu, giấy đỏ (Arrange black ink and red papers)
Bên phố đông người qua (In a crowded street)
Bao nhiêu người thuê viết (Countless people hire him to write)
Tấm tắc ngợi khen tài: (Appreciate his talent:)
“Hoa tay thảo những nét (“Whorls write characters)
Như phượng múa, rồng bay” (Like phoenixes dance, dragons fly”)
Năm nay đào lại nở (In this year, peach apricot flowers still blossom)
Không thấy ông đồ xưa (Do not see the old calligraphy master)
Những người muôn năm cũ (The people in the past)
Hồn ở đâu bây giờ? (Where are their souls now)
General information of Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City
Location: Cultural House of Youth in Ho Chi Minh City (Nhà Văn Hóa Thanh Niên), 4 Pham Ngoc Thach Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Opening days: Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City usually opens from the 15th day of the lunar December until the lunar New Year’s Eve.
Opening hours: visitors should arrive in the street later than 8:00 and earlier than 20:00.
From 2004 to 2007, calligraphy had become popular in Ho Chi Minh City. Lots of people would like to find masters and ask them for calligraphy at Tet festival. Artist Bui Hien established a calligraphy street on the pavement of Truong Dinh and Dien Bien Phu Streets. Ho Chi Minh City’s people gathered in front of the calligraphy stalls and caused traffic jams.
Architect Luu Thanh Hai who was also Prime Minister of Net Viet Calligraphy Club and some of his friends including Master Nguyen Hieu Tin, calligraphy master Thien Dung suggested the government to open an annual calligraphy street on Pham Ngoc Thach from a half month before the New Year’s Day.
In 2007, “Phố Ông Đồ” or Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City was open for the first time. The masters include experienced calligraphy masters who have been written Vietnamese calligraphy for dozens of years and University of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Architecture Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts’ students who have learned calligraphy and become young talented masters. They should register with the Cultural House of Youth in Ho Chi Minh City which is responsible for organizing the street.
Lines of Calligraphy stalls
The main thing to see and do in Calligraphy Street is Calligraphy stalls, each of which has a short table on which arrange calligraphy tools, a sedge mat where masters sit. On other tables around him, on the backdrop and hangers are arranged and hung artworks created by the masters.
Tools to write Calligraphy
Calligraphy tools include calligraphy brushes made of bamboo, wood, metal, synthetic and natural hair. A calligraphy master has many brushes in different sizes and of different types. The brushes are usually arranged in a special bag made of bamboo and fabric.
The traditional inkstone for the grinding and containment of black ink. The masters also use modern water colors to write calligraphy words in various colors including the favorite red, golden and silver colors.
Rolls of papers are available on the tables, they are usually white and red. Wooden paperweights with nice patterns and characters are useful tools.
At some stalls in Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City, visitors can see small altars on which statues of Buddha, drinks such as coffee, tea, incense burners and red pockets.
Learn to write calligraphy and take photos at Calligraphy stall
At a few stalls, they accept visitors to sit on mats, hold brushes and imitate to be calligraphy masters and have their friends take nice photos of the “fake” calligraphy masters. It is an unforgettable experience and the photos are memorable. They are taught how to hold brushes and sit in the right way by the real masters. Because enormous people would like to try writing calligraphy and have great pictures at the stalls, they have to queue in lines.
Buy ready Calligraphy artworks
Parallel sentences on rolls of papers or fabrics with bamboo sections at two ends and thread for hanging are the most popular in Calligraphy Street. Calligraphy words, sentences, lines of poems having good meanings and symbols of Tet such as daisies, bamboos, golden/peach apricot flowers on papers or fabrics, rolled or framed on wood and glass frames.
Red pocket is a must at Tet festival and it can be bought at any supermarkets, local market and decoration stores in the streets. At calligraphy stalls, customers have chances to design and customize the pockets. They can request masters to write any word or draw anything.
Decorative strings of squares and rectangular papers with calligraphy words are simple and cheap. Fans, stones, drums, keychains with calligraphy are abundant at Pho Ong Do. Calligraphy is not only written on traditional materials such as paper and fabrics but also on wood, stone and many others.
Prices of the artworks are various, the cheapest is red pocket, costing about VND 15,000. Large-sized painting costs a few million VND. Small paintings, rolls of papers and fabrics, plates cost up to VND 200,000. Fans, stones, decorative strings cost less than VND 100,000.
Ask masters for calligraphy
One of the top things to do in Pho Ong Do is asking masters for calligraphy which brings luckiness, happiness, wealth and health to the receivers. This is one of the beautiful Vietnamese Tet traditions which have been existed for hundreds of year. The most popular words include Phúc (Fortune), Lộc (Bud, Benefices), Thọ (Longevity), Hạnh Phúc (Happiness), Tài (Talent), Trí (Intellect), Xuân Canh Tý 2020 (Spring of Mouse 2020), Bình An (Peace), Xuân (Spring), Thật (Truth), Nhẫn (Patience), Cha (Father), Mẹ (Mother). The most favorite images include bamboo, blossoms, branches of flowers which represent the spring.
Lines of golden apricot trees
For over 10 years, Calligraphy Street has been expanded with lots of models and mini-scenes relating to Vietnamese Tet Festival. Lines of artificial trees with countless yellow apricot flowers are highlights of Pho Ong Do. They attract thousands of people coming to take wonderful photos. They call the lines of trees Đường Hoa Mai (Yellow Apricot Flower Street). Two yellow trees form the arched gate. The tallest tree is put in the center of Pho Ong Do. Behind the biggest tree are arranged 20 big trees which are over 4 meters high and form a beautiful arched dome.
People in the prettiest clothes pose for the greatest pictures at Tet and save the memories of their life. Ao Dai and Ao Ba Ba dominate the area. The street turns colorful with people in colorful Ao Dai. Girls usually hold branches of flowers on their hands while taking photos. They capture photos by digital cameras or smartphones.
In addition, lines of apricot trees are used to decorate the pavement of Pham Ngoc Thach Street. This street has turned into yellow and is one of the most beautiful streets in Ho Chi Minh.
Traditional handicraft villages in Vietnam
Trade villages include incense village, silk village, pottery village are replicated in Pho Ong Do. Incense making village is full of bunches of red incenses. The red color of the incenses draw a sharp contrast to the yellow blossom. These two colors are the most popular at Vietnamese Tet.
Long pieces of fabrics and brocades in various colors are hung on bamboo trees. They can stand between two bamboo hangers to take great photos. Lots of pottery products including jars, vases, plates, bowls, candle holders, cups and bamboo products such as baskets, fishing tools, a house in Vietnam’s countryside make the Calligraphy Street surrounded by luxurious buildings and tourist attractions in the modern city become a corner in the peaceful countryside.
Ao Dai rental stalls
The price of Ao Dai dress and pants are not cheap, Ao Dai for Tet is usually high-colored and has lucky patterns and decorations and could not be used on normal days and other occasions. Taking care of Ao Dai, washing and ironing is not a good choice for people who are busy and do not often wear the traditional dress. Renting an Ao Dai for taking photos at Pho Ong Do is a good choice. The prices are from VND 100,000 and customers must deposit for the Ao Dai a few hundred VND. There is a wide range of choices, red is the number one color, yellow/pink apricot blossom, dragon and phoenix are the most popular patterns, modern Ao Dai with shorter flaps and sleeves are favorite of young people.
Lots of professional photographers provide photo services for people who do not have smartphones or cameras. Some people would like to take better photos by digital cameras and get photo prints. Dozens of photographers are around the Calligraphy Street and happy to satisfy their customers.
Portrait drawing services
There are more than five stalls that provide portrait drawing services. Artists can draw portraits on papers or wooden panels. Prices are about VND 500,000.
Eat and drink when visiting Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City
Known as a green space in the city, 1B Garden in the other side of Pham Ngoc Thach Street is a good place to eat and drink after wandering Calligraphy Street. It opens from 6:00 to 23:00, serves Vietnamese, Asian and Western foods.
Enli Coffee on the ground floor of the building of the Cultural House of Youth in Ho Chi Minh City offers a lot of drinks such as Vietnamese coffee, juices, teas, soft drinks. In addition, many seasonal food and drinks stalls serve snacks, drinks and desserts in the yard of the Cultural House. Street food vendors are in front of the entrances, offer ice cream, cotton candies.
How to be safe at Calligraphy Street in Ho Chi Minh City?
Calligraphy Street is always crowded so that anyone can become a victim of pickpockets and snatch thieves. Visitors should take care of their belongings as well as possible. Besides smartphones, cameras, wallets with some money, handbags containing cosmetics, visitors should leave valuable things such as jewelry, passports, so much money. It is better to bring less than one million VND. Some people bring suitcases of clothes and accessories, thieves never steal bulky luggage.
Top things to do in Calligraphy Street
In summary, there is lots of things to do in Calligraphy Street:
- Walk around
- Take nice photos
- Learn about calligraphy
- Learn more about Vietnamese Tet and culture
- Ask masters for calligraphy
- Go shopping
Ho Chi Minh City has Spring Flower Festivals where to go for a walk, relax, get lost in the wonderland of flowers and take amazing photos. You can also go to Tet Flower Markets in Saigon to see Tet flowers, plants and trees and buy some of them for house decoration.