Thanh Chiem in Quang Nam Province used to be an important administrative, political, economic and cultural center. Today only a thriving of copper casting industry remains.
The temple dedicated to the founders of Thanh Chiem Village
In its glory days, the town in what is now Dien Phuong Commune, Dien Ban District was called Thanh Chiem Town Hall as befitting its status in the central region.
The original Thanh Chiem was built in 1602 by the Emperor Nguyen Hoang, who entrusted its care to Prince Nguyen Phuc Nguyen. Chiem urged the prince to expand the emperor's dominion southward. Much later, Western priests arrived in the area and introduced the Roman alphabet into the Vietnamese language.
A stone tablet at Thanh Chiem's communal house recalls the prosperous times when foreign ships calling at Hoi An had to complete their port formalities at Thanh Chiem Town Hall.
Having undergone countless changes in history, Thanh Chiem shows few traces of its former prosperity apart from the copper casting trade, and is more accurately described as a village.
Old folks say copper casting in Dien Phuong Commune dates back to the Nguyen Dynasty (from 1468 to 1738). By the end of the eighteenth century, there were two separate copper casting quarters, Dong Kieu and Phuoc Kieu, both enjoyed as roaring trade. In addition to gongs, bells and other musical instruments, and household items like pots and incense burners, they made ammunition and royal seals for the Nguyen kings.
King Minh Mang invited several of the town's coppersmiths to cast coins and seals for use in worship at the shrine in Hue's citadel.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Nguyen king proclaimed the two hamlets as one and gave the name Phuoc Kieu Commune, also known as Phuoc Kieu Copper Casting Village. The name has continued to this day.
GETTING TO THANH CHIEM
- From Da Nang, the fare for the 30-kilometer bus trip is VND15,000 while a taxi costs VND300,000.
- From Hoi An, take a taxi, or ride a bicycle or motorcycle as it's only a short way.
The distinctive copper wares became renowned throughout the land and included gongs, cymbals and bells for highlanders who treasured them as family heirlooms. The coppersmiths displayed their expertise in the way they could fashion different gongs to suit the various ethnic groups from the central region.
Almost 30 kilometers south of Da Nang City, and less than 10km west of Hoi An, Thanh Chiem can be reached by National Road 1A or the River Hoai by traveling up the Thu Bon River from Hoi An.
There are organized tours to Phuoc Kieu and other once famous occupational villages that specialize in making mats, rice paper, ceramics and other daily items. Along the way, the most discerning appetites can be sated with the famous Phu Chiem noodles or Cau Mong smoked beef made from calf at most any roadside eatery or fancy restaurant.
Thanh Chiem is on the historical sightseeing route from Hoi An to the Champa ruins of My Son, called the Pilgrimage Way. It's an interesting trip and the best way to discover the history and traditions of Vietnam's central region. An organized tour from Hoi An to My Son and back can be booked by any travel agent.
In 2007, the Quang Nam People's Committee, the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism and several tour operators in Hoi An organized a tour by cyclo to Thanh Chiem, specifically for foreigners. It was the first time that Quang Nam's tourism authorities felt confident enough to take tourists to a rural area in the hinterland. Departing from Hoi An, a dozen gaily decorated xich lo, as pedicabs are called in Vietnamese, traveled the ten kilometers west to their destination.
Thanh Chiem Town Hall in the 17th century painted by a Japanese merchant