Most of the larger-than-life sculptures of Buddha are intended for Hanoi's temples and altars, but small ornate carvings make great gifts and souvenirs. Especially impressive are the carvings made from entire tree branches where the curvature of the wood is incorporated into the piece; dynamic fusions of nature and craft. Price and durability depends on the type of wood. Ironwood is the most difficult to work with and the most expensive, primarily used for furniture, but these pieces will last centuries. Check out Trang Liet and Dong Ky, two of many wood carving villages located just a short drive from central Hanoi.
Thiet Ung village, a short drive from Hanoi, reputedly has the oldest history of wood carving in northern Vietnam. From children's toys to rosewood boxes and bowls, figurines depicting buffalos, dragons, flowers and Buddhas, a hand carved piece of wood purchased in Hanoi makes a unique gift. Many pieces such as headboards or dresser drawers have intricate deep relief carvings. Some woodcarvings depict legendary serpents and other creatures that symbolise wealth, health and other cherished Vietnamese values.