The Non La – The Conical Hat | A Cultural Icon of Vietnam

As a cultural icon of Vietnam, conical hats appear in many aspects in local life such as a walk around town, in literature, fashion, and the arts. The conical hat is an indispensable part of Vietnam’s past, present, and future. Let’s learn a thing or two before you travel to our country!

The Non La – A Cultural Icon of Vietnam

Conical hats and the ao dai are the first things that come to mind when we think about the traditional costume of Vietnam. Although the conical hat is rustic, it is an elegant costume when combined with the ao dai. An interesting fact that you may not know is that the conical hat appeared before any other traditional costume in Vietnam. Throughout time, it has an important meaning in Vietnamese culture. Let’s find out what made the conical hat into a characteristic staple of the country. 


The image of the conical hat was engraved on a Ngoc Lu bronze drum and Dao Thich bronze jar anywhere between 2500-3000 BC. The bronze drum is considered to be one of the oldest archaeological items in Vietnam, so these images have special meaning to our history.

From time immemorial, the conical hat has appeared in Vietnamese daily life, folktales, literature, and the arts. Although there have been many wars during the whole history of the country, the conical hat still remains. In Hue, there are some traditional conical hat villages such as Dong Di (Phu Vang district), Da Le (Huong Thuy district), and Phu Cam (Hue city). These traditional trade villages are also famous tourist attractions nowadays.

How to Make a Conical Hat

The conical hat is usually woven with different kinds of leaves such as palm, bamboo, or coconut leaf. The hat usually has the shape of a cone as evidenced by the name. Thin and small bamboo sticks are bent into a circle with different diameters. These circles are pinned on a conical frame by thread, silk, or filament. Hatmakers make the leaves flat, cut cross-head on the top of the leaves, and uses a needle to sew the top of 24 or 25 leaves together. 

How to Make a Conical Hat

Next, the sewed leaves are attached to the conical frame. Because the leaves are thin, the conical hat will easily deteriorate when it is worn under heavy rains. Therefore, hatmaker makes use of bamboo spathes to make the second layer, so the conical hat is both hard and durable. Then, the last leaf layer is attached to the frame and this layer is the same as the first layer. All the layers are fastened with strings on the frame. The leaves on the third layer cannot cover the whole frame, so the hatmaker cuts other leaves into small pieces to fill these gaps. Then, all the leaves and layers are sewed by thread around every bamboo circle on the frame.

In the middle of the third and fourth bamboo circle, hatmaker uses thread to tie the strap. The strap is usually made of velvet or silk in many different colors. The outside of the conical hat is covered with varnish to increase the durability and beauty.

Different Types of Conical Hat in Vietnam

There are many different types of conical hat. Some of them are broad and flat hats. In fact, the conical hat is called non la in Vietnamese, meaning leaf hat. Therefore, other hats made of the leaf are considered as non la or conical hat in English. However, the common shape of the hat is still the cone and the other shapes appear less. Different types of conical hat are used by the elderly, children, officials, and soldiers. The hat also has its own unique features in different areas in the country. 

The Non La – A Cultural Icon of Vietnam

Non dau, the hat of feudal soldiers in the past, is similar to the normal conical hat but the brim is smaller. Non go gang, made in Binh Dinh province, is worn when riding a horse. Non quai thao, a broad and flat leaf hat, is often used in festivals by the Northern Vietnamese. Non thung has a basket shape. The red hat can be found in the border region of Cao Bang province. Non la sen is made of the lotus leaf in Hue. Finally, the most impressive hat is non bai tho in Hue, meaning poem hat in English. This hat is painted with poems. The pictures and poems represent the symbols and words of our country. With the numerous hats above, this just reflects the creativity of the local people.

Practical Uses and the Important Meaning in Vietnamese Culture

The conical hat is used to protect the wearer from sunshine and rain. In rural areas of Vietnam, you will see many scenes of conical hats ducking in and out of the plants in a farm.  These are farmers working hard with conical hats on their head, and they rarely separate from them. On the hot days, they can also use the hat like a fan. Not only do farmers wear these hats, but vendors on the street, sellers at the market, or people simply working in the elements wear the conical hat. 

The conical hat is considered to be a fashion item in Vietnam. Beautiful girls usually wear the ao dai, the traditional clothes of Vietnam, with the conical hat. Ao dai and the conical hat create an elegant costume and are a symbol of the Vietnamese girl. Non bai tho in Hue is usually painted with a picture of a Vietnamese girl wearing her ao dai and conical hat. Even in fashion shows, the appearance of the conical hat is a regular occurence. The conical hat has even appeared in the fashion shows of foreign countries.

218 Dance Crew is Vietnam’s first representative that entered Asia’s Got Talent final in 2017. The conical hat was a part of the uniform! Through this competition, the image of the conical hat and traditional culture spread widely to foreign friends from all over the world.

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These hats have even been transformed into decoration. Put a light bulb inside the hat and tie the hats together to create a chain. The hat softens the glow of the bulb, creating an attractive bohemian look. This decoration is usually used in cultural festivals. Wind chimes designed with the shape of the conical hat are also a nice decoration and souvenir for tourists. 

Moreover, the conical hat brings an endless inspiration to the artist. The painter and photographer usually use the conical hat and beautiful girls to make unique pictures and photos. Many pictures and photos are exhibited and sold at art galleries.

And yes! They even appear in our ancient literature in the form of folk songs and poems.

Hue people love poems and music
The white front of the ao dai is gently blown away by the wind
A poem of the conical hat is shyly written by the hand
Step quietly when the sunshine is less
(Author – Bich Lan)

Because the conical hat is so important to our culture, it is also considered a special gift picked-out by tourists when visiting Vietnam. Conical hats are sold in many big markets throughout the country. If you wear a conical hat in Vietnam, you also look more local and friendly. Therefore, you should wear the conical hat at least once when traveling to Vietnam and take a photo of it for a good memory.

Where to Buy the Conincal Hat

A conical hat costs from 30,000 VND to 50,000 VND. Big markets sell many different kinds of conical hat, so you will have more options to choose from. The list below is the most famous markets located downtown. Therefore, the sellers will often over charge foreigners. You need to practice your bargaining skills for the most reasonable price.

Ben Thanh Market

Address: Le Loi street, Ben Thanh ward, district 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Hoi An Market

Address: Tran Quy Cap street, Cam Chau ward, Hoi An

Dong Xuan Market

Address: Dong Xuan street, Hoan Kiem district, Hanoi

Many tourist shops and tourist spots sell the conical hat throughout Vietnam. However, the price will be more expensive than in the big markets. You should expect this beforehand.

After reading this article, you will know everything about the conical hat. There are still more cultural icons to discover in Vietnam:

Vietnamese Traditional Costumes: History, Culture and Where to Find Them

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like some more fun info about what to see, do and eat (and a bunch of interesting cafes!) in Vietnam, follow us at the Travel Blog Phuot3mien!

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