When traveling throughout Vietnam, tourists never fail to take notice of the charming local ladies donned in Áo Dài (Vietnamese traditional long dress) and Non-La (conical leaf hat, Vietnamese: Nón Lá) walking gracefully along the streets. By no doubt, the Ao dai embody the femininity and charm of the Vietnamese women, while the appeal and functionality of the Nón Lá create a beautiful harmony of the entire ensemble, leaving a strong impression of gracefulness and romance to any tourist who visits the country. In recognition of the hat’s distinct shape, Nón Lá earned its common name, “Vietnamese conical hat”.
The hat is creatively made of simple and available materials, such as dry palm leaves, bark of Moc tree and bamboo. After being carefully selected, young green palm leaves are displayed under the sun until they dry but are still soft enough to be flattened. Afterward, the leaves are sewn on a conical frame consisting of 16 round bamboo rims. Finally, the hat is trimmed and painted with a coat of attar to keep it clean, smooth, and water-proof. Thanks to the hand of skillful artisans, those natural materials are smoothly tapered from the base to the apex to produce beautiful conical hat.
Vietnam’s special conical hats are usually adorned with colorful manually-stitched patterns of traditional countryside landscapes, rice fields or bamboo hedges. The ancient capital of Hue, the birthplace of many famous and talented poets, is famous for it's “non bai tho” (poetical conical hats) which are decorated with poetic verses, romantic characters and beautiful images of Hue. Those unique and sophisticated decorations become readable when being exposed to the sunlight.
Vietnam is a tropical country characterized both by rainy and dry seasons. Clearly, Non-La is essential for the people to protect themselves from heat which could last for months, and sometimes even reaching 40 degrees Celsius in intensity, and also during long periods of enduring rain. Though the Non-La has appeared even from the earlier days of the country’s history, no one can precisely trace back as to when the conical head piece exactly originated. Images of the Non La, however, are evident on the Trong Dong Ngoc Lu (Ngoc Lu bronze drum) and Thap Dong Dao Thinh (large bronze cylindrical jar of Dao Thinh) known to date back some 2,500 to 3,000 years ago indicating that the hat had already been utilized during the period, or even earlier. Nón Lá had in fact existed as a daily essential of the Vietnamese from thousands of years ago and even in legends and fictions handed down throughout the generations.