Guốc Mộc are sandals worn by Vietnamese and considered by many as a national dress. The earliest reference to sandals was in the third century, when a Vietnamese resistance leader called Ba Trieu wore ivory clogs. Experts believe it took until the Tran Dynasty (1407-1409) before bamboo sandals made from bamboo roots were worn by the population who up until this time went unshod.
Bamboo sandals were usually kept for festivals or visiting friends and wooden clogs were worn at home. These were usually homemade and had thick soles with slightly turned-up tips. The straps, which attached through a hole in the front and a pair of holes on the sides, were braided from soft cloth.
The curved sole meant the knot of the front strap did not rub on the ground. The soles of women's clogs were shaped like hour-glasses, while sampan clogs (men's clogs) had straight soles. The white wood was left unpainted but well-to-do people would have their clogs painted in black and brown with a pale coloured triangle on the side of the sole. In some areas clogs were known as ‘dons” and a common saying was "a foot with a shoe, a foot with a don" to indicate rich people who put on airs.
Before the August Revolution in 1945, clogs produced in Hue were called "capital clogs" or guoc kinh. These clogs had soles made from coconut shells or light wood, painted white and gold with embroidered straps.
The Guoc Viet (wooden sandals) became more popular under the French Rule during the Nguyen Dynasty (1858 -1945). At first rich town dwellers wore the new wooden sandals before the costume eventually spread to rural workers. Generally school children wore clogs up until the 1940s. Guoc Viet were made in craft villages in the northern provinces of Bac Ninh and Ha Tay, and Thanh Tri and Thanh Xuan districts in Ha Noi. The sandals were made from a special wood called mit because of its light weight, strength and durability. Sandals varied from the very expensive to the cheap and cheerful. Most people kept their better sandals for special and solemn occasions and they were often worn with traditional ao dai dresses. Gradually the wooden sandal was replaced with designer fashion.
Traditional wooden sandals are still available and can be bought in the market places for about VND40,000 (US$2.50). It is common for tourists to combine their favourite sandal sole with an attractive strap and the sandal merchants will nail the shoes to order. More fashionable sandals are now available and made from the wood of the bead-tree, fir and coral tree. Bead-tree wood is considered the best quality as it does not easily break or bend. It is also a heavy wood and so some manufacturers use fir tree wood because it is a lighter wood. Artisans shape the sandal then they are painted with a glossy paint, before decorations are drawn onto the surface.
The Vietnamese poet To Huu considered the zither like sound made by young girls and their wooden shoes to be a romantic.
During the American War in Vietnam, Viet Cong wore sandals made from tyre rubber with the sandal soles reversed to confuse anyone following in their footsteps through the Củ Chi tunnels.
Wooden sandals come back with pizzaz Viet Nam News 2006. Reviewed 16/08/2019