Hoi An, located in central Vietnam, is known for two things, tailors and beautiful silk lanterns! When you visit, you must experience Hoi An lanterns in some form or another. You can do this by just walking through the streets admiring the brightly colored lanterns hanging over head, by launching your own candle lit paper lantern on the river or by making your own beautiful Hoi An lantern.
During our visit, we ended up doing all three. Wandering around Hoi An soaking up the beautiful lanterns that are seemingly hung from every tree and strung across the roadside is magical. You feel like you are walking into a fairytale. While this is fantastic, our favorite experience of all was making our own silk Vietnamese lanterns with The Lantern Lady.
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History of Hoi An Lanterns
In Vietnam, it is believed that lanterns bring good fortune and happiness when hung in front of your house. In Hoi An you will see beautiful silk lanterns draped in front of homes, across the road and hanging from trees.
According to some, the lanterns first made an appearance here in the late 16th century when Hoi An was a bustling commercial port filled with Chinese and Japanese settlers. During this time, silk was one of Hoi An’s top commodity’s which is what the lanterns were made of. The hanging of the lanterns were thought to bring good fortune to the town, which based on current day tourism levels I would say it worked!
Hoi An’s lanterns are made by hand using bamboo, wire and silk fabric. These days you can see all shapes and sizes of lanterns throughout the town. They are such an ever present symbol of Hoi An, that it makes the perfect souvenir to take home. And even better when you make it yourself!
Lantern Making Class with The Lantern Lady
As I mentioned previously, one of the best ways to experience Hoi An lanterns is by making your own. There are several classes offered in Hoi An, but honestly, the only place you need to know of is The Lantern Lady! Thuy is amazing and her classes are SO much cheaper than the other classes offered in the hotels around town.
I had first heard of The Lantern Lady from a fellow blogger who had heard of her from another traveler. This is how she gets most of her business. I’m reluctant to write about her class only because I don’t want her to be overrun with tourists, but hey, my blog isn’t that busy and honestly if I can help her get more business I’d love to.
The owner, Thuy is just the sweetest person ever. She is so calm and gentle and absolutely welcoming to all. We had a wonderful several hours at her workshop and did not want to leave.
The Lantern Lady does not require advance bookings, but it is recommended that you email her in advance to see what the best time to arrive would be. We did this, but during our visit, several families showed up without bookings and it was fine.
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ARE YOU LOOKING FOR OTHER HANDS ON ACTIVITIES IN VIETNAM? CHECK OUT OUR POST ON THE BEST VILLAGE EXPERIENCE OUTSIDE OF HANOI WHERE YOU CAN MAKE A BROOM AND FISH LOCAL STYLE!
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Making Hoi An Lanterns
Once you arrive to Thuy’s small studio down a little alley opposite Orchids Hotel, you will be asked which lantern you wish to make. Choose between an express class that already has the bamboo sticks prepared beforehand or make one from scratch. We chose to do one of each. My son doing the full version, and I the express.
This class is appropriate for kids and adults, however some children will need extra assistance. My 8 year old managed to make his Vietnamese lantern almost entirely on his own with a little help from Thuy.
Making the Hoi An lantern from scratch consists of approximately 11 steps starting with attaching the bamboo sticks with wire, shaping the bamboo, threading with the hangers and hammering in each of the pieces including the tassel hook. My son loved doing all of these steps as it involved hammering and using his muscles.
Once you have made your basic shape, you will move on to adding the silk fabric. This is where the express class starts and where I began making mine.
At this point, you will choose what color fabric you want to use. Thuy will show you how to add the glue to the bamboo sticks, cut the excess fabric and repeat on all the sides. This is pretty easy for even smaller kids to do, so for younger children I would recommend starting at this level. Last, you add ribbon and a colorful tassel to give it a finishing touch.
This project does require patience and some skills with scissors, but overall, I would say it is a fun craft for most ages.
Wait! How do I get this home? Do not worry as Thuy has thought of everything. The lanterns collapse a bit making it easier to pack and travel with. As worried as my son was, folding it does not ruin the fabric or lantern.
How Much Does the Lantern Making Class Cost?
There are a few lantern classes around town, but this is the best by far. The owner is amazing, as are the clientele. But most importantly for many, it is also the most economical!
At the time of writing (2019), the full class is $6 with the express class costing $4. Definitely a bargain to make your own lantern and get a souvenir in the process. I am not sure you could even purchase a lantern for these prices in the market without serious bargaining!
Other Ways to Enjoy Hoi An Lanterns
The old area of Hoi An is called Ancient Town. You will know it by the fact that it’s mostly car free and is beautifully decorated with lanterns all over. One of our favorite things to do in Hoi An was stroll around the streets around dusk as the lanterns all start coming on. It’s such a beautiful sight to see. One of our favorite streets is just off the river near the restaurant Morning Glory. Make sure to also get away from this main street and head off down smaller roads leading away from the river as they are all beautifully decorated as well.
Lantern Boat Ride
If you are like us and enamored by the lanterns, you will want to also take a lantern boat ride on the river. The boat rides are only 15-20 minutes as the area they can go on the river is quite short. However, it proved to be the perfect amount of time to experience this unique part of the culture.
We spent a few days walking along the river, casually bargaining with the boats on offer. On our first night we were able to get a boat down to 50,000 dong for myself and my son (Exchange rate of 20,000 Dong to the USD). We weren’t really interested in going at that point, but that gave us a good starting point to know for when we were ready to go for a ride. The following night, a lady approached us and offered her boat for 60,000 so we took it with no bargaining at all!
The price of the boat should also include at least 1 small paper candle lit lantern per person. Our boat even gave us a third when I accidentally drowned my upon release!
Choose a boat, hop on and enjoy the scenery stroll past. It’s a beautiful way to take in all the lights of the town along the shore.
Have you been to Hoi An? Were you as obsessed with the lanterns as we were?
Are you headed to Vietnam? Check out our other posts to help plan your trip!
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