Hoi An is famous for the ancient town with cultural and spiritual meanings, peaceful Hoai River and authentic cuisine. Hoi An is famous for Thanh Ha pottery products, Kim Bong wood products but also beautiful and delicate lanterns. One of the highlights on a Hoi An trip is trolling into small streets of the old town under hundreds of twinkle colorful Hoi An lanterns of different shapes and sizes at night.
Lantern making in Hoi An dates back 400 years. In the 16th century, after Thanh dynasty was overthrown by Ming dynasty, Nguyen Lords of Vietnam accepted Chinese refugees from Phuc Kien, Trieu Chau, Quang Dong to live in Hoi An. These Chinese people expressed love for their hometown by hanging lanterns in front of their houses. It has been said that the ancestor of Hoi An lantern making was Xa Duong – a master of making dragon heads and lanterns for festivals. Throughout many years, artists have been created and made lanterns more splendid and diverse in design. Hoi An lanterns have 9 basic shapes: sphere, octagonal prism, hexagonal prism, pumpkin, garlic, cylinder, papaya, pyramid, umbrella. In addition, they also make lotus-shaped and dragon-shaped lanterns. Lanterns are covered with hand-painted, pattern or plain silk. The brightness of a lantern depends on the fabric thickness.
Although a Hoi An lantern looks simple with bamboo frame and silk cover, the process of making it is complex. Choosing materials is important. Bamboo must be fresh, not too young, not too old. They should be soaked in salt water for 10 days, then dried under the sun to make sure the frame strong, durable and safe from termites. Silk must be high quality so that it’s not easy to be torn. Processed bamboo is whittled into laths which are used to make frame of lantern, then silk cloths are cut into pieces and glued onto frame. The last step is that the artist paints on the cloths beautiful images such as flowers, landscapes, Vietnamese girls wearing Ao Dai and conical hat. It needs to be skillful, talent and patient.
In recent days, lanterns produced in Hoi An are sold popularly in other regions of Vietnam and exported to other countries in the world. Being simple but splendid, Hoi An lanterns have been used to decorate houses, restaurants, cafe, and hotels. It has become an important part in Vietnamese culture because it appears at wedding parties and many traditional festivals. They are also favorite souvenirs of tourists visiting Hoi An as well as Vietnam. Tourists can also do a Hoi An lantern making tour to learn more about how artist make this beautiful item and try making it themselves.