The pretty port town of Hoi An has become a must-visit destination on any trip to Vietnam. It is famous for its food and delicate lanterns. These exquisite silk items can be seen in cafes, bars, restaurants, hotels and shops as you make your way down the river walk on any given evening.
Add to this the paper lanterns that are floated down the river after sunset and the whole scene is particularly picturesque. More people turn out to launch these lanterns bearing tea lights when there is a full moon, but the biggest occasion is the annual Lunar New Year, when the ritual turns into a huge celebration.
Traditional lanterns have been made in Hoi An for hundreds of years and are based on a clever design, which allows them to be packed flat. Pushing down the top then allows the structure of the lantern to pop out once more. They come in various shapes and sizes, which can then be decorated in a number of different ways.
Some lanterns are spherical, while others are more bulbous and an alternative design includes a three-dimensional rhombus shape. The frame tends to be decorated with silk or brocade, giving the light that shines from within a lovely, warm glow. Lanterns can also be painted with delicate designs to enhance their beauty.
How the lanterns are made
Visitors who are keen to learn more about how these traditional artisan wares are made, can take one of two approaches. The first option is to have a guided tour around a workshop and watch how the professionals take all the individual elements and expertly combine them to create the stunning lanterns. Alternatively, you can take a course and go through the steps yourself, until you have your very own lantern to take home with you.
Purchasing lanterns is popular, as they make lovely souvenirs and the experience of buying them is fun in itself. It involves spending time overwhelmed by the astonishing array of styles and colours on display, as well as busting out your best bartering techniques. The lanterns can be transported relatively easily in backpacks or suitcases due to the fact that they collapse, or can be posted quite cheaply from the local post office.
When selecting a lantern, one of the best places to start is the night market, where you can soak in the vision of thousands of lanterns all lit up and vying for space in the many stalls. Prices here are reasonable, so you can often pick up a bargain and there are even artists on hand to paint designs onto your purchase should you wish.
If you do not see exactly what you want at the night market, then head to Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street in the artisan quarter. It is wonderful to walk around these family houses and see lanterns sold in a time-honoured fashion. Some of the intricate work on display here is incredible, making it difficult to leave here without buying something.