Hoi An’s love affair with lanterns
HOI AN’S lanterns have a beautiful history which predates a time of Instagrammability.
The small seaside city is undoubtedly one of the most photogenic places in Vietnam, if not the world.
It was once considered by Chinese and Japanese merchants as one of Southeast Asia’s best ports to trade fabric, furniture, and food. To this day, Chinese, Japanese and French influences can still be seen, experienced, and tasted in this quaint city.
But perhaps the best way to indulge in the nostalgia of Hoi An is by admiring the hundreds of lanterns that light the city streets and river at night.
Every tree and balcony in the ancient city have a string of brightly colored lanterns that weave across the roads. They bob in the gentle breeze and make Hoi An look like a scene from an enchanting fairy tale.
These beautiful lanterns have illuminated Hoi An since the 16th century when international trade was popularized in these parts with many traders deciding to settle on the coast of Vietnam.
Alongside other traditions and customs, such as cuisine, settlers brought with them lanterns to light their homes and shops and bring about good luck.
Over time, those lanterns made from wood and silk gained popularity and locals began hanging them up too. Then they became ingrained in Vietnamese culture as an art form.
See, the creation of a lantern is no easy task. First, there’s choosing the materials, from bamboo, paper or silk, then comes the often intricate designs drawn, printed or sewn on each one.
But it was a skill worth learning because as tourism became popular in Vietnam during the 1990s, visitors began falling in love with these enchanting lanterns and makers of them discovered a new way to earn money.
Craftspeople began forking off from the traditional red lanterns that are so prevalent in Chinese culture and created a rainbow of lanterns utilizing plenty of shapes, including diamond, lotus, garlic, and balloon.
The most popular lantern shape in Hoi An are the rounds ones.
In Vietnamese culture, these symbolize harmony and balance and supposedly attract warmth, peace, and luck to a household.
But Hoi An doesn’t stop at just illuminating its street in magnificent colors, it also turns the Thu Bồn River into a flowing rainbow with lantern boats.
This tradition began as a way to honor Vietnamese spiritual values by thinking of every lantern boat sent down the river as a prayer.
These lanterns, which are usually lotus flowers made from paper, are intended to remove suffering and bring prosperity. However, this custom is only really practiced by locals during New Year festivals.
Throughout the rest of the year, it’s mostly foreign visitors to Hoi An who pay a small fee to set their thoughts, wishes, and prayers down the river on a lotus lantern.
Not only is Hoi An a wonderful place to see such a spectacular showcase of lanterns, but it’s also one of the best places in Vietnam to buy them and they make fantastic gifts.
If you’re heading to this part of the world and want to leave with your own lanterns, consider embarking on a workshop to create your bespoke designs. One of the best places to do this in Hoi An is at Backstreet Academy.
Here you’ll be taught how to shape the bamboo and cover the frame in material properly so that your lantern lasts. You’ll also learn about the cultural significance of lanterns in Vietnam and all for just US$18 (VND420,000).