After an evening stroll through the old town its fairly likely that you’ll fall in love with the iconic Hoi An silk lanterns that set an ambient glow outside every restaurant, tailor shop and hotel; if that doesn’t get you, then a quick glimpse in the direction of the night market will. And just like that old must-have souvenir, the Spanish donkey of the 1970s, it’s likely to be top of your list (along with a nice shiny tailored suit and conical hat) of unwieldy items to add to your excess baggage on the plane back home.
It’s tempting at this point to remind you that these impulse buys never look quite so good when you get them home, but seeing as I have five of them tucked away in the back of my wardrobe just waiting for me to work out the Vietnamese for “pendulum light fitting”, I’ll just give you a pointer on where and how to purchase your Hoi An lantern, rather than the whys.
The first place to head is of course An Hoi’s beautiful lantern night market, which is still one of the cheapest places to pick up any design you should set your heart on. Of you are not yet sure what you’d like, the numerous stalls here are the best to inspire the interior designer in you. Anything is possible; there are myriad shapes and sizes, fabrics and colours, and then of course there are dozens of artisans lining up to handpaint them with Chinese blossoms, long-life symbols and, well, anything really — you can give them a picture and they’ll recreate it right before your very eyes (or while you go off for a bowl of noodles and a fresh beer from one of the restaurant lining the An Hoi river front).
If you have set your heart on something a bit more traditional and are in search of a plain silk lantern, then your best bet is Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street over the Japanese Bridge. (No matter how obstinate the ticket collector is about crossing this sans ticket, you don’t need one, just wave your hands palm down, which means I don’t have a clue what you are on about, and keep walking).
This is the artisan quarter, where you’ll find the most incredible artwork and accessories to go with your lantern in the wardrobe back home. Here you’ll find some of the best prices in town, as the shops here are family homes and don’t incur the huge overheads of the ones in town. The shops at the far end have a great selection of ready to go plain lanterns in every colour under the sun. Two small lanterns should cost just 20,000 VND, a large hand-painted design will come in at 140,000 VND and an enormous teardrop shaped one will have a start price of 120,000 VND.
As with everything in Southeast Asia the final price depends on your bartering prowess; do make sure you must agree on a price before your lantern is stuffed in a plastic bag and thrust upon you. If you are having a hand-painted design, check the price of the plain lantern before you start negotiating over the overall cost. For a large lantern it’s about 80,000 VND at the market and then approximately 100,000 VND for the design depending on the complexity. In town you are likely to pay double.
For the craftier ones among you there are various lantern making workshops available. The most famous is Long Vy Lanterns who run a course for just 60,000 VND; you get to take your lantern home with you (which is just as well if you are a bit clumsy with the bionic glue they use to apply the silk to the frame). Be warned though, that the lanterns you make in these classes are just tealight sized, which is good for luggage, but they look a bit, well, crap really. Life Start Foundation also runs a workshop which includes a tour seeing them make the lanterns in the workshop above their shop on Phan Chau Trinh Stree in town. The group is a not-for-profit employing poverty-struck families in and around Hoi An.
One last bit of advice is to get them to show you how to erect the lantern when you get it home, as they pack them flat and I can’t for the life of me work out how to plump mine up. If you are halfway through your travels and need to post yours home the post office on Tran Hung Dao Street has everything you need to pack and send them off. It’s surprisingly cheap and easy, and will give you something to look forward to when you shove your battered backpack on the plane back home.
Hung An Lanterns
65 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St, Hoi An
Life Start Foundation
77 Phan Chau Trinh St, Hoi An
An Hoi Night Market
An Hoi Islet, Hoi An
Long Vy Lanterns
6 Phan Chau Trinh St, Hoi An
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 13th November, 2014.