Hoi An is one of the most touristy spots in Vietnam, and it’s easy to understand why. Apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An is also simply beautiful to look at. Its Old Town, which is situated by a river, features colorful old buildings decorated with vibrant hanging lanterns.
The lanterns were first brought to the country by Chinese tradesmen in the 16th century via the Maritime Silk Route. Over the years, the design evolved from the traditional red hexagonal lanterns into a range of interesting shapes and colors. The Vietnamese also substituted the wooden frame with bamboo. Hoi An is the birthplace of these Vietnamese-style lanterns.
And the great thing about the lanterns in Hoi An is that not only can you buy them as souvenirs, you can also learn how to make them (and of course take home your finished artwork)!
How to Get to Hoi An
The nearest airport is in Da Nang, which has domestic connections from major cities in Vietnam and some international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, Siem Reap, and Hong Kong. To get to Hoi An from Da Nang Airport, you can get a direct transfer. Klook offers the cheapest and most convenient airport transfer to Hoi An.
Alternatively, if you’d like to spend some time in Da Nang first, you can take the shared shuttle to Da Nang, and from there, take the yellow local bus to Hoi An. The bus number is #1. It is available every 20-30 minutes on Ong Ich Khiem Road (near the train station). Beware that they might try to overcharge you. The correct bus fare is VND20,000 per person.
The journey will take approximately 50 minutes, terminating at the Hoi An bus station, which is just outside the center. From the bus station, take a xe-om (motorbike taxi) to your hotel/guesthouse. It needs some haggling, but the standard fare should be around VND10,000 – 15,000.
Lantern-Making Classes in Hoi An
There are several lantern-making classes in the Old Town of Hoi An.
I went to Hoi An Handicraft Tours (Cua Hang Den Long) on Tran Cao Van street. It was not the cheapest but I chose it because it was the closest to where I was staying (literally on the same street). The other selling point is that they allow you to make your lantern from scratch, unlike most other workshops where you are only taught how to attach fabric to a premade frame.
Hoi An Handicraft Tours is a family-owned business run by three siblings who have had more than 6 years’ experience in the industry since taking over the business from their grandfather. Initially, they only sold lanterns, which they still do, but since the end of 2017, they have been conducting daily lantern-making classes as well.
Other Lantern-Making Classes in Hoi An
Monday – Friday, 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Price: VND 345,000 (USD 15)
Everyday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. / 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Price: VND 345,000 (USD 15)
How to Book
If you’re one person or a small group, chances are you can just walk in and attend any of those classes without prior booking. Otherwise, it is better to book ahead to avoid disappointment. Most of the workshops have their own websites or Facebook pages through which you can make a reservation.
I booked my class at Hoi An Handicraft Tours using the Klook app because it offered a special discount. You can also get cashbacks that you can use to offset your next purchase.
FULL CLASS (Making the Lantern from Scratch)
Duration: 3 hours
VND 380,000VND 323,000
EXPRESS CLASS (Making the Lantern Using a Pre-made Frame)
Duration: 1.5 hours
VND 250,000VND 235,000
For first-time Klook users, register using this referral code to get a HKD 25 voucher: FFKSC.
This class is also suitable for kids, although some of the younger ones may require assistance or supervision from the parents.
When I arrived at the shop, the previous class was still going on, so I had to wait for a little while. They served me a cup of hot tea (which they kindly refilled throughout the class). In the meantime, I got the chance to look around the place and watch the other participants give finishing touches to their lanterns. I was also asked to take a look at the choices of fabrics available, which I would later need to choose for my lantern.
If you love colors and oriental decorations, you’d go crazy in here. The room is overflowing with lanterns of all shapes and colors. Some are even handpainted with motifs of flowers, trees, and birds. Make sure you bring enough cash with you in case you want to bring some home. They are collapsible, so you can easily fit them in your luggage.
Choosing the Shape of Your Lantern
As beginners, we could only choose between the sunrise garlic (with the wider part at the top) or the sunset garlic (with the wider part at the bottom). The ones you see in the picture above are mostly sunrise garlics. I chose sunset because it seemed to be less common and because sunset is my favorite time of the day.
Making the Bamboo Frame
The next step is to bend the bamboo sticks into your desired shape. You will take 12 bamboo sticks, string them together with a piece of wire, and then bend them with the help of a stone pillar at the entrance of the shop. Bending the bamboos actually required considerable strength, I don’t think I would have managed to do it on my own. Luckily, the instructor was there to assist me.
If this doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can save yourself the trouble and opt for an express class instead, where you will use a premade bamboo frame.
Choosing the Color of Your Lantern
Next, you will choose the fabric(s) for your lantern. There are many different colors available. You can choose either silk or linen, or you can even mix two different materials/colors together. Now is the time to get creative! Red and gold are considered lucky colors, while yellow is the traditional Buddhist color that also represents Hoi An. I chose a dark-teal silk.
It was only later that I found out that green — and I suppose any shade with a greenish undertone — was an unlucky color in Vietnamese culture. Oh well. At least it matched my bed sheets.
Attaching the Fabric to the Frame
The Finished Product
I’m proud to report that I was the first to finish the lantern. Even the instructors remarked that I was very fast (not something people usually say about me).
Well, I had a bus to catch.
We put the lantern over a lightbulb to see how it would look like lighted up. And this was the result: