Hoi An Silk Village
Modern-day Hoi An was built on the region’s history of silk and textile production and was once a key trading centre along the Maritime Silk Route. For centuries, Hoi An was considered a hub for quality silk wares. The production of artisanal items provided employment to thousands of people in the Quang Nam Province. The Hoi An Silk Village used to be home to many craftspeople who created products solely via silkworm farming and production. However, due to local competition and a decline in the desire for handcrafted items, the production house was closed almost 100 years ago.
The Hoi An Silk Village opened its doors to public tours seven years ago in an effort to reignite interest and appreciation for handcrafted textiles and sericulture. Sericulture is the cultivation and farming of silkworms to produce silk. The Hoi An Silk Village aims to preserve and share the history of silk production in Hoi An – which is central to the city’s history and identity.
Visiting the Hoi An Silk Village
The village is located about one kilometre away from Hoi An’s Old Town. It exhibits and celebrates the 300-year-old history of the Maritime Silk Route. The premises are surrounded by mulberry and lotus gardens and other botanic farms. The architecture is a beautiful backdrop for learning about traditional silk manufacturing processes, as their buildings are good examples of historical Quang Nam style architecture.
As well as the silk production workshops, the premises also contain traditional house structures, two restaurants, a cafe, hotel, textile showrooms, and tailors. At least a dozen artisans are currently employed in the manufacturing and weaving of silk yarn and textiles. All using traditional processes and looms to produce their wares.
A Guide to Hoi An Silk Village Tours
The Hoi An Silk Village conducts two types of tours showcasing the history of the silk production process. A long tour, which takes four hours, and a short tour. which runs for 45 minutes.
Firstly the long tour enables you to gain an in-depth understanding of the silk production process. In this interactive tour, you have the chance to try your hand at different stages of the production process. Along with being able to take photos and ask questions along the way. You really get a feel for the effort and time involved that it takes craftspeople to create their amazing wares.
Secondly, the short tour is more of a summary overview where you move through each area at a quicker pace. Therefore your time to take photos and question opportunities are limited. Also, due to time constraints, you only look at the demonstrations and don’t participate at any stage.
The Long Tour
For the purpose of this review, to get the full experience, we opted for the long tour. The tour started with a hotel pick up by transport organised by the Hoi An Silk Village. Ferrying you to the premises not far from the Old Town.
Upon arrival, you sit within the traditional structures and are presented a nón lá. A traditional Vietnamese conical hat, to wear throughout the tour. An icy glass of dark purple mulberry juice served in a wine glass sets the scene. So as you sip, you share introductions with your guide.
The walking part of the tour starts with a tour through a large traditional Vietnamese house. Previously home to one family, now used as an introduction space to showcase items of the silk production process. These included such things as fabrics, cocoons, and a range of looms in operation since 1935.
The Silkworm Caterpillars
After the introduction, you enter a small room to meet the stars of the show—the silkworm caterpillars. The species of silkworms utilised for silk manufacture at the Hoi An Silk Village is the Bombyx mori. The caterpillar of the domesticated silkmoth and the most popular silkworm used in the production of gossamer material. Commercial silkworm species come in two varieties, white and yellow. This also determines the colour of the silk cocoon, and consequently the colour of the silk thread.
During the tour, you meet caterpillars at varying ages. The youngest only a day or two old (which look like minuscule ants), as well as silkworms, around one-week-old, and larger ones that are nearly ready to start spinning their cocoons. These hungry little caterpillars need to eat regularly to survive and grow, feeding every three hours during the day, and six hours at night. The good news is you get to participate in preparing their food and feeding them!
Feeding the Caterpillars
With your non-la hat on, you head to the mulberry garden to pick leaves from the mulberry bushes. These are the only type of plant that silkworms feed upon. The bushes farmed at the Hoi An Silk Village are hybrids of the traditional mulberry bush. Originally grown by the native Champa people and a variety of Vietnamese mulberry plant. Over the centuries, these bushes have been grown together to produce plants that grow larger healthier leaves. Today, you can actually see both types of leaves growing on a single branch.
You carefully pick a range of leaf sizes suitable for the different ages groups of caterpillars, Then you take the large basket of leaves back to the silkworm room and chop them on a traditional wood chopping block. You then feed the leafy strips to the week-old caterpillars and give whole leaves to the oldest caterpillars. The hungry little caterpillars are fast eaters and munch through the leaves surprisingly quickly. It’s really interesting watching them devouring the greenery before your eyes.
After feeding, it’s on to the unravelling house where you watch the process of how each silk thread is extracted from the cocoons, using a traditional boiling and spinning machine. The long tour allows you to try your hand at unravelling the thread and feeding it into the spinner. Using giant chopsticks to grab the cocoons from the boiling water and pinching the softened cocoon with your nails to find the silk strand. You then pull something like a fine strand of a spider’s web and feed it into the thread spinner.
The number of cocoons included in each silk thread determines the quality of the silk. A high-quality thread is made from 40 or so cocoons. Mid-range consists of 15 to 20 cocoons and low-quality use only five or so. Fabric created using a high-quality silk yarn, 40 cocoons per thread, costs approximately 1,700,000 VND (73 USD) per metre. This is because they require more cocoons and a longer processing time.
Once the silk thread is extracted and spun into a single thread, it goes through further processing of boiling and dying. The longer the thread is boiled, the softer and stretchier the silk is, which also affects the quality of the end product. After the spun thread has gone through each process, it becomes usable silk yarn and utilised to weave various fabrics.
Fabric Production Workshops
The next part of the tour takes place in the fabric weaving workshops and Cham textile house. The first workspace contains traditional looms and equipment used for weaving textiles. Some of the large looms can take two people one or more days to thread for weaving, requiring 20,000 threads to threaded through each small eye of the loom. Many fabrics are a combination of silk and cotton, as the cotton threads strengthen the fabric making it more affordable.
You get to try using the loom by stomping on the large pedal. But it’s very hard work and requires strong legs to continually work these machines! Therefore the stronger and faster the pedal works, the tighter the weave.
The Champa Artisans
After that, in the next workroom, you meet a number Champa artisans. They have been weaving fabrics their entire lives, working hard, producing up to three metres per day. One type of traditional loom demands the worker sit on the floor using back support strapped to the loom. With the aim of keeping a straight back at all times; otherwise, the fabric loses its tension in the weaving process.
One of the Champa women guides you in how to use a traditional brocade weaving loom. The loom looks simple at first but is quite a complicated contraption. It uses five layers of threads, and a pulley system to change the thread layers, to obtain the desired pattern. It’s harder than expected to get the rhythm right, but she’s so lovely and patient guiding you through the process. Some brocade fabrics take up to 10 days to create, and it takes over six months to learn how to competently use this type of loom. So luckily, there’s no expectation to master it in 15 minutes! But it definitely gives you a sense of the skill involved.
Silk Showroom & Identifying Fabric
The walking part of the tour ends at the silk showroom, housed in a spacious Quang Nam-styled building, displaying a great range of luxury silk and other Vietnamese fabrics. Here, you learn how to identify fabric using the burn test. Because 100 per cent silk is made from a natural material similar to human hair, it smells like hair when burned and stops burning as soon as the flame is removed. Since silk yarn is a natural product, it makes for comfortable breathable fabric and has the added value of being fire resistant.
Purchasing Silk Items
If you wish to purchase items and support the local artisans, there is a great range to choose from. For instance scarves, shirts, dresses, and tops, as well as pieces of fabric that you can take home, or have tailored to your desired design whilst in Hoi An. Surprisingly the prices are extremely reasonable, especially considering the hours and effort that goes into each stage of production. From the cultivation of the silkworms to obtain their cocoons to extracting and spinning the thread, dying and softening the yarn, weaving the textiles, and then sewing the fabric into finished pieces.
The last hour of the long tour ends with a dining experience at the Hoi An Silk Village restaurant. This may be lunch or dinner, depending on the time of day you take the tour. The meal is a set menu of local seasonal dishes, taking into consideration any dietary requirements.
We were served four local dishes, Cao lầu, a famous Hoi An noodle dish; Bánh bao bánh vạc, a special Hoi An clear rice dumpling, also known as “white rose”; Chả giò, a crunchy fried spring roll encased in a rice net paper; and Trái cây, fresh fruit. The cao lau and white rose were very good. Overall, a decent-sized meal and a nice way to end the tour.
Drinks are not included in the ticket price. Hidden recommends the refreshing and fruity Silk Village Mulberry drink. Made from local mulberry juice, lime juice, orange juice, sprite, it costs 55,000 VND (2.30 USD). The drinks menu contain a standard selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, prices comparable to that of other restaurants around town, with local beers starting at 30,000 VND (1.30 USD).
Throughout the experience, from booking to the end of the tour, the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and very responsive to email. Our guide, Huong, was fantastic. She explained all the processes in great detail and was very charming. As well as speaking Vietnamese, she can also speak excellent French and English and intends to learn more languages.
Hoi An Silk Village Tour Times and Prices
Schedule: 9:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m., daily
Duration: 3 hours
Booking: Advanced booking required
Transport: Free hotel pickup
Inclusions: 4-course lunch/dinner (food only, drinks at bar price)
Price: 595,000 VND (30 USD) per person
Schedule: Anytime between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., daily
Duration: 45 minutes
Booking: Not required, but you can book for convenience
Transport: Make your own way there
Price: 100,000 VND (4.30 USD) per person
Email: email@example.com – Phone: +84 0 919606169
Hidden Hoi An’s thoughts
Overall, we highly recommend the long tour. The four hours fly by, as you become totally engrossed in learning about the process and participating in the activities throughout. But this review is by no means a tell-all! There’s plenty of interesting information you’ll learn along the way.
However, if you don’t have the time or money to take the long tour, the short tour would still be worthwhile to get an overview of the silk production process. You get the chance to visit the lovely premises of the Hoi An Silk Village, though you miss out on the interactive experiences and photo opportunities that make the long tour a really enjoyable experience.
The Hoi An Silk Village tours give you an appreciation of how physically demanding and repetitive this type of work is, the level of skill of the artisans, and the many stages involved in making just one metre of fabric. Above all, It definitely makes you appreciate craftspeople and their products on a different level, and understand the price value associated with such handcrafted items. A lot of people work very hard for very little to create these amazing items.
The tour is about more than just silk, and at the end, you walk away with a newfound appreciation of the entire process from start to finish. As well as a deeper sense of appreciation for Vietnamese culture and how the history of the textile trade in the region contributed to making Hoi An the creative and vibrant city it is today.