Lantern Shopping In Hoi An
Hoi An has a reputation of being “the” spot to shop in Vietnam. There are countless souvenirs made here and sold all over Vietnam. Yet none so unique to Hoi An as the lantern. Lanterns can be bought throughout the city and are best purchased at night when you can see them in all their glory. In fact, we think that lantern shopping in Hoi An would have to be one of the most beautiful nighttime shopping experiences in the world.
It’s easy to be swept away by the beauty of your surrounds. You will no doubt find it very difficult to walk away with just the one. Luckily for tourists, the lanterns can also be collapsed down easily to pop in your luggage.
Usually made up of a bamboo frame and Vietnamese silk, lanterns come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. They cost anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 VND (4 to 22 USD). Depending on construction, size, decoration and materials used.
Hidden gives you a brief history of Hoi An’s lanterns, as well as the locations of our favourite stores for shopping for them. There are lantern shops scattered all over the Old Town. So we’ve narrowed down your search, recommending stores that are unique in some fashion. Be it location, customer service, or pricing.
A brief history of Hoi An’s lanterns
It would be hard to miss, given that one of Hoi An’s primary charms is its lanterns. What is less obvious to the eye is their rich historical tradition. Lanterns were first Introduced to Hoi An in the 16th century by the Japanese, who settled in the far end of the Old City. The lanterns became popular with the locals for their aesthetic and perceived ability to bring good fortune.
The Japanese, in fact, inherited their lanterns from the Chinese 500 years earlier. Due to the Chinese influence on Japan’s history in the 6th century, Japan’s first lanterns were based on the Chinese model and style. Later, the Japanese adapted the paper lamps to their own preferences. There soon evolved a unique cultural take on lamp making. By 1085 A.C.E., the Japanese had a clearly defined lantern. Made of a split bamboo frame, wound in a spiral, and wrapped in paper or cloth to protect the flame from wind. This lantern, the chōchin, was Hoi An lantern’s ancestor.
Vietnamese improvements on lanterns
Just as the Japanese improved upon the original Chinese version. So did the Vietnamese, improving them even more by altering the first Japanese models they admired. So by the 17th century, Hoi An had its own distinctive lantern style. Characterised by a spiral structure (enabling the lamp to collapse for easy packaging) and a Vietnamese silk exterior. It’s precisely this dynamic, evolved tradition that makes Hoi An lanterns so genuine. Every aspect of their existence was painstakingly refined over centuries. Their popularity was universal wherever they were found.
In Japanese tradition, the akachōchin, or red lantern, marked an izakaya—a tavern, pub, or “watering hole.” The Vietnamese decided to adopt their own colour schematic. Vietnamese lanterns are made in a diverse spectrum of colours. Each with their own traditional Vietnamese meaning:
Yellow – prosperity, wealth, happiness, change, royalty. Red – luck, happiness, celebration, love. Purple – tenderness, nostalgia, fragility, sadness. Blue – hope, calmness, growth. Green – lust, jealousy. Black – evil. White – purity, the end, death.
Shopping – where to buy lanterns in Hoi An
Hoi An Night Market
Address: Nguyen Hoang street
Evenings are, of course, the best time to see lanterns at their best – so browse after dark. Hoi An’s Night Market sets up from 6 p.m. on An Hoi island. The row of lantern stalls here are the perfect place to see lanterns of all shapes and sizes. There is even a stall that sells huge lanterns. Nearly a metre tall, by half a metre wide, these are the biggest lanterns you can buy in Hoi An. They’d be perfect for a restaurant, foyer, or circus tent.
Also at this nameless stall, you can buy traditional Japanese chōchin with the solid wood frames and paper sheaths. They are heavier than traditional Hoi An lanterns, but can still be disassembled for transport. They sell for around 400,000 VND (17 USD). Significantly cheaper than you’ll find in their native habitat of Japan.
Address: 84 Tran Phu Street
One of our favourite lantern shops is the little-known hole-in-the-wall Thuy Tam. This shop pours out of a small alley on to the main street, easily overlooked unless you know it’s there. The owner of the shop is a friendly, young Vietnamese lady named Tam who has been making lanterns since she was just a child. Her English is excellent, and she is more than accommodating for any customisation you could need. For instance, she will even “dress” your lantern with the material you bring in to her.
Tam also makes customised lanterns if you want her to. Say, with the fabric of your favourite band, sports team, or even your wedding photo. Tam’s imported cotton lamps sell for 160,000 VND (7 USD), but her traditional large Vietnamese silk lanterns go for 140,000 VND (6 USD) (with a little wiggle room, we might add). Prices decrease if bought in bulk.
Address: 65 Tran Phu
Another highly recommended lantern shop is conveniently right across the street from Thuy Tam, just to the left as you exit Tam’s alley. It is called Ong Canh and is housed in the original Cao Lau house, a building over 500-years-old. The owner of Ong Canh, Yun, told us all sorts of fascinating information about her historic home over a cup of tea. So even if you don’t buy one of her lanterns, the original Cao Lau house is worth a look, as well as learning about the origin of Cao Lau, Hoi An’s most popular dish.
Yun shares the business with her husband. He teaches people to make lanterns and Yun runs the shop. She has been making lanterns for 16 years, and though she works hard and often, she takes immense pride in her work. “I make twelve or fifteen [lanterns] a day, sometimes it takes me one hour to make one,” she confided in us, “but it makes me very happy when people tell me my lanterns are beautiful.”
Besides the exceptional craftsmanship, something that makes Yun’s work unique is that she hand paints her lanterns with fine acrylics. Therefore the most gorgeous scenes of flora enliven her lanterns’ silk. Yun’s large lanterns sell for a firm 150,000 VND (6.50 USD) with no wiggle room, and small lanterns run at 100,000 VND (4 USD). Yun also makes metal lanterns in the shape of lotus bells that sell for 300,000 VND (13 USD). While beautiful, these lights, unfortunately, don’t collapse, and so are hard to transport in luggage.
Hidden Hint: Yun will custom paint lanterns on request, making for a truly unique item.
Address: 27 Hoang Dieu St.
Around the corner from Ong Canh to the right is another street with multiple lantern shops. Our choice, purely for its uniqueness, is Pho Hoa. This is the only lantern shop we’ve run across that manufactures crocheted wool covers over the lanterns. These are more expensive than most other traditional lanterns, but their modern flare is an aesthetic fusion of old and new that we quite like. Lanterns with crocheted covers sell for 390,000 VND (17 USD).
Lantern making classes and tours
There are a number of lantern making tours in Hoi An that teach you how to make them and then let you bring home them home to keep as a handmade souvenir. These tours are a great way to boost Hoi An’s economy for an afternoon and to try your hand as a legitimate artisan.
Hidden’s top three lantern making classes are listed below. Read our “Lantern Making & Craft Workshops” article for a full write up on the topic.
Hoi An Handicraft Tours, Lantern Making Class
Web – Address: 08 Tran Cao Van – Price: 368,000 VND (16 USD) – Class schedule: 3-hour session, late morning or afternoons – How to Book: Online or phone/WhatsApp. You can book in the morning you wish to go, or in advance to secure your spot.
Diep and Len, the two brothers who run classes at Hoi An Handicraft Tours, have been working in the industry for over six years. Initially, the business only sold lanterns, and then they started conducting lantern making classes at the end of 2017. Today their handcrafted lanterns are still for sale at extremely reasonable prices from their workshop. Including some with traditional hand-painted designs, and most being collapsible for easy transportation home.
Hidden Hint: One of the appealing aspects of their class is that you get to make the entire lantern, including assembly of the frame, which is not always the case with other lantern workshops, where the frames are premade, and you attach your preferred fabric.
Travel Hoi An Lantern Making Tour
This lantern experience starts with a bicycle tour, with a guide meeting you at your hotel to escort you to cycle to the workshop in the Cam Chau area. The instructor gives a brief intro on history, shapes, and colours of lanterns. After that, you choose your favourite design and construct a lantern of your own. After class, you cycle back to your hotel with your newly made souvenir.
Address: 373 Cua Dai St – Price: 150,000 VND (7.50 USD) – Class Schedule: Flexible
If you want a real local Vietnamese lantern experience, then this may be the workshop for you. Because apart from selling both retail and wholesale, they also offer lantern making. This is one of the best-priced workshops but it’s definitely no-frills. There’s no guarantee of English instruction and no hotel pick up. The classes take place in a small shop front and consist of attaching the fabric to a premade lantern frame.
Full Moon Lantern Festival
However, if you want to see Hoi An’s lanterns in their most glorious, time your visit with the 14th calendar day of every lunar month. On this day each month is when the Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival takes place. All non-essential lights are switched off in the ancient town and the streets are illuminated by thousands of lanterns. This is also the traditional time to launch paper lanterns down the river so it’s quite a sight to behold. Read more about the Full Moon Lantern Festival and check its upcoming dates here.
Hoi An’s lanterns are an integral part of the Old Town and have been for centuries. Strolling the ancient town in the evening, shopping for lanterns is such an enjoyable experience. The colours and atmosphere are simply breathtaking. Hidden recommends that you visit one of the stores from our guide for something extraordinary. Our visitors buy lanterns each time they visit and illuminate their houses back home with memories of their stay here. However, if you’re even a wee bit crafty, have a go at making one yourself and if you’re even more adventurous go and personalise one for a special occasion. They are much more eco-friendly and last longer than balloons!