|Deft hands: Nguyen Thi My Nhan (above) produces lanterns at a pavillion near the Hoai River in Hoi An City. A hanging display (below) shows examples of the colours and shapes available. — VNS Photos Cong Thanh
Coloured lanterns help pull the crowds in Hoi An and make popular souvenirs for tourists. They brighten up festivals and keep artisans in neighbouring communes in full-time employment. Cong Thanh
Nguyen Hang has been making a living from ornate lanterns – one of the oldest handicrafts in Hoi An – for the past 20 years.
Hang, 63, and 400 craftsmen in the UNESCO-recognised World Heritage town in the central province of Quang Nam still use techniques from the 16th century when the trade was first introduced to the town.
Lanterns illuminate the town on the 14th of the lunar month when thousands are released across the old quarter to light up the Hoai River, creating a magical spectical.
"It's a traditional festival held every full moon that draws a lot of tourists to the town," Hang said.
"All the houses and restaurants in the old quarter along the Hoai River light lanterns at sunset, while thousands of candles set in paper flowers illuminate the river."
Lanterns from Hoi An can be distinguished by their design, material and patterns that date back 400 years.
"We still make lanterns from bamboo and silk, with images of the port from the 16th century," said craftswoman Pham Thi Tuyet Trinh.
"There are various designs for the frames, but those in the shape of garlic or a pumpkin are the most popular," Trinh said.
The 18-year-old has spent four years in the trade and said her shop often bought bamboo frames from households in Cam Chau Commune.
"Households produce bulk orders, and it only takes me 10 minutes to finish a lantern by wrapping silk around the frame," she said.
"Lanterns can be used for interior design in homes, restaurants and cafes."
Frames can also be made from steel or wood, but the secret ingredient is the silk that creates a magical ambience.
"The Hoai River twinkles with the soft light of lanterns, while thousands of candlelit paper flowers float across the water at night," Trinh described.
"The full-moon festival is just one of those things that visitors never forget. Tourists can also taste local food by the river," she added.
Nguyen Thi My Nhan, a 23-year-old craftswoman, said that lanterns made in Hoi An had been exported to the Netherlands, France, Singapore, Japan and the US.
"We design collapsible frames so tourists can transport them easily. Prices are also quite cheap, ranging from VND10,000 ($0.50) to VN400,000 ($19) with a variety of options," Nhan explained.
"Customers like locally made lanterns because of their traditional design and reasonable price," she said.
The annual Mid-Autumn festival is a major rendezvous of craftspeople who bring their most beautiful products to show off.
Vice chairman of Hoi An's People's Committee Truong Van Bay said the town had become a popular tourism destination in the central region along with My Son Sanctuary and the UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Site Complex of Hue Monuments.
"The town has worked to make craft villages more appealing to promote tourism over the past decades. As well as the lanterns, the silk village of Ma Chau, pottery in Thanh Ha, Kim Bong wooden furniture village and the Japanese bridge leave tourists with an everlasting memory of the town," Bay said.
"A quiet, clean environment and the hospitality and smiles of local people are also crucial parts of promoting tourism in Hoi An. The town has a target of attracting 1.7 million tourists this year," the he added.
"Preserving the town's heritage like the former trading port – a meeting place for generations of Japanese and Chinese businesses and cargo ships from Europe – is important," he added.
Craftsman Do Hang is also proud of his trade.
"It inspires local people along with pottery, carpentry and silk weaving," he said.
Hang's company produces around 10,000 lanterns each year and exports them to European and Asian countries.
"My lanterns are available in Ha Noi, HCM City, Da Nang and Hue. The craft will help preserve the image of Hoi An worldwide," he concluded. — VNS