Back Arts & Culture » Culture » [Photos] Inside Saigon's Vibrant Lantern Artisan Communities

[Photos] Inside Saigon's Vibrant Lantern Artisan Communities

In Saigon’s Chinese quarter, “lantern streets” have always been one of the most popular spots in the city come mid-autumn.

For years, lovers of lanterns and parents with young children have flocked to the area to marvel at the artisans’ impressive array of handmade paper lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The area around Luong Nhu Hoc in District 5 is especially known for its enclave of artisans making traditional lanterns from scarlet glass paper.

In Vietnam, lantern-making as a craft originated in Bac Co and Bao Dap villages in Nam Dinh Province, and then gradually spread southward to Hoi An, Hue and eventually Saigon. In Hue, craftsman gave the traditional rustic paper decorations a regal twist during the central city’s time as the country's capital by using cloth to produce the vibrant, more durable variety of lanterns commonly seen in Hoi An nowadays.

Meanwhile, Saigon’s artisan enclave in the Phu Binh residential area was founded in the mid-1950s, when Nam Dinh immigrants brought their hometown’s cultural specialty to the southern hub.

Lantern-makers in Phu Binh begin their process as early as just after Tet, as assembling the frames of the traditional paper lamps takes a long time. These frames are made from bamboo strips, which are secured together with metal wires and glue. Usually, artisans only start outfitting the frames with paper and painting the lanterns by the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

When finished, these humble paper creations are bought wholesale by vendors in Luong Nhu Hoc, Kim Bien and Binh Tay markets from VND14,000 each. At this price, artisans can earn from VND5,000 – 6,000 per lantern, while the larger ones that go for VND80,000 and above can bring in even more revenue.

While traditional handmade lanterns are loved by all as a crucial feature of Tết Trung Thu celebrations nationwide, they are also high-maintenance and fragile, deterring many vendors from including them in their displays. According to long-time lantern sellers on Luong Nhu Hoc, due to the seasonal nature of mid-autumn lanterns, vendors have come to prefer Chinese-made ones created from harder paper or plastic. The rationale behind this is that these are easier to store for next year should sales turn out to be lackluster. Authentic paper lanterns don’t receive as much love from vendors as they cost more to store and transport and are too fragile to last until the next season.

Still, things have been looking up for lantern artisans in recent years, partially thanks to intensifying public concern over Chinese-made products. As a result, parents are increasingly wary of mass-produced toys and are turning back to traditional lanterns as choice companions for their children. According to some wholesalers from Binh Tay market, over the last two years they have neither imported any Chinese lanterns nor displayed leftover ones from previous years. This has become especially common in light of China’s reaction to The Hague's ruling on territorial claims in the East Sea.

Saigon is developing at a dizzying pace, creating numerous exciting changes, while also putting an end to a slew of traditional cultural venues and values. Therefore, it’s a rare thing that an artisan enclave like the Phu Binh lantern-making community has managed to stand the test of time since it first came to be in the 1950s.

Take a tour of Saigon's colorful lantern-making communities below:

Related Articles:

Bánh Trung Thu, From Traditional Festive Fare to Asia’s Answer to Fruitcake: A Street Food History

Modernization Of A Holiday: The Mid-Autumn Celebration In Saigon

Related Articles

Khôi Phạm

in Culture

A Brief Primer of Asia's Mid-Autumn Mythology in 3 Folk Tales

There’s something for everyone during Tet Trung Thu season, as the arrival of mid-autumn comes with a wide variety of customs and traditional fare.

in Culture

A Lotus 'Startup' in Hanoi Goes Back to Its Roots

For Lã Quang Khanh, a resident of Me Linh District, the term khởi nghiệp, or startup, has nothing to do with technology.

Khoi Pham

in Culture

A New Typeface That Was Built From Designs on Old Book Covers

Finding new values from old relics is a popular way some young creatives today are keeping old Vietnam aesthetics alive.

in Culture

An Exploration of H'Mông Fashion Through the Eyes of a Young H'Mông Curator

Combining elements of the traditional and the modern, Hnubflower and her collaborators have brought to life a project to recreate the fashion of many H’Mông communities in provinces across Vietnam.

in Culture

An Homage to Rastaclat, the Coolest Bracelets of Our High School Years

During my teenage years when a lot of us were trying new things, I can remember certain trending items affected our lifestyle. For me, amongst the most memorable was the Hypebeast culture that ca...

Chris Humphrey

in Culture

At Hanoi's Thousand-Year-Old Flute Kite Festival, Melodies and Prayers Cross the Sky

Passed down by village forefathers since the Dinh Dynasty, Ba Duong Noi Village’s kite festival has become a source of pride for the local community. With three bamboo flutes attached to each kite, it...

Partner Content