When travelling to Vietnam you won’t want to miss the Hoi An Lantern Festival, a unique event held on the 14th day of each monthly lunar cycle. Domestic and international visitors flock to the “Unesco City of Lanterns” for a chance to be part of the full moon festivities. Along the riverside, local vendors sell colourful paper lanterns containing tealight candles, which you can buy, light and then float on the Hoai River. Watching your lantern float on the water in the moonlight is a lovely thing to see.
During the lantern festival, lighting candles is an important ritual for local people as it signifies a time to honour their ancestors. Vietnamese families will burn incense and offer food, drink, flowers and fake money at family altars within their homes, believing that they will be blessed with health, happiness, good fortune and love.
Full moon offerings take place all over Vietnam, but Hoi An is especially famous for its lantern festival.
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How to See the Lantern Festival
The festival’s activities are centred around the Japanese Bridge and Cau An Hoi Bridge along the Hoai River. Festivities start at 8 pm, but most people arrive earlier to enjoy dinner in the ancient town before proceedings officially begin.
From 8 pm, all the buildings located in Hoi An’s Old Quarter start to turn off their electric lights. This allows only the soft glow from silk and paper lanterns to light the area, creating a magical atmosphere.
Hoi An’s ancient town becomes fully pedestrianised during the lantern festival with cars and motorbikes prohibited at this time, allowing visitors to wander along the cobbled streets and enjoy traditional musical performances by the local people.
Don’t worry if you can’t visit Hoi An during the Lantern Festival as there are always lanterns in Hoi An. However, a particular vibe surrounds the actual festival so try to coincide the lunar calendar dates with your trip to Hoi An.
Want to make your own silk or bamboo lantern? Check out a lantern making class in Hoi An
2021/2022 Hoi An Lantern Festival dates
2021 – January 26th, February 25th, March 26th, April 25th, May 25th, June 23rd, July 23rd, August 21st, September 20th, October 19th, November 18th and December 17th. 2022 – January 16th, February 14th, March 16th, April 14th, May 14th.
The Story of the Lantern Seller
We hadn’t realised our trip to Hoi An was going to coincide with the lunar Lantern Festival, and although other festivals in Asia are well-documented, we hadn’t read anything about the monthly full moon celebrations in Vietnam.
On our first night in Hoi An, we were pleased to find a perfect spot to view the evening’s activities. We watched from our restaurant table, as Vietnamese families wandered past and tourists stopped to light lanterns and board riverboat cruises along the Hoai River. And then I spotted her – a small girl of about five years old with a cheeky grin, pigtails tied with ribbons and wearing a traditional conical bamboo hat. With her was a woman who stood in the shadows and pointed out to her which people to approach. The girls’ job was to sell the small paper lanterns to tourists and by what we saw she was doing a roaring trade.
The cute little girl
Comments of how cute she was could be heard all around and tourists parted with their money without hesitation. At one point the girl came into our restaurant with her wicker basket full to the brim of red, blue and yellow paper lanterns. Once again, diners eagerly paid her a few Dong (Vietnamese currency) to ensure her cheeky grin didn’t turn to crocodile tears.
Then she came over to us, but we had already decided not to buy from her as we felt she was being exploited and didn’t want to be part of it. Instead, our eyes had spotted an elderly lady sitting a few feet away. She was selling identical lanterns but was not getting the same response as the girl. With a raise of a hand, people passing would indicate that they didn’t want to buy a lantern and would then see the girl and suddenly change their mind.
Our favourite Hoi An Lantern Seller
When we had finished our dinner, we left the restaurant and headed to the lantern sellers. The elderly lady caught my eye, and a smile crept onto her lips. She looked at me and then looked away as the girl ran up to me with her lanterns. I said a polite no thank you and went over to the old lady.
She looked up from her seated position on the ground, and I pointed to her lanterns. She was delighted when I bought two; one for me and one for my son, who was my travelling companion. I politely asked to have my photo taken with her as I love capturing local people in my travel shots, and she was more than happy to oblige.
We remembered our own loved ones as we watched our illuminated lanterns floating down the Hoai River and bid farewell to our favourite lantern seller. A great memory to take with us of our time at the Lantern Festival in Hoi An.
- The biggest Lantern Festival celebration is in February; the first full moon of the lunar new year.
- Ensure you have a good camera to capture some stunning night photos of the lantern festival.
- Don’t pay more than around 20,000VND (50p/$0.86) for a paper lantern.
- Check out local performances which take place near to the Japanese Bridge.
- Escape the crowds and take a ride on a sampan (traditional boat) to see the lanterns from the water.
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