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, regardless of when the full moon occurs.
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 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
Lantern festival activities centre 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.
2022/2023/2024 Hoi An Lantern Festival dates
2022 – January 16th, February 14th, March 16th, April 14th, May 14th, June 14th, July 13th, August 12th, September 10th, October 9th, November 8th, December 8th
2023 – January 6th, February 5th, March 7th, April 6th, May 5th, June 4th, July 3rd, August 1st and 31st, September 29th, October 28th, November 27th, December 27th.
2024 – January 24th, February 23rd, March 23rd, April 22nd, May 21st, June 19th, July 19th, August 17th, September 16th, October 16th, November 14th, December 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 from what we saw, she was doing a roaring trade.
The Cute Little Girl
Comments about 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 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
We left the restaurant and headed to the lantern sellers when we finished our dinner. 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 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 the Japanese Bridge.
- Escape the crowds and ride on a sampan (traditional boat) to see the lanterns from the water.
Are you are looking for further Vietnamese inspiration? Please check out the following posts and explore more of Vietnam with me:
- Vietnam’s Hidden Gems: 10 incredible destinations off the tourist trail
- 8 Incredible Unesco Heritage Sites in Vietnam
- The best and most easy 2-week Vietnam Itinerary
- How to visit the Marble Mountains in Da Nang
- Hai Van Pass: the best route by road from Hue to Hoi An
- Naman Retreat Review: the best boutique resort in Da Nang
Please Pin for Future Travel to Vietnam
Wednesday 13th of January 2021
What a spectacle this must have been, an entire city lit by nothing but lanterns! Wow! Continuing an ancient tradition right through to the 21st century must have been a really special experience for you Angie. Another great read and something I’d never heard of so will definitely be visiting when the world is back to normal 😁
Wednesday 13th of January 2021
I'm so glad you found it interesting. I would definitely recommend a visit to the town of Hoi An, it is somewhere I plan on revisiting at some point in the future.