Our timing couldn’t have been better for our visit to Hoi An. Unknowingly, we were in town over the full moon and got to experience the Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival. We hadn’t heard about the festival before we arrived in Vietnam, in fact it seems that the Hoi An Lantern Festival is very much unknown in comparison to some of the other lantern and light festivals that happen around Southeast Asia.
We were visiting Hoi An with my family, over New Years Eve last year. Initially, we actually thought the festival was the celebrate the New Year, but as we chatted to some of the locals we realized we were actually visiting over the full moon and this festival takes place every month in Hoi An.
Haven’t heard about the festival before either? Here’s everything you need to know about it!
What is the Hoi An Lantern Festival?
Celebrated each month, the Hoi An Lantern Festival is a celebration of the full moon, one of the most sacred times in the Buddhist calendar. According to legend, Buddha was born on a full moon, and also attained enlightenment on a full moon.
For hundreds of years, Buddhists have considered the full moon as a sacred time of transformation. This seemed especially fitting for our family, as most of 2017 had been quite difficult and emotional and we were ready to put it all behind us and bring in the new year with a happy celebration.
Traditionally, during the lantern festivals locals would burn incense for good luck and make offerings at family alters on the day of the festival. These days, locals and tourists alike will light a small lantern and float it down the river. By the end of the night there are hundreds of colourful lanterns dancing across the water.
How to celebrate the lantern festival in Hoi An
As per the name, the biggest and most important feature of the lantern festival is the lanterns. Cute, colourful lanterns are lit with candles and placed on the river, with a wish for happiness, luck and love.
At 8pm all the fluorescent lights pf the city are turned off, and the floating candles and lanterns are all the light up Hoi An, creating a beautiful magical glow around the river. There is a ban on all vehicles and bicycles in the old quarter between 3pm and 9:30pm, which means you can wander around happily without dodging motorbikes.
Lots of performances and celebrations can usually be found along the river bank, with music, bamboo flutes, drums and dancing. Food stalls pop up all along the river bank, selling all kinds of Vietnamese cuisine and the night markets stay open for late night shoppers. Generally the celebrations wind down by about 10pm.
Since we were visiting over New Year, as well as the first full moon of the year, it was pretty crazy around Hoi An. There were people everywhere, celebrations happening all over the town and lanterns strung up all over the place making the whole town twinkle in the night sky.
We didn’t know much about the lantern festival when we were visiting, so we thought we would put kind of our own spin on it and release a lantern with our wishes for the new year. A little bit more like a positive thought for the future, rather than a traditional new years resolution.
To make the most of the experience we hopped onto a couple of traditional sampan boats to launch our lanterns from the water. The whole river was completely lit up only by lanterns by this time, so as we floated slowly along the river it really felt like we were in a whole different world.
I’m not sure what came over me on that small wooden boat. As we released our wishes for the new year into the river I felt so emotional and couldn’t help but crying. 2017 had been a stressful year in our family, and it felt like this was the perfect start of a new beginning. We placed out lanterns onto the water and watched them float out to light up more of the river.
> Taking a sampan ride is definitely a much nicer way to experience the festival if you would like to place a lantern in the river yourself. A sampan ride should cost around 100,000 VND including a lantern. If you’re buying lanterns on the bank of the river, expect to pay around between 5,000 and 10,000 VND which is around 25 to 50 cents.
When is the Lantern Festival in Hoi An?
The Hoi An Lantern Festival generally occurs on the 14th day of the lunar calendar each month. Here are the dates for the next few years if you’re planning you’re trip to Hoi An –
2018: 21st November, 20th December
2019: 19th January, 18th February, 20th March, 18th April, 18th May, 16th June, 16th July, 14th August, 12th September, 10th October, 10th November, 9th December
2020: 8th January, 7th February, 7th March, 6th April
Top Tips for visiting the Hoi An Lantern Festival
+ The first full moon of the year is always the most celebrated, and has been considered the best lantern festival to attend.
+ The best place to see the celebrations of the lantern festival are between the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Cau An Hoi Bridge.
+ There are huge crowds of both locals and tourist each festival, so arrive early if you want to get a good spot to see the river light up with lanterns and candles.
+ Wear good shoes – the banks can be a bit slimy and muddy and others in the crowds can often stand on your feet unintentionally when you’re trying to put your lantern on the lake.
+ Hotels can often completely book out during the lantern festivals, so make sure you book your Hoi An accommodation in advance if you’re planning to visit around this time.
After our sampan ride and watching our lanterns float far off down the river, we hit the Riverside part of Hoi An to grab dinner. Lots of these restaurants are double stories, so grabbing a window side table on the second floor of one of the restaurants was the perfect way to keep watching the nights celebrations unfold. Plus, it’s an awesome view sitting above all the street lanterns!
Hoi An at night is so beautiful and celebrating the lantern festival is a wonderfully unique way to spend an evening in Hoi An. If you’re visiting this UNESCO World Heritage City it’s definitely worth trying to coordinate your trip with the monthly lantern festival.
Have you celebrated the Hoi An Lantern Festival before? Share your tips and tricks below!
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