On the fourteenth day of every lunar month, the lights in the beautiful ancient town of Hoi An in Vietnam are turned off in preparation for the celebration of the Full Moon. We never purposely timed our trip to Vietnam in May this year for when there was a Lantern Festival, it was just pure luck that it would be taking place whilst we were there. Unbeknown to us at the time, this day was also Vesak Day where they celebrate Buddha’s Birthday across Vietnam.
After a lazy day spent by the pool, we took the courtesy bus from our hotel on Ang Bang Beach into the centre of Hoi An. On a Full Moon night, the old town is closed off to all motorised traffic including motorcycles so you do not need to worry about being run over by a scooter though crossing over two roads with a lot of traffic to get there is an experience in itself. We had already been into Hoi An two days previously on a very busy and crowded Saturday night so I was expecting this night to be even busier but as we walked towards the river, it was a lot quieter than I thought it would be.
As we reached the banks of the Thu Bon River, we could see a lot more people. Along the banks of the river were people selling souvenirs and lanterns as well as offering boat rides. We were asked constantly if we wanted a boat ride and and the words “no thank you” didn’t always work as they would keep constantly asking until we walked away but later on in the evening (after actually doing the boat ride) we found the key phrase which worked was “we’ve already done it”. The Cau An Hoi Bridge was starting to get busy with people trying to take photos and it only got busier and more crowded as the night went on. A top tip if you want to take your photo on the bridge is to go during the day when the festival is not on as it will be empty then.
Once we got to the other side of the river, we decided to do the boat ride whilst it was still light and whilst it was still relatively sane. After chatting to a lady who also helped to take some nice photos of us together with one of the huge trays of lanterns, we paid VND200,000 (£6.50/US$8.50) for a twenty minute boat ride with up and down the river with a lantern each. We could have haggled and got it slightly cheaper but to be honest, we did not mind paying that – there comes a time when you realise that it’s not worth arguing over such a small amount of money. The one tip I can give for getting in and out of the boats though is to have flat shoes on such as trainers as it can be quite slippy. There are also lifejackets available on each of the boats if you want to wear them whilst out on the water.
Once on our boat, the next twenty minutes spent travelling along the river and watching the world go by was truly relaxing and incredible. It was still quiet on the river at this time so there were not many other boats to be seen. We both got to release our lanterns into the water and make a wish before watching them disappear into the distance.
After getting off the boat, we sat in one of the cafes looking out over the water with a much needed cold drink whilst watching the world go by. You could already start to see how much busier it was getting now the sun was going down and it was starting to get dark.
As the sun was setting, the lights of the town were starting to be turned off – we even watched as one official walked along and told each business which lights they needed to switch off. Even all the colourful lanterns that hang across all the streets are turned off on Full Moon night so if you want to get photos of these, you will need to visit again on a different evening. Thankfully we already had these photos as we spent three nights out of our five night stay in Hoi An itself wandering around the old town eating amazing food.
On Full Moon night, the locals set up tables in the streets with fruit, incense, candles and (fake) money as an offering for their deceased relatives and ancestors. There are also various music performances held alongside (and on) the river.
Everywhere you look there are children and elderly ladies selling lanterns to anyone who wants them and seeing them all lit up just makes you want to buy another one to release into the river. The price for a lantern is VND10,000 (30p/40c) and make sure to have some small notes with you or else you could end up unknowingly with five lanterns like I did on our first night in Hoi An when I handed over a VND50,000 note expecting one lantern and some change.
Once you have purchased your lantern, the sellers will hand you a pole with a little basket attached to the end of it so you can lower your lantern into the water and hope that love, luck and happiness will come your way. Despite the slight guilt I felt at putting more lanterns (and therefore more waste) into the river, watching the hundreds of colourful lanterns floating in the darkness on the river was truly a magical sight.
One word of caution though is if you have a camera, make sure the strap of it is around your neck or secured around your wrist and be careful if using a phone to take photos as it would be incredibly easy for them to fall into the water whether they slip or get knocked out of your hands especially with the large bustling crowds of people closer to the bridge.
However the funniest thing was when I overheard a lady asking someone at what time were the lanterns going to released into the sky. She not only was at the wrong festival but also in the wrong country and at the wrong time of year – she wanted the Yi Peng Festival in Thailand which usually takes place in November!
One thing that was now incredibly noticeable was just how many boats there were in the water at this time – they were even knocking into each other. It made me happy that we had done our boat ride earlier in the evening when it was much saner and quieter.
Just after 8:30pm, we heard music and drumming and saw a parade starting to make its way across the Cau An Hoi Bridge and into the streets of Old Town Hoi An in honour of Buddha’s birthday. There was a dancing dragon and several floats with lots of flowers, lights, statues and flags attached to them. If you thought the crowds around the bridge were busy before, they were crazy at this point.
After the parade has passed us, we were both hungry so decided to get some dinner before making our way back to our hotel. We knew that we would not make the last courtesy bus back to our hotel but there was no issue in getting a taxi – there were plenty available and they are all metered so it only cost VND100,000 (£3.30/$4.30) for the fifteen minute drive back to our hotel on Ang Bang Beach.
Despite the large crowds, the Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival was simply beautiful and I’m so happy our trip to Vietnam coincided with one of the dates. I had been looking forward to visiting for such a long time as it truly did not disappoint. However if you are not in Hoi An on a Full Moon date, then there is no need to panic or be disappointed as you can take a boat ride and release lanterns every night – the only major difference is the lights of the town will not be turned off.
If you do want to plan to be in Hoi An for the Full Moon Lantern Festival, these are the dates for the rest of 2018 and for 2019:
22nd October 2018
21st November 2018
20th December 2018
19th January 2019
18th February 2019
20th March 2019
18th April 2019
18th May 2019
16th June 2019
16th July 2019
14th August 2019
12th September 2019
10th October 2019
10th November 2019
9th December 2019
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