FESTIVAL TIME

There’s nothing like festivals to showcase a country’s charms and in Vietnam scarcely a month goes by without one taking place.

By Story: Don Wills on October 17,2017 03:55 PM

FESTIVAL TIME

Tet

On the last day of the lunar year and the first three days of the new lunar year

The premier festival in Vietnam is, of course, Tet, or the lunar new year, when the entire population downs tools to attend family get-togethers. In the first few days, many shops and companies close their doors and business grinds to a halt. Homes will have been carefully cleaned and decorated with kumquat trees two to three feet tall. These trees have to be selected with care: they must be symmetrical and the fruit bright orange in colour. A few live carp are put into the bathtub. This makes for awkward bathing but brings bounteous good luck to the household.

Tet eve is spent burning incense, praying, and burning votive paper money, and on the following days families visit their ancestors’ graves to pay homage. This very often requires the family moving out of town, and consequently around Tet you’ll find bus, train, and plane tickets in short supply or impossible to obtain. It also leads to a rather surprising phenomenon: busy centres like HCMC and Hanoi are strangely quiet, the customary swarms of motorbikes reduced by half. But that’s not to say the cities are completely dormant. In Hanoi you’ll see local people at Quan Su Pagoda or Ngoc Son Temple lighting clusters of incense sticks and praying to their ancestors in the morning, while at night the Hanoi Opera House stages vibrant parties and fireworks displays.

Hoi An Lantern Festival

On the 14th day of every lunar month

FESTIVAL TIME

The Hoi An Lantern Festival transforms the quaint UNESCO World Heritage Site into a spectacular display of paper lanterns. Every shop, restaurant, bar and business in the old quarter switches off all electricity and lights up hundreds of candles and lanterns. At temples, you can see monks and local people holding candlelit ceremonies. The streets are also filled with musicians playing traditional instruments and people playing chess and holding poetry readings and lantern-making classes.

Buddha’s Birthday

Early May

FESTIVAL TIME

This is celebrated by devotees throughout Vietnam on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month. Many temples are adorned with lavish decorations, with local people offering fruit, flower garlands, and various Vietnamese delicacies. The event draws thousands of visitors looking to partake in street parades and prayer sessions. Hoi An is arguably the best place to enjoy the festivities. Held at Phap Bao Pagoda, the day starts with a procession of monks along the streets of the ancient town’s old quarter, then in the evening there’s a lively parade along the main road, where animals are released while flower garlands and lanterns are placed along the riverbank.

Hue Festival

Biannually in either April, May, or June, for one week

FESTIVAL TIME

The old imperial capital of Hue hosts a biennial arts festival in even-numbered years, with local and international performers entertaining visitors at historical sites and arts centres around the city. Founded in 2000, the festival is held to honour traditional customs that were practiced during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). If you’re visiting Hue at this time of year, you can expect to see unique events such as the Hue Poetry Festival, the Dialogue of Drums and Percussions, ao dai fashion shows, sporting activities like kite flying, boat racing, and human chess, as well as street performances, film screenings, and art exhibitions.

Perfume Pagoda Festival

From the sixth day of the first lunar month to the end of the third lunar month

FESTIVAL TIME

This annual festival draws throngs of local pilgrims from all over Vietnam to Hanoi’s iconic Perfume Pagoda, where they pray for a prosperous year and pay their respects to Buddha. The pilgrimage starts with a dragon dance at Den Trinh (Trinh Temple), and from there pilgrims and tourists travel by boat along the Yen River to the base of Huong Mountain, passing limestone caves and rice fields along the way. The journey continues on foot, with a climb up hundreds of stone steps to Huong Tich Cave, where there’s a colourful display of food offerings, statues of deities, burning incense, and local people in prayer.

Do Quyen Flower Festival

In March & April

FESTIVAL TIME

The festival is held in Sapa in the northern province of Lo Cai at the end of spring. Do Quyen flowers (water-rails) grow in abundance on and around nearby Mt Fansipan. The predominantly pink and purple flowers bloom all year long but are at their best around April each year. The festival includes many age-old folk games like stilt walking, con throwing, and nhay sap (dancing with bamboo poles), and also features ethnic minority music performances and street markets.

Dalat Flower Festival

Biannually from late December to early January

The Dalat Flower Festival takes place in the city of Dalat and Lac Duong district in the central highlands province of Lam Dong. Thanks to its cool climate all year round, Dalat is ideal for growing flowers, and 4,000 ha are planted, including daisies, roses, mimosas, forget-me-nots, carnations, pensee, gladioli, begonias, orchids, snapdragons, and purple flamboyants. In addition to the spectacular flower displays, the festival features fairs, exhibitions, colourful street parades, and stage shows on the shores of Xuan Huong Lake.

Wandering Souls Day

15th day of the seventh lunar month

FESTIVAL TIME

Local people believe this is the day when the spirits of their ancestors are able to visit their homes. On the eve of the festival, families flock to Buddhist temples and the graves of their departed loved ones to offer prayers, flowers, sticky rice cakes, sugarcane, and fruit. Paper money and clothes are also burned during this time of the year. Wandering Souls Day is celebrated by the Buddhist population all over Vietnam, but the best place to view the sombre festivities is in Hue, where numerous Buddhist shrines and pagodas are flooded with local people and monks performing rituals and prayers. The festival is also known as the Cold Food Festival (Tet Han Thuc), as chilled dishes such as bánh trôi (floating rice cake) and bánh chay (glutinous rice balls with mung bean paste) are typically eaten.

Mid-Autumn Festival

14th & 15th days of the eighth lunar month

FESTIVAL TIME

The festival features processions of children carrying paper lanterns, lion dances, and food booths selling the special mid-Autumn treat: mooncakes. Mooncakes are round pastries, traditionally measuring about 8 cm in diameter and 3 cm in height. There’s an imprint on top of each cake symbolising longevity and harmony. The outer layer of wheat dough pastry envelopes a sweet, dense filling of red bean and lotus seed paste, nuts, dried candied fruit, and often a whole, salted egg yolk. (Don’t eat them if you’re on a diet; each mooncake contains 1,000 calories.) The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Harvest Festival. Households set up an altar during the night of the festival, on which they display offerings in honour of the full moon. The festival is held all over Vietnam, but perhaps the best place to enjoy it is in Hoi An, where you’ll get to see plenty of street performances, lantern processions, and arts exhibitions.

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