Full moon lantern festival
On the 14th day of every lunar month, the old town of Hoi An switches off its lights and closes to motorised traffic, the old town is transformed by flickering candlelight, multi-colored lanterns and hoards of visitors who’ve come to see the full moon lantern festival.
For the locals the night of the full moon is the time to honour their ancestors, setting up alters laden with fruit, flowers, candles and incense outside homes and businesses, and burning coloured paper and fake $100 bills as offerings in exchange for good luck and prosperity. The temples in town are awash with activity, monks hold candlelit ceremonies and the Fujian Assembly Hall on Tran Phu Street fills with local fishing families honouringLady ThienHau, the goddess of the sea who protects sailors from danger.
The streets can only be described as a bit spiritual; the Vietnamese love this festival and flock to Hoi An for the occasion. All those manners your mum taught you about patiently queuing and apologizing every time someone bumps in to you should be left at your hotel along with cumbersome bags, flip-flops and inappropriately revealing attire.
Once you’ve fought your way past the romantic Vietnamese couples holding hands and arrived at the riverfront, you’ll be accosted by locals selling cardboard lotus flower-shaped lanterns, which come with a tiny candle. These, when released on to the river, are said to bring happiness, luck and love, all for the grand price of 10,000 VND.
As you battle your way through the crowds on the street, you’ll be rewarded with bands playing bamboo flutes, drums and fiddles, as well as traditional games. The best game is located by the An Hoi Bridge and is called baichoi; it’s a bit like a musical bingo and to have any chance of knowing what on earth is going on you’ll need a guide.
Other things to look out for are old men in their pyjamas playing candlelit Chinese chess, poetry reading groups, the over the top ‘opera’ down by the river and, of course, the food. The mainly Buddhist Central Vietnamese go vegetarian on both full and half moon, so street food vendors knock out some quite spectacular vegetarian alternatives to all the usual caolau and baguettes (banh mi)replacing meat with tofu. You should also take the opportunity to try moon cakes, which are only available on full moon nights. These cakes made with green bean and lotus seeds are a lot tastier than they sound.
The celebrations start winding down around 21:00 or 22:00. Despite the crowds, this is a magical festival and gives you a glimpse of what life may have been like when Hoi An was a booming and affluent port many centuries ago; though it’s just a bit cheesier.
Festival dates for 2013 are 23 February, 25 March, 23 April, 23 May, 22 June, 21 July, 19 August, 18 September, 16 November and the 15 December.