Vietnam’s crazy streets feel full of life even when there isn’t a festival or event going on. So, if your trip coincides with one of the following Vietnamese festivals – you’re in for a treat!
1. Hoi An Lantern Festival
Where to experience the festival – By the Thu Bon River in Hoi An Old Town after nightfall.
The Hoi An Lantern Festival is a monthly event occurring on the night of the full moon. The event takes place in the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town which is famous for its picturesque streets and ancient colonial architecture. Most of the festivities take place on the waterfront of the Hoai River and begin around 8-9pm when bars and restaurants begin to turn off their electricity. People gather to set lanterns afloat on the Thu Bon River that runs through the centre of the Old Town.
Responsible Travel Warning – While this is undoubtedly a pretty event, we actually don’t encourage travellers to take part in the Hoi An Lantern Festival. First of all, the event is almost entirely aimed at tourists these days and it feels like the whole festival is just done for the sake of selling lanterns and making money. Furthermore, thousands of lanterns end up littering the river and heading out into the ocean damaging aquatic life and causing pollution unnecessarily. While we love festivals and cultural events, we don’t feel like we can justify this one, due to the detrimental environmental impact.
2. Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet) – February
By far the biggest event in the Vietnamese festival calendar, is known as ‘Tet Nguyen Dan’ or ‘Tet’ for short. The festival is derived from the Chinese New Year and celebrated at the same time (usually February time), the celebration also marks the beginning of spring. The words ‘Tet Nguyen Dan,’ literally mean ‘The Feast of the First Morning’ and there’s a three-day public holiday across the country to mark the event.
The rituals and festivities are very similar to the Chinese New Year in terms of their focus on family reunions and the concept of starting afresh and. In Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and other cities, you’ll find street parties and parades; market stalls bustling with people buying decorations, food, clothes and stocking up on goods for the New Year. All night drumming and fireworks also make this an extremely noisy festival!
3. Perfume Pagoda Pilgrimage – March
Where to experience the festival – The festival is held at the Perfume Pagoda, about 60km south of Hanoi. Read how to get to the pagoda without a tour here.
The Perfume Pagoda is an impressive complex of Buddhist Temples located about an hour’s drive from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. Legend has it that the site dates back to over 2,000 years when a Buddhist Monk began meditating in the area.
The beautiful spot is the site of a religious festival, officially beginning on 15th February and continuing throughout the month of March. The event sees hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making their way to this, the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage site in Vietnam.
People travel by boat on the Yen River through a stunning landscape of green rice fields and jagged limestone karsts to visit the series of caves built into the mountains, which make up the sacred Pagoda. There, they visit shrines to pray for happiness and prosperity in the coming year. This time is also known as an auspicious interval for young people to start courting!
4. Wandering Souls Day
Celebrated during the 15th day of the seventh lunar month (usually August), Wandering Souls Day is also known as ‘Trung Nguyen’. It is a very special day in Vietnam (and across parts of Asia) when people believe that the spirits of ancestors descend to Earth to visit the homes of relatives. As well as peaceful relatives, the Gates of Hell also open during this time to give banished souls a chance to redeem themselves.
Offerings of food, drink and gifts are placed out in shrines to appease the ghosts and prevent them from causing any trouble. (The ghosts arrive hungry and unclothed!) Money and clothes are also burned during this time.
In Buddhist temples across the country you will see monks and locals performing rituals and saying prayers shrouded in sweet-smelling incense. The day is celebrated all across the country, but you’ll find slightly different rituals in different places. For example, in Hoi An, Wandering Souls Day is known as Vu Lan Day and is based on an old legend.
5. Hue Festival – August
Where to experience the festival – Hue city in Central Vietnam.
This colourful festival is unique to the ancient cultural city of Hue in Central Vietnam. Celebrations take place at historical sites across the city such as the famous Hue Citadel and An Dinh Palace.
The festival goes on for six whole days with performances from artists, musicians and dancers as well as street parades, fashion shows and food stalls. Many different types of creative displays tell stories about Vietnam’s history and showcase modern art giving visitors an amazing insight into the rich culture and history of the country! It’s a definite must-see for art lovers and is Vietnam’s answer to the Edinburgh Festival!
6. Mid-Autumn Festival – October
Known to Vietnamese as ‘Tet-Trung-Thu’, the Mid-Autumn (Harvest) Festival is an important time for families, with a traditional focus on children. The celebration originates from an old folktale about parents working so hard to get ready for harvest they forgot about their children. Mid-Autumn Festival became a time when parents would make it up to them.
There’s a festive atmosphere in many cities as lights and flowers adorn the streets, toy shops stock their shelves and people flock to buy mooncakes which are sold in shops in the hundreds. In many communities across Asia, this is a time when people believe the moon to be at its biggest and brightest signalling a time of happiness and harmony.
7. Epizode Festival – December
Where to experience the festival – Epizode Festival takes place on the tropical island of Phu Quoc in the South of Vietnam.
Ever been to Sonar in Barcelona? Well, welcome to Vietnam’s version! Epizode Festival is Vietnam’s best (and only) electronic music festival that is the first of its kind in the country. The 12-day music festival showcases local and international electronic and dance music artists from all over the world and in the five years since it was created has garnered attention on a global scale.
During the day there are activities such as yoga, stand up paddle boarding in the ocean and art workshops. During the night world-class DJs and musicians entertain party-goers until the early hours! Even if you’re not really into electronic music, the tropical beach venue with its white sands, turquoise ocean and spectacular sunsets each evening taking you into cool tropical nights will make you fall in love either way.
8. Hmong New Year – December
Early December sees a New Year celebration unique to the culture of the Hmong people, one of the largest ethnic groups residing in Northern Vietnam, as well as parts of Northern Laos and Thailand. The event takes place at different times each year as the timing depends on the harvesting of the rice. The beliefs of the Hmong people mean that the festival must be at least three days long, as it is bad luck for events to last for an even number of days. Celebrations have been known to proceed for a month and a half!
Existing as both a religious and social event, it’s a huge festivity for the Hmong people, as it’s one of the only times that they have a break from farming during the year. Traditional performances, games and events are enjoyed by everyone in the community, so it’s also the perfect chance for the singletons of nearby villages to meet prospective spouses.
9. Dalat Flower Festival – December
Where to experience the festival – The quirky city of Dalat in the Central Highlands is the home of this festival.
Dalat Flower festival takes place in December/January every other year in the high altitude town of Dalat, also known as the ‘Alps of Vietnam’ or more appropriately, the ‘City of Flowers’. The event lasts five days and sees the town decorated in beautiful colourful flowers with various artistic displays and shows.
As well as displays, there are other activities such as fashion shows, cultural exhibition and tasting sessions of Dalat’s various high altitude products such as wine and cheese. For the traveller who has been in Southeast Asia for a long time, the cool temperatures and unique produce of Dalat can be a real treat!
Have you experienced any Vietnamese festival that we haven’t heard about? Tell us in the comments!