I think almost everyone knows or has heard what a full moon party is. An all-night beach party celebrating the turn of the full moon consisting of buckets of alcohol, dare devils skipping through fire and endless amounts of UV paint and glitter. However, in Hoi An (Vietnam) the celebration of the turn of the full moon is done a little differently.
In many Buddhist countries the full moon is regarded as one of the most sacred times due to the belief that Buddha was born and achieved his enlightenment during this period. In Vietnam the full moon is seen as time to meditate, reflect on life and pay respect to the ancestors with offerings of fruit, flowers and the burning of incense. In Hoi An These traditions have evolved into the popular lantern festival.
The origins of this festival date back to the 16th/17th century when Hoi An was an important trading post. Merchants would visit from all around the world bringing many different products with them and one that stood out was the lanterns brought by the Japanese merchants. The Japanese would hang these colourful lanterns outside their homes and the native Vietnamese soon began to imitate them in the hopes that this would bring good luck to their homes. In 1988 it is said that the local government decided to combine the lanterns with the monthly lunar celebrations and since then it has become a monthly event that is celebrated by both the Vietnamese and international travellers.
As its name suggests the main feature of this festival is lanterns. As the sun sinks behind the clouds multi-coloured lanterns are lit and released along the Thu Bon river as a way of worshipping the ancestors. But this isn’t even the start of the wonders you will witness because as soon as the clock hands strike 8pm that is when the magic begins. As the neon coloured lanterns in the old town are switched off, vehicles become prohibited from entering the quarter and the river and streets become awash with thousands of twinkling lanterns that illuminate the moonlit Hoi An in an enchanting glow.
It truly is a fairy-tale feeling. As much as I try to describe it I just can’t find the words. I was so incredibly lucky that my time in Hoi An with Contiki happened to fall on the date of this festival. Releasing a lantern into the river was just pure magic. I released a lantern for my Grandad and I know it sounds clique, but I truly felt like he had received it.
What I loved about this festival was that even if we didn’t come from the same background or share the same language we each had a reason for releasing a lantern, we all wished to honour our fallen loved ones and sharing that special moment with my fellow travellers will forever be truly grateful for.