Hoi An’s Full Moon Lantern Festival
The Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival showcases Hoi An at its most picturesque. It is an incredibly popular festival, held in the Old Town along both sides of the river and centred around the Lantern Bridge. The main attraction on this night is when the street lights of the Old Town switch off, leaving thousands of delightful coloured lanterns illuminating the town. So not only do the streets of the Old Town sparkle, the waterways, too, are lit up with traditional small floating paper lanterns, sailing down the Thu Bon River—it’s simply stunning.
Tourists and locals of all ages come together forming the town’s busiest evening of the month. Taking place on the 14th day of the lunar calendar, on the full moon of each month, the festival starts around dusk and continues until about 10 p.m. There are games, performers, musical concerts, sideshows, night markets, and eateries all in celebration mode, complementing the star attraction—the lanterns.
Bear in mind, it can be chaotic so you’ll need to manage your expectations. If you’re looking for tranquillity, another night might be a better option. It is an experience though, so what we at Hidden have set out to do is give you a bit of history about the lanterns and the Full Moon Lantern Festival, a feel for what to expect on the night, and some tips on best viewing spots so you can get the most out of this famous festival.
Hoi An Lantern Festival Dates 2019
Hoi An Lantern Festival Dates 2020
The History of Lanterns in Hoi An
Lanterns are the visual symbol of Hoi An’s Old Town. Introduced in the 16th century by the Chinese and Japanese, lanterns were thought to bring good fortune to your dwelling. Healthy competition ensued and expanded across town creating the colourful feast for the eyes we are treated to today. The lanterns seem to have done their job too; Hoi An today is beautiful and prosperous, bustling with activity and adorned with 10,000+ colourful silk lanterns.
Lantern making was abandoned during the war but re-emerged with vigour in the 1990s. In 1998, Hoi An decided to combine the tradition of the full moon rituals with the hanging lanterns, creating the festival as we know today. The Full Moon Lantern Festival now draws thousands of people from overseas and around the region every month.
The Full Moon Tradition
Some form of moon worship is found in most ancient religions. Many believe that their religion is connected to the different phases of the moon. Here in Vietnam, traditions are heavily influenced by Buddhism; which also has a high regard for a full moon. It is believed many great events in Buddha’s life took place at the time of a full moon—in particular, his birth and enlightenment. It is these traditions that this festival in Hoi An embraces.
On this night you will see Vietnamese people honouring their ancestors. It is widely believed that the dead still needs the same possessions as the living. On this night, don’t be surprised to see 1,000,000 VND (43 USD) notes being burnt (don’t worry they’re fake!), mobile phones (cardboard cutouts), and lit cigarettes, along with small altars bearing offerings of fruit and flowers for their ancestors.
Hoi An’s Full Moon Lantern Festival: The Experience
Hoi An’s Full Moon Lantern Festival is a unique, fun-filled experience. It takes place in the centre of town at the waterfront where people of all ages, from all over the world gather to enjoy the event and participate in sending water lanterns down the Thu Bon River.
The Highlight of the Full Moon Lantern Festival
The highlight of the night, that really sets it apart from other glorious evenings in Hoi An, is that the restaurants and shops turn off their outdoor lights along the river, allowing the candlelit lanterns to fully cast their glow. In the early evening, the town comes together to launch hundreds of pastry-box boat lanterns down the river, each filled with a small candle. Once the moon crests in the east people stroll to the riverside to bid farewell to their floating candles. Excited faces grin as the little luminescent boats are launched into the river. At first, only a few lanterns are adrift, but in no time at all, a fleet of lights bob gently on the water. The floating lanterns are available for purchase from any of a number of sellers, they cost around 5,000 VND (0.20c USD).
Hidden Hint: We advise to hand correct change to the seller as some ask for huge sums from the unsuspecting!
Full Moon Lantern Festival – Surrounding Activities
Back from the riverfront, in the Old Town, people young and old, families, couples, and teenagers immerse themselves in the festivities. Music spills from the beautifully lit restaurants onto the street and the sounds of calling and singing from the many boat drivers echo along the river. People enjoy carnival games where blindfolded contestants try (mostly unsuccessfully) to smash ceramic pots with large sticks of bamboo. Small groups gather to both cheer encouragement and laugh along at their persistent efforts.
Bunches of elaborately twisted balloons appear and giant heart shapes, bunnies, and lasers swept up by Full Moon Lantern Festival goers absorbed in the experience. Fires burn offerings to ancestors along the side of the road and the streets glow with lanterns. All so beautiful and all-encompassing, at times almost surreal, giving you the feeling of being removed from everyday life.
As you would in any crowd, keep belongings and small children close, especially around the riverside. We saw a few floating belongings as well as lanterns! When the festival is in full swing, the An Hoi side of the Old Town is less crowded, and you can look over to the “more beautiful” side of town, enjoying the view of the festival from a more relaxed location.
Travelling with Children – the Night Fair
If you’re travelling with young children in the centre of the Old Town can be very overcrowded and quite daunting. The main Lantern bridge and Japanese bridge are often very congested, and the whole experience can be quite overwhelming for little ones and exhausting for parents. Instead head away from the centre of town past the front of the Japanese bridge (there is a footbridge in front, so you don’t have to wrestle the crowds).
Take a short walk along the waterfront towards the Cam Pho bridge but don’t cross over. Sparkling beside the bridge, there is a delightful kids oasis—the night fair. You can look back down the river at the festivities while your children ride a small train, spin on an old-fashioned octopus ride or jump on a giant bouncy castle. There is also ceramic painting for some quiet time out and, for the older kids, electric tripod scooters to ride around on. Rides cost 20,000 VND (.85c USD), and tickets can be bought on site.
Hoi An – the Venice of the East
You can see why Hoi An is fondly referred to as the Venice of the East. On this night, even more so, as slender, graceful bamboo boats take to the water, each with their own electric lantern. Some lanterns even humorously shaped like coloured onions and garlic cloves. The lamps come in a whole variety of colours, each with their own traditional Vietnamese meaning. Red for happiness, love, luck, celebration. Yellow for wealth, prosperity, royalty, happiness. Green for jealousy, lust. Blue is calm, hope, growth. Purple for nostalgia, sadness, fragility, tenderness. The result is that the river becomes a haphazard rainbow of glowing light.
Boat Rides Down the Thu Bon River
As we navigated the crowds jostling for premium vantage points, we saw a more serene option—the many bamboo boats. The boat owners are persistent, so bear in mind that it’s their busiest night of the month too. So they want bums on seats! The boat owners offer an array of prices, sharing boats, private boats, and more for varying time periods.
How Much Does a Boat Ride Cost?
Have in mind that a ride for two people will be around 150,000 VND (6.50 USD). You may also be sharing a boat with others. We did a bit of healthy haggling, agreed on the price, then set off. It is the law that you will need to wear life vests over water otherwise your boat owner will be fined. So don the orange jacket, and smile as you sail away from the crowds. We had a good time, floating lazily on the river taking pictures amidst all the floating lanterns. It’s a relaxing way to enjoy the festival. You have more time to look around and take in your surroundings, without the constant awareness that you might bump into someone.
What Time Does the Full Moon Lantern Festival Start?
Arrive early and start exploring at dusk to try beating some of the crowds. As most of the Old Town close at 10 p.m., it doesn’t pay to arrive late as the festivities will be in full swing by 6:30 p.m.
We suggest avoiding the bridges and major intersections where possible. Certainly, part of the fun is the crowd, yet all of the difficulty is as well.
If you want to carry on to the wee small hours there are a few full moon parties on An Hoi or more serious revellers can head down to An Bang beach where beach clubs party to the early hours.
Sightseeing, Shopping, Food and Drink
Once the novelty of the festival wears off, you can go to the Old Town’s numerous World Heritage sites or temples. Some of them close early, to avoid the droves of people. But most of them have open doors and cultural activities in their courtyards.
If seeing the World Heritage Sites doesn’t appeal to you, head west along the An Hoi Island riverside to the night market. Here, you can purchase professionally made silk and bamboo lanterns. Don’t be put off by their size, they are light and collapse into a travel-friendly parcel. The night market also has an abundance of jewellery stalls, kitchenware, toys for the kids, and an array of souvenirs and gifts on offer. You can stop for a drink, too, along any of the bordering bars to catch your breath before heading back into the action.
The night market is also a great place to grab a quick bite. There are rows of street carts offering everything from traditional Banh Mi and Cao Lau to banana pancakes and meat skewers, to snack on as you browse the markets. Look out for the “mango cake” sold on the street corners. A delicious Vietnamese fried dumpling/doughnut rolled in powdered sugar. They come in two varieties: sugared and sugared with a peanut filling.
If you’ve got more time to eat, or need to rest your feet, head towards the footbridge in front of the Japanese bridge. Here you can treat yourself to some delicious local street food. It’s a great spot for people watching too, particularly during the Full Moon Lantern Festival. Just look out for the mass of red tables and chairs in prime position stretching along the riverfront. Then take your pick! They offer some of the best local food, cheap beer, and views of the brightly coloured river for a fraction of the cost.
If you walk even further along, things tend to get a little quieter. For instance, there are a number of bars with great frontage so you can sit for a bit longer and get your breath back. Just taking in your surroundings while enjoying great food and a refreshing drink.
Above all Hoi An’s Full Moon Lantern Festival needs to be experienced, even if it is just the once! It is family-friendly, affordable, and exquisite in its beauty. We recommend that you avoid the crowds by arriving early and taking a boat along the river. So this way you can relax and enjoy your surroundings avoiding some of the hustle and bustle. Firstly on foot, take in the initial crazy heart of the Full Moon Lantern Festival. Then head to the quieter end of town to look back at the festivities. Park up here and enjoy some local street food. However, if you have kids, take them for a play at the night fair. They’ll love you for it!
The Old Town and the river are lit up so spectacularly on this special night. Therefore find a quieter place to just be still and appreciate its beauty. It really is a unique and beautiful time in Hoi An, one that can’t be experienced anywhere else. But be sure to visit the Old Town at a quieter time as well as Hoi An is really beautiful whatever phase the moon is in.