Tourists inspect the locally made silk brocade lanterns during the Full Moon Festival in Hoi An; I bought one for $3
While my friends and I were busy planning our food adventure last month, something amazing happened to us, completely by accident: culture.
It happened the evening we arrived into Hoi An. We’d been so focused on sourcing places for good food that we’d completely neglected to research other aspects of our trip. When the hotel staff informed us that there’d be a special festival in the Ancient Town of Hoi An starting at 6:00, we thought we’d swing by for a little bit to check things out before heading to dinner.
We were so enchanted by what we saw.
At dusk, electricity is turned off in Ancient Town, and the city glows with candlelight
Hoi An during the Full Moon Festival is magical. The Ancient Town, which refers to the old, original part of the city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the 890 sites around the world that the United Nations has designated as having outstanding universal value. The town remains untouched from its glory days as a port city, and although somewhat crumbling and faded, is still a beautiful reminder of Vietnam’s French colonial past. It’s evident that the city takes painstaking efforts at preserving its buildings, and descendants of some of the original inhabitants still live in their original family home.
A young local carries lanterns to join her friends in the celebrations
On the 14th of every lunar month, right before the arrival of the full moon, the residents of Hoi An turn off all electricity and celebrate the Full Moon Festival. Streets are blocked so that the noise of cars and motor scooter traffic can’t reach the inner heart of the city. Both adults and children take to the streets with colorful floating lanterns, which they release onto the river.
Lanterns dot the river running through Hoi An
For me, the whole city took on an ethereal feel. Without the modern conveniences of cars and electricity, time seemed to slow down, and I noticed people that I otherwise might not have while dodging motorbikes or scouring the landscape for street food. A group of children played with lanterns, carefully lining each lantern on a step while chattering away in Vietnamese until they briefly broke into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in English. Young couples strolled hand-in-hand, and entire families took to the town in pedicabs.
Yes, that’s a family of four in a three-wheeled pedicab; one more person than wheels
My friends and I, clouded by our zest for food, had just happened upon this beautiful night. We felt so lucky. What if we’d arrived the night after, and completely missed this breathtaking sight?
Playing Chinese chess by candlelight
I’ve learned my lesson from catching the Full Moon Festival; the next time I travel, I’ll do some research into things other than food. You know, just so that the people in every country in Southeast Asia don’t think I’m the oblivious Asian-American kid stuffing my face on the sidewalk.
Full Moon Festival | 14th of every lunar month; to find out what night on our Gregorian calendar, click here for a date converter| Ancient Town of Hoi An