Evening 71: The Full Moon Festival of Lanterns and Light


I write this while drinking a glass of wine in a restaurant overlooking the Thu Bon river, listening to the cheesiest possible instrumental version of ‘La Bamba’.

It has to be said that this is an improvement on the instrumental version of ‘Follow Him’ in the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance House. I was a little disappointed when Whoopi Goldberg didn’t join the cast on stage.

November is definitely one of the wetter months in central Vietnam but I still wanted to come to Hoi An even if torrential rain was a risk. I timed my visit for the monthly Full Moon Festival that takes place here.

I’ve heard and read it referred to as the Festival of Lights, the Lantern Festival and the Full Moon Festival. Take your pick which one you prefer. I’ll just call it the Festival for now.

Every evening, as the sky darkens, the lanterns of the Old Town are lit and, on the river Thu Bon, lantern boats set sail and candle lanterns are released on to the water.

The riverside for the last few evenings, has been very busy with people strolling along the banks, while the water has been crowded by boats and candles.

It looks lovely, though I do wonder about the litter and pollution. So much of this is aimed at the tourists.

Like the fishing village in Ha Long Bay and the buffalo in the fields around the town, this is an event that draws in the visitors. With our presence we’re more likely to support the local economy so I can see why it is done.

Of course, the buzzword for many travellers is ‘authentic’ so maybe its popularity and draw will wane. (A couple sitting next to me on a market stall at lunch wondered if they should have gone to the other trader because the lady serving us had a menu in English and was therefore less authentic. I just viewed it as convenient).

The streets have been filled with walkers and cycle carriages – the cyclists verbally calling out “beep beep” (because the bikes don’t have bells) as they ferry their passengers around the crowded thoroughfares.

Hoi An Old Town is a walking and cycling town, (which this Public Health professional was delighted to see) with the exception of the occasional moped rider.

During the Festival evening, the city’s electric white lights are turned off and the streets and the river are lit only by the lanterns.

I timed my visit here to coincide with this.

Apparently, so did a typhoon.

The rain has not stopped all day. Living in Manchester, UK, that has not been an issue for me.

However, it does appear to have dampened the usual turnout to the water’s edge. Actually, from where I am sitting… I think the water’s edge is getting closer.

The restaurant manager seemed to think so too as she went to the veranda to move the tables and chairs a couple of inches closer to shelter.

From where I am sitting, I have seen one or two boats set sail in the last twenty minutes. There would normally be around thirty. The candles are not faring well either.

It is strange to see the riverside so quiet though the rain is very loud. It does mean that I can’t hear the guy in the Irish Bar who sings ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ every night at the same time.

Silver linings.

…Although, this restaurant is treating me to The Shadows’ ‘Apache’ delivered via xylophone.

Why does Hoi An have this Festival?

The lanterns are placed in the water to honour ancestors. In the past,this would only take place during the Full Moon.

Now, it takes place every night… just with the street lights turned off when it’s the Full Moon. I had heard that there are usually riverside performances too, but I see no sign of those tonight.

Because it has rained all day, other than going to see Anna for my new dresses, I’ve made this a museum visiting day.

The Old Town has a ticketing system where you buy a ticket for around £4 that allows entry to five attractions.

Today’s highlights have been the Cantonese Assembly Hall and the Traditional Art Performance House, where I watched an eclectic mix of dance, opera, singing and a curious game of bingo.

This is the Cantonese Assembly Hall and… Here be Dragons!

Until the end of the 18th century, Hoi An was Vietnam’s main port-of-call, and home to a large number of foreign traders. The city was popular with the Chinese, many of whom established a permanent presence among the Vietnamese.

Communities from the various regions (e.g. Fuji and Hainan) of China built Assembly Halls: social and religious buildings in which they could congregate and worship their ancestral gods.

The Cantonese Hall was built in 1885. The different parts of the building were separately made in China. After finishing the work, those parts were transferred here and joined together to build the the Quang Trieu (Cantonese) Assembly Hall in Hoi An.

The Assembly Hall holds an amazing fountain that features a pottery dragon. This is the type of ceramics I don’t mind going to see.

A number of museums are also free and one of these included the Museum of Precious Heritage.

For the last few years, a French photographer (now settled in Hoi An) has been travelling Vietnam to visit the 54 (though he says there are more) ethnic groups that live in some of the remotest areas.

It’s a fascinating museum, filled with photographs and the costumes of the people he has visited. For some of these groups, their language is dying out or actually forgotten as only the older people remember and for various reasons (no infrastructure, it’s not written down) they can’t teach it. For some of the groups their way of life is changing completely – from the way they build houses to the way they dress to every aspect of their lives.

The exhibits – the costumes and the photography – are beautiful. This is the website if you want to read more. If anyone is in Hoi An in the near future, I would definitely recommend this place.

The water’s edge is now a lot closer than it was an hour ago. I think it may be time to take a stroll.

EDIT: Since I took these pictures, the weather has worsened and I’m listening to a torrential downpour. There was barely a soul on the streets.



Categories: Festivals, Travel, VietnamTags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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