By Michelle Power
Vietnam has long been an interesting and exotic travel destination. There is so much diversity to this amazing country, no matter where your interests lie, there’s something for you. Most travellers to Vietnam enthuse about the inevitable festival they stumbled across or even took part in. Traditional celebratory festivals are deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture, so much so that the Ministry of Culture estimate that every year over 8,000 traditional festivals are held across the country.
While seasonal festivals such as Vietnamese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival are celebrated throughout the country, the majority of Vietnam’s festivals are related to local traditions or linked to religious ceremonies of some description, so if you are planning a trip do check out local listings. Whilst you can’t attended them all, no more than we can document them all here, we have put together a “Greatest Hits” list of fantastic festivals for you and maybe their timings can even help you decide when to take your trip to Vietnam.
Tet/Lunar New Year (January/February)
Tet or Lunar New Year, is by far the biggest and most sacred Vietnamese traditional festival. Tet is celebrated throughout the country over three days in January or February (depending on lunar patterns) but the vacation time usually stretches far beyond this. Tet is an occasion for people to show respect to their ancestors and to wish for a new year full of good luck and happiness. It is also a time for visiting family and friends. The first visitor to a home is very important; if the first visitor is prestigious, it is predicted the family will have good fortune that year. The first day of the Tet festival is reserved for visiting family and relatives, the second to special guests and the third is for teachers and business associates to make a visit.
So that’s all wonderful for the locals of course, but where does it leave the visitors, you ask? Firstly, hotels are open and in plentiful supply so don’t worry. However the bad news is that most museums, art centres or any indoor based activities will be closed for at least 4 days, but never mind – the beach will be empty, so it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy the peace, quiet and tranquility of the amazing Vietnamese coast. It is also the perfect opportunity for teachers based in China to visit as it coincides with Chinese New Year. Our advice is to hit the beach, but maybe schedule your city stopover either before or after Tet to get the most out of your trip.
Hoi An Lantern Festival (every month)
With an array of architectural styles, a charming relaxed atmosphere and some of Vietnam’s most amazing culinary fare, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Hoi An is an absolute must for any visitor. The town is an attraction in itself and most visitors will tell you they lose days strolling around its pretty streets, stopping at cafes or overhauling their wardrobe buying and designing bespoke clothing offered by the plethora of tailors in every part of the city. Add to this charm the Lantern Festival held on the 14th of every month. This festival has become popular enough that even if your visit isn’t on the official date you can still participate in the traditional festival as most nights lanterns pepper the city after the sun goes down.
Hue Festival (April/May)
Hue Festival is a big international cultural event organized every two years since 2000, under the initiative of Hue City and the French Embassy in Vietnam and you’re in luck as it’s on this year from 27th April until 2nd May. This festival is one of the biggest cultural activities not only for Hue City, but the whole country. Hue is an ancient capital, a World Heritage site and has some truly unique architecture, culture and art. This year’s festivities will include a street carnival, an international food festival, a hot air balloon show, traditional court music and even some dragon boat racing. It may be newer than some of the other more established festivals but it is just as wonderful and fascinating and always a good choice for a tourist to attend.
Wandering Souls’ Day (July/August)
Trung Nguyen or Wandering Souls’ Day is the second largest festival of the year after Tet. Though it falls on the 15th day of the seventh month, its celebration can be held at any convenient time during the second half of the month (this year it will take place on 25th August). The festival is celebrated throughout the country, in Buddhist Pagodas, homes, businesses, factories, government offices and even army bases. Although it’s a Buddhist celebration it is marked by anyone who believes in the existence of God.
Many Vietnamese people believe that a person has two souls; one is spiritual and the other is material. When a person dies, their soul is judged. When the judgement is passed the soul is sent to heaven or hell. They believe those who have not made it all the way to heaven can be saved through prayers said by the living. Wandering Souls’ Day is believed to be the best time to pray for their souls as on this day, the gates of hell are said to be opened at sunset and the souls there fly out, hungry. Those who have relatives fly back to their homes and villages and find plenty of food on their family altars. Those who have no relatives are the sad “wandering souls” who are in need of food and prayer. This is why additional altars full of offerings are placed in pagodas and many public places and they are a site to behold. As a foreigner it is amazing to see these offerings and, if the weather is good, maybe one of the many outdoor ceremonies.
So there you have it. Like we said, in this article we are scratching the surface of what’s on offer but don’t take our word for it – go and check these festivals for yourself and marvel at the wonder that is Vietnam!
Remember, if you are teaching in China, national holidays there can be a great time to visit other countries in Asia such as Vietnam. If you’re considering teaching in Asia but aren’t sure how salaries and cost of living compare to other regions, check out our News article: http://www.teachersforasia.com/typical-salaries-esl-teachers-in-asia/ or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.