Soon after booking our trip to Hoi An, we realised that the dates of our stay would mean we miss out on one of the citys most famous traditions – the Hoi An Lantern Festival. So with bit of logistical tweaking, we rearranged our trip to leave Hue one day earlier. This would mean we arrive in Hoi An on the same day that the iconic Hoi An Lantern Festival was taking place, and lengthen our stay in the city by one day. And boy, we were glad we made that change!
About Hoi An
Hoi An is a city in Central Vietnam, a beautifully preserved colonial trading port close to the coast. It has not been used as a trading post since the end of the 18th century, having been surpassed by nearby Danang. Losing this strategic importance is the sole reason this lovely city has managed to retain its old-world charm. It meant that Hoi An was able to escape being attacked in any of the 20th century conflicts that devastated so many other Vietnamese cities.
Today, Hoi An flourishes as a centre for tourism, as many visitors flock to the UNESCO World Heritage ancient city along the riverside. With colourful streets, a number of historical museums to visit, riverfront cafes, and cheap food and drink, Hoi An is a wonderful place to slow down and watch the world go by.
Hoi An Lantern Festival – traditional full moon celebration
For the Vietnamese people, the full moon is a time to pay tribute to ones ancestors with offerings of fruit, flowers and burning incense (or fake money!) at alters. Monks will hold candlelit ceremonies in the temples. In Hoi An, these traditions have evolved into the Hoi An Lantern Festival as it is today.
During the evening of the event itself, all of the electric lights in the old city are turned off, and the rivers and street take on a magical aura as thousands of lanterns and candles twinkle and flicker through the darkness.
How to visit Hoi An Lantern Festival
There is no cost to visit the Hoi An Lantern festival itself. You only need to wander down to the riverfron during the evening. Most of the action takes place around the Japanese Bridge or the bridge that connect An Hoi island to Hoi An ancient city. The ceremonies that take place in the various pagodas are also free to visit.
As you wander along the riverfront, you will see literally hundreds of old grannies and young girls plying their trade in paper lanterns. It only costs around VND 10,000-20,000 (less than $1) if you end up convinced that releasing one of these lanterns into the river will bring you happiness, luck and prosperity. I’m not sure if our relative happiness levels increased after this, but it was a fun thing to do! Although the environmentalist in me wonders where they all wash up at the end.
If you want to take a boat (sampan) along the river, then stop and haggle with one of the many locals offering a trip. We did not do this as we were happy just filming and taking pictures. However, common wisdom seems to tell that you could expect to pay around VND100,000 ($6.50) for a ride. Of course, you need to negotiate and it is probably best to agree on the price before setting off.
We battled our way through the throng of people taking selfies on the bridge to get to the south side of the river in An Hoi. There, we saw beautiful stalls selling colourful and decorated lanterns. There are also lots of local food stalls, where you can buy savoury pancakes and sweet treats.
We made a short video (around 3 minutes) about our visit to the Hoi An Lantern Festival – click below to see what we saw!
Hoi An Lantern Festival 2018 dates
The Hoi An Lantern Festival takes place a day before the full moon, which is the 14th day of any lunar month. Always check with your accommodation or online to be sure. However, these are the consensus dates for 2018 based on my extensive research:
- 31st January 2018
- 1st March 2018
- 30th March 2018
- 29th April 2018
- 28th May 2018
- 27th June 2018
- 26th July 2018
- 24th August 2018
- 23rd September 2018
- 22nd October 2018
- 21st November 2018
- 20th December 2018