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When the weather cools I seem to find myself returning again and again to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant again and again for large steaming bowls of pho. I can’t deny that the food in Little Vietnam is delicious but there’s one thing to experience it at home and another to be in the country.
With daily flights to Ho Chi Minh, there’s never been a better time to plan a trip to Vietnam! But where to go?
Vietnam is a country rich with culture. What better way to experience the country’s culture than immersing yourself in a festival in Vietnam?!
I’ve done some digging and found four of the best festivals that the country has to offer, all offering uniquely different experiences that you’ll want to keep going back to see and experience more!
Here are 4 Festivals in Vietnam Not to Miss!
Ho Chi Minh City: Experience Tet, the countries biggest festival
When to go: the first day of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar (usually falling in January or February)
Mixing colonial charm with the modern metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and likely to be the starting point of your trip to Vietnam.
While the streets are usually bustling, during Tet Nguyen Dan – Lunar New Year, more commonly known as Tet – the pace slows a little as people head home to be with their family.
I’ve been told by friends who have lived there that Ho Chi Minh City really puts on a show in the days leading up to Tet. Huge floral displays and artworks line streets, and the city is aglow with light displays as night falls.
There’s also plenty of delicious foods to try, including some that are only made during Tet and considered auspicious. Be sure to try the Banh Tet, a mixture of glutinous rice, mung beans and pork covered in banana leaves and shaped into a square.
While you are in Ho Chi Minh be sure to take a trip to explore the Mekong Delta. The ‘rice bowl’ of southern Vietnam, considered so because of the vast number of rice paddies lining the waterway, the Mekong are a maze of islands, swamps, floating markets, and villages and perfect for those who want to capture the stunning landscapes.
For green fields, visit from June through early August. For golden August and early September.
June through early August is the rainy season, but early September sees less rain, lower temps and humidity the ideal time to visit!
Hue: Preserving the past at the Hue Festival
When to go: April, May or June every two years (next festival is 2018!)
Nestled in central Vietnam, Hue City is a UNESCO-heritage city due to it being the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty emperors and the country’s capital from 1802-1945. While the impressive 19th-century Citadel and Forbidden Purple City will please culture and history lovers, the cities biennial celebration is sure to excite all who visit.
To preserve traditional customs that were practised during the Nguyen Dynasty, a week of cultural events, games and performances called the Hue Festival are held.
From the Hue Poetry Festival to Ao Dai Fashion Shows, kite flying competitions and boat races, human chess and a variety of arts events; there are events to impress people of every age.
Last year, for the first time, the city hosted a Hot Air Balloon Festival as part of the Hue Festival! 10 balloons from Vietnam, Europe, Asia and Australia participated, including a giant Smurf face!
For the more curious festival-goers, there were flights to see aerial views of the city, Citadel, and as far as the Ngu Binh Mountain.
While an official program for 2018 is yet to be confirmed, they did host a second ‘balloon fiesta’ in 2017, so here’s hoping they continue hosting the event, similar to Canberra’s Balloon Spectacular!
Hanoi: The Pilgrimage to the Perfume Festival
When to go: Mid-February or March, and runs around three months!
The country’s capital, Hanoi is a bubbling mix of South-east Asian, Chinese and French culture seeking to make up for the time it kept the world at bay.
While Vietnam is a communist country, around 12% of the population identify themselves as Buddhists. The way people observe their beliefs is different from in other Asian countries as the majority of Buddhist practitioners focus on devotional rituals rather than meditation.
One of the countries most famous pilgrimage site is the Huong Pagoda – or the Perfume Pagoda – so named because of the scent that perfumes the air from the spring blossoms.
Each year Chua Huong, or the Perfume Pagoda Festival, more than three million visitors make the complex pilgrimage involving boats, walks and bridges to the complex series of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the limestone mountains; but everyone’s final destination is the Huong Tich Cave.
Within the cave are statues of deities and a number of stalactites and stalagmites, many which are named and said to have specific purposes like praying for a girl or boy child, or those who seek prosperity. One stalactite is shaped like a breast and people vie to catch a drop of water from it in hopes of being blessed with health from the ‘milk’ of the ‘breast’.
Note: if you attend this festival you do need to be clothed respectfully. That beings long trousers, skirts below the knee and no sleeveless tops.
Hoi An: Waterways a light at the Lantern Festival
When to go: 14th day of every month
Once a major port, Hoi An is a melting pot of culture with well-preserved Ancient Town, Chinese shop houses, and picturesque French colonial buildings. There’s even an iconic Japanese covered bridge, complete with pagoda; but there’s one sight that you are more likely to find when doing a quick Google search of the city.
While you’ve been researching Vietnam, it’s likely you’ve seen beautifully captured images of paper lanterns floating on a river. Hoi An is where you will see this beautiful spectacle!
Each month, the UNESCO World Heritage city turns off their electricity and relies on hundreds of candles and lanterns. On this day, motorised vehicles are banned in the old town, entrance to all temples is free of charge, and the streets are filled with musicians playing traditional instruments, conducting lantern-making classes or taking part in Chinese chess.
The streets will be crowded with locals paying respect to their ancestors and visitors wanting to capture the sight. That said, don’t delay when heading out as the festival runs from dusk until around 9 or 10 pm.
Lanterns cost around 5,000 VND (around USD$0.50) and you can’t miss them with their long poles to help lower the lanterns onto the river.
Now it’s over to you