Festivals in Vietnam offer visitors the best opportunity for getting up close and personal with the myths, customs and fun-loving spirit of this proud nation. Despite undergoing modern developments, Vietnam is still a predominantly traditional country, with thousands of pagodas and shrines dedicated to Buddha as well as various deities and iconic figures. There are also plenty of cultural events that are only celebrated during certain times of the year (or years), so you’ll never know when one decides to pop up during your travels. We’ve compiled a list of the best festivals in Vietnam, and while they’re celebrated just about anywhere in the country, we’ve included some suggestions on the best places so that you can fully experience these one-of-a-kind events during your holiday.
1 Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year)
What’s so good about it? Lunar New Year, locally called Tet, is the biggest festival of the year with the whole country downing tools for family get-togethers. Principally a religious celebration, don’t expect too much of a wild party, but it’s still a fascinating time to visit Vietnam and you’ll certainly find locals lighting fireworks, visiting temples with their families, and the interesting sight of many flower stalls set up as giving flowers is customary during Tet. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Tet is celebrated throughout Vietnam, but it’s best to be in the larger cities, as smaller towns really do shut down, making it difficult to find food and transport. Hanoi is the best place to enjoy this festivity. Quan Su Pagoda or Ngoc Son Temple is where you can see locals lighting incenses and praying to their ancestors in the morning while Hanoi Opera House often organise vibrant parties and fireworks displays.
2 Hue Festival
April/May/June every two years
What’s so good about it? Hue Festival is a biannual celebration that takes place in UNESCO-listed Hue City, where you can enjoy an array of cultural events, games, and performances held over a week. Founded in 2000, the festival was held to preserve traditional customs that were practised during the Nguyen Dynasty. If you’re visiting Hue in April, May or June, expect unique showcases such as the Hue Poetry Festival, Dialogue of Drums and Percussions, and Ao Dai Fashion Shows, sporting activities like kite flying, boat racing, and human chess, as well as street performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Hue Festival is only celebrated in Hue City, which is the capital of Thua Thien Hue province in Central Vietnam.
3 Perfume Festival
What’s so good about it? Perfume Festival draws throngs of local pilgrims from all over Vietnam to Hanoi’s iconic Perfume Pagoda, where they to pray for a prosperous year and pay their respects to Buddha. The pilgrimage starts with a dragon dance at Den Trinh Pagoda on the 15th day of the 1st Lunar, where pilgrims (and even travellers) travel by boat along the Yen River to the base of Huong Mountain, passing by limestone caves and rice fields. The journey continues on foot by climbing hundreds of stone steps towards Huong Tich Cave, offering a colourful display of food offerings, statues of deities, lit incenses, and praying locals. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Perfume Festival takes place at the Perfume Pagoda in Hanoi, from the 15th day of the 1st lunar month.
4 Mid-Autumn Festival
What’s so good about it? Mid-Autumn Festival, held on the 14th and 15th day of the lunar month, features a wide range of activities such as children carrying paper lanterns, lion dances, and food booths selling mooncakes, sticky rice, fruits, and various sweets. Also known as the harvest festival, households set up an altar during the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, on which they display offerings in honour of the full moon. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Mid-Autumn Festival is best enjoyed in Hoi An, where you’ll get to see plenty of street performances, lantern processions and arts exhibitions throughout UNESCO-listed Ancient Town. Children also get to participate in essays, drawing and colouring contests during Mid-Autumn Festival, while visitors can enjoy breathtaking sights of colourful paper lanterns lining the Thu Bon Riverside and Japanese Covered Bridge.
5 Hung King Temple Festival
What’s so good about it? Hung King Temple Festival is held in commemoration of Kinh Duong Vuong, who became Vietnam’s first king in 2879BC. While the main worship event takes place at the Hung Temple, which is perched atop Nghia Linh Mountain in Phu Tho Province, 100 lanterns are released into the sky on the eve of the festival. The next morning, a flower ceremony is held at Den Thuong (Upper Temple), where the Hung Kings used to worship deities during their reign. Lastly, a huge procession starts at the foot of the mountain, consisting of pilgrims, xoan classical song performances, and ca tru classical operas at several temples along the way towards the main Hung Temple. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Hung King Temple Festival is celebrated at the Hung Temple on Nghia Linh Mountain in Phong Chau District, Phu Tho Province.
6 Lim Festival
What’s so good about it? Lim Festival is where you can enjoy UNESCO-listed quan ho folk singing performances and a wide range of traditional games during your visit. Held on the 12th and 13th day of the first lunar month, several stages are built within the village where you get to see locals performing in traditional costumes. We highly recommend heading over to the lake outside the Lim Communal House to catch quan ho singing performance on a dragon boat. Lim Festival also hosts folk games such as danh du (bamboo swings), cockfighting, tug-of-war, wrestling, human chess, and blind man’s bluff. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Lim Festival is celebrated in Lim Village, which is located within the Tien Du District, Bac Ninh Province. Located 18km from Hanoi, You can easily make your way to this traditional village by bus or rental car.
7 Wandering Souls Day
What’s so good about it? The annual Wandering Souls Day takes place on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month, which locals believe is the day when spirits of their ancestors are able to visit their homes. On the eve of the festival, families flock to Buddhist temples and graves of their departed loved ones to offer prayers, flowers, sticky rice cakes, sugarcane, and fruits. Paper money and clothes are also burned during this time of the year. Where’s the best place to celebrate? While Wandering Souls Day celebrated by Buddhist population across Vietnam, the best place to enjoy this sombre festivity is in Hue, where numerous Buddhist shrines and pagodas are flooded with locals and monks performing ceremonies and prayers. The festival is also known as the Cold Food Festival (Tet Han Thuc) as chilled dishes such as banh troi (floating rice cake) and banh chay (glutinous rice balls with mung bean paste) are typically eaten.
8 Hoi An Lantern Festival
14th day of every month
What’s so good about it? Hoi An Lantern Festival is a monthly event that transforms the quaint UNESCO World Heritage Site into a spectacular display of paper lanterns. On the 14th day of each lunar month, every shop, restaurant, bar and businesses in the Ancient Town switches off all electricity and relies on hundreds of candles and lanterns. Meanwhile, entrance to all temples is free of charge, where you can see monks and locals holding candlelit ceremonies. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Hoi An Lantern Festival takes place in UNESCO-listed Hoi An, but the best place to celebrate is along the Ancient Town area. Held until late, the streets are also filled with musicians playing traditional instruments, Chinese chess, poetry readings, and lantern-making classes.
9 Buddha’s Birthday
What’s so good about it? Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated by devotees throughout Vietnam, despite being a communist country. Taking place on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, many temples are adorned with lavish decorations with locals offering fruit, flower garlands, and various Vietnamese dishes. This event often draws thousands of visitors looking to partake in street parades and prayer sessions. Where’s the best place to celebrate? Hoi An is arguably the best place to enjoy this festivity. Held at Phap Bao Pagoda, the day starts with a procession of monks along the streets of Hoi An Ancient Town, before locals flock to the temple to perform religious rites and listen to Buddhist scriptures. In the evening, expect a lively parade along the main road of the Old Town, where animals are released while flower garlands and lanterns are placed along the riverbank. Aside from experiencing the local culture, Buddha’s Birthday is also a great time to enjoy vegetarian dishes sold by street vendors in Hoi An.
10 Phu Giay Festival
Late March to Early April
What’s so good about it? Phu Giay Festival draws in worshippers of the goddess Lieu Hanh to Phu Giay Pagoda, where they pray for good fortune whilst carrying decorated bamboo relics and wearing traditional costumes. Located 88km east of Hanoi, the temple also hosts various games such as capture-the-flag, human chess, lion dancing, and wrestling, resulting in a vibrant atmosphere throughout the day. Visitors can also enjoy folk dance and classical songs such as trong quan, cheo (satirical musical theatre) and ca tru (chamber music). Where’s the best place to celebrate? Phu Giay Festival is only celebrated by villages within the Kim Thai Commune, with the best place to celebrate being the Phu Giay Temple.