Vietnam is a country that should be on everyone’s bucket list for a number of reasons – the culture, the weather, the cuisine (mmmm Pho!), the history, the numerous attractions to see and of course the festivals and events that occur throughout the year that you shouldn’t miss. If you have taken a gap year and/or travelled through Southeast Asia, it is likely that you have already visited Vietnam. It is a firm favourite and on most people’s itinerary because of the reasons I have listed above, coupled with the fact that it is great value for money, which of course when travelling long-term is a major factor when deciding where to visit and for how long. Yes, it is a backpacker’s mecca, but it also appeals to the luxury traveller too, due to the plethora of 5 star hotels throughout the country. So whatever your budget, I’m sure you will find somewhere suitable to stay whilst you enjoy your time in such a diverse and fantastic country.
It’s important when choosing where to visit in Vietnam, that you check out the weather first as North Vietnam and South Vietnam have different monsoon seasons. This does however mean that the weather will always be great in one part of the country at all times of the year. This is also something to bear in mind if you are travelling around the country – maybe follow the good weather? Although if saving some cash is your top priority, the likelihood is you will pick up a great deal if you do visit during the monsoon season. However, it’s important to consider whether the weather may hinder any activities that you have planned.
So you’ve decided to visit Vietnam, you’ve allocated your budget, you’ve checked out the weather – now it’s time to plan your itinerary and as I mentioned above there are numerous things going on throughout the year. Festivals are a big deal in Vietnam and great to witness and be a part of. Here are few you may want to consider experiencing for yourself:
January – March
The biggest and most important festival in the Vietnamese calendar is Tết Nguyên Đán (usually shortened to Tết) which is New Year, based on the lunar calendar, It is a national holiday and lasts for up to seven days. This happens annually around late January/early February. Vietnamese people usually return to the family home during Tết and visit their ancestor’s graves in order to pay their respects. Expect to see a lot of bright colours and fireworks and eat a lot of great food as many celebratory feasts are prepared.
If martial arts are your thing or you want to see how the Vietnamese do it, then check out the Tay Son Festival which is held on the 5th day of the 1st lunar month. Therefore, depending on when Tết is, it could be January or February. It is held in the Nghi Binh Commune, Tây Sơn District, Bình Định Province and lasts for seven days. You will be able to witness numerous martial arts performances both with and without weapons.
The Perfume Pagoda festival falls in February/March and attracts over a million pilgrims from across Vietnam together with numerous travellers and tourists. The Huong Pagoda is a vast complex of Buddhist temples and shrines which are built into the hills and mountains. The pilgrims flock to the site annually to pray for a happy and prosperous forthcoming year. It is located in the Huong Son Commune, Mỹ Đức District, Hanoi.
April – June
The Hùng Kings’ Temple Festival is held from the 8th to the 11th days of the third lunar month (which usually falls in April) with the 10th day being a national holiday, in honour of the Hùng Kings. The festival is held to honour the founders of the nation and the first emperors. The ceremony takes place at the Hung Temple on Nghia Linh Mountain in Phu Tho Province where Pilgrims offer their prayers.
Previously held once every other year, the Danang International Fireworks Festival will from this year be held annually. It consists of five separate fireworks shows held over five Saturday nights between April and June. The festival takes place on Tran Hung Dao, the major street on the eastern side of the Han River. This festival is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike so ensure you secure your spot to watch the fireworks from early in the day.
July – September
To commemorate the Vietnam Declaration of Independence from France on 2nd September 1945, Vietnam celebrate National Independence Day annually on 2nd September and it is a public holiday. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Vietnam on National Independence Day you will have a great time. From fireworks to street parties, it really is a fun day to witness. It is a very patriotic holiday and you will see the Vietnamese flag flying proudly all over the country.
Held usually in late September, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated across the country and it is considered to be the second most important holiday after Tết. It is today celebrated with people eating mooncakes and watching the moon, which is a symbol of unity and harmony. Incense is burned, dragon and lion dances are performed and people carry brightly lit lanterns, especially the children who carry them whilst wearing masks through the darkness with only the full moon shining above them.
October – December
The Cham people celebrate the Kate Festival, which is also called Mbang Kate, for 3 days at the beginning of October. The main purpose of the festival is to commemorate their heroes and also remember members of their family who have passed away. The festival takes place in three different temples in Ninh Thuan province, a province in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam, at the same time and same date.
Every year roughly in November, the Khmer community from all over Vietnam (and Cambodia) gather for the Oc Bom Boc Festival (festival of worshipping the moon), which sees longboat races which represent thanks and honour to the water deities, on the Soc Trang River, situated in the Mekong Delta. The races start at noon, however the party continues long into the night.
Again, this is just a handful of festivals which are held every year in Vietnam, there are plenty more that you shouldn’t miss out on, but I hope this brief list has whetted your appetite? Vietnam truly is a country you need to visit at least once and somewhere you could return to again and again and experience something different every time.
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