Updated: Aug 23, 2019
An advertisement in Hoi An town read “ On the 15th day of each lunar month, the riverside town of HỘI AN gives modern life the night off”.
To maintain the eighteenth‐century air about the town, choreographed in the centre of town at the waterfront of ‘Thu Bon’ river are people of all ages, from all over the world gathered to enjoy the lunar festival and participate in setting sail of water lanterns on the stream. The river banks are lined with pop up street-food cafes, souvenir stalls and ancient game playing locals. Amidst the celebration what caught my attention was the lantern selling locals. Rest assured, you will be accosted by them until you purchase at least one floating candle.
Why are lanterns set sail, you ask?
Well, It is an age-old tradition to release a lantern in the hope of health, happiness, good fortune and love. In conjunction with the lantern festival, the full moon is a time to honour deceased relatives and ancestors. Local families visit shrines and present offerings of flowers, food and candles, as well as fake money bills in exchange for prosperity.
For the price of VND 10,000 (30p), one can buy a floating lantern with a candle in it. The sellers provide long poles to lower the lanterns into the river and releasing these lanterns provides you with plenty of photography opportunities. Taking a glance at the stream, and watching numerous candles gliding should help you recognize how many of us yearn for luck and love! As I reveled watching the tiny lanterns smooth alongside many boatsmen, I couldn’t help but wonder, where are all these lanterns going?
At first, I was mostly involved in capturing the pictures and surrendering myself to the chaotic surroundings, so much so, that I dint chew over the thought for long. It was during my second visit when I was frightfully surprised to see the number of tourists that had tripled instantaneously (In a span of 4 months). I was intrigued to find out if Hoi An was equipped to manage the mass tourism and especially cope with the waste the crowd brings along. Bui Thanh, a travel manager in a DMC (Destination Management Company) in Hoi an, an acquaintance of mine, explained that “Adequate waste disposal, business regulations and security never quite catch up with the demand. It is an ever-evolving process, or at least in a developing country like Vietnam.”
With that being the case, I was particularly inquisitive of the floating candles on the river. What had once been a bi-monthly festival is now a nightly event. What happens the morning after? Are the candles collected? Or, do they drown? I was assured by a Vietnamese friend that the candles were definitely collected once they floated down a certain point. And, stated that he didn't really realize what happened later. Searching the internet proved to be a daunting task with not a single article dedicated to educating or informing the subsequent actions. This reminded me of how all the movies until a certain point in time focused only on the “Happily ever after” and never concerned oneself with what happens later?
Meanwhile, I’m not saying this post is dedicated to laying down all the aspects of the following events but at least its a start. Whilst still probing around, it occurred to me to reach out to people who have some sort of an establishment locally, an insider who might have additional information. To my surprise, only a couple of them acknowledged my search and hoiannow, an online magazine with in-depth information on Hoi An, were gracious enough to get back. Thanks to them, I was able to bridge the gap somewhat. I was told by Hoiannow that the morning after the full moon festival, two or three men go out on a boat and collect all the stuff floating on the river, including the wish candles. The materials collected are then either put in standard rubbish or recycled rubbish depending on what they are. In this case, the floating cardboards are recycled.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that these men can get to all the thousands of floating cardboard. In some cases, I suppose the little boxes drift off down the river and perhaps sink. This image is surely troublesome. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the one to question the credibility of the ’Invented tradition’ of the lunar festival. How can I, especially when I am one amongst the many engaging in it? I think the point I’m trying to make is that it is unsettling to learn that every month these sunken debris gets added to the existing trash. As a traveler and a tourist, I’m not comfortable learning my actions lead to piling of waste.
I grasped that jumping in on the band-wagon is definitely not the way forward, meaning partaking in popular activities without knowing the impact it has is noxious. For instance, one could perhaps choose lighting a candle in a pagoda instead of floating a candle, if the idea is to be spiritually inclined to the ceremony.
I’m not advising you against traveling instead be mindful of what you do, what you buy, and how you interact with others. It’s our responsibility to be aware of where our money is going. As travelers, we need to be more conscious of the reality of the lives of people in countries around the globe. It’s looking beyond what we are told or shown and finding out the reality for ourselves.
Travel Related Information:
Where does the Lantern Festival happen?
Hoi An Lantern Festival takes places in the Hoi An Old Town area where colorful candlelit lanterns are. Much of the activities are centered at the An Hoi Bridge and along the banks of the 'Thu Bon' River.
What time does it start and finish?
The festivities start at dusk and finish between 9 pm and 10 pm. At 8 pm, all the buildings located within here start to turn off their electricity to allow soft lights from the lanterns to light the surroundings to create a magical glow.
When does the Hoi An Lantern Festival 2019 take place?
Hoi An Lantern Festival is run on the 14th day of each lunar moon when the moon is at its fullest and brightest.
2019 LANTERN FESTIVAL DATES: January 19th, February 18th, March 19th, April 18th, May 18th, June 16th, July 16th, August ,14th September 12th, October 12th, November 10th, December 9th.
The Hoi An Lantern festival itself is free to participate.
Experiencing Serene Sampan Rides
A sampan is a relatively flat-bottomed Chinese wooden boat. Some sampans include a small shelter on board and may be used as a permanent habitation on inland waters.
For VND 100, 000 a traditional boat ride along the river is provided. It is a nifty way to experience the cheerful night, enjoy views of the ancient town and the bright full moon on a serene ride.
Shilpa Srinivas @flohwithme