Hoi An is a very interesting historic city in Vietnam. While the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh played crucial roles in the Vietnam War, Hoi An’s history goes much farther than that. The culture and festivals in Hoi An may not necessarily be the same for the entire country, but more ancient and mystical.
In the 1st Century, Hoi An was the location of Southeast Asia’s largest harbor, Lam Ap Pho or Champa City. The people of Champa controlled this harbor and from the 7th to 10th Century made good business trading spices with other ancient Asian cities, including China. They acquired tremendous wealth and were expert seafarers.
In the 16th and 17th Centuries, foreigners began to settle here. They were the Chinese, Japanese, Indians, and Dutch. The city was then called Hai Pho, which means a town by the sea. It was also at this time that the Japanese constructed a covered bridge that led to the Japanese settlement. One end of the Japanese bridge is attached to a Buddhist Pagoda, which is unique around the world.
Today, the boats used by local Hoi An fishermen still resemble those that were used by the ancient Champas, and the Japanese Bridge is still functional. This only proves the uniqueness of Hoi An city – it has not aged. It was not affected by the 20-year Vietnam War or by modern developments that are sweeping the country today. One glimpse of the town center, any tourist would get a feeling of being transported back in time, when the Champas ruled this harbor city.
Besides its ancient structures, the historicity and uniqueness of this seaside city are apparent in its cultural events and festivals. The four major festivals, which are all based on the lunar calendar, are the Full Moon Festival, Fishermen’s Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Full Moon Lantern Festival.
The Full Moon Festival sets the entire town in a much more festive mood than it already is to celebrate the coming of the full moon. It happens at around 6:30 PM on the 14th of every lunar month, a night before the full moon. People gather in the streets for games, dancing and merry-making. This is also called Old Town’s Night.
On the other hand, Fisherman’s Festival takes place on the 16th of February, which is a lunar month. This is an important event since the economy of this town by the sea depends largely on fishing. They come together during the festival to pray for a good catch.
Meanwhile, Mid-Autumn Festival is an event specifically for children. It happens not really in the middle of autumn, but at the beginning of the season. Also called Children’s Festival, this event allows children to hit the streets and the town center to have fun, play games, and dance the Lion Dance and Unicorn Dance. The adults participate and watch with joy.
Finally, the Full Moon Lantern Festival, also referred to as Hoian Lantern Festival, happens once a month, 12 times a year. This is one of the most observed culture and festivals in Hoi An. As darkness covers the city, lights are turned off and what remain are the flickering lights from the lanterns. The lanterns are then thrown into the Thu Bon River as they float towards the horizon. It is truly a spectacular sight.