There are some great festivals in Vietnam to explore while you’re in the country. Time your trip to coincide with one of Vietnam’s festivals and you’ll get a unique insight into the culture and traditions that have made up the celebration as you see it today.
Some of these festivals are celebrated across Vietnam, particularly the religious ones, while others are focused in the capital, Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City is a mecca when it comes to Vietnamese culture. Although the city is no longer the South Vietnamese capital (it served as the capital city from 1955 to 1975), it is still considered a national landmark and a must-visit spot. Ho Chi Minh City has an amazing festival scene that brings locals and tourists from around the world together.
These top festivals in Vietnam celebrate everything from ancient gods to Mother Earth, giving us travellers the chance to fully immerse ourselves in Vietnamese culture.
I’ve only ever made it to Tet, so if you do get to one of these Vietnam festivals, let me know in the comments below.
The Best Festivals in Vietnam
1. Tet Nguyen Dan (Lunar New Year)
Tourists travel from Ho Chi Minh Saigon to Mui Ne and all the way back again just to catch a glimpse of the Tet Nguyen Dan celebrations. Tet Nguyen Dan, Tet for short, is the most widely celebrated even in Vietnam, but one of the biggest Tet parties can be found in the heart of Saigon.
Unlike the traditional New Year that’s celebrated on the first day of the year, Tet celebrations begin on the first day of the Lunar calendar. This happens in late January or early February each year, and it’s the perfect opportunity to experience Vietnamese culture to the fullest.
The locals celebrate Tet by cooking a massive amount of food, worshiping ancestral gods, and spending time with loved ones. It’s all about beginning the year on a good note, and what better way to do that than surrounding yourself with people you love. During the fest, be sure to visit the floating flower market in the heart of Ho Chi Minh.
2. Wandering Souls’ Day
Aside from Tet, Wandering Souls’ Day is the most celebrated event in all of Vietnam. The locals call it Trung Nguyen, and it’s essentially the Buddhist version of All Souls’ Day in Christianity. According to local Vietnamese culture and religion, every individual has two souls – one spiritual and one material.
This festival is meant to pray for the souls of the deceased that are wandering the Earth and have yet to make it to heaven yet. Even if you don’t consider yourself religious, observing the traditions of Wandering Souls is an amazing way to take in the culture. It takes place on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month.
3. Phan Cong Hon Temple Festival
A Vietnamese farmer named Phan Cong Hon was a key player in leading the revolt against the French in 1885. He is considered a hero to the locals, which is why they celebrate the Phan Cong Hon Temple Festival every year on the 25th of the second lunar month.
During the Phan Cong Hon fest, locals and visitors to Ho Chi Minh visit the temple to take part in the genie worshipping ceremony. This ceremony commemorates the heroic actions of Hon, and all are welcome to participate.
4. Whale Festival
The Whale Festival is exactly as it sounds; it worships and celebrates the ocean’s whales. But why do the Vietnamese people treat whales as gods? They believe that whales are responsible for looking after and saving the local fisherman and protect the coasts from danger.
Legend has it that Emperor Gia Long was saved by a whale as his ship was sinking. From that day on, whales were seen as a local god and revered as ‘protectors of fishermen’. This is not just a festival for ocean enthusiasts, but also for those who wish to learn about how the Vietnamese people worship their gods.
5. Mid-Autumn Festival
In Vietnam, there’s a celebration for everything, even if it’s something as simple as celebrating the mid-autumn season. Tet Trung Thu, AKA Mid-Autumn Festival, is all about expressing appreciation for harvesting time. This appreciation is shown through lion dances, food booths, and lantern send-offs.
The general idea behind the Mid-Autumn Festival is to bring a person or animal down from the moon. This is why the locals send lanterns up to the sky – to light the way for the person or animal that is travelling down to Earth. This tradition happens every year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (in 2020 it will take place on October 1st).
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6. Ky Yen Festival
The southern traditions of Vietnam are completely unique to the traditions that are practiced in the north of the country. To get an idea of the cultural differences between South and North Vietnam, check out the Ky Yen Festival, happening each year between the 16th and 18th of the first lunar month.
Over the three-day festival, the first day is all about celebrating the traditions of South Vietnam. The following two days focus on North Vietnam and include everything from prayers to dances to martial arts performances.
7. Earth God Temple Festival
Out of all the temple festivals in Ho Chi Minh City, the Earth God Temple festival is the most well-known. It is celebrated to respect and worship several folk gods, the most important one being Phuc Duc Chinh. Gods are worshipped through folk opera, artwork, and even comedy shows. Each year, Earth God is celebrated on the second day of the second lunar month.
8. Lim Festival
The Lim Festival commemorates the festival founder while highlighting the unique culture of the Red River Delta and the welcoming of Spring. The festival has a remarkable ritual: quan họ. Quan họ folk songs are preformed by traditionally dressed men and women who serenade each other from aboard dragon boats.
Sit back and listen to their haunting voices carry across the lake.
The Lim Festival is held on the 12th or 13th day of the first lunar month.
9. Huế Festival & Huế Craft Village Festival
Hue is the former capital of Vietnam and home of the last Vietnamese dynasty. It’s rich in cultural heritage.
The Huế Festival or Huế Craft Village Festival takes place alternately every year in April.
During the Huế Festival, history comes to life in spectacular performances at the Citadel and around the city. The Huế Craft Village Festival features exhibitions of artisanal crafts that have been made in surrounding villages for centuries.
Huế’s annual festivals are held over a week from late April to early May.
10. Hùng Kings Temple Festival
The Hùng Kings Temple Festival commemorates the first king of Vietnam. King Vương is legendary and his origin story is celebrated every year in either April or May as a testament of Vietnam’s epic history.
To join the festival, travel to the Hùng Temple in Việt Trì City, where you can witness hundreds of lanterns set aloft into the sky on the eve of the festival. On the day of the festival processions of pilgrims make their way up the mountain and it’s incredible to see.
Hùng Kings Day is from 8th to 11th day of the third lunar month.
11. Independence Day
Sept. 2, 1945 was the day Ho Chi Minh declared the Independence of the Nation of Vietnam from France in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square.
This annual celebration commemorates that historic moment with patriotic displays and flags adorning alleyways throughout Vietnam. The major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City hold parades during the day and light fireworks at night. Everyone is out in the streets celebrating, and travellers are welcome to enjoy the festivities too.
Along with Tet, this is the big one. If you’re finding it difficult to choose between the festivals in Vietnam, I’d recommend one of those.