Discover the symbolism behind the Lanterns of Hoi An Ancient Town

The origins of the Hoi An Lantern Festival 

Although there is no specific evidence regarding the exact origin of the Hoi An Lantern Festival (Full Moon Lantern Festival), there are several hypotheses and legends about its creation:

  • Commerce and Trade: One of the most common hypotheses is that the Hoi An Lantern Festival originated from the period when Hoi An was a bustling trading port in the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time, merchants and ships from various countries flocked to Hoi An to exchange goods. The festival may have evolved from the tradition of merchants hanging lanterns in front of their shops to create highlights and attract customers during the evenings.
  • Beliefs and Spirituality: Some hypotheses suggest that the festival may have its roots in the spiritual rituals of the folk. In Vietnamese culture, lanterns are often seen as symbols of luck and happiness. It is possible that the use of lanterns in religious and spiritual ceremonies led to the organization of lantern festivals on special occasions such as full moon nights.
  • Local Customs and Traditions: Some hypotheses propose that the festival may have been derived from local customs and traditions. Hoi An is one of Vietnam’s traditional ancient towns, and local religious and cultural activities may have contributed to the formation of the lantern festival.

Even though the exact origin of the Hoi An Lantern Festival cannot be definitively determined, these hypotheses provide insights into how the festival may have developed and become an integral part of Hoi An’s culture and traditions.

Important milestones in the history of the festival

  • 16th century: The festival began to appear in Hoi An.
  • 17th-18th centuries: The festival was held more regularly and attracted more participants.
  • 19th century: The festival became an important part of the cultural life of Hoi An people.
  • 1998: The festival was officially recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage.

Today’s lantern festival is a harmonious combination of traditional and modern beauty. The festival attracts not only domestic tourists but also international tourists.

The symbolism of the Lanterns

The lanterns of Hoi An carry rich symbolism deeply ingrained in Vietnamese culture. Here are some of the symbolic meanings associated with these lanterns:

  • Hope and Happiness: Lanterns in Hoi An symbolize hope and happiness. The soft glow emitted by the lanterns illuminates the streets and creates a warm, inviting atmosphere. This glow is often associated with positivity, joy, and the promise of better things to come.
  • Prosperity and Wealth: In Vietnamese culture, lanterns, especially those adorned with gold or yellow colors, are often associated with prosperity and wealth. The bright colors and shimmering decorations on the lanterns evoke feelings of abundance and financial success.
  • Spirituality and Tranquility: Lanterns play a significant role in spiritual rituals and ceremonies in Vietnam. In Hoi An, lanterns are often lit during important religious events and festivals, symbolizing spiritual enlightenment and tranquility. The gentle flickering of the candle or light within the lantern is believed to guide the spirits of ancestors and bring peace to the living.
  • Connection to Ancestors: Lanterns are also used to honor ancestors and connect with the spiritual realm. During festivals and special occasions, families may release lanterns into the night sky or float them on water as offerings to their ancestors. This act symbolizes reverence for the past and a desire to maintain a connection with loved ones who have passed away.
  • Community and Unity: The tradition of hanging lanterns in Hoi An is often a communal activity that brings people together. Whether it’s during the Lantern Festival or other celebrations, the sight of colorful lanterns adorning the streets fosters a sense of unity and togetherness among residents and visitors alike.

Overall, the lanterns of Hoi An represent a blend of cultural, spiritual, and communal significance, serving as not only decorative elements but also powerful symbols of hope, prosperity, and connection to the past.

The schedule for the Hoi An Lantern Festival

The Hoi An Lantern Festival is held every month on the 14th day of the lunar calendar. This typically coincides with, or falls just before, the full moon.

Must-do activities at the Hoi An Lantern Festival

Here are some things you can experience at the Hoi An Lantern Festival:

Admire the shimmering beauty of Hoi An at night  

The ancient town is transformed into a magical wonderland with thousands of colorful lanterns illuminating the streets, houses, and Thu Bon River. 

Take part in many traditional activities

These include folk games, music and dance performances, and releasing floating lanterns on the Thu Bon River.

  • Playful Folk Games 

Tug-of-War (Kéo Co) A timeless test of strength and teamwork, tug-of-war pits two teams against each other in a battle of pulling power. Laughter and cheers erupt as teams strain to pull the rope across the designated line.

Blindfolded Pot Breaking (Đập Om)  This game requires a touch of bravery (and maybe a little luck!). Participants are blindfolded and spun around before attempting to smash a clay pot suspended on a string with a stick. The comedic stumbles and triumphant cheers create a lively atmosphere.

Chinese Checkers (Cờ Caro) Challenge your strategic thinking with a game of Chinese Checkers.  This classic board game is enjoyed by players of all ages, offering a moment of friendly competition and mental stimulation amidst the festivities.

Skipping Rope Games (Nhảy Dây) Relive your childhood memories or witness the impressive skills of local children as they perform intricate skipping rope routines, either individually or in groups. The agility and coordination displayed are sure to amaze.

  • Mesmerizing Music and Dance 

Traditional Melodies: The air fills with the soulful sounds of Vietnamese instruments like the dan bau (monochord) and the dan tranh (zither).  These instruments create a unique and captivating soundscape, setting the stage for the performances.

Energetic Dances: Witness the vibrant energy of Vietnamese folk dances.  Traditional dances like the Lion Dance (bringing good luck and prosperity) and the Royal Court Dance (depicting stories from Vietnamese history) enthrall audiences with their colorful costumes and dynamic movements.

Modern Interpretations: The festival isn’t just about the past.  Modern artists reinterpret Vietnamese folklore through dance and music, creating a captivating fusion of tradition and contemporary expression.

Beyond Entertainment: These performances are more than just entertainment.  They’re a way to connect with the rich cultural heritage of Hoi An and Vietnam.  The stories woven into the dances and the emotions conveyed through the music offer a glimpse into the soul of the Vietnamese people.

So, as you wander through the lantern-lit streets, be sure to stop and listen to the captivating sounds of the Hoi An Lantern Festival.  Let the music and dance transport you to another time and place, leaving you with a deeper appreciation for Vietnamese culture.

  • A Ritual of Hope

Buy and release lanterns on the Thu Bon River. This is a must-do experience at the festival. It is believed that releasing a lantern carries your hopes and wishes towards the heavens.

The price of lanterns to float on the Thu Bon River varies depending on the type of lantern, size, and material. Here are some reference prices:

Paper lanterns

Small size: 10,000 – 20,000 VND/piece
Medium size: 30,000 – 50,000 VND/piece
Large size: 50,000 – 100,000 VND/piece

Lotus lanterns

Small size: 30,000 – 50,000 VND/piece
Medium size: 50,000 – 100,000 VND/piece
Large size: 100,000 – 200,000 VND/piece

Animal-shaped lanterns

Small size: 50,000 – 100,000 VND/piece
Medium size: 100,000 – 200,000 VND/piece
Large size: 200,000 – 500,000 VND/piece

In addition, you can buy combo lanterns including many lanterns of different sizes and shapes, with prices ranging from 200,000 – 500,000 VND/combo.


  • The price of lanterns may vary depending on the time and place of sale.
  • You should choose to buy lanterns at reputable stores to ensure quality.

Here are some reputable lantern shops in Hoi An:

  1. Hoi An Lantern Shop: 43 Tran Hung Dao Street
  2. Thanh Lantern Shop: 115 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street
  3. Old Town Lantern Shop: 10 Phan Chau Trinh Street
  4. Hoi An Market: Nguyen Hoang Street

Proper ways to place the lanterns

  • Take a moment to pen your wishes or heartfelt messages on the lantern’s surface.
  • Light the candle within, watching the flame dance to life.
  • Gently place the lantern on the water’s surface, and witness it drift away, carrying your hopes and dreams downstream.

Taste lots of toothsome dishes of Hoi An  

The streets are lined with vendors selling traditional Vietnamese food.  Be sure to try some of Hoi An’s specialties, such as Cao Lau (noodles with pork and crispy croutons), Mi Quang (turmeric noodles), Banh Bao Banh Vac hả em? (white rose dumplings),Com Ga (chicken rice), etc.

  • Cao Lau: This unique noodle dish features chewy rice noodles, tender pork, crispy croutons, fresh herbs, and a flavorful broth. The secret to Cao Lau lies in its unique broth, made with water filtered through well beds beneath the ancient town, lye ash, and pork bones.
  • Price: 20.000 – 50.000 VND (Varies depending on the restaurant and the portion size)
  • Mi Quang: Turmeric noodles bathed in a rich and savory broth, often accompanied by pork, shrimp, fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lime. Mi Quang is a dish originally from Quang Nam Province, but Hoi An has its own distinct take on it. Here, the noodles are usually made with rice flour colored with turmeric, and the broth is often made with pork or chicken bones, shrimp, and fish sauce. 
  • Price: 20.000 – 100.000 VND (Varies depending on the restaurant and the portion size)
  • Banh Bao Banh Vac: These delicate steamed dumplings are filled with a savory mixture of shrimp, pork, and wood ear mushrooms. The name “White Rose Dumplings” comes from their resemblance to the delicate white rose flowers that are often found in Hoi An.
  • Price: 5.000 – 50.000 VND (Varies depending on the restaurant and the portion size)
  • Banh Mi: This is basically a crusty baguette filled with a symphony of flavors, including meats (like pate or grilled pork), pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. Banh Mi is a ubiquitous street food in Vietnam, but Hoi An’s version is said to be some of the best. The bread is typically baked fresh daily, and the fillings are always fresh and flavorful. 
  • Price: 20.000 – 50.000 VND (Varies depending on the restaurant and the portion size)
  • Com Ga: “Com Ga Hoi An” (Hoi An Chicken Rice) is a popular dish known for its simplicity and delightful blend of textures and flavors. The dish emphasizes the use of fresh and high-quality ingredients. The base of the dish consists of fluffy rice cooked in fragrant chicken broth, making it a delicious meal. 
  • Price: 20.000 – 50.000 VND (Varies depending on the restaurant and the portion size)


Attending the Hoi An Lantern Festival is a truly unique and unforgettable experience.  Be sure to plan your trip to coincide with the festival if you are visiting Vietnam. The festival is most vibrant and popular during the full moon. If you want to experience the festival at its best, plan your trip around the full moon.

Experience the allure of the Hoi An Lantern Festival firsthand. Plan your visit during the full moon for an unforgettable journey into Vietnam’s cultural heritage. Book your trip now and immerse yourself in the magic of Hoi An!