Thuy Trang

Release a flower lantern on Hoi An’s Hoai River and make a wish

When asked the best time to visit Hoi An, I’d say there’s nothing better than getting lost in the crowds wandering through the Old Quarter after dark. When the neon lights go out, brightly colored lanterns are lit, and the Hoai River sparkles with hundreds of floating flower lanterns. People make wishes as they release the lanterns, spreading dreams. The scene is magical and deeply moving.

Whatever the season or time of day, Hoi An has its own beauty. Under the hot sun the streets are almost empty, giving the town a sleepy air. On a rainy afternoon I sat under an awning and watched vendors in brightly colored raincoats carrying pots of sweet pudding or loads of fresh vegetables. At night, the lanterns glowed in jewel colors and flower lanterns twinkled on the dark river.

When the electric lights went out, my feet carried me towards the sparkling lights bobbing on the Hoai River. The Floating Lanterns Festival brings Hoi An back to the past, transforming the Hoai River into the Milky Way as hundreds of shimmering lanterns carry visitors’ wishes into the distance.

On every street, bougainvillea and honeysuckle bushes drape over the porches, adding brilliant splashes of color. I met an old woman selling floating flower lanterns who said: “Please release a floating lantern!”

Looking into the vendor’s basket I saw a neat display of carefully made lanterns. I was moved by the old woman’s simple grace and her orderly display.

For generations, people in Hoi An have released flower lanterns. Traditionally, the festival was only held on full moon nights or on the first day of the lunar month. Today, visitors have many opportunities to enjoy this beautiful custom. According to local people, releasing floating flower lanterns helps to bring good health and good fortune to every family. On full moon nights, all of the town’s electric lights are switched off, leaving only lanterns and candles to light the way. Vendors selling flower lanterns line the banks of the Hoai River. No one bargains when buying these lanterns, which carry their dreams.

Golden wishes

Since everyone has their own wishes, it’s easy to understand why this custom is so popular. From children to adults, everyone enjoys releasing a lantern. Having lit a candle and released my lantern onto the river, I lingered on the banks of the river to listen to traditional music, which loudspeakers play on every street corner. I watched the twinkling lanterns float towards the sea, some clustering together and some going their own way. They looked like moving stars and gave me a peaceful feeling.

For Vietnamese people, it’s especially important to release a flower lantern on major holidays, especially the Lunar New Year and during the “Thuong Nguyen” ceremony – on the full moon or first day of the lunar month, when people pray for safety and prosperity. Each lantern is a prayer for kindness, peace and a better life.