For the UNESCO Heritage Town of Hoi An, it’s all about the lanterns, from the cute floating ones to the impressive hanging ones, there isn’t a night when you can’t experience the colorful beauty of these little gifts to the gods that hopefully bring us fortune and love. While the biggest and best lantern festival of the year happens in February on the first full moon of the year after Tet, on the 14th day of each lunar month Hoi An comes alive as locals and tourists celebrate by lighting candles and floating lanterns down the Thu Bon River.
The full moon plays a significant role in the monthly Lantern Festival but don’t worry if you plan your visit to Hoi An on days other than when the full moon occurs because the lanterns are permanently linked since the Japanese merchants brought them in various shapes and sizes to hang in front of their homes. Many opportunities exist to make your own lanterns but many are available for purchase, you can even hop aboard a sampan to see the gorgeous display of lights and colors of the hanging lanterns from surrounding buildings reflecting from the water, launch your own floating lantern and hear some traditional music on bamboo flutes and fiddles.
Around 1998, local authorities began planning the lantern festivals around the full moon, a time to honor deceased loved ones by burning incense and making offerings such as food, flowers, candles and fake money which is deeply rooted in Buddhist traditions that are both transformative and enlightening. Hoi An goes dark at 8 pm and turns off all fluorescent lighting and a magical glow takes over the town as people walk throughout the old quarter along the river enjoying delicious food from street food stalls, especially moon cakes, a sweet, yummy pastry filled with red bean paste. Our hearts and our bellies are full, what a great experience with another Vespa Adventures tour in Hoi An.
I had only been in Saigon for 5 days when my mom called to tell me my Daddy had been taken to the Emergency Room and then admitted to the hospital. Talk about a wake up call, that news hit me like a ton of bricks but what could I do from halfway around the world?! While I wanted to go straight to the airport and catch the next flight home, and after crying for about 30 minutes, I caught my breath, said some prayers both for my Daddy and me to be strong, then I went on the Vespa Adventures Insiders Saigon tour. What a blessing this turned out to be!
My favorite part of taking the tours is meeting new people but on this morning I was uncharacteristically quiet as I was anxious and worried about my Daddy. The first stop on was the Thich Quang Duc Monument – aka Burning Monk Monument which encouraged me to think about loyalty, faith and renewal. Who sets themselves on fire to die for their beliefs?! A strange feeling of calmness washed over me and I began to worry less about the situation back in the US and be more present in this place to memorialize such astonishing bravery. As our tour continued, the next stop would prove even more amazing and make me feel even better.
We entered the Chinese pagoda through these beautiful gardens with fountains, statues and ornate altars with burning incense that immediately made me feel peaceful and prayerful. I spotted hundreds of yellow, spiral-shaped cones hanging in one courtyard area, each one with a red tag. After explanation from our tour guide, I was invited to write down the name or intention that I wanted to be remembered, attach the tag to one of the incense cones, light and hang it. No need to guess whose name I wrote down, of course I was crying but doing this gave me confidence that all would be okay and I appreciated this opportunity. This is one reason that I love Vespa Adventures tours-finding these out of the way places where there are few other tourists and distractions.
Our tour continued with a stop at the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas which was also an astonishing place filled with reverence and respect, especially for the dearly departed. I’m learning more and more about the mix of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity that is ever present in Vietnamese culture, always jubilant in life while celebrating death because when you really think about it-this is when life really begins.
Weddings are full of love, hopes and dreams of the future, blah, blah, blah, I’m not down on love, just skeptical because I don’t believe most people are brutally honest with themselves about what they expect out of marriage, their partner or themselves. I tried marriage one time, it was not necessarily for the right reasons and I’m apparently not a very good judge of character but the reception for about 400 people was an awesome party and I’d do that part again in a minute. In Vietnam, wedding receptions are like fashion shows, the bride rents, yes, rents, three or four dresses in different colors and she changes throughout the party and the wedding ceremony and reception are on different days. Another interesting thing is that the parties are not only on the weekend, I suppose when you have over 10 million people living in Saigon, you take what is available. I’ve noticed that not much attention is paid to certain days of the week except for school children, these folks work hard every day, doing whatever is necessary to get ahead and take care of each other. I keep saying that the entrepreneurial spirit here is inspiring and heart warming and family is the key!
No matter what you wear, you can be sure that there will be yummy Vietnamese food and cold drinks. Someone sitting at my table always offers to “take up” my bowl or plate, I can’t imagine they think I’m starving so I’m sure it’s to be friendly or hospitable-Vietnamese people will always serve a guest first. Either way, it’s all fun, delicious and I don’t have to fend for myself or take a chance with food that is unrecognizable. I only wish they had good cake! Most wedding cakes are only for show and made out of styrofoam because dessert is not high on the list of must-have reception food, another reason why most here remain healthy and thin. I won’t say “never” but the likelihood of me getting married is quickly fading away, especially living in a country with an average age of about 27 to 30!