There are all sorts of ways to celebrate special occasions. In Vietnam, people overdose on cultural food, conduct leisure trips to visit friends and relatives, and organize games to break the everyday monotony. No matter where in the country, you will see excited people parading around giant dragons, wrestling, men made-up as women to dance, and women kidnapping their future husbands.
Two men in a fierce wrestling match
To help you decide which festivals to partake in while in the country, helloVietnam tour operator has reaped some of Vietnam’s most vibrant cultural events below:
Trieu Khuc festival
To some, the idea of a dozen men dressing up in colorful women’s costumes and heavy makeup seems a strange way to celebrate a victory battle, but in Trieu Khuc village, this custom is deeply traditional and spiritual.
Trieu Khuc festival is held annually on January 10th (Lunar calendar) and is dedicated to Phung Hung emperor, who freed the ancient country of Vietnam from the colonial control of Tang dynasty in the 8th century. Legend has it that in preparation for the final battle to regain control over Tong Binh castle (Now in Hanoi), emperor Phung Hung commanded some of his soldiers to put on woman clothes and dance to entertain the troops. Over time, this performance grew in popularity and won itself an official name, Mua Bong. Since women used to be banned in sacred sites, mua bong is now a mandatory procession in the village temples at Trieu Khuc festival to rev up the atmosphere.
The performing men are selected carefully based on the following criteria: they must be unmarried and Trieu Khuc village’s residents. All of them must possess good virtues and an attractive physique. Their show involves dancing to the upbeat music of horns, drums, and cymbals while displaying bright smiles and flirting gazes at the crowd.
To conclude the main event on January the 12th, another dance called mua co (flag dance) is held, but this is more about raising a fighting spirit than entertaining. Men in armor are heavily armed with swords, clubs, and spears. Their dance resembles martial art movements while forming a circle of about 1 kilometer around the village’s paddy fields.
Time: 10th to 11th of January (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Trieu Khuc village, Hanoi.
Lieu Doi wresting festival
A Lieu Doi’s wrestling match
This exciting and vibrant event happens from January 5th to the 10th in Lieu Doi village, Ha Nam province. The festival starts with five wrestling matches of two of the smallest boys in the village. If the chosen boys are too young to perform, their fathers or grandfathers will take their places. This ritual reflects a custom that requires a Lieu Doi’s male to master wrestling to be considered a real man.
This festival is dedicated to a national hero who is worshiped in Lieu Doi. The story about him goes like this: When the old country of Vietnam was under the control of Ming dynasty, there was a young man named Doan who possessed superhuman strength and was a master at wrestling and martial arts. Later, a sacred sword came in Doan’s possession by chance and he used it to lead battles against the invaders. Doan usually covered his body in Lieu Doi’s earth to become invulnerable. After Doan lost his life in a fight, he was buried and worshiped in Lieu Doi and became the role model for the men in the village.
Lieu Doi encourages participants of all genders and ages to perform. Children as young as 5 years old are allowed to have their own wrestling rings to compete and are sorted into the junior category. To enter the adult tournament, wrestlers must be above 16 years old. A contestant is considered to be the winner if he or she is able to force the opponent to step out of the ring or lay flat on the floor.
Age doesn’t matter in this festival
Lieu Doi wrestling festival has attained the quality of a community event. Those who are not interested in competing may perform skillful displays of several weapon-based martial art styles. Women, if not partaking themselves, will be on the bleachers rooting for their favorite participants.
Time: 5th to 10th of January (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Lieu Doi village, Ha Nam province.
Husband kidnapping festival
A typical Chu Ru’s wedding
Unlike other cultures where men are expected to make the first move, women of Chu Ru tribe in Tay Nguyen always take the lead in any romantic relationship. Women coming from poor families who are unable to afford expensive wedding gifts must wait until the first three days of a lunar year to come to the man’s house and ask for permission to marry him. If the man in question agrees, the wedding is processed as usual. In case he doesn’t want to tie the knot with this woman, she will return to the house after seven days. If the man’s family rejects her again, the woman will keep coming back until she has their consent to get married. The name of the festival stems from the persistence of the Chu Ru women in persuading the men they love to take them as their wives.
This festival involves another interesting feature that might amaze travelers. Ring exchange is nothing new in wedding ceremonies around the world, but the way Chu Ru people’s rings are made is what makes them special. These wedding rings are cast out of silver, beewax, clay, and buffalo manure. First, beewax is melted and blended with manure and clay. This mixture is what makes the ring molds. Melted silver is then poured into the molds. The heat from the silver will cause the wax and manure to form a thin layer around the rings.
A pair of Chu Ru’s wedding rings
The silversmith selected must follow some strict rituals before conducting the business. He and his wife must not copulate and he usually baths thoroughly in water with secret leaves a day before casting the rings. The process can only take place between 4 and 8 a.m, since this period is considered suitable for any wedding-related fare.
Time: 1st of January to 31st of March (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Chu Ru hamlets, Lam Dong province.
Rowing boat festival
A competing boat
Packed with exciting moments, the Rowing Boat Festival in Da Nang is a typical cultural event that is native to the coastal regions of Vietnam.
This festival means a lot to the residents of Da Nang who usually spend months in preparation. A week before the main competition takes place, every night the rowing teams gather in their common rooms to discuss tactics and evaluate their rivals.
This festival features side-by-side racing. All the boats start at the same time and the winner is the first boat to cross the finish line. The compulsory age for competitors is between 18 and 35 years old. Each team is allowed to have a maximum of 30 members.
Time: January (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Lien Chieu ward, Da Nang.
Horse racing festival
Jockeys on their way to the racing track
This bucolic, New Year festival has become a staple of the Phu Yen scene.
Taking place in Thi Thung hill, this festival is open to all ages, from teenagers to the elderly. Since these horsemen are no professionals, you may find this race a bit different than what you see elsewhere. First, all racehorses are fillies or mares. Outside of this game, they are packhorses whose everyday tasks are carrying goods and people. Second, the riders are all farmers-turned-jockeys, so you might encounter some awkward moments while watching the race.
According to what those who have attended this festival told helloVietnam, some minor accidents that may happen include riders falling off their horses, and racehorses stopping in the middle of the track to rest or because they see a stallion nearby.
Time: 9th of January (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Thi Thung knoll, Phu Yen province.
Bull racing festival
A pair of racing bulls
An Giang’s residents have found an exciting way to wish for an abundant harvest: they race bulls.
Riding a harrow that is pulled by a pair of Bay Nui bulls, the riders careen through the slippery mud of an uncultivated paddy field. In order to move forward, riders must whip the animals in a way that forces them to speed up without running in two different directions.
An Giang bull racing festival has as many forms of silliness and absurdity as it does racers. Some hilarious moments that may happen are riders falling flat on their faces, a pair of bulls running off the racing track on their own, or the bulls crossing the finish line without their owners.
This festival attracts tens of thousands of people every year seeking thrill and excitement. Many even bring along saucepans, chopsticks, and raw food to cook onsite.
Time: 29th of August to 1st of September (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Tinh Bien, An Giang.
Linh Tinh Tinh Phoc festival
The chosen couple with the sacred phallus and yoni
This festival features a fertility ritual that is believed if done well, can bring about luck, abundant harvest, and wealth. The ritual requires a married couple and an elderly. First, the old man lights incense sticks to ask for gods’ permission to take out the sacred phallus and yoni and hand them to the husband and the wife respectively. Then, he kills the light and says an incantation. The couple will try to cross the two items three times in the dark.
After the ritual finishes, the elderly will shout “thao khoan”, and young men and women who are in love but for whatever reason cannot get married will be allowed to share the night together. Children born after this night are considered the lucky ones, and everyone in the village must take the responsibility of raising them.
Time: 11th to 12th of January (Lunar calendar)
Venue: Tu Xa, Lam Thao, Phu Tho province.