A guide to the places that shine the brightest under the full moon.
On the 15th day of the 8th Lunar Calendar month (15 September), the little rocky sphere that orbits the earth will be at its roundest, something it’s been delivering at the same time every month since humans first figured out the pattern. Those from the West may be familiar with its alternate name, the harvest moon.
Many Asian cultures refuse to let the bright night slip just as a natural phenomenon, celebrating it on a scale that rivals and somewhat resembles Halloween. Here in Vietnam, the importance of ‘Trung Thu’ is only surpassed by that of ‘Tet’, the Lunar New Year, and has evolved to get the unofficial Children’s Day title.
But unlike ‘Tet’ when everyone heads home, Hanoi has arguably become the valley of festivities where residents of its own and of neighboring cities flow to for a taste of the Mid-Autumn. Hanoi-based reporters at VnExpress have traveled a Hanoi already full of moon cakes to show you where to make the best out of the days.
Walking under the moon in the Old Quarter
It’s no exaggeration to compare Hanoi’s Old Quarter during ‘Trung Thu’, usually the last Saturday prior to the big day, with Mecca during Ramadan. A vehicle ban on the nights of ‘Trung Thu’ in the most crowded parts of the quarter turns the whole area into a sea of humans that fills even the narrowest alleys.
The artery of the night is Hang Ma Street, which is also the ground zero during Halloween and Christmas (both are not public holidays in Vietnam). The street is already drowned in the gaudy colors, mainly red, of lanterns, toys, costumes and accessories in the days leading to the festival. Make-shift kiosks are erected everywhere, and together with the pre-existing brick-and-mortar ones, make sure the festival goers are well-equipped.
The demographic of the night is made up of mostly nuclear families with young children and young adults, those who possess the durability and strength to part the sea (of humans) with their phones and wallets intact. Spontaneous trains of people are expected, leaving only two options for the near-bystanders: gone with the train or watch it from afar. Lion dance crews also roam the streets under the familiar upbeat bassline from drums and cymbals.
Clubs are unusually but not unexpectedly crowded for some reason. A lot vow to limit their rare occasions when they can aford to get wasted to holidays and festivals only. Many choose ‘Trung Thu’ to have a taste of club life for the first time. The venues repay with countless promotion programs. And to professional club-goers, it’s only a real party during festivals and holidays, where it’s the most fun and crazy.
‘Trung Thu’ may also be the only time clubbers don’t get mad when the music is interrupted, because it’s time for lion dance. Selfie with the lion head, recording the dance and tipping the crew are all encouraged. Reservations, which on a normal day guarantee you a nice table or spot, are now a must, sometimes, just for a chance to go through the doors.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Heavy congestion was the word to describe the area around Hoan Kiem Lake, the very heart of Hanoi. Now with the capital’s decision to make the place a pedestrian zone, the congestion has been pushed to the outer perimeter, where the hunt for a parking lot is the fiercest. Car owners are advised to leave their means of transport at home, unless they want to spend the night practicing parking-lot finding skill or if the one-kilometer journey from the parking lot to the lake is their favorite running track.
The moon, the original reason for the festival, is now no more than a time indicator. But the force capable of moving the huge bodies of water called oceans did move many. Intelligentsia of the past kept the tradition of gazing at the moon, sipping wine and improvising poetry and songs. So if all the vanities above are not your cup of tea, head for the mountains these days. Hanoi is surrounded by several mountains with the highest one, Ham Lon Mount, not even reaching 500 meter high and climbable in day. A night spent under the moonlight when it shines the brightest in the year is indisputably more memorable than a random night.