The Hue Festival takes places every two years and is a celebration of Hue culture. It features traditional music, dancing and an Ao Dai (the Vietnamese traditional dress, now reserved for weddings, teachers and flight attendants) fashion show. I went six years ago and while it was pretty cool, I felt like there wasn’t that much there for foreigners to enjoy. I’m totally down for Vietnamese culture, but after 30 minutes of traditional ballads, I’ve had enough. This year they stepped up their game in a big way, so I decided to spend a week north of the pass at Hue Festival 2016.
Hue Festival 2016
In contrast to years past, Hue Festival 2016 featured tons of international groups. We heard ambient rock from Denmark, pop from Mexico, bluegrass from the good ol’ US of A, electro-indie from the UK, experimental jazz from Poland and I’m sure others that I’ve forgotten. They were all awesome! Each band had gigs at different venues throughout the week. That meant that even if two bands were playing at conflicting times on one night, you could catch them another day.
There was also a huge rock concert in the football stadium on the second to last night. The music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea but the energy there was awesome! Tickets were a mere 40,000 VND (less that $2) and apparently you can bring whatever you want into the venue. No one was drinking, and they didn’t sell beer there, so we just walked out, bought a bag and carried them right in. Another guy brought a bunch of flares, which he lit up throughout the evening. It definitely had a rebellious feel to it which you don’t encounter that often in Vietnam.
Food, Food, Food
International Food Festival
This year at Hue Festival 2016 there was an international food festival across from the Citadel that went on all week, featuring cuisine from Russia, Laos, Malaysia, Portugal as well as from Quang Tri, Ninh Binh and Hanoi. The goat from Ninh Binh was a huge hit; it was sold out every time we went by the stand. Guess I’ll have to go up there myself to get some!
I’ve already written in length about my love of Hue food, and this trip I sampled some new places I hadn’t tried before, including the best bánh nậm I’ve ever had at Bà Đỏ, a local Hue favorite.
Just out of town, in a neighborhood with lots of art galleries was a street art display. The artists were also milling about, and I had a chat with a few of them. I’m always so impressed with how friendly people in Hue are. They even invited my girlfriend and me into their house to see some other works of art that weren’t actually on display.
Another one of the marque events was this giant puppet that marched down the street, controlled by I’d say at least 10 Frenchmen. It even did a little dance! The thing was huge, and the whole display was, well, very French, but in a good way. And the traffic was a total mess!
Art for Fish
The timing of the Festival unfortunately marks a very sad moment for Vietnam, in early April, tons of dead fish began washing up on the shores of Hue and other provinces to the north. I won’t get into it here; you can read about it in the local and (probably better) international press. But some artists, frustrated with the government’s slow response, decided to host an unsanctioned, impromptu art exhibition. One artist went around to the local markets in Hue and asked to borrow the fish-cutting knives that the fish sellers could no longer use (there being no more fish to sell), and tagged each knife with the name of the owner and the market where they worked. Here’s the result:
Just out of town, there’s a famous covered bridge. Apparently this is the ‘sister bridge’ to the famous one in Hoi An (and also on the 20,000 dong note). Here they host a kind of traditional market (and I thought my local market in Da Nang was pretty traditional). This is more like going the the state fair than anything else, complete with rigged games and decrepit rides. One particular game, which I’m told is very traditional, involves releasing a duck into the river, and then having two people swim to try and catch it. The results were hilarious, even more so because most people here can’t swim well.
Apparently there is a kite-making club in Hue. While everyone was checking out kites, I got chatting to one of the higher-ups from the club. He said they go to other countries to show people how to make kites, a kite convention of sorts. In his words (well, we were speaking Vietnamese): “I can’t speak English or French very well, but I can teach someone how to make a kite in both languages.”
Hue Festival 2016 was a huge success! There was different stuff to do each day, and most of it was really cool. My favorite was all the music, but compared to years past, they’ve really done a great job of offering something for everyone. They even had a smartphone app with the schedule and locations of each event. It was very well organized and I really enjoyed spending my week in Hue!
Want to check out some cool happenings in Da Nang? Come on a morning or evening food tour, where you can find out what’s it’s like to live in Vietnam’s fastest-growing city while sinking your teeth into some tasty local fare.