Vietnam #2: Happy Buddha Day

Ho Chi Minh City, May 21 2016 For Christian, it will always be wonderful to celebrate Christmas in Jerusalem while for Muslim, celebrating Eid ul-Fitr in Mecca is their dream. For Buddhist, it’s probably interesting to experience Vesak in Buddhist countries such as Thailand or Nepal. Never ever I thought before that the majority of Vietnamese are Buddhist. Temples can be found in every street and Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy whom I believe in, is widely praised here. What a surprise!

Vesak is celebrated today in Vietnam. Some Buddhist flags and other decoration had been hung up around every temple to welcome this big day. Before coming to Saigon, I had been searching on information and asking the locals about the celebration of Vesak here and I ended up having an unforgettable night.

The story began with SJ, the only AIESEC exchange participant I know so far. Her buddy happened to be a social worker in a pagoda near the Saigon river. She told us that there would be a celebration in that pagoda and at the end, the people will float a handcrafted lotus with a candle inside on the river. So, SJ and I decided to visit that temple for floating the lotus for a while and go to the city centre to find a bigger celebration. That was the plan.

vesak - the lotus.jpg
Left: The lotus floating on the Saigon river | Right: people were queueing to float the lotus

However, when we arrived, it was raining so the event was postponed for an hour. We just sat down and wrote our wishes on the lotus leaves to kill the time. At around 7pm, the Vesak sermon finally started. Although SJ and I did not understand any single word, we pretended to be locals and followed all the ceremony till the end. Sometimes, our friend translated some sentences to us. Nearly the end, we walked around the pagoda while holding the lotus, or usually called pradakshina*. I could hear that people faintly and devotedly whisper the mantra which gave a warm feeling even though I did not know the meaning. I feel really blessed to be here tonight, to be surrounded by the people who honour the three important events of the Buddha.

vesak - SJ and I
Left: Some locals friends who accompany us around | Right: SJ and I


As the closing – the moment that I had been waiting for – we float our lotus along with the wishes on the river. The first thing I wrote was asking for health, safety and the best experiences in Saigon. For the fist time since the day I arrived, I feel like I belong in this city. I think the first week is ended perfectly, despite all the culture shock and challenges, at least I was able to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday in an unusual way. Cheers to many more awesome stories ahead!

Can’t miss a shot during pradakshina – taken by SJ


“Happy Buddha Day! May you always be happy”

*pradakshina: meditate while circuiting the temple in a ritual during Vesak.



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