It started out like any other day in paradise. Woefully ignorant travelers greet the day. In the early afternoon, we started noticing throngs of bicyclists, parading down the promenade with flags — not national flags but the striped flags representing Buddhism.
Soon after, we saw our first float. It was wildly decorated. There was a banner with a monks face and cartoonish images of the infant Buddha. Atop of it were monks playing drums and waving, excited and jubilant.
Something was going on…
We grabbed our helmets and my camera bag and made for our scooter. In no time, we caught up to the procession. It had gathered strength in the meantime. There were more cyclists now. Several more elaborately decorated freight trucks had joined in. Young monks waved from the back, smiling and giggling. Daisey was waving from the back of the scooter. Big smiles. The cacophony was growing as each float banged on gongs and cymbals and/or blasted music from loudspeakers.
Daisey & I followed them for some time more before pulling over to gaze at the sun over the sea. As we admired one of the many spectacular views offered by Vung Tau’s coastline, more floats passed by us, filled with monks, many smiling and waving, clanging. The parade, it seemed, was gathering steam. We hopped on the bike and followed.
We scootered down the road.
Soon we found a billowing crowd of monks and laypeople, young and old alike, concentrated near the main park. Lots of cars and trucks lined the streets, loudly decorated with tinsel and ribbons and flowers. After trying to find a place among the thousands of parked scooters, we ultimately parked and joined in with the throngs of people.
There were sculptures and posters of the Buddha, particularly as a baby, everywhere, in hundreds of variations and sizes. Food vendors weaving in between the clusters. A man sells balloons and kites, prayer beads and incense from his bicycle.
Like the cultural sleuths that we are, we finally put it all together. It was Buddha’s birthday. For weeks, we had noticed most of the temples painting and cleaning, polishing. Then, came the flowers and banners, elaborate offerings. Of course not understanding the language prevents us from knowing exactly what is going on.
Apparently, all these preparations were leading up to this day.
The annual celebration of the birth of Buddha.
Just before sunset, after the big floats had jockeyed into position along the main drag, the engines started rumbling. Sparklers and lights and fireworks began clapping down the long row of floats. The building tension was palpable. Everyone had their cell phones out, taking pictures, posing for selfies. This was an event!
Like Mardi Gras for Buddhists
Slowly, at dusk, the first truck eased out into the road and the motorcade began. People cheered. Fireworks clattered. Kids laughed and waved in amazement at the procession. All whirling sparklers and sparkly tinsel, flashing rainbow lights. There are kids dressed in traditional costumes, waving from the passing flatbeds. Music blasting. Engines rumbling. The Crack–BOOM! of fireworks. The clang and the din added to the overwhelming joy of the festivities. It’s like Mardi Gras for Buddhists. Illuminated smoke and exhaust hung in the hazy humid evening sky.
After the hundreds of floats passed, thousands of scooters followed. Horns and laughter. Flags and headlights. Spectacle and smiles. The joyful procession of the largest floats had rounded the bend a mile or so down the road. Gone out of sight, but assuredly continuing on. As night descended, the crowd dispersed, following the motorcade or scootering home — or, more likely, to dinner.
Serendipity strikes again!
Having spent, at this point, 9 months in Vietnam, we find more and more reasons to fall in love with this country and its charming people. Stumbling onto Buddha’s birthday bash is yet another perfect example why.
Britt is a photographer/music producer & proud member of #teamtraynham