Ghost Month in Vietnam

It’s Ghost Month in Vietnam and that means people are making offerings to any ghosts who may be floating about, including those of dead ancestors who may have popped over for a visit.

During Ghost Month, people make offerings to make the ghosts happy (and therefore ward off any possible bad luck). The offerings can be paper items that are burnt to “send” them to the ghosts and/or food.

There’s a range of special “ghost cakes” that have been appearing in our local market this month (the seventh lunar month), although most of the special items only appeared a few days before the actual Ghost Day, the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. (To work out how the everyday solar calendar matches the lunar calendar, click here.)

It’s apparently not good form to eat the ghost cakes so we didn’t even buy any of these pretty pink and green ones.

Ghost month cakes

We did buy some of these unusual sesame seed ghost cakes, which did NOT taste as good as they look. Because the red stuff that I thought was some kind of dried fruit was actually pork fat.

Ghost month

The ancestor worship shops in the market also have special Ghost Month items in stock. We bought a couple of Ghost Month bundles so we could learn more about this festival.

When we bought the first bundle, Darling Man asked the shopkeeper to explain the various bits and pieces. Then we took the bundle to a temple and a guy burned it all for us. (Happy Ghost Month, ghosts!)

Then we saw a mega-bundle for sale and I could not resist. However, this time around we didn’t ask for an explanation so we don’t know what some of the things are.

Here’s what the full mega-bundle looked like …

Ghost month

And here’s what the various components look like ….

Ghost month

Let me explain the bits that I know.

The folded up bits of brown paper on the top left- well, we don’t know what they’re supposed to be.

Underneath there’s some folded up money and folded up pieces of paper printed with images of old Chinese coins. This represents hell money (although no one is quite sure what currency is used in hell/on the other side, so a range of currencies and credit cards are available for the ghosts and the ancestors).

The yellow folded up paper on the left is some kind of lucky paper. It’s got Chinese writing all over it but it’s about 1,000 years since China ruled Vietnam and not many people know the exact meaning of these papers. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so it’s best to include these lucky papers.

The folded up pieces of coloured paper that I’ve fanned out – well, we don’t know what they’re for.

The next group of coloured papers represents clothes. There’s two types of paper clothes in this bundle. (Obviously it’s for the more stylish ghosts and ancestors.)

Next to the first pile of clothes is a red piece of printed paper …

Ghost month

This represents some body guards, who will help make sure the ghosts get to where they’re supposed to go safely.

In the middle of the main picture are fanned out wads of cash – US dollars and dong – more hell money. US$1,000 and VND2 million, to be exact.

And then on the bottom right is a few taels of gold – always a hedge against inflation.

As well as sending these material-type goods to the immaterial, there’s also food offerings.

This morning as we ate breakfast we saw a table full of ghost offerings – fruit, sugar cane, green mango, cakes and the paper offerings.

Ghost month offerings

The lady of the house offered up a quick prayer and lit some incense.

Ghost month

But what happened next absolutely gobsmacked me.

Before the lady had completely finished lighting all the incense, a crowd had gathered around the table. A millisecond after the final stick of incense was lit, people started grabbing at the food offerings. Within seconds it was all gone and only the paper offerings were left.

Ghost month

It was as classy as the violent stampedes at the Boxing Day sales.

After the stampede for free stuff subsided, the lady of the house gathered up the paper offerings and burned them in a small metal bucket on the side of the road.

And so it was happy Ghost Month to the local ghosts in that street!

Ghost Month is known as Hungry Ghost Month in Singapore but my Vietnamese friends tell me that here the ghosts are considered lonely rather than hungry, which sounds a lot less scary in my opinion.


If you haven’t done so already, like The Dropout Diaries on Facebook

7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Angela says:

    Hungry ghosts do sound a bit scary. Thanks for teaching me something completely new!

    • Scott, says:

      hi there, as crazy as it might sound to an expatriate, according to my wife, it’s actually good luck to have the food taken. at our restaurant on Thursday, someone took the fruit and the tray!

      • Barbara says:

        Yeah, the lady who’s ghost tray was swarmed was smiling at the crush. I’d just never seen that before. It sure doesn’t seem lucky to me to pounce on ghost food and take it.

        A Vietnamese friend told me that once the prayers are said and the incense is lit, the ghosts have “eaten” and it’s OK to take the food. She said some businesses even hide packets of money in the food to ensure a stampede and therefore extra luck.

    • Barbara says:

      After six years in Asia, I thought it was time I found out more about this festival. I learned some completely new things too!

  2. how cool is that? i can’t blv they swarm for the free. hoo boy!
    wanderingeducators recently posted..Not all of China eats rice!

  3. Maria says:

    Barbara, the dried fruit that was actually pork fat looks great – any ghost should be happy with the variety of food offerings not to mention all the colorful trinkets. This is really cool to read about and has hit a creative chord. I guess in a way it’s similar to some Halloween traditions.

  4. Katie says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve seen some this stuff around Ho Chi Minh City and was curious but dumbfounded at where to look for answers, then happily stumbled across your blog.
    Katie recently posted..Gettin’ Hogs in Ho Chi Minh

  5. […] celebration. Money and certain types of clothing are also burned during this day as offerings. This article does a great job in describing the many offerings made during this […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge