Thousands of people in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi began visiting the annual spring flower festival that opened on Jan.26.

A Spring Flower and Drinks Fair which opened in Hanoi will see some last-minute politicking for the selection of Vietnam 's national flower.

The fair will also feature a photo exhibition by HCM City-based photographer Tran Bich dedicated to the lotus, a leading candidate for designation as the national flower.

Bich is dedicated to photographing the lotus, and his images capture the many shapes of the lotus, from bud to faded flower.

Orchids, peach and ochna blossoms are also in contention for the title of national flower, however.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will gather votes on the national flower, national costume and national wine during the festival, and the national flower will be announced on Jan.28 at the Vietnam Lotus Spirit Gala.

At the Lotus Spirit Gala, artisans from Hanoi , Hue and HCM City will create crafts and artworks celebrating the lotus, including lotus lanterns and sculpture and silk lotus.

"We have used many materials to celebrate the lotus," said Hanoi-based artist Nguyen Manh Hung. "Since it's not the season of the lotus in the north now, we have received fresh lotus from the southern province of Dong Thap ."

The competition to select the national costume hasn't gone as smoothly.

"The ao dai is already the national costume for women, but it's difficult to choose the national costume for men," said Vi Kien Thanh, chief of the ministry's art, photography and exhibitions department.

Meanwhile, the selection of a national wine plan is still in the survey stage, Thanh said. Over the past three years, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Vietmam Alcohol, Beer and Beverage Association have nominated ruou can (wine drunk from a jar), rice wine, coconut wine and apricot wine for the honour.

The Spring Flowers and Drinks Festival will continue through Jan.30 at the Culture and Art Centre at 2 Hoa Lu street .

The fair will exhibit and offer prizes for wines and spirits made by both traditional and modern methods, offer opportunities to sample wines, tea and coffee, and will feature performances, folk games, an ao dai (traditional long dress) fashion show, and calligraphy exhibition, as well as recreate customs such as the Kitchen Gods Festival. At least 50 enterprises will also display products for Tet, including decorations and ornamental trees.

Ha Giang province will take the spotlight, recreating a provincial market day with local specialities, cuisine and festivities of the province's ethnic people, including pan-pipe dance and folk duets.

The week-long event, which will last until February 1, a day ahead of the Lunar New Year, displays the beauty of Vietnamese flora in Phu My Hung Residential Area, HCM City .

This festival hopes to attract around 500 booths, displaying all kinds of flowers, plants, birds, fish, ceramics and calligraphy.

This year's flower festival in HCM City is expected to attract thousands visitors with a rich assortment of blossoms.

The Phu My Hung Spring Flower Festival 2011 features a contest of special Vietnamese flowers and ornamental trees, called Hoa Dong Co Noi (Flower of Countryside).

Nguyen Thien Tich, vice chairman of the municipal Association of Orchids and Ornamental Trees, said, "It's a chance for everyone to explore the abundant flora in the country."

The country has more than 12,000 flowers and other kinds of plants.

Along with the contests, the week-long festival will include other activities such as a ceremony to release flowers and garlands, and floating lanterns on Ban Nguyet Lake .

The lake will be decorated with giant lotus flowers, which will be lit for photo opportunities.

Different festival areas include Cat Square with flowers arranged in the shapes of cats, the ochna, apricot and peach blossom section, 12 animal designations of the lunar calendar and the legend about the man, Mai An Tiem, who discovered the watermelon.

There will be music shows at the festival every night until the evening of February 1.

The festival, co-organised by Phu My Hung Joint Venture Company and HCM City Ornamental Creature Association, expects to attract more than 500 enterprises displaying flowers, fruit and Tet (Lunar New Year) products.

Last year, more than 500,000 visitors visited the flower festival held in the residential area.

The majority of these products were produced in the city and outlying areas.

Also on Jan.26, 30 flower markets opened around the city to welcome city dwellers shopping to decorate their houses during the New Year's days.

Flower exhibitions will be held at major parks like Gia Dinh, Le Van Tam and September 23. Ochna, kumquat and daisy are among the most popular.

In District 8, flowers carried by boats from the Mekong Delta are being displayed along the canal at Ben Binh Dong. The market recalls the hectic trading activity of Sai Gon 100 years ago.

Around 25 flower markets in districts 5, 6, 10, 11, Go Vap, Tan Phu, Thu Duc, Binh Tan and Cu Chi have opened./.