The Yen Tu Festival, one of the country's most famous spring festivals, opened on February 28 in Thuong Yen Cong commune, Uong Bi city, northern Quang Ninh province.

The festival is traditionally held on the 10th day of the Lunar New Year and runs until the end of the third lunar month.

Bui Thi Kim Thuy, deputy head of the Yen Tu Relic and National Forest Management Board, said that this year's event will feature several new highlights, including hot-air balloon rides over the area.

The new service, launched by the Hanoi-based Chien Thang Company, costs 200,000 VND (9 USD) for adults and 100,000 VND for children. Each balloon can carry three adults and six children (equivalent to 500kg). Tourists will receive safety instructions before they take a ride.

"We hope it will be an interesting experience and attract more tourists," Thuy said.

The festival opening also included the hoisting of a 25.5m-long and 20m-wide Buddhist flag, which will fly between the peaks of Chua and Giai Oan mountains.

Known as the country's biggest Buddhist flag, it will fly for 10 days displaying five colours that represent the solidarity and unity of Buddhism across five continents.

Another highlight will be a photo exhibition depicting the area taken by veteran artist Do Giang, who is known for his aerial pictures of Ha Long Bay.

A spring flowers festival was opened on the day to add more colour to the event.

As a prelude to the festival, a ritual was held to officially open the forest in Yen Tu on February 27, along with a variety of folk games.

The roads to Yen Tu are already packed with pilgrims and tourists, who are eager to greet the start of the festival today.
This has led to traffic jams on several sections of the routes leading to Yen Tu Mountain and Hoa Yen Pagoda, where part of the festival is being held.

Yen Tu has been considered one of the country's Buddhist hubs since Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308), the third king of the Tran Dynasty, founded "Thien Truc Lam Yen Tu", Vietnam's hallmark Buddhist meditation sect.

The king and his two successors built hundreds of pagodas and shrines throughout the Yen Tu complex, including famous structures which boast thousands of prized statues and artefacts.

Provincial authorities started preparing a dossier for UNESCO recognition of the complex as a World Heritage Site in December last year.

The area has a beautiful natural landscape and awe-inspiring scenery, along with the surrounding ancient pagodas and heritages.

Yen Tu was officially listed as a special national relic site in September 2012, and has been declared one of the 10 most attractive spiritual destinations in Vietnam by the Vietnam Records Organisation.

The area received nearly 300,000 domestic and foreign tourists during the 10-day Lunar New Year holiday.

This year's Yen Tu Festival is expected to receive over two million visitors, including 2,500 Buddhist pilgrims.-VNA