We’d heard about Quest Festival a few weeks back, noticing on Facebook that lots of English teachers we knew were going or were interested in the event. We did a bit of research and decided that we didn’t want to miss it. It definitely felt like something you would only do if you lived in Vietnam, unless you’d planned to visit this area specifically for the festival. Quest has been going for 6 years and has been voted one of the best festivals in Asia by Buzzfeed, among many others. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Son Tinh Camp, Ba Vi, Quest is ‘a three day escape, a communal celebration of music, arts and interpersonal connection amongst nature.’
We left Hanoi on Saturday morning, arriving at the camp by 11am, just as the rest of the festival goers who came on Friday night were waking. We’d undertaken the journey to Ba Vi just a couple of weeks before so the route to Quest felt even quicker. The camp itself is surrounded by water and backed by forest, all within the mountains of Ba Vi. It’s all very compact and there was so much crammed into the small space (in a good way). All of the signs and decorative pieces around the camp were hand made and beautifully crafted. There were four stages at Quest, alongside a cinema, workshops, street performance-esque acts, team activities, live installation art and loads more.
The workshops were a mixed bag of communal colouring, belly dancing, face painting, tarot reading, yoga…the list goes on. We tried our hand at Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art form developed by the African slaves in Brazil over 400 years ago. It aims at combining the violence of fighting with the expressiveness and fluidity of dance. We were sweating after the first half and managed to slip out during the water break to take a dunk in the lake and relax while we watched from afar. The history of Capoeira was very interesting but it was a physical skill that neither of us seemed to be cut out for.
The location was probably the best thing about Quest. Nestled in the beautiful mountains of Ba Vi, the tranquility and stillness of lake made you feel like we were living in a hippy commune in the 70s. That and the nude swimmers. There were plenty of rubber rings to go round for a bob around the lakeside while listening to the music inland. And it also served as a communal bathtub as the shower queues were always astronomical.
The music catered for all tastes, from heavy rock, techno, country, house, jazz and old school hip hop (thank you to ‘Hazard Clique’, or MC Black murder, Cam and Pain). Each stage had something different so whatever mood you were in you could drift from one to another and find something for you; either to chill you out or to be immersed in a trance pit. The musical highlight for us was definitely a Japanese instrumental band called Aqatuki, consisting of three slightly elderly men with dreadlocks and guitars. They melded psych-rock, dub and electronica (their own description) with an undercurrent of blues. It was sick.
Quest certainly brings the international festival concept to Vietnam, attempting to combine the best local and international underground acts together, however we did feel that Quest had a target audience of foreigners, particularly English teachers. Everyone seemed to be teaching either in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, congregating together for a weekend away from the responsibilities of educating our students. About 10% of the crowd was Vietnamese and even they had perfect American/English accents and were dressed like everyone else you would see on Oxford Street. So it didn’t feel as ‘authentic’ as we had anticipated but we aren’t sure festivals as we know them appeal to Vietnamese people in general.
The temperature in Hanoi had decreased significantly as of last week so we were worried a night in a tent wouldn’t be pleasant. We’d been wearing jeans and jumpers in the evenings in Hanoi and there had been a handful of rainy days. We felt like autumn was definitely here and the rumors we’d heard of bitter winters up North were actually pretty accurate. The week of rain had decreased the size of the campsite as the shore had crept in, forcing the workshops and stages to sit slightly closer together. But we were lucky with the weather; there was sunshine all of Saturday and even as the sun went down, we were walking around in shorts and t-shirts. It would have been an unpleasant weekend if there had been any rain but it stayed perfectly dry and mild.
It turned out to be a slightly expensive weekend as food and drink was inflated (as we had expected) and we couldn’t bring our own alcohol on to the site (but we did manage to sneak in a loaf of bread that filled a big hunger hole). There was a good range of food on offer but, as mentioned, much of it catered for the ‘Western’ crowd. Burgers, pizza, chips and Indian curries were some of the favourites, and these kinds of foods are even more pricey in Vietnam regardless of whether you’re in the depths of a national park. But it was definitely worth it for the Asian festival experience.
We decided to leave the campsite relatively early on Sunday so we could get back to Hanoi by lunchtime. We had a very disturbed sleep, surprisingly not due to the round the clock music, but the discomfort of sleeping in our tent. We had paid for the tent rental alongside our ticket, but opted out of hiring bedding. Instead, we brought our own sheet and makeshift pillows (aka towels). This meant no mat to pad out the bumpy terrain underneath our backs. Our bodies were waking us up every couple of hours or more, screaming at the discomfort of it. But by the looks of some of the other Questies, they’d had rougher nights than we had.
We certainly felt the effects of the weekend as Monday lessons rolled around, but we will plough on this week, knowing that we’ve experienced a pretty unique festival in a stunning part of the world.
For more photos of the festival and the rest of the trip, visit our Flickr page by following the link.