Tips for traveling Vietnam during Tet

by Minh Tâm
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Tet is a famous national holiday of Vietnam. For who don’t know, Tet (also called Tet Nguyen Dan) is the most important holiday in this S-shaped country. It is the first day of a new year according to the lunar calendar, thus marking the arrival of spring. Tet mostly falls at the end of January or the first weeks of February.

To the Vietnamese people, Tet is a time to refresh themselves and hope to overcome any troubles that they cannot solve the previous year. More important, Tet is a time for family when people all around Vietnam go back to their hometown to gather up with their family after a busy year in bustling big cities. On these days, you may have the chance to see a totally different Vietnam. Many streets in big cities may seem similar to a ghost town as most houses, restaurants, stores are closed and most people are nowhere to be seen.

1. Some facts about Tet that tourists may feel interested

Tet can be called “The National House Cleaning Day” by the youth.

As Vietnamese people believe that the first days of the Lunar New Year can reflect how that entire year will be, therefore they prepare for Tet very, extremely serious. No one wants their house to be dirty all year long or in debt the entire year. So, before Tet, houses are cleaned, new clothes are bought, and debts are paid off, all done to have a fresh start to the upcoming year. 

TET is completed when houses are well-stocked with food and sweets

Food and drink are offered to the family ancestors and they are invited to join the family for the vacation. Before the family begins to eat, the family group will raise their glasses in the first toast to the New Year. Afterward, it is customary to join the throngs of people in the streets to take in the local firework display.

Bánh Chưng – Sticky Rice Cake is the soul Of Tet Holiday

During Tet holiday, Banh Chung, Vietnamese rice cake, is the traditional and irreplaceable cake. Several days prior the first day of the new year, Vietnamese people make some cakes to serve to their ancestors to express their respect and gratitude, present their relatives, friends as the meaningful gifts. Traveling to Vietnam during Tet holiday, when you visit Vietnamese houses, the hosts will ask you to try some as greetings.

traveling to Vietnam

Traveling to VietnamAccording to the legend about the invention of Banh Chung, Lang Lieu was the youngest son of 6th Emperor Hung Vuong. The Emperor decided to choose one of his children to be the next Emperor. Lang Lieu and his brothers were asked to prepare and bring to their father the most delicious food. Lang Lieu chose rice as the main ingredient and made two types of cake: the square-shaped cake called “Banh Chung”m the round-shaped cake called “Banh Giay”. Emperor Hung Vuong said that those cakes were not only purest but also the most meaningful. All of them were made of rice, the basic foodstuff which was very popular and was the main food of Vietnamese people.

Traveling to VietnamBesides rice, Vietnamese people use green beans, pork and a few spicy to make the cake more delicious. The cakes are wrapped with green leaves that give the rice a green color. Banh Chung is boiled in about 12 hours. Boiling by wood is the best way. To make a delicious Banh Chung, there are many steps. All the family members take part in it. Making Banh Chung is the opportunity for the family to be together. It is another reason why Banh Chung is the soul of the Vietnamese New Year.

Before Tet, Everyone everywhere is busy 

Women in most families rush to prepare Tet’s traditional dishes like spring roll or Chung cake for family or friends gatherings because Tet also means “feast of the first morning of the first day”. Markets become crowded as a large amount of food and drink are bought. Flower markets are busy, too. In Asian countries, fresh flowers play a crucial part in decorating a house on New Year Eve. In Vietnam, people like to buy peach blossoms, kumquat trees, and chrysanthemums as they are all signs of prosperity or a fresh, wealthy future.

During Tet Holiday, everyone everywhere is relaxing and the street is incredibly calm & peaceful 

The first few days of Tet are spent in relaxation with one’s family. Indeed, many shops and businesses are closed during this time. Spending time with family, paying visits to friends, relatives and neighbors and hearty meals for all those who drop by are hallmarks of this joyous time of year for Vietnamese people.

Lucky money – “li xi” is a tradition

Lucky money – “li xi” is a tradition in Asian countries when older people give money in red envelops to grant them their best wish. Young people give Lucky money to older people too, but as a wish for good health.

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Luxury Travel Vietnam

Burning Incense at midnight is to wish for luck 

The most important day of Tet is the first day, counting from 12 pm. Vietnamese people believe that good fortune on that first day of Tet is very auspicious for the remainder of the year. They all believe that the first person to enter their house can determine that family’s fortune for the entire year. Therefore, many families may choose, or even rent a person with a suitable animal spirit that fit the house’s owner or the year’s spirit to enter their house first. About for days after the start of the New Year, towns and cities start to come back to life as people return to work and their homes.

As you just read, Tet is quite special thus traveling to Vietnam at that time is not so similar to other trips at a normal time. Why?

2. What does Tet offer

Food, Food & Delicious Food

Food in Vietnam is all year round one of the main reasons people come to enjoy the country. And while it is true that many restaurants might be closed at that time, you can still find places opened or try the experience of a Tet market to taste all typical Tet dishes. This is the perfect occasion to try a variety of Vietnamese food.

Starting with the most famous dish for Tet, called the Banh Chung (steamed square cake) and its Southern variety called Banh Tet. You will only find it in Vietnam although other countries do celebrate Lunar New Year as well. Banh Chung is a food made from glutinous rice, mung bean, and pork, added with many other ingredients. Banh Chung is covered by green leaves (usually banana leaves) and symbolizes the Earth. During Tet, it is also the best time to have chicken as it is a typical meal for celebrations in Vietnam. As a side dish, you will get to try the Xoi, or sticky rice in all its variants: with peanuts, with bean and with “gac” fruit. Delicious!

Beautiful Surrounding 

Tet is a great time to see Vietnam at its most colorful and happy time. The cities are sprinkled with giant vases of delicate apricot blossoms in yellow tones and fruit trees (peach, apricot, plum) start blooming before Tet and their pink flowers ornament the streets. You will see everywhere itinerant shops selling a multitude of vases. Unusual tranquility in the major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will be observed during the holidays. Some, on the contrary, can be more crowded such as Hoi An.

Colorful Festivals 

If you come just before Tet you will see people carrying flowers everywhere on their motorbikes, restaurants, hotels and the city all decorated for the Lunar New Year celebrations. It can be really exciting to see how people are stocked in anticipation of this holiday. And to celebrate, many cities will organize fireworks and music for the Lunar New Year. And when it officially ends, on the seventh day, it is marked by the dragon processions in the streets.

Colorful dragons and unicorns parades

Like many Asian countries whose tradition is to use bright colors and loud noise to ward off bad spirits and bad lucks, In Vietnam, we have “Mua Lan”, which means the dancing Unicorn. In the performance, many well-trained dancers wear masks and do many dangerous, intriguing actions to symbolize strength and power.

3. Some inconveniences for travelers during Tet holiday in Vietnam 

Overcrowded transportation everywhere

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Luxury Travel Vietnam

Not just for tourists, but for many Vietnamese people, transportation can be a nightmare at times of one week before Tet. At that time, flights, daily buses, and trains are often fully booked in advance because many people need to go home on this National Holiday. In big cities, the road and streets are often packed with vehicles despite the time.

Many sightseeing places are closed

Some tourist sites remain open during Tet, but most museums, mausoleums, and indoor exhibition place and art houses will be closed before and throughout Tet Holiday. Even the famous floating markets in the Mekong Delta will be closed as most sellers stay home to celebrate.

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Cegoh (Pixabay)

Lunar New Year eve is not quite a time for culinary tour fans

Many restaurants will be closed during Tet as people go back to their hometown so the source of food, as well as human, are not quite ideal to run a business on these days. However, if you are lucky enough, you can still find some good restaurants that are wide open. But check the price first before ordering.

Stores, supermarkets and banks are not open until the first working day after Tet

Many shops, supermarkets, and all government companies are closed for the first few days of Tet Festival. Many museums, mausoleums, indoors exhibition place and art houses will be closed. But, you can plan accordingly and have empty beaches for yourself as well as enjoy the traffic drop considerably. During the Lunar Year celebrations, you will feel the beauty of these two cities in a very different way.

High prices for everything on these special days

Don’t expect food, clothes, and items to be as cheap as said on your travel guide because during the Lunar Year celebrations all prices increase. According to the lack of human source and everything, everything can be charged twice, third or even tenth in some places. Not only foreign tourists that got cut off, but Vietnamese is, too. However, it is a common agreement of the whole nation that higher price is the common thing these days. There are even many street food stalls opening only on these Tet days.

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Loilamtan (Pixabay)

So, many may agree that Tet is not the most perfect time to travel to Vietnam. However, some may want to witness the silence of Saigon or want to experience this very special event in Vietnam. It is undeniable that the Vietnamese New Year is an exuberant, joyful time, full of life and color. It’s all about welcoming new things, making a fresh start, and wishing others happiness for the upcoming year.

When you are traveling in Vietnam during this period, you will have the chance to witness this local celebration as a local. Being well informed about this national holiday is a way of showing your respect to the locals. Like any major holiday in Asia, Tet celebrations tend to disrupt everyday life, especially for tourists.

3. If you’re traveling in Vietnam during Tet, keep in mind these 5 things to be well prepared for Vietnam National Holiday.

a. Be sure to book your transportation and accommodation in advance

International transportation, particularly airlines, will not be affected during the holiday season. If you intend to fly in or out of Vietnam during Tet, there is no need to worry.

However, be sure to plan and book your Vietnam tour early so that tickets can be guaranteed. The one week before Tet is often the busiest time of the year as everyone needs a plane, bus or train ticket to get home. Very often, these tickets get sold out quickly so make sure you have reserved your seat. Moreover, on the last day of New Year’s Eve, do not expect any buses to operate on the night of so be sure to prepare your ride home if you intend to go out to witness public celebrating.

Luxury Travel recommends booking your bus ticket one week in advance and train tickets even several weeks in advance during Tet! And one more thing: transportation price these days can be charged more or even double

Now, during Vietnam’s Tet, there are still a lot of hotels and hostels that are open, but just in case, have your accommodation reserved. Booking hotels early will bring out a lot of benefits for tourists: They have a high chance of having a nice room with a relatively low price, they can also avoid the risk of having no room to stay and they can have more choices of accommodation places.

Despite all the traffic jams and crowds on Vietnam’s streets weeks before Tet, tourists can be really surprised experiencing an unusual peace and calm vibe in even the largest cities. The capital of Vietnam – Hanoi is a typical example. As a huge number of migrant have left the city to come back to their hometown to celebrate with their families, you will see the tranquility in Hanoi’s beauty that many poets have mentioned. That is the pure, original side of Hanoi which cannot be seen at any other time of the year but Tet.

b. Have your plan prepared specially for Lunar New Year

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Luxury Travel Vietnam

As mentioned above, all museums, mausoleums, and indoor exhibition place and art houses will be closed before and throughout Tet Holiday. Therefore, tourists need to plan their itinerary accordingly: visit the museums and famous historical sites days before or after Tet, relax or wander around Hanoi’s Old Quarter or go to Vietnam’s famous beaches during Tet. At that time, the city will be vacant and quiet and the beaches are yours only (on the actual date of Tet). So if you are a fan of tranquility, overall Tet is the travel time for you.

c. Dining at hotel restaurants or book tables at open restaurants in advance

Reserve a spot at one of the few restaurants that are still open is a wise move on these days because to many’s dismay, most restaurants will be closed during Tet, be it local or foreign-owned. Most will be open until the first working day after Tet Holiday.

But Tet is a special time that you cannot compare to any other events in the year. There is a great variety of Vietnamese food you can eat nowhere else such as Banh Chung, Pickled Onions, … If you are invited to experience Tet at Vietnamese family, that would be ideal. Otherwise, a visit to Cho Tet – special wet markets selling New Year stuffs, will surely be an amazing experience, whether you are in a big city or rural mountain province. Get your camera ready!

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Luxury Travel Vietnam

Years ago, tourists need to be well-prepared beforehand as the vast majority of shops and markets will close during the first three days of the New Year. However, now that Vietnam is a country with a fast developing pace, you can buy almost everything you need at 24/7 convenient stores like Circle K or 7/11 in Hanoi and Family Mart in Saigon. But if you travel to other provinces or the mountainous areas, the will be a small chance you can get stuffs at a 24/7 store. So buy everything you need when you are in big cities.

After the 3rd of January based on the lunar calendar, many local grocery stores will be open for business as normal. However, most visiting sites and banks might not open again until the first official working day.

d. Be a good bargainer because Tet is a special time

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Anantara Hoi An

In Vietnam, it is a common belief that you can always get a good deal if you know how to bargain. However, Lunar New Year Eve is the only time you should really consider doing it. Vietnamese people believe that things happen on New Year Eve will be a brief reflection of what that year will be for the next 265 days ahead. Therefore, it is a high chance that when you bargain, Vietnamese sellers will believe that it is “unlucky sign” that signaling financial losses for the year to come. Vietnamese people will always avoid bargaining with merchants during Tet at all cost as it can cause some upset.

During Tet, because of the shortage of ingredients and employees, most prices will be higher than usual despite what you use: goods or services. Do not freak out because this is not just the case for travelers as local people are also overcharged on these days. Vietnamese people are basically used to it and to avoid being overcharged, they often buy stuffs and use the services of well-known and established brands. This is the only time of the year when people choose fine dining instead of street food in terms of price!

e. Lunar New Year Eve is party time so drive carefully!

Tet can be seen as the nation’s party time when family members or friends gather to celebrate the end of a year. Therefore, this time involves a lot of alcohol drinking and partying. This is not bad, but the thing is: many people drive themselves home after those parties. Besides, the empty roads in big cities sometimes make people over-speed.

Tet is a hot spot for traffic accidents, therefore you should be extra careful traveling by motorbikes or by cars at this time.

4. Best places to visit in Vietnam during Tet Holiday

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Luxury Travel Vietnam

The destination depends heavily on what you like, are you a party person or are you fond of quiet place? Luxury Travel has many experts that can plan the whole trip to best suit your preference. Here are some of our recommendations:

Dalat is a popular choice for people who want to pull off some steam on these days with around 280,000 visitors coming to Dalat in 2018.

Hoi An is another popular place to enjoy the celebrations, as this is a very well-known tourist attraction and the shops there stay open during the holiday. Coming to Hoi An on Tet, do not forget to wander off The Old Quarter. It has fantastic lantern-lit paths with lively traditional festivities and delicious street-food vendors that you should not miss.

tips for traveling vietnam during tet

Source: Luxury Travel Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital has a wide range of activities both modern and traditional for tourists to take part in. Of course, places like monuments or museums are closed, but the celebrations and events taking places around the Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake will make up for it.

Saigon is the perfect destination for people looking for a nightlife experience during Tet. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, most bars will be packed with people partying and waiting for the countdown and fireworks.

And one more good information for you: You already know more than most of the tourists after you read the tips above! Hopefully, Luxury Travel’s tips will keep you safe and entertained during this very special time of the year.

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