Vietnam: Tet Travel
What is Tet?
Tet, otherwise known as the Lunar New Year, is the biggest and most important holiday celebrated in Vietnamese culture. Originating from the phrase “Tet Nguyen Dan” which roughly translates to “the feast of the first morning of the first day”, the holiday has evolved from simple agricultural harvests to a unique representation of the Vietnamese and their cultural identity. Tet is also a chance for everyone to rest and return to their families and hometowns in order to ring in the new year together.
For travelers, Tet can be an especially interesting time to travel throughout the country. Typically falling somewhere between January and February, Tet usually lasts at least 7 days, with the first few days being the most important. Most businesses and schools close for a minimum of 5 days and up to 2 weeks. However, nowadays, quite a few restaurants and shops catering towards tourists and expatriates in major cities remain open, even on the first day of Tet, which a few years back was unheard of.
And while some attractions may be closed, with a little bit of pre-planning, Tet can offer an abundance of opportunities to indulge in cultural activities and experience a side of Vietnam that most foreigners never get to see. Keep on reading to find out why you should travel in Vietnam during the Tet Season!
Tet Preparations – a Kaleidoscope of Colors
Head down any street and you’ll see it transformed into an oasis of flowering trees, bushes, potted plants, and trees bearing juicy fruits. Depending on where you visit, you may see the crisp whites and soft, blushing pinks of peach blossoms in Hanoi or the bright, sunny yellow of “hoa mai” in Saigon.
Popular colors tend to reflect those associated with good fortune, such as golds, yellows, reds, and pinks. Kumquat and pomelo trees are equally popular as the round orange and yellow fruits symbolize wealth and prosperity for the year to come.
Make sure to visit Quang An Flower Market in Hanoi during this time for a photographer’s dream photoshoot, or if you have the time, head out to Saigon’s famous Ho Thi Ky Flower Market in District 10 (about 45 minutes away from the city center). If you don’t have time to get out there, don’t worry; Nguyen Hue Street in District 1 hosts the country’s largest flower show! Feeling the excitement in the air while browsing the colorful flower displays is one of our favorite ways to get into the Tet spirt.
According to legend, the Chung Cake represents the traditional belief that the Earth was shaped as a square.
Tempt your Tastebuds
Vietnam is known for its delicious cuisine and Tet is no exception. Chung Cake, a type of square-shaped sticky rice bar, is an integral part of this time of year. According to legend, the Chung Cake represents the traditional belief that the Earth was shaped as a square. Additional ingredients include the sticky rice, green beans, and pork pieces, each representing the land, plants, and animals, respectively.
Another popular treat to try at this time of year is Tet Jam. However, this type of “jam” is usually made out of dried fruits and seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower. It is generally served as a welcome snack along with tea during the first few days of the new year as guests come to give their well-wishes to different people’s homes.
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới Vietnam!
Check out our favorite cultural packages for the best Tet holiday ever!
Observe Traditional Celebrations
Vietnam is a fascinating study of traditional beliefs coinciding with an increasingly modern society. One such event which occurs every year is “Kitchen God Day”. On this day, northern Vietnamese traditionally release 3 carp fish into rivers and lakes on the 23rd day of the last lunar month of the year. Why?
As the old year comes to an end, Ong Tao, a messenger from heaven, comes down to check on families, bringing back an annual report of the household’s activities to the Jade Emperor, via his special ride, a carp that can turn into a dragon.
Since Ong Tao is everyone’s uncle, people leave prayers and offerings on their family altar, and some may even burn paper effigies of BMWs, large mansions, Iphones, and money, in hopes of attracting good luck. Pagodas and temples are also very busy at this time, with people coming to pray for their ancestors as well as their families. During this time the air is thick with perfumed incense, lending a romantic scent to waft through the lanes of all cities and towns throughout Vietnam.
Planning your Trip
One of the best things about traveling during Tet is seeing cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City completely empty and quiet. As most people head to their hometowns for the week, the cities have no traffic, no noise, and most importantly, no pollution. This is a perfect time to take a stroll through the city’s streets without a care in the world.
Of course, since Tet is such an important event, those who do have to work are compensated by law at a much higher rate than normal. This can mean an increase in service prices, especially in regards to cruises in Lan Ha Bay, Bai Tu Long Bay, and the Mekong Delta. Resorts and hotels often follow suit, raising the prices around Christmas, where they will stay until the end of Tet.
Local transport can be overloaded as everyone heads home, and airports can be especially hectic. It is advised to head to the airport in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City at least 3-4 hours earlier than normal in the week before Tet, even if you just plan to fly domestically to ensure you have enough time to check-in and clear security.
Keep in mind, it’s EXTREMELY important to not drop by any Vietnamese home without first getting an invitation during the first few days of the new year.
It is a HUGE honor to be invited to a local’s home during Tet. The first guests of the year are specifically chosen (through use of zodiac placement) in order to bring good luck to the household. Keep in mind, it’s EXTREMELY important to not drop by any Vietnamese home without first getting an invitation during the first few days of the new year.
If you are the first to visit a shop, it is wise to buy something, even if it’s small, as entering a business without buying anything on the first day of the new year creates bad luck for the business owner.
Avoid wearing black or white as these colors are generally associated with funerals. Instead, wear your best clothes in bright colors to welcome the start of new beginnings.
Lastly, you may see people giving each other bright red envelopes with gold script. Inside is “li xi”, or lucky money, usually given to children or superiors as a sign of respect, good luck, and prosperity. Coincidentally, USD $2 bills are considered very lucky. If you get a li xi envelope, you are very lucky indeed!
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