~One of the most frequently asked questions is ‘Is it good to visit Vietnam during the Tet holiday? My answer is yes, definitely, but you have to prepare well in advance to get the most out of your trip.
Tet – What is it?
Tet Nguyen Dan, in the Vietnamese language, symbolizes the very first morning of the lunar New Year and is the most sacred time of the year for the Vietnamese with the biggest celebrations. Like Christmas, a tree is set up in every house and a feast is prepared
Tet is a time for family reunions, exchanging gifts, best wishes, forgiving others and paying debts. Painstaking care is given to start the New Year with a clean slate, since it is believed the first day of the new year will determine the fortunes or misfortunes for the rest of the year, so everybody tries only to be in contact with things that represent good fortune, so people in mourning are avoided.
For travelers, you must plan your trip well to ensure you get the opportunity to participate in Tet rather than just being an observer. Vietnam may be a little harder to visit during Tet as most businesses are closed and many locals are traveling themselves to visit family or to holiday during this week-long vacation. However, if you have close friends or family, this opens up the opportunity to be exposed to many of the colourful Vietnamese traditions and to spend time with people as they enjoy the long holiday.
Trip Planning ideas
Plan well head as hotels get booked up well in advance, trains are full before and after the holiday, with a limited service during Tet itself. In addition, many tourist sights are closed. Sites of religious importance, such as the historic pagodas in the Perfume Mountains and Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Temple of Literature in Hanoi are thronged with pilgrims and worshippers.
To make the best of your trip, if you are travelling independently, you could spend a couple of nights in Hanoi, visit bustling Hang Luoc cumquat and peach blossom market, the decorations that adorn the houses, and enjoy the fireworks display over Hoan Kiem Lake. A night in a home stay in Mai Chau to share the build up to the celebrations with the Thai, H’Mong people, and 2 nights on a leisurely cruise around Halong Bay or Nha Trang Bay.
You could consider escaping into the northern highlands, to Sapa and Bac Ha, surrounded by stunning scenery at the foot of Vietnam’s highest mountain, Mount Fansipan, to spend time with the hill tribes where colorful markets mark the festive season.
In Vietnamese villages this is their opportunity to leave the fields and meet up with friends, neighbours and relatives. Young people also get a chance to meet other young people and even meet their life partner. Women get dressed up in their best clothes, even though they may have to travel long distances to reach the market.
In central Vietnam you could cruise the Perfume River in Hue to enjoy the atmosphere as new year preparations are made. Join the locals in Hoi An as they shop for gifts for family and friends or relax in a beach resort.
In the south, the bars and restaurants in Saigon are buzzing with anticipation in the run up to Tet, with many people celebrating in advance. The flower market on Nguyen Hue is particularly colourful. Head into the Mekong Delta to observe the New Year preparations in the riverside communities or join worshippers as they make offerings in the temples.
Wherever you are, make sure you visit one of the many markets. Markets are an important part of the Tet celebrations and children love going to the market with their parents. There is always a lot of excitement and joy associated with the market place environment.
New Year – Ancient Customs
On New Year’s Eve, at midnight, the Le Tru Tich ceremony starts with firecrackers and gongs bidding goodbye to the previous year and loudly welcoming the New Year.
In Hanoi at the stroke of midnight, the whole family sits down to eat together, including a special rice pudding, Banh Chung or Banh Tet and many delicious dishes that have been prepared months beforehand. The house has been cleaned and the family altar is decorated with fresh flowers, fruits (5 kinds of fruits with 5 different colors) and red candles.
During the next few days, angry words are forbidden and it is crucial for people to visit as many of their relatives, friends and former teachers as they can manage. As an old proverb says”the first day of Tet is for parents, the second for friends, and third for teachers”. It is customary to offer children and old people money in a lucky red envelope, to wish the elderly a long life and the children a year of fast growth.
In the centre of the country old people sit down together to share a bottle of wine and in Hue, people who have mastered Chinese calligraphy to give as seasonal presents are greatly respected. Some hire boats and drift down the Perfume River reciting poetry recalling old times and floating candles on the water.
Tropical Saigon is more vibrant, with friends getting together to have fun and to visit the pagoda, often carrying huge sticks of incense or giant candles. Many go to the beach or amusement park and as most shops stay open, shopping is a popular pastime. Just like in the rest of the country, though, the Saigonese never forget to wish one another all the best for New Year.
Five Things You Need To Know About Tet
1. Make sure you book early as international flights and rail routes to Vietnam and domestic flights and trains get booked up well in advance and prices increase.
2. Hotel prices rise during the Tet holiday but some put on special New Year’s Eve celebrations.
3. As many museums and sights of interest are closed make sure that during the actual Tet holiday you plan to make the most of discovering Hanoi’s Old Quarter or Saigon’s riverside on foot or relax on the beach.
4. Be aware that many local restaurants may be closed but hotel restaurants will be open.
5. Shops may be closed but markets will be open with vendors keen to sell to you to get their new year off to a good start.
This article is written by Mr. Pham Ha who is an award-winning CEO and founder of Luxury Travel Ltd (www.luxurytravels.asia), the first luxury travel and tour operator in the Mekong region. He is also a travel guru, speaker, writer, sales and marketing trainer, business advisor, a leading designer of luxury tourism industry training programs.