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Planning to Visit Vietnam During Tet?

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AsiaCelebrationsFestivalsNew YearsTetViet Nam
Article author: michael
michael
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> Click here if you want to skip the fluff and get to my final verdict <

Tết Tết Tết Đến Rồi! (Tet tet tet is coming!)

I’ve seen this come up so many times on Reddit and travel forums - travellers thinking about visiting Vietnam around Tet and asking:

  • “Should I visit Vietnam during Tet?”
  • “What’s it like in Vietnam during Tet?”
  • “What’s there to do in Vietnam during Tet?”
  • “Will I get stranded in Vietnam during Tet?”

The thinking for most foreigners is probably that it must be like Christmas or New Years in the West, full of decorations, festivities, and lots to see and do.

At least that’s what I thought when I was living in Vietnam a few years ago.

On the other hand, some travellers are concerned that they’ll be stuck wherever they are, without a means of transport, without access to food, possibly without a place to stay, and without anything to do.

What is Tet?

Tet is the Vietnamese New Year, and is the most important holiday in Vietnam.

It’s a time for family reunions, where Vietnamese will return to their hometowns to visit their families - both immediate and extended, ushering “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year) to each other, and giving each other lucky money in red envelopes.

Besides returning to their hometowns to visit family, Vietnamese will also visit their hometown pagodas and temples to pray for good luck and fortune in the new year, and travel to ancestral graves to pay respects to their departed family members.

Visiting pagodas and temples

Paying respects to ancestors

Tet occurs on the same day as Chinese New Year, and is based on the Chinese lunar calendar. This means that the date of Tet changes every year, but it’s usually in late January or early February.

What do Vietnamese do during Tet?

For the most part, they’ll be staying with their parents, back in their hometown. How long depends on the family and their situation; It’s usually about a week, but can be up to two weeks for some.

During that time, traditional Vietnamese food will be prepared, and there will be lots of drinking and eating. It’s a time for family, and for celebrating the new year.

Preparing food for Tet

Traditional Tet Food

Traditional Tet Food

What to expect during Tet as a foreigner

Ok, but what about foreigners? What’s in it for us?

Well, if you’re in Vietnam during Tet, you’ll probably notice that things are a bit quieter than usual. That’s because with most Vietnamese back in their hometowns, a lot of businesses will be closed. This includes restaurants, cafes, shops, and also some tourist attractions. It is a national holiday after all! 🤪

You’ll notice an eerie quietness in the air, and most main streets outside the main city centers will be pretty dead. It’s a bit like Christmas Day in the West, where most businesses are closed, and the streets are quiet… except that it lasts for about a week or two!

Now I say the streets will be dead, but I should clarify that right before tet, and right after tet, the streets will be anything but dead. In fact, they’ll be absolutely packed with cars and motorcycles, and traffic will be insane. Before tet everyone is rushing to get back to their hometowns, and then after tet everyone is rushing to get back to the cities!

So it’s important to realize that since a lot of businesses will be closed, and traffic may be an issue, you’ll need to plan ahead accordingly. Even simple things like buying potable water or getting some fresh pho or banh mi will be more difficult than usual, if not down right impossible in some areas.

That said, there are still some things worth seeing:

Tet decorations in the Hometowns

The residential streets will be decorated in various ways for Tet…

Hometown streets decorated

Hometown streets decorated

Hometown streets decorated

And you’ll see plenty of Quyt (kumquat) and (yet to blossom) Hoa Dao (peach flower) trees strapped to the backs of motorcycles, and on display on the streets…

Quyt tree

Decorated Hoa Dao tree

Important tip: while the kumquats on the quyt trees look ripe and delicious, they’re apparently sprayed with ungodly amounts of pesticides and are not safe to consume. So don’t eat them!

Tet decorations in the main cities

Probably like most major cities during holidays though, the tourist areas in the main cities will be nicely done up, and worth a visit…

Hoan Kiem decorations

Hoan Kiem decorations

Hoan Kiem decorations

Hoan Kiem decorations

So, should you visit Vietnam during Tet?

The reality is that it depends on what you’re looking for.

  • Looking for some quiet downtime away from the typical hustle and bustle of Vietnam? Then Tet is a great time to visit, assuming you’re not making your way into the cities during the mass exodus before and after Tet.

  • Looking for a party atmosphere, with lots of things to see and do, like a NYC Times Square-esque vibe during the holidays? Then make sure you’re in the main city center of the city you’re in-like Hoan Kiem in Hanoi and Bui Vien in Ho Chi Minh City.

In a nutshell, I’d say Tet can be a fun experience for the eve and day of, but it’s not something I’d recommend explicitly planning a trip for. The lack of open shops and amenities can be a bit of a pain, especially if you find yourself in need of something in a pinch.

Tet is probably best for some photo ops, and some partying on the eve of Tet.

So again, I wouldn’t recommend coming to Vietnam specifically for Tet, but if you’re already in Vietnam, then it’s worth checking out the main city centers on the eve of (lunar New Year’s eve), and possibly the day of Tet (lunar New Year’s day).

Otherwise, I’d suggest coming to Vietnam at another time of the year, when things are more lively, there’s more to see and do, and the pho and banh mi stands are back open again! 😂

What do you think?

Have you been to Vietnam during Tet? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,
michael 😀

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