Vietnam Country Guide

Holidays & Festivals

By far Vietnam's largest holiday of the year is Tet, a celebration of the Lunar New Year between late January and March. In the period leading up to Tet, the country is abuzz with preparations. Guys on motorbikes rush around delivering potted tangerine trees and flowering bushes, the traditional household decoration. People get a little bit stressed out and the elbows get sharper, especially in the big cities, where the usual hectic level of traffic becomes almost homicidal.
In the major cities, streets are decorated with lights and public festivities are organised.
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A few days before Tet, the pace begins to slow down, as thousands of city residents depart for their ancestral home towns in the provinces. Finally on the first day of the new year an abrupt transformation occurs with the city's streets, becoming quiet and almost deserted. Nearly all shops and restaurants close for three days during the festival, with the exception of a few catering especially to foreign visitors and hotels operate as usual.

Flowers for Tet by Nguyen Dung Tien

For many Vietnamese, Tet is mostly a private family celebration. On the eve of the new year, families gather together and exchange good wishes (from more junior to more senior) and gifts of "lucky money" (from more senior to more junior). In the first three days of the year, the daytime hours are devoted to visiting houses of relatives on the first day, closest friends and important colleagues on the second day and everyone else on the third day. The evening hours are spent drinking and gambling (men mainly) or chatting, playing, singing karaoke, and enjoying traditional snacks and candy (women and children.)

Visiting Vietnam during Tet has its good points and bad points. When visiting during Tet, it's wise to get settled somewhere at least two days before the new year and don't try to move again until a couple of days after.

  • On the minus side, transport are jammed just before the holiday as many Vietnamese travel to their home towns. Hotels fill up (especially in smaller towns) and your choice of shopping and dining is severely limited during the first days of the new year. In Saigon, most shops are closed for a whole week and restaurants that stay open may charge higher prices.
  • On the plus side, you can observe the preparations and enjoy the public festivities. Temples are especially active and no admission fee to museums and historical sites that stay open. Visitors also stand a chance of being invited to join the festivities, especially if you have some local connections or manage to make some Vietnamese friends during your stay.

Decorations for Tet by Dragfyre

Other Holidays
Lesser holidays include the traditional socialist Labor Day on May 1 and Vietnam's national day on September 2. King Hung celebration (commemorating past kings) is on April 12 and Liberation Day (marking the fall of Saigon in 1975) is celebrated on April 30. Around these holidays, trains and planes tend to be sold out and accommodations at the beach or in the highlands of Dalat are hard to find. Best to book far in advance during these periods.

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