Looking for something different to do this Lunar New Year? Head to Vietnam and join the locals in celebrating their most important holiday, Tet
Lunar New Year is a time for families to get together, give thanks and feast to the good fortunes of the coming year. In Vietnam, the Vietnamese people celebrate their own version of this festival, known as Tet.
Considered the most important holiday for the Vietnamese, Tet, shortened from Tet Nguyen Dan, celebrates the start of the New Year according to the lunar calendar – the same time that Chinese New Year is celebrated in other parts of the world.
While it is one of the busiest times for traveling within Vietnam, if you can book ahead and afford some downtime during your holiday, it can prove to be an amazing opportunity to witness local customs and experience the festive atmosphere that is palpable in every corner of the country.
In the days leading up to Tet, there are many interesting things to do and see. Flowers are a hallmark of the festival and in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), the Binh Dong Floating Flower Market on District 8 comes to bloom during this time. Visitors will see tons of boats displaying an array of colourful flowers and plants on the river bank – a beautiful addition to one’s holiday photos. If you prefer a quieter place to take-in the splendour of flowers, head to Tao Dan Park on District 1. For a small entrance fee, you can enjoy a picnic with your loved ones amidst the beautiful flowers, plants and bonsai.
One of the most anticipated activities during Tet is the fireworks displays on the eve of New Year’s Day. Dam Sen Park is one of the seven sites in HCMC that hold an annual fireworks display, along with other activities like a street festival, parade, exhibitions and art performances. Meanwhile, Suoi Tien theme park ‘dresses up’ for the occasion with elaborate decorations as well as games or music shows put up especially for the holidays.
Of course, food forms the heart of any festival, and Tet is no different. One of the popular dishes of the season is Banh Chung or Chung cake – a square glutinous rice cake wrapped in green leaves and cooked with meat and beans – combining all the familiar and unique ingredients of the land. Other traditional dishes like pickled onions and jam made from dried fruits, carrots, coconuts and roasted seeds, also make their appearance on dinner tables at this time. While many establishments are closed during the holiday, visitors don’t have to worry about going hungry as there are still plenty of choices for food available in the cities.
As Tet is typically a private family affair, the best way to experience the festival like a true local is to stay with a local host family. If you are fortunate to be with one and experience the festival first-hand, there are a few local customs to be aware of:
- Like Chinese New Year, the Vietnamese too give out ‘ang paos’ in red envelopes during Tet. Come prepared with small change, even in your own currency. When receiving lucky money or gifts, accept with both hands as a sign of respect.
- Dress up in Ao Dai or any clothing that has a bright or vibrant colour. White or black/dark colours are usually not acceptable.
- Prepare a gift basket or cards for the head of the host family as a sign of goodwill.
- Wishes to family or friends should follow this simple guide: wish for health to the elderly, intelligence and happiness to the children, and prosperity and luck for the rest.
If you’re looking for a change of pace or a different perspective this Lunar New Year, then celebrating Tet in Vietnam may just be the answer. With Vietjet, the fast-growing Vietnamese airline, flying daily from Kuala Lumpur to Ho Chi Minh City, holidaying in Vietnam has never been easier.
Apart from HCMC, every city in Vietnam offers similarly interesting experiences with plenty of activities to keep any tourist occupied during the celebration of Tet. All it takes is a little bit of research and some planning ahead to enjoy an exciting and unforgettable journey into one of Vietnam’s most loved festivals.