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Should I Travel to Vietnam During Tet?

Julie Vietnam 22 Comments

Our family spent almost one month in Vietnam, giving us plenty of time to watch as the Vietnamese people celebrated their most important holiday, Tet.  Tet is the Lunar New Year for Vietnam and falls on the same day as the Chinese New Year. For the Vietnamese, Tet is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve all rolled up in one.  It is a time to return home to families and celebrate the upcoming new year.  For us, it was a wonderful experience to be in Vietnam for the duration of Tet.

This post was updated May 2017.

What is Tet?

Tet, shortened from Tet Nguyen Dan, is the most important holiday in Vietnam.  It marks the arrival of spring, falling in the months of January and February.  It is a time to forget about past troubles and hope for a better upcoming year.  Since many people return home for the holiday, busy cities can become almost like ghost towns during the main day of celebration.

Preparations for Tet begin two weeks before the arrival of the New Year.  Houses are cleaned, new clothes are bought, and debts are paid off, all done to have a fresh start to the upcoming year.  Markets become busy as food is bought for family reunions and special, extensive meals are cooked.  This is also a time to buy flowers, such as peach blossoms, kumquat trees, and chrysanthemums.  For tourists, this is a great time to be in Vietnam.  Everyone is in a very festive spirit and the streets are filled with flowers.

Should I travel to vietnam during tet

New Year’s Eve has a party like atmosphere.  Cities will launch fireworks, people will be making noise with gongs, bells, and firecrackers to ward any an evil or unlucky spirits nearby.

Tet lasts for a total of nine days and the first day of Tet is the most important.  Good fortune on the first day of Tet is very auspicious for the remainder of the year.  Vietnamese people believe that the first person to enter a household can determine that family’s fortune for the entire year.  Families may choose a person of good moral character and success to entire their house first.  Then, for several days after the New Year, families and friends pay visits to each other.  About for days after the start of the New Year, towns and cities start to come back to life as people return to work and their homes.

Flowers for Tet

Kumquat TetFlowers are very important decorations for Tet.  Which flowers are used depends on location in Vietnam.

All over Vietnam the most popular plant we saw was the kumquat tree.  Countless times we saw men carrying kumquat trees on their motorbikes.  At times it looked like the tree was driving the motorbike with just arms and legs sticking out of it.

In southern Vietnam we saw tons of yellow chrysanthemums.  Flower markets were erected in fields, in parking lots, and along the road, all of them selling potted chrysanthemums not much smaller than Kara.  These yellow flowers reminded me a lot of October back at home, only these were just five times bigger.

Peach blossoms are also very popular.  These trees are just starting to bloom and people would buy a branch to take home, their pink flowers filling the city streets.

In southern Vietnam the Hao Mai tree is very popular, having bright yellow flowers.  The amount of blooms on the tree is linked to how fortunate that family will be.

What is it like to be in Vietnam for Tet?

It may come as no surprise that I did a lot of research on this topic before traveling to Vietnam.  Numerous online travel sites warn travelers to avoid Vietnam during the season of Tet.  The large number of Vietnamese traveling home for the holidays makes finding space on buses, trains, and planes very difficult.  Then, for several days on either side of Tet, businesses and museums close.  I read that many restaurants also close which can make it very difficult for tourists to find meals.

We decided to take our chances and visit Vietnam regardless of these difficulties and looked at the bright side…what a great experience for our family to witness this important Vietnamese holiday.

Food for Tet

We started in southern Vietnam two weeks before Tet.  Businesses were open, markets were very busy as everyone was doing their shopping, and flower markets were just opening.  In Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City we watched as the first festivities began.  People were already making the pilgrimage home and this had an impact on visiting the floating market of Cai Rung.  What usually is a chaotic collection of boats and people buying and selling produce was instead very quiet and almost empty.  It was a little disappointing to miss the best floating market but that’s just the way it goes.

Mums on a Bike

In Hoi An and Hue we saw chrysanthemums everywhere.  There were so many flowers for sale I wonder how many were left over, still sitting in flower markets after Tet.  It was during this time, one week before Tet, that we began to see many more Tet decorations, red envelopes, and flowers for sale.

We were in Hanoi for Tet.  We arrived by plane from Hue several days before Tet, giving us a few days to do some sightseeing before the city closed down.  The four of us walked the streets of the Old Quarter, our favorite sight being the shops lining the roads selling decorations for Tet.  It felt like the few days right before Christmas when people are out buying last minute Christmas gifts.  People were happy and smiling and Hanoi really felt alive.

Lanterns for Tet

Most businesses close their doors the day before Tet and do not reopen until several days afterwards.  For us, than meant no more visits to museums (for Tyler and Kara this really was a great holiday!), shopping malls, or movie cinemas.  We were on our own to find things to do.  For us, this wasn’t a big deal.  We have our computers, our homeschooling and future trip planning, plenty to keep us busy.

Tet Fireworks Hanoi

At midnight at the start of Tet, the city of Hanoi launched a fifteen minute firework show over Hoan Kiem Lake.  We were able to watch the fireworks from the very small balcony of our hotel room.  It was awesome listening to everyone cheering and watching as the fireworks lit up the Hanoi skyline.  Once the fireworks ended the noise continued, as drivers were honking horns and people were out laughing, cheering, and celebrating.  Being in Hanoi for Tet was an awesome, festive experience.

For three days after Tet, Hanoi was very quiet.  The same streets that were packed with people, motorbikes, and shops just a few days ago had almost turned into a ghost town in some places.  Most shops and restaurants were closed, their garage style doors shut and locked.  Now there was room to walk on the sidewalks since they were no longer being used by motorbikes as a parking lot.  We saw a small number of Vietnamese people dressed up and heading off to family and friend’s houses, but mostly it was tourists like us, wandering the empty streets of Hanoi.  We loved it.

Hanoi during Tet

There was not much else to do other than wander the quiet streets, but at least there were restaurants open for business. It was nice to know that we weren’t going to starve for several days during Tet.  This is what I was most concerned about with being in Hanoi during Tet…finding food.  Fortunately, finding a good meal was easy!  There were still several Vietnamese cafes open as well as a number of western style restaurants.  We ate at Moose and Roo Pub and Grill, Gecko, JOMA Café, and Buon de la Cafe.  Finding food was easy and there was even a minimart near our hotel that was always open for business.

Hanoi after Tet

Should I Travel to Vietnam During Tet?

Tyler Kara Tet

Our family really enjoyed being in Vietnam during Tet.  We loved seeing people carrying home flowers and kumquat trees on their motorbikes, hotels and restaurants decorated for Tet, and we loved seeing how happy and excited the Vietnamese people were in anticipation of this holiday.

How often do you get to walk to streets of Hanoi when they are so quiet? 

Plus, the weather in Vietnam this time of year is very comfortable.  It is hot and dry in the south and cooler and overcast in the north.  In Hanoi, we awoke to cloudy, drizzly skies every morning but by the afternoon the skies had cleared up.  Temperatures were a pleasant 75 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night.

Traveling during this time does not come without its difficulties.  Trains and buses are sold out in advance so travel plans cannot wait until the last minute.  Hotels do not usually sell out since most Vietnamese travel home rather than stay in hotels, but it still helps to have your room booked in advance as well.  For up to five days museums and shopping areas can be closed which can really impact sightseeing plans, so make sure you have things to do to keep you occupied.

All in all, if you want to witness Tet celebrations in Vietnam and do not mind four to five days of downtime in your schedule, traveling to Vietnam during Tet is worth it.

Tips for Traveling During Tet

Make all travel arrangements in advance, especially those for one week before and one week after Tet.  Prior to Tet everyone is trying to get home, mostly by motorbike, bus, and train.  Planes are used less frequently since they are more expensive.  Be prepared for higher costs for travel at this time since there is a much greater demand for it.  Trains and buses may be overbooked, with people sleeping on mats in the aisles.  The worst days to travel are two days before Tet and three days after Tet.  Unless you have your own transportation, I would plan on staying put in one place during this time.  We arrived in Hanoi four days before Tet, giving us plenty of time to get in our sightseeing and to get to know the city before museums and businesses closed.

Tet Decorations

Do not plan on doing much for one to two days before Tet and for three days afterwards, as many tourist sites close during this time.  Stay in a hotel with a DVD player or download some movies on a computer or iPad so you have something to do if boredom sets in.  There are shops in Hanoi selling DVDs for as little as a dollar a piece.

Finding restaurants is not a problem.  What I was most concerned about turned out not to be an issue…where to eat.  Many restaurants catering to tourists remain open during Tet. It’s nice to know that after all of your wandering through quiet, city streets you will still be able to find a good meal.

Get out and celebrate!  Go shopping at the markets, buy Tet decorations to hang in your hotel room (they are so cheap), send “lucky money” home in red envelopes, join in the festivities around the city.  We loved walking around Hanoi before the fireworks and seeing how happy and excited everyone was.

Be ready to listen to ABBA.  Yes, ABBA.  The song that we heard over and over again before and after the New Years celebration was “Happy New Year” by ABBA.  By the way, we also heard a fair amount of Celine Dion and Britney Spears from the 1990’s.

Future Dates:
  • Tet in 2018: Friday, February 16
  • Tet in 2019: Tuesday, February 5
  • Tet in 2020: Saturday, January 25

In conclusion, all four of us enjoyed being in Vietnam for Tet.  It is a joyous time to be in this country and with enough planning and preparation, it can be an awesome experience.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi…best wishes for the New Year!

Should I Travel to Vietnam During Tet


Want to learn more about Vietnam? Check out our Vietnam Travel Guide.

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Comments 22

  1. Great blog! I’m excited about reading every your post. I’m Vietnamese so I suppose that you shouldn’t travel to Vietnam during Tet Holiday (Vietnamese Lunar New Year). Although you can see a strange scene of Hanoi (change from the hustle and bustle city to a tranquil city), it is very difficult for you to book some services like transportation, restaurants, etc.

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      Author

      We loved being in Vietnam for Tet. Transportation can be difficult or almost impossible for the several days around Tet, and attractions will be closed as well, but being in Vietnam for this holiday was a great experience for our family. To have a good experience, you just need to get into town a few days before Tet so transportation isn’t an issue. We had no problem finding restaurants that were open in Hanoi. I recommend being in Vietnam for Tet, as long as people don’t mind taking a few days to relax, not go anywhere, and enjoy the holiday. Cheers, Julie

  2. Hello Julie,
    I came across with your post when I was searching for specifically about going to Vietnam during Tet. I was planning to go to Vietnam either as my first stop or the last stop during my one-month trip (I plan to spend around 10 days in Vietnam). Reading your post, I think it might be better for me to visit Vietnam after or before Tet because I want more action and people in the streets, and I want to see the museums and travel between the cities more easily. My question is about the timing of Tet:) So if tet is on February 16th in 2018, and if it lasts for around 9 days, and if one week before and after is still bad, that means almost all of February is a bad choice for me? I was thinking of going there either in February 5 or around February 25th. But it seems like, it will be either one week before Tet or right the end of Tet. If I go there the first week of February, I am afraid it will be both too busy on the roads and very cold and misty in Halong Bay. If I go at the end, will I still be affected as much, considering I will begin in the south, then head up to north? I am really confused:) What would you advise?

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      Author

      From our experience, and the fact that you want to visit Vietnam without the “downtime” of Tet, I would recommend going on February 25th. About three to four days after Tet (around February 20th) normal activities resume in Vietnam. You should have no issues with sightseeing and transportation. However, if you traveled to Vietnam on the 5th, by the end of your stay, Tet would be in full swing, making it difficult for you to see the sights and travel on trains/buses/etc. Cheers, Julie

  3. I have a question about this that, if you read this and would be so kind as to answer it, I’d really appreciate it! We live in Taiwan, and because we have the same lunar new year holiday, we decided to go to Vietnam, even knowing it would be holiday mayhem there too. We arrive in Ho Chi Minh literally at midnight on January 28 2017 (so basically exactly on Tet, which may be why our ticket was so cheap).

    That day – the 28th – we could either book a hotel with a pool so if we could find nothing else to do at least we could go swimming, or we could try and leave the city on the 28th itself (Tet) and stay in one place during the craziest traffic days, visiting HCMC for real on our way back.

    What would you recommend? Is transport even operating on Tet itself (1/28) or is our decision made for us by buses, trains and planes not operating?

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      Author

      Hello Jenna. From what I read and what I saw while we were in Hanoi, things come to a halt on Tet and the two days afterwards. Sure, it is possible to find transportation, but it won’t be easy. I would book a hotel with a pool and stay in the city. Hanoi was a ghost town which made it so neat to explore. I would think the HCMC would be the same. If you know how to ride a motorbike, you could rent one when you arrive (your hotel can assist you with this), and use this to tour the city during the quiet days right after Tet. HCMC is usually jammed with motorbikes. I think it would be so cool to drive through those city streets when things are much quieter. Just an idea. Three days after Tet the city will come back to life, museums will open (but check their websites for accurate opening times), and you can start moving about the country. Have fun! – Julie

  4. Hi Julie,
    Have just read your post about being in Hanoi during Tet 2015.

    We will be in Vietnam for Tet 2017. Still not sure where to be for Tet as it is halfway through our travel time. Thinking HoiAn or Hue but now possibly we will do those first then be in Hanoi for Tet. Could go back to Saigon but a bit too much travel involved for that.

    My greatest concern, like you, is food! But you have allied my fears somewhat on that 🙂

    When you say ‘2 days before and 3 days after Tet” what is the TOTAL timeframe of Tet? We would be ok with 4-5 days in one place but up to 10 days would be a bit much for us.

    Thanks for any input you have and I enjoyed reading your blog.

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      Author

      Hello Paula,

      The “2 days before and 3 days after Tet” is the time frame when many things shut down: museums, transportation, some restaurants. You want to make sure you are settled a few days before Tet. For example, in 2017, if you are going to be in Hanoi, arrive by January 26 at the latest. I think getting here by January 25th is ideal, so you can see the city alive and hopping and decorated for the holiday. This will also give you some time to visit any museums or sites that may close for the holiday. For the first two days after Tet, the city will be very quiet. It’s a huge a transformation from the craziness in the days leading up to Tet. By February 1, the city will start to come alive again, and February 2 most places will start opening. That means you should plan to stay put in one place for 7 to 8 days, if possible. I have read that Hoi An is a good place to be during Tet, but since we were not there during Tet, I do not know what the food situation will be like. Wherever you go, just make sure you have your hotels booked and travel arrangements scheduled well in advance.

      Enjoy Vietnam. I would love to visit again during Tet. It is such an awesome experience.

      Cheers,
      Julie

  5. Pingback: Hoi An, Vietnam: A Surprising Must See For Authentic Vietnamese Culture – The free-spirited foreigner

  6. Hi Julie,

    Thank you so much for your post. You made my day.

    I am Vietnamese and I know quite well about the negative sides of Vietnamese tourism. In order to help tourists deal with those dark sides, I teamed up with a lovely British girl to write a Vietnam travel guide book (titled Vietnam: Paradise or Hell) which shares top tips how to enjoy the best of Vietnam. Then, you know, our book’s fan page is now full of visitors’ complaints, not against our book (as they had not read it yet), but against Vietnam. Nearly 100% of them said sth like “hell”, “never will I go back”. I feel so sorry for them and for everything that they had to suffer during the time in Vietnam.

    I am proud that Vietnam has so many beautiful spots and delicious dishes. But at the same time I feel ashamed of our weak and corrupt government and the fact that there are still so many people living in poverty. I think travelers should be aware of those 2 sides prior to their trip, and well-prepared to avoid annoying experience.

    Your post makes me happy, as I see how happy your family is. It’s incredible that you all can enjoy Vietnam even in Tet holiday, the worst tourist season of the year. I wish all travelers could have that spirit.

    And, I love this page because I could see some positive comments too. You’re all the best!!

    Giang Pham

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      Author

      Hello,

      We had a wonderful experience in Vietnam and have recommended it to friends and family at home in the US. We really enjoyed our 4 weeks in Vietnam. The people are friendly, the food is AWESOME, and we loved the places like Hoi An, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and more. Being in Vietnam for Tet was one of the highlights of our time here and we feel very fortunate to have been in Vietnam during this very festive season. – Julie

  7. Thank you for this wonderful article! We were told (mostly by locals in Vietnam) to park ourselves somewhere in Vietnam for Tet, and we were trying to make a decision between Hoi An or Hanoi (for Tet specifically; we would eventually hit both destinations). We chose Hanoi in part because of your blog post, and had a wonderful experience! We are still in Hanoi (for the month) & loving it. Sounds like you have had a fabulous experience traveling with your kids! Just love it. We are doing something similar. Will look at your website further. Take care!

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      Author

      Hello Cindy,

      Thank you for writing to us! I am glad we were able to help you out. Yes, we did have a fabulous experience and we can’t wait to start traveling again! Enjoy Hanoi…it’s such a cool city.

      Cheers,
      Julie

  8. Hi Julie,
    It’s lovely to read your experience about our Tet in Vietnam. I ‘m an oversea Vietnamese, this is my 6th Tet that I can’t go back home to celebrate it with my family, I miss it dearly. Most of information and advises in your artical are very accurate, and so helpful, I just would like to contribute some more useful information for the tourists who happen to be there during the Tet. The streets in the cities may be empty on the first few Tet days, but if you visit the sightseeing or entertainment parks, beaches, these places will be packed with and a lot of fun activities for local visitors, hence should be interesting experience for foreign tourists too, don’t worry about food, will be sold everywhere at the places, but would be a bit more expensive than usual. I’m from Saigon, will give you some places like Suoi Tien Park, Dam Sen Parks, Binh Quoi Village , The city Zoo, if you buy local tours to Mekong Delta, will be fun too, … Each city will have their own sightseeings for the local people, just ask around , Da Lat (many waterfalls) , Nha Trang , Mui Ne, Da Nang, Ha Long Bay…beautiful beaches…, I suggest you should buy some local tours where you are , there will be plenty to see during the Tet . Vietnamese peole are very friendly, if you could make friends and visit their families on the Tet days, they will be very happy to see you , you could be a sign of wealth and luck for them too :).
    The more I write about it , the more I want to go home !!!!
    Thanks again for your lovely writing about our Tet.
    Kim

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      Author

      Thank you for the information, Kim! I had to post about what a positive experience it is to be in Vietnam during Tet. So many travel sites warn people not to go and we totally disagree. For us, it was a fantastic experience. I am so sad not to be there this year!! – Julie

  9. Great post! I’ve been to Vietnam several times, but never for Tet. I had an idea what to expect, but your experiences gave me a much better idea. I’ll arrive this year on Feb 4, but am staying in one spot in Danang until well after Tet. Looking forward to it! I think it’s fantastic that you’re giving your children the opportunity to travel to all these wonderful places.

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      Author

      Thank you! We LOVED being in Vietnam for Tet. It was so cool seeing all of the decorations and watching people transport chrysanthemums and small trees for Tet on their motorbikes. Plus, we never knew that Da Nang is such a great place to visit. We needed an Italian fix and loved the restaurant Limoncello. Have fun!

      Cheers, Julie

  10. Thanks for this — I too booked a holiday without thinking about the Tet shut-down period. Do you remember seeing much (if any) street food the day before and during the first couple days of Tet? If so, where was it more concentrated — in the Old Quarter or around the lake where families were celebrating?

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      Author

      Hello Ashley,

      We saw a lot of street food in the Old Quarter of Hanoi before Tet. For two days after Tet, the city got very quiet. Many of the streets were empty. Many restaurants closed but enough stayed open that we had no trouble finding food. If you want street food, get it before Tet, this is your best chance. Even the lake got quiet, especially in the mornings.

      Enjoy being in Vietnam during Tet. I thought it was a fantastic experience…when else can you see Hanoi both so lively and then become almost like a ghost town?

      Cheers! Julie

  11. Hi Julie ! Thank you so much for your post. I had pre-booked my trip without knowing about Tet and after I got to know about it I was feeling so miserable. I’m glad to know that it would be so much of fun visiting the place during Tet.

    Now, am looking forward to my visit to Hanoi on the 8th 🙂

    Keep writing & sharing your lovely experiences. Much luv !

  12. Hello Julie, your post was very timely! This morning our tour guide (for our upcoming trip to Vietnam –March 4) called us from Saigon. He told us that this was his first day back to work after Tet. They enjoyed the holiday with their families. His dad fought in the war with the South Vietnamese army and his father-in-law was a Viet Cong soldier. He now has two sons, 4 and 6 yrs. old, and the families have put the past behind them and are looking to a bright future for these children. He also said his mom babysat during the holidays and she said that it was easier to take care of a water buffalo than his two little boys! So, from your wonderful blog, everything he talked about was familiar to us. Thank you so much! We are very excited now for our trip to begin. Continue to enjoy your travels!

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      Author

      Have a wonderful trip! One of my favorite things was eating Pho soup every morning for breakfast. We loved the Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon as well as the coffee shops on every street corner. Hopefully you have plans to go to Hoi An and Ha Long Bay, our two favorite places in Vietnam. Let us know how it goes! -Julie

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