A season filled with red envelopes, dragon dances, and almost empty streets. The Lunar New Year is the most awaited time of the year for the Vietnamese people. And contrary to popular belief and to western traditions, this time of year is actually the most peaceful and the quietest time of the year because everyone (and by everyone we mean EVERYONE), goes back to their hometowns to gather and spend time with their families, their relatives, and their ancestors.
Hanoi, the capital city, almost looking completely abandoned within days, roads without the usual chaotic traffic, the deafening silence covering the whole town, and the smooth spring breeze is the only thing that’s asking to be heard, it’s almost impossible to imagine the scenario, but it definitely does happen every single year. With days prior to the big day and when everyone starts packing, buying cakes, preparing all the food that needs to be cooked, lanterns, lucky charms, and all sorts of items that they believe will bring luck to every single member of the family in the upcoming year, as a visitor, what is there to do exactly during this yet rather pleasant festival?
Hit the Tet Markets
The most exciting part of the Lunar New Years in Vietnam is spending time at the market since most shops are covered in either gold or red color, mostly in the form of lanterns, paper envelopes, displays, other traditional ornaments that locals use for weeks throughout the first lunar month and sometimes the whole year, depending on the family’s tradition.
During the preparation days, hundreds and even thousands of locals flock the markets to buy whatever they need or want for the upcoming homecoming. And this is something you’d like to experience yourself, the joy of walking around the streets of Hanoi filled with local people who are all in the holiday mood and as excited as they can possibly be. So, remember how you lucky you are to be here at this point, as this only happens once a year.
Another tradition Vietnamese people go crazy about, especially in the northern region, is the part where each family buys kumquat plants and miniature trees, which symbolizes a fruitful welcome to the family’s new year. As a tourist, the most interesting thing for you to experience aside from witnessing these locals hoarding the flower markets with these plants, is probably the way on how they transfer all of those huge pots from one place to another on a back of their tiny motorbikes.
Wear Something Red
Asia’s luckiest color, red is the number one shade in the far east. And It’s no different in Vietnam, where at least 99 per cent of the country’s population celebrate the Lunar New Years. And for all its worth, as a foreign visitor, it is also highly advised for you to wear something red during the festivities, as this will show not only respect for the locals you’ll encounter during your stay, but will also show that you have the courtesy to welcome their beliefs regardless of what your religion is and what you stand for, making it a more harmonious environment for you and the rest of the community.
Join the New Year’s Event
One thing people look forward to every year is the concert that some sponsor companies organize for the families and tourists to enjoy, especially for those people who can’t be with their loved ones on the biggest night in the country. These events are filled with interactive activities, singing and dancing performances from famous local artists, select bands, some games with prizes, a live DJ, and of course, the countdown itself all while selling their beer bottles and cans from strategic corners of the event area.
For a big city like Hanoi, the event is normally done around Hoan Kiem Lake, which is basically the central gathering part of the city center. Crowds and crowds of Vietnamese and foreign pedestrians, both young and old, gather around the center stage and wait for the countdown to happen and witness the spectacular fireworks that are only implemented by the local authorities.
Just a reminder though when attending these public events during Tet Holidays to always look after your belongings while walking and keep your possessions as safe as possible to avoid pickpockets, which may happen at any point of the event. If you have kids with you, make sure that you carry them or hold their hand while walking as they can get lost in the sea of crowd. Generally, it is safe enough that you don’t have to worry about getting into a stampede or any violent incidents as Vietnamese people are less likely to be aggressive with one another on this very day.
Enjoy the Quiet Streets
With a total population of about eight million people throughout the central and suburban districts of Hanoi, an estimated 5.2 million motorbikes, and where traffic congestion is quickly becoming a big issue, the Lunar New Years is considered the quietest time of the year. Which means, this is the perfect time for you to go out and enjoy the surroundings, explore the 36 streets that make up the Old Quarter, be amazed with the historical wonders of the architecture that make up the French Quarter, experiment on the local street food, take photos of the city at its most tranquil days, actually enjoy the fresh winter-spring breeze, and walk freely in the middle of the roads without having to worry about getting run over by a car or a motorbike.
The quiet days, usually starts on the very first day of the Lunar calendar, are also the most ideal time for you to reflect on your travels or whatever it is that you’re going through at the moment. Whether you want to express it while writing in your journal at a café whilst looking out onto the streets or by doodling on your sketchpad while sitting on a bench in front of Hoan Kiem Lake, it is important that you take this time as well for yourself as it only happens a few days in a year. Hanoi, no matter how chaotic it could be on normal, yet rather mundane days, can also be as charming and quaint as a quiet town that it has ever been for generations since its inception.
Tips & Important Reminders
Now that we’ve provided you with pointers on how to celebrate Vietnam’s number one holiday, we would also like to remind you that most businesses across the country are closed during these times and might find it difficult to schedule and plan your trip according to your ideal itinerary.
Since most locals go home for the holidays, expect most public attractions such as museums and galleries to be closed for a few days. Expect buses, flights, and train tickets to be fully booked as well. Restaurants, cafés, shops, and even some hotels are also closed for the holidays. The establishments that remain open will add extra charges for their services, so it’s good to anticipate prices to go higher than usual. It is always best to book everything at least a month or a few weeks before your arrival to avoid hassles during your trip.