Chuc Mung Nam Moi is the traditional way of wishing people a Happy New Year in Vietnamese. Tet in Vietnam is the single most important holiday of the calendar year. This is the Vietnamese New Year and follows the lunar calendar making it a moveable festival. In 2019 Tet falls on February 5th, but the festivities start on January 31st. Its full title is Tet Nguyen Dan meaning “The Feast of the First Morning of the First Day.” Judging the exact day is a little complicated for Westerners as it is the same day as Chinese New Year unless there is a one-hour time difference between the two countries, the result of the new moon appearing on different days.
City live during Tet in Vietnam
This is a time for families to get together and the large cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City will almost empty as millions leave to travel back to the family villages. Tet in Vietnam provides an interesting time to be in the big cities. It is wonderful to see the cities how they must have been years ago before the millions of motorbikes took over.
Families all get together and special meals are cooked, like dried bamboo soup and sticky rice. The famous Tet cakes are hugely popular. It is customary for visits to be made to family homes for ancestral prayers and the giving of ‘lucky money’, especially to children. Houses are cleaned meticulously in the week leading up to the festival. Sweeping is considered to be unlucky, during Tet. The first day of the holiday is reserved for the immediate family. Children, wearing new clothes, will receive their lucky money envelopes from their elders. Day two is often set aside as a time to visit friends, whilst on the third-day people will normally visit their old school teachers, who command great respect in Vietnamese society.
Flowers play a great role in Tet in Vietnam. Impromptu flower markets are set up all over the place for people to buy the yellow apricot blossoms and other favorites. Huge flowering shrubs are seen being carried on the backs of motorbikes all over the country.
Economical Effects of Tet in Vietnam
During Tet in Vietnam, money is everywhere to be seen: children getting red envelopes; employees getting extra salaries; gambling is seen on the streets; and people paying for their annual trips home. It is ironic therefore that for a lot of businesses, money is in short supply. There is always an annual spike in inflation at this time as people cash in on the urge to splurge.
This is not necessarily the best time to come on holiday here as most hotels will be operating a skeleton staff, providing less of service whilst at the same time charging inflated rates. Imagine Christmas in the West or Thanksgiving in America and multiply it by about 500%. If you need a doctor at this time, good luck! Trains will stop running and even some hospitals will close. Tet is so important to every day Vietnamese that woe betides any business that tries to prevent their staff from taking a holiday. Tet 2019 will probably be slightly less disruptive than previous years. In some recent years, for example, there have been huge disruptions as the holiday seemed to go on for two weeks. In 2019 it is just 5 days as Tet starts on a Monday. So people will finish work as normal on Friday and return a week the following Monday.
The tourism industry is not hit as hard as other sectors as most hotels and associated businesses will stay open, albeit with skeleton staffing. International trade, however, is hit harder. For years there have been social network discussions arguing the case of bringing the two New Years holidays in Vietnam, together, making it more modern. Those in favor argue the economic case, those against the traditional and cultural one. Carlyle Thayer, the well-known expert of Vietnam, is a firm believer in keeping both festivals. He argues not just the cultural and historical arguments but also maintains that Vietnamese living abroad, get the chance to bring their culture to their adopted country, thus promoting Vietnam.
The government repeatedly try to keep Tet in Vietnam smaller and more simple, but the people push against this all the time. It is a very interesting dynamic. In 2017 there were fewer fireworks than normal and government officials were ordered not to bring gifts to their superiors.
Ho Chi Minh City During Tet
Here in Ho Chi Minh City, the center becomes almost like a ghost town. Most of the stores and shops are closed as are many restaurants and some bars. All of the banks will be closed. Traffic completely disappears which presents a glorious opportunity if you have a motorbike. Riding around the central business district, traffic free, is a rare experience these days. Museums remain open for the most part, whilst all government buildings will be closed.
The main tourist areas operate close to normal but often with reduced staff and opening hours. Banh Thanh Market closes its doors at noon on February 4th and reopens on the 6th. Though there will be stalls operating around the perimeter walls.
Travel During Tet in Vietnam
Travel in the country at this time of year can be incredibly stressful. It is best to avoid the airports and bus terminals during the start of the holidays. As Tet Eve falls on a Monday this year (February 4th) It is safe to presume that for the entire weekend starting on Friday 1st, enormous numbers of people will be traveling throughout the country. The domestic terminals at Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City airports resemble something of a football crowd and flights can even get delayed as passengers struggle to get through the check-in process.
Even International flights get busy as many expats take the opportunity of the long holiday to either visit their families or simply take a holiday elsewhere.
The bottom line here is that Tet in Vietnam takes precedence over anything else. It is of huge importance to the Vietnamese people. If you work at the company here, just accept the holiday and enjoy yourself. If you are running a company, accept the fact that your business will close for a week, your staff will return to their places of birth to spend time with their families and they will be expecting a Tet bonus, often in the form of an extra month’s salary. It is a happy time also, the country is awash with colorful floral displays, people are even more friendly than usual and it’s a great time to be here. Enjoy!
About the Author
Following a highly successful 25-year career as a singer/songwriter and musician, Keith pulled out of the rat race and moved to Southeast Asia in 2008. First living in Thailand, he moved to Cambodia and then relocated to Ho Chi Minh City in early 2013.
Keith has had work published in magazines and websites in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia, and Asia. He has written for the BBC and has appeared on TV and radio in many different countries. His great loves are music and travel, but he writes on a whole range of subjects.