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Lunar New Year Expresses the Charm of Vietnam

Traveling in Vietnam during lunar new year cultivates distinct travel experiences in this South East Asian country.

Tet Holiday in Saigon 2023 - displays flowers in the Nguyen Hue Walking Street in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

A Glimpse of Vietnam's Tet Holiday

Taking place within late January and early February, Tet Nguyen Dan, or simply Tet, starts on the first day of the lunar year. Tet celebrates the beginning of spring, but the preparations are normally included in the festivities.

Tet Holiday 2024 falls on the 10th of February. 2024 is the year of the dragon.


Sights and sounds of Tet Holiday in HCMC last year


Tet Holiday experience post COVID

After all the lock downs and stringent  travel restrictions the past years due to the pandemic, I flew to Ho Chi Minh City last year to satisfy my travel itch. When I arrived in HCMC, I came across Vietnam's lunar new year tradtions.

During this time, travel restrictions due to the pandemic are only starting to be relaxed. I had to prepare some travel requirements to ensure I can enter Vietnam with no hassles.


2023 was the year of the cat

While in other parts of the world 2023 was the year of the rabbit, in Vietnam, Year of the Cat was celebrated

Year of the rabbit is year of the cat in Vietnam


I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City two days before the Lunar New Year. At this time, people were busy preparing for Tet. Saigon residents are starting to leave the city to unite with their families back in their provinces. 



Sunrise at Saigon River

Early morning view of Saigon River


A new year, a fresh start

Days ahead of the lunar new year, people clean their houses to remove any bad luck that may be lingering around. Debts and disputes are settled, borrowed things are returned.  Like the western new year, it aims to set the tone of the new year

In the Philippines, we also give homage to the “Chinese New Year”. This is why I was not that surprised on what I have seen around Saigon, like dragon dances at commercial establishments. 

Nonetheless, it is nothing like it compared how they celebrate the lunar new year in Vietnam. I enjoyed the colorful decorations as every house and building I have seen are accessorized, making each corner of the city pleasing to the eyes.


Lunar new year in Book Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


I have witnessed some Vietnamese traditions they practice on Tet Holiday, which I enumerated below.


Our Vietnamese friends decorate their premises 

A decoration in a hotel lobby in district 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam during the lunar new year

A decorated hotel lobby in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City


The most prominent thing you would notice are the decorations. You will see chrysanthemums, orchids, peach blossom trees, kumquat trees and other colorful plans. Decorations everywhere creates a more festive feeling.


People prepare and serve traditional food 

Sticky rice cake

Banh Chung, or sticky rice cake is a must-have on Tet.


For the Vietnamese, Banh Chung, or sticky rice cake is a must-have on Tet. 

According to Vietnam Online, the origin of Banh Chung can be traced way back in the Hong Bang Dynasty,  where the emperor held a cooking contest for his 21 sons to determine who will be on the next throne to take his place.

It seems that Banh Chung is the closest equivalent to what we Filipinos know as "Tikoy"



Lucky Money is given to children

Vietnamese give red envelopes, or what they call “Li Xi”. Typically this contains a small amount of money given to children as a wish of good fortune for the new year.

This is like what Filipinos know as “ang pao” which is given as a gift during special occassions.

Lucky money in red envelope

A Li Xi decoration in Book Street, Ho Chi Minh City



Most Vietnamese travel out of the city

Tet holiday is primarily a time with family. During lunar new year, people who live in Saigon come home to their hometowns in the provinces for reunions with family and friends. Some travel locally to make the most of the holiday.

Preparations like buying new clothes, getting a haircut and cleaning houses leading to the Lunar New Year are meant to attract good fortune for the upcoming year.


Festive mood

During Tet, Vietnamese people tend to splurge more. Usually the Vietnamese spend on food, clothes, house decorations, vacations, gifts to families and friends. They usually spend more money during these times. It’s like their way of celebrating after a year of hard work.

Closed roads in a Vietnamese city during Tet Holiday

People strolling around a closed road in District 1 in HCMC


Women usually dress up, usually with their Ao Dai, and have their photos taken alongside the beautiful decorations.


Vibrant Nguyen Hue Walking Street during Tet Holiday

Nguyen Hue Walking Street during Tet Holiday


Challenges of traveling to Vietnam during Tet Holiday

Since it is a holiday, services are limited and the majority of small businesses are closed which can cause inconveniences for tourists.


Transportation can be a challenge

Because locals go home to their hometowns, booking buses, trains or airlines from the cities can be difficult. I didn’t actually experience this as I only stayed in Ho Chi Minh City (except when I traveled to the Mekong Delta region, which is a packaged tour).

But according to Authentic-Asia’s blog about What to Know About Traveling During Tet Holiday in Vietnam, booking tickets for long trips can be difficult during Tet Holiday. If you do get to book one, the transportation can be overcrowded. I believe it would be best to avoid traveling long distances within Vietnam on days before the Tet Holiday.


Most restaurants and stores are closed

The most challenging part I personally encountered was that most restaurants are closed. But since I stayed in district 1, where most of the tourists in HCMC are, there are still restaurants operating and you can still find a familiar place to have a meal.

A street in Binh Thanh District during Tet Holiday

Empty roads, closed businesses in Tan Binh district


However if you plan to stay in other districts, looking for places to eat around can be difficult.


Sketchers, Adidas Golf and other stores that are closed during Tet Holiday along Hai Ba Trung Street, Vietnam

Shops along a main throughfare in Saigon are closed on the first day of the lunar year


If shopping in Vietnam is one of your plans, don’t do it during the Tet Holiday. 


Saigon Centre, a downtown shopping mall in district 1 where international brands are sold, is closed during the first day of the Lunar New Year. 

Saigon Centre during Tet Holiday in HCMC, Vietnam

Entrance of Saigon Centre


To the other side of the street is Saigon Square, where the "tiangge" stores are located. It was open but most stalls are closed.

Businesses operating during the holidays may also charge higher. 


Beauty of being in Saigon during Tet

If you ask younger locals, they would say being in Saigon during Tet can be boring. This is because most businesses are closed and the residents leave the city.

Be that as it may, the Tet Holiday could be a good opportunity for tourists to learn more about Vietnamese culture. The vibrant marigold blooms and other brightly colored flowers are everywhere in south Vietnam, ensuring that your stay would create colorful memories.


Yellow marigold flowers during spring in Saigon


Saigon, for the most part, is generally a very busy, crowded city. People who are not used to so much motorcycle traffic coming from different directions can potentially be culture-shocked with the chaos.

During Tet Holiday, the metropolis is less crowded. The hustle and bustle are toned down.


empty street in Saigon, Vietnam during Tet Holiday


Corner of Ngo Duc Ke and Dong Khoi street in Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon



Tet Holiday in Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta region, which is around 70 km southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, the houses are also decorated with colorful flowers and ornaments. 


colorful flowers sold in the streets in Vietnam


Most likely you will be coming from HCMC, and you will notice chrysanthemums and other flowers being sold along the highways.


store in mekong delta vietnam

A store in Mekong Delta


A popular attraction along the Mekong Delta are the floating markets. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, floating markets were closed and I was not able to see them during my visit. So if you want to see the floating markets in Mekong Delta, this is not the time to visit.


Traversing mekong delta river



Takeaways on the the Vietnamese Tet Holiday

Traveling to Vietnam during the Lunar New Year has its positives and negatives. Closed restaurants and shops can cause inconveniences. 

On the other hand, if you want to have an deeper insights of the Vietnamese culture, being in Vietnam during this time of the year will bring about great experiences and a greater degree of understanding on our Southeast Asian neighbor.

As a tourist, if you plan to visit Vietnam during Tet, I suggest you stay within the City Center to ensure there are services available near your area. During my stay in Saigon, I stayed in district 1, where most tourist attractions are located, so I did not have much difficulties in finding a place to have a meal.

The traditions of the Vietnamese people every lunar new year are good to practice. Cleaning houses prior to the holidays will give a revitalized home to welcome the new year. Who wouldn't want a refreshed living space every start of the year?

Vietnamese pay all their debts and return their borrowed items before the lunar new year. People avoid arguments and disputes, spreading only good vibes throughout the region. I am a big fan of clearing debts (especially the bad ones, immediately). Being debt-free brings peace of mind. 


Nice view from Saigon skydeck at dusk


These are all nice life habits to have for everyone, not only for the Vietnamese or South East Asians, but for every human being on this planet.




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