Travel / Vietnam/Cambodia

Vietnam travels: tete-a-tete with the Tet holiday

Freshly baked by Fresh Bread (if that’s how one describes finally getting trip photos off one’s camera), here are your tips for travelling in Vietnam during Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival:

1. Don’t. Try not to time your trip with Tet if you can help it. Yes, it’s fun seeing all the preparations for Tet (such as motorbikes carrying peach trees for their blossoms in the north, and tubs of cumquat trees lining streets in the south) but:

a) As a (daytime) economist, I like graphs. The Vietnamese accommodation supply-demand graph is represented below for both normal state and the period leading up to and during the Tet holiday:

accommodation during Tet - Lunar New Year Vietnam

As you can see, it ain't pretty.

1.b) Tet is about reuniting with family, so many many businesses shut down. Want to revisit that amazing pho joint you found? Shutters drawn. Want to eat some of that street food you’ve become addicted to? Cart packed up, tarpaulined and padlocked, kindly Vietnamese grandmother nowhere to be seen.

Cumquat trees for Tet

Oh my god! Someone cast a spell on the street food vendors and turned them into cumquat trees!

2. Having said that, the last week of our holiday coincided with Tet and we survived:

  • Tourist restaurants and expat joints remain open. You will be able to eat!
  • In towns, enough businesses remain open to enable the functional running of a city. Your favourite Viet food haunt may have closed, but there’s always going to be another still open.
  • Buses and trains still run, but maybe not as frequently and you need to book ahead.
  • Definitely book your accommodation if you’re going somewhere smaller – the owner of the place we stayed in Mui Ne had to turn away so many walk-ins while we were there over 23-27 January – he actually took pity on some fellow Aussie travellers who arrived on the late bus while we were there and let them sleep in the linen closet for a night, no joke!

The week leading up to Tet is exciting as special Tet delicacies are sold at the market and everyone goes nuts over red and yellow flowers, red packets (like Chinese New Year) and treats such as candied cumquats with chilli (below). The cumquat trees you see everywhere in tubs also symbolise fertility and plenty for the family in the coming year.

Candied cumquat eaten at Vietnamese New Year

Sweet, sticky, and surprisingly fiery.

I thought this sweet was a taste sensation, although I’d stop at one; Mr Behemoth’s reaction was more of “awful, never-ending bitter burn, get it out of my mouth”. You can’t win ’em all – he couldn’t swallow it fast enough!

Other foods prepared for special occasions such as Tet which we tried are sticky rice parcels with pork and green bean on the inside. These are sold wrapped in a banana leaf and tied in numerous different ways, signifying their filling to those in the know. To eat it, we were told you cut slices off the log and fry them to get a crispy outer exterior – place between two layers of crispy rice cake and dribble some chilli sauce on – divine.

Banana leaf wrapping for sale in the market

Some intense negotiation going on here re: wrapping for Tet packages of deliciousness

There are a few other traditions during Tet – like Chinese New Year, unmarried people get red packages (I wish this was my cultural tradition!) and there are auspicious things like the first person to cross your door in the new year (except I can’t remember what type of person you need to be lucky, I’m pretty sure it’s not a red-headed foreigner though) and honouring the ancestors with incense and offerings – we saw this out the front of quite a few shops in Hoi An, actually.

I’m definitely not an authority on Tet. I only know what I picked up as I went along during this trip. If you’d like to read more about it, there’s always everyone’s favourite source that they’re not allowed to reference; and this is an informative post from the Traveldudes blog.

Chuc mung nam moi! Enter the Dragon!!

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