When I first came to visit Vietnam, I ended up working in a hostel in Hanoi for almost half a year. In this job, I witnessed how many tourists and even English teachers and other expats made the poor decision to try traveling around during Tet.
Before we jump into how to survive Vietnam Tet holiday, let me walk you through what this Vietnamese public holiday is, why you need to know about it, and most importantly, how to get by during TET.
What is Tet Holiday?
Tet Holiday or also known as Lunar New Year or to some Chinese New Year is almost same as the “regular New Year” in those using the Georgian calendar. The difference is countries like Vietnam and China are following the calendar year based on the cycles of the moon.
Mostly, East and Southeast Asian are using or observing the Lunar New Year while countries in the South Asia and other Southeast Asia countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Laos, etc are following the solar cycle and have different days or dates to celebrate the “New Year”.
During the holiday, families gather, feast, and visit local Vietnamese temples together. There are also some special treats associated with Tet in Vietnam. Read all about them in our guide to the best Vietnamese snacks! Last but not least, there may be some interesting street processions and you can see locals wearing traditional Vietnamese clothing.
When is the TET Holiday or Lunar New Year
Tet Holiday or also known as Lunar New Year or to some, the Chinese New Year is almost the same as the regular “New Year” in those using the Georgian calendar. The difference in countries like Vietnam and China, they are following the calendar year based on the cycles of the moon.
Mostly, East and Southeast Asian are using or observing the Lunar New Year. At the same time, countries in the South Asia and other Southeast Asia countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Laos, etc. are following the solar cycle and have different days or dates to celebrate the “New Year”.
What to Expect During TET Holiday
Here are the things you should expect and remember before planning your trip to or out of Vietnam:
Closed for Business
As an expat or traveller, you should expect most businesses to be closed for business for the entire week. Often, companies that are in the tourism industry still operates to accommodate both locals and foreign tourists. This includes hotels, buses, airports, and trains.
Peak Season and Price Hike
During this holiday, you should also expect most hotels and transportation costs to be more expensive (30% higher) and are often already fully booked at least 3 weeks before the holiday starts.
Cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can be empty and quiet during this time because most locals go home to their provinces to celebrate with their family.
These big cities are actually quite lovely to be at during this time because it’s more peaceful, but at the same time, it will be no fun since you can’t enjoy local restaurants and cafes.
Traffic in big cities is much better. However, traffic in the small towns or provinces and places that are popular to the locals like Sa Pa, Da Lat, Ba Na Hills, and the beaches are hectic, and the traffic is crazy.
How to Survive Vietnam’s TET Holiday
Here are some tips for you to survive Vietnam TET holiday, regardless if you are a tourist or an expat here, one has to know about this holiday and how to minimise any possible hassle.
Plan your Trip
If you are planning to travel either within Vietnam or outside Vietnam, you have to plan your trip in advance. This holiday is jam-packed, everyone plans their journeys in advance, and you honestly don’t want to be standing in a bus station and have no idea where to go or even get any assistance anywhere.
Booked things in Advance
TET holiday brings most things and services at its peak. The prices of hotels get higher (about 30%) and fully booked 3-4 weeks in advance. Even bus tickets, flight tickets, and tours are fully booked and more expensive if you book them in the last minute.
Renew your Visa
Offices and many businesses are closed for operation during this time if you need to renew your visa, do this 1-2 weeks before your visa application or you will end up in a tight spot or the situation where you’d have to pay fees that are higher than usual.
ALSO READ: Ways to extend your visa
Banks will be closed for almost a week, while the ATMs will be working, it may run out of cash in the middle of the TET holiday. While it will take lots of extra effort to find anyone or any place who’s willing to do money exchange.
Minimise your Activities
Due to the businesses being closed, it will already minimise the things you can do. However, TET holiday also brings many locals all over the countries and outside the country, which will cause significant traffic in the major highways and small towns.
If you are planning to do something during this time, you probably should have it done a few days before the holiday to avoid getting stuck in the traffic or wasting your time for not being able to do any of your errands.
Do your Grocery
Even doing groceries has to be planned a week before TET. Beers, meat, vegetables, especially fruits, become expensive during this holiday. Not to mention the size of the crowd in the grocery store will make you feel like it’s the worst day in the world. In the US, it’s like shopping during Black Friday and the day before Christmas and New Year’s eve.
While the stores might open in three days after the beginning of the holiday, there’s a chance they will be low on stocks on many things and will take a few days to fill up the shelves again.
Avoid the Post Office
If you are expecting to send or receive anything during this week, it’s probably not a great plan. Rumour has it that trying to retrieve a package will cost you fees that are not on the book and can be very costly.
If you plan to receive any package, make sure to have it sent 4 weeks before TET holiday or have it posted after the holiday.
Sending packages is also a pain, if you are planning to send it a week before TET holiday, it can get stuck in the customs and most likely get lost. So, either send the package 3 weeks before or after the holiday.
Prepare TET Money
Have you seen those tiny red envelopes with some gold marks and texts outside of it? Those are “li xi” which is what it’s called in the south of Vietnam and “tien mung tuoi” for locals from the north. In English, these are called “lucky money” or “lucky money envelope”.
Vietnamese have this tradition of handing out these envelopes to young kids for luck on the New Year’s Day. It is a symbol of sending luck and wishing the kids for a healthy and delightful year ahead.
You probably shouldn’t worry about this, however, if you live in an apartment or compound and a local kid knock on your door, it might appear rude to not have any red envelope ready. While giving money without the envelope might also be seen as inappropriate.
The best thing to do is to buy some red envelopes, put some crispy notes and have it ready in case someone comes by your place.
You have to know that TET holiday is an old tradition that is practised religiously and culturally. It is important to remember to be respectful to everyone regardless of your belief.
We hope that you find this post useful and now you know how to survive Vietnam TET holiday like local. If you have any questions or to add on this post, we’d love to hear them on the comment section below.