We booked a week-long trip to Vietnam with no travel plans and knowing it would be Tet in a few days. And this is what happened.
We were in Vung Tau for days before Tet, a city that we’d never discovered before. It was a delight to see a different side of Vietnam: the streets were so lively and colorful. People were carrying home flowers on their motorbikes and kumquat trees placed outside hotels and restaurants decorated for Tet. Visiting the flower markets days before Tet was a wonderful experience. Wholesalers and market stalls were stocked with every kind of flower and fruit plants for the Vietnamese to take home for their family celebrations.
The whole country was getting ready for the most important time of the year.
What is Tet
Tet is Vietnam’s biggest festival celebrated on the first day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar. For the Vietnamese, Tet is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve all rolled up in one. It is a time to return home to families and celebrate the year ahead. This year the celebration start from February 5th lasting 7 days.
Vendors preparing flowers to sell at Quang Ba Flower market in Hanoi.
Children receive red envelopes for Tet festival.
We arrived in Vung Tau after two days in HCMC, expecting to find accommodation easily. Like our previous trips to Vietnam, we hardly made concrete plans and usually booking at the last minute as our trips often ran smoothly.
Not this time. It seemed the good hotels were filling up quickly before I could click the book button or the budget ones were priced as 4-star hotels! Sure, hostels were an option, but not a desirable one.
Reaching out to a local friend for help, Lucy, fortunately, knew a friend who owned a small hotel in the city and we were in luck!
Night View of Vietnam street during Tet Festival
What we did
Sure most places were closed, but there were still things to do. Vung Tau is a beach city which meant we had the beach almost to ourselves. The sea breeze, fresh seafood, and a mellow seaside vibe was the perfect getaway from chaotic Ho Chi Minh City. We managed to visit some temples and pagodas days after Tet which was packed out!
Days before Tet, locals buy banners and charms to decorate their homes for the Tet festival.
Traveling during this time can be a pain After three days in Vung Tau, we decided to head to Mui Ne another beach destination for the remaining days of our trip. To our surprise, accommodation was scarce and expensive, and bus tickets were only available in the morning at the bus station. We did end up securing seats to Mui Ne after an hour of queuing, but getting back to HCMC was also a pain. We tried to book bus tickets as soon as we reached Mui Ne for our journey back to Hcmc. Hotels and travel agencies were no help. Even taxis were hard to come by or too ridiculously overpriced.
Luckily, upon checking out of our hotel in Mui Ne we heard that there were some buses going to a bus station in another city 1hr away from Mui Ne, where we could purchase seats back to Ho Chi Minh City. This meant we were able to get back in time for a night of shopping before taking our flight back home the next morning.
If I had done a little research, I’m sure our trip would have gone more smoothly. I would have enjoyed relaxing at the beach more without having to worry about how I’d get back on time. For a country that I have traveled many times before, Tet really got me by surprise. Would I travel to Vietnam during Tet again? Not a chance.
While the Vietnamese festival is a joy for the country, it does not come without difficulties for travelers. Fortunately, this year’s Tet celebrations will last from 4th-10th February and if you do not mind four to five days of downtime in your schedule, traveling to Vietnam during Tet might be enjoyable.
We were surprised to find some street food eateries still open in Vung Tau days after the Tet festival.
If you’re keen on traveling during this time or have already booked your flights, here are some tips.
Plan and book your Vietnam tours early before they sell out. Booking one to two months before is deal. Travel agencies charge double for tours booked a few days before.
Traveling from A to B
Before and after Tet, getting transport is difficult, but not impossible. Plan your journey in advance as far as you can. Journeys that take 1hr can take 2 to 3 hours. If everything books out be prepared to try other alternatives like finding other bus stations or travel agents far from where you’re staying.
Book hotels Asap. You’ll enjoy low prices, have more choices and it’s one less thing to worry about.
Most tourist sites are closed during Tet, so it’s ideal to plan your itinerary accordingly: visit the museums and such just before or after Tet, and relax or walk around Hanoi Old Quarter or go sunbathing in beaches during Tet.
Dine at hotel restaurants. For travelers, dining at hotel restaurants is usually the only option since most restaurants are closed. Of course, you can find street stalls and eateries operating after Tet.
Get currency exchange at the Airport. These days you’ll get the best rates at the airport! Hotels and jewelry shops (if open) are options but the exchange rate might be less than favorable.
Be careful when bargaining
The Vietnamese are a superstitious bunch believing at this time of year that any “unlucky signs” could bring financial losses for the year ahead. Therefore bargaining with vendors during Tet can be unlucky!
Avoid Touristy places
Huge crowds are expected in Vietnam’s top tourist destinations. Travel fever will spread from the southern island of Phu Quoc to the mountainous town of Sa Pa up north ahead of the holiday, which will eventually peak in mid-February.
These places also include Hoi An, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Mui Ne, and Ha Long Bay. If you plan on going there, make sure you already have a hotel booking!
With careful planning and if you’re flexible, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time in Vietnam during Tet.
Have you ever traveled to Vietnam during Tet? How did you feel? We’re glad to hear your stories and the experiences of the trip in the comments below.
You also might like to read the travel guide posts below.
First timers to HCMC
Hoi An travel guide
Vietnam Itinerary ideas
Hanoi Travel Guide