Traveling in Vietnam During Tet: Everything You Need to Know
Tết marks the first day of the Lunar New Year in Vietnam. Celebrations last for one week, but Vietnamese people start preparing weeks in advance for the biggest holiday in Vietnamese culture. The country goes all out with huge displays and beautiful decorations. For locals, Tết is a time to celebrate with family and friends. For travelers, it’s a unique opportunity to experience a special cultural moment, but it also comes with a few challenges if you don’t know what to expect in advance.
If you’re traveling in Vietnam during Tết, here’s the complete guide to celebrating the Lunar New Year without any travel issues.
What is Tet?
Tết is short for Tết Nguyên Đán, which means “feast of the first morning of the first day.” It’s the first day of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, marking the beginning of a new lunar calendar year. Although Tết only marks the first day of the year, the New Year is celebrated for a full week. It’s filled with cultural traditions and customs, food, flowers, paying respects to ancestors, and time with family.
Why is Tet so important in Vietnam?
Tết is incredibly important in Vietnamese culture because “it marks the beginning of the New Lunar Year, the start of spring, and the official birthday of everyone in Vietnam.” It’s also about good luck, fortune, and happiness. Many of the customs are meant to bring about these three things for the rest of the year. People practice good behavior, and you’re not supposed to sweep during the first three days or you’ll sweep the good luck out of your house. Lastly, Tết is a time of reunion, where families and friends gather together to wish each other well.
What do people do on Tet?
As Tết approaches, Vietnamese people start traveling to their hometown for the holiday. Markets and shops are busy with everyone out buying food, clothing, and decorations for the holiday. Families prepare for the New Year by thoroughly cleaning their house and family altar. There’s also a lot of cooking that happens, as there are many special foods that are eaten for Tết, such as bánh chưng (a sticky rice cake filled with pork and mung bean) and chả lụa (Vietnamese sausage).
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, children receive red envelopes stuffed with cash and people dress in new clothes. The subsequent days are filled with visiting extended family and friends, eating traditional food, and exchanging gifts.
When is Tet?
Tết typically occurs in January or February, depending on when the first day of the Lunar New Year falls. This year, Tết takes place on Saturday, February 10, 2024.
How many days does Tet last?
Tết is technically the name for the first day of the Vietnamese New Year. However, it’s also often used to refer to the entire New Year celebration, which lasts for seven days. For 2024, Tết runs from February 10 to February 17.
Is it worth visiting Vietnam during Tet?
Whether visiting Vietnam during Tết is worth it depends on your expectations and what you enjoy when traveling. If you love immersing yourself in a different culture, experiencing their holidays, and don’t mind having a few quiet days, being in Vietnam during this time is going to be a lasting travel memory. If you’re trying to make the most of your time and prefer to not have your plans interrupted, then skip Vietnam or visit during another time.
When I visited Vietnam, I didn’t realize that I was going to be here during Tết, but I embraced it. In the days leading up to the Tết festival, I made sure to figure out where I was going to be during that time and booked my transportation as soon as possible.
The impact of Tết was minimal on my plans. Because I booked my bus from Tam Coc to Hue six days before Tết, the price was more expensive although not outrageous. I also stayed in Hue for one or two extra days to account for the days where pretty much everything would be shut down. I left Hue the day after Tết, which wasn’t a problem. I was able to easily find a bus to my next destination, and as expected, it cost a bit more than it would normally have. Overall, it was an enjoyable but quiet time where I got to see the Lunar New Year festivities and walk through empty streets.
Does Vietnam shut down during Tet?
During Tết, most businesses shut down so that everyone can travel home and celebrate with loved ones. Tourist attractions, shops, and most restaurants will definitely close for Tết and usually the day after it. Some may even close the day before. Then they’ll open again for the rest of the week. As Tết gets closer, it’s important to remember this and check whether a business will be open.
Are hotels open during Tet?
Hotels operate normally during the week of Tết, so you’ll have a place to stay. You also don’t need to worry about hotels being sold out because locals spend Tết at home.
Are restaurants open during Tet?
Most restaurants close for Tết and some of them are also closed for the day before and the days after, which can make it a little bit difficult to find food. It’s not impossible though. Some cafés and restaurants will be open for tourists. But since it’s slim pickings, it’s best to not be picky and go with whatever you find open first.
When I was in Hue for Tết, I went to three restaurants that I wanted to try and found that all of them were closed. As I was getting hungrier, I gave up and popped into the next open restaurant that I came upon.
Are shops open during Tet?
Pretty much all shops and attractions are shut down on Tết and sometimes the days after too. This includes convenience stores, so make sure you buy anything you need, like bottled water and food, the day before.
Do buses run during Tet?
Buses and other public transportation continue to run during Tết and for the rest of the week. However, anything that requires a booking will be sold out in advance and prices go up a lot. If you plan on taking a bus or train to get between cities, you should buy your ticket one to two weeks ahead of time (preferably even earlier than that).
For traveling within a city, Grab cars and motorbikes will still be available. Expect higher prices and a long wait though, since there will be far less drivers around.
Where can I spend Tet in Vietnam?
You can spend Tết anywhere in Vietnam, but staying in larger cities will ensure that there will be some businesses and restaurants open during this time. Also, major cities have events and decorations that make for a fun Lunar New Year.
You can’t go wrong staying in cities like Hanoi, Hoi An, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City. Many of them will have outdoor markets in the days leading up to Tết where you can find street food, gorgeous flower displays and kumquat trees, and items that are perfect for souvenirs. There will also usually be fireworks the night before Tết.
Tips for traveling during Tet
- Book all your travel as early as possible – As it gets closer to Tết, public transportation gets more crowded and expensive. Although I managed to snag a bus ticket six days before Tết, it cost more than it normally does and it was one of only two seats left. Avoid this by booking your transportation as early as you can – preferably two weeks or more before Tết.
- Stock up on food and water – Since not much is open during the first few days of the New Year, you’ll want to prepare in advance. If you’re staying in a major city, you can still plan to eat out for all your meals. But you’ll want to buy bottled water and snacks, since most convenience stores will be closed.
- Take part in the celebration – The best part of being in Vietnam during Tết is getting to experience it, so take advantage of it. Check out the colorful flower markets, take photos with all of the larger-than-life displays, catch the fireworks, and watch lion dancing. I caught a lion dance in the streets of Hue, and the owners of the hotel I stayed in shared some of the traditional foods that they eat during Tết with us.
- Enjoy the quietness – It’s rare for the cities of Vietnam to have empty streets, so enjoy the lack of traffic while it lasts. Although it can feel like a ghost town, Tết is the perfect time to explore your surroundings on foot.
More resources for traveling Vietnam
- 5 Complete Itineraries to See North Vietnam in 7 Days
- How to Solo Travel Vietnam
- 5 Best Hostels and Homestays I Stayed at in Vietnam