New Year in Vietnam - How to Celebrate Tet Nguyen Dan Like the Vietnamese

The Southeast Asian country famous for its beer, coffee and natural landscapes celebrates its new year, called Tet or Tet Nguyen Dan, during the Gregorian months of January or February. 

Tet Nguyen Dan literally means the “first morning on the first day of the new period”. It is one of the most important religious and cultural events of the country and is celebrated by the Vietnamese people all over the globe. Tet is said to mark the arrival of spring season according to the Vietnamese calendar. It is one of the few festivals of the world which does not fall on the same date as the year before, every new year in Vietnam begins on a different date! 2019 is called the year of the Pig, which comes around in 12 years, so the next time we will observe the year of the Pig will be in 2031!
Hanoi City during Tet

It is said that Tet is based on the lunisolar calendar, which observes the motion of the earth around the sun, and that of the moon around the earth. The intensity of the event can be understood by its comparisons to the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Diwali celebrations.  

Ways to Celebrate New Year’s in Vietnam

  1. Enjoy traditional games: People predominantly play fun games during Tet which include bau cua ca cop(a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice) and co turong (Chinese Chess), they also engage themselves in bird competitions.
    Bau cua cop
  2. Indulge in some quality television: Gap nhau cuoi nam(year-End gathering) is a national favourite comedy show which is televised the night before the new year’s eve, if the people love it, so can you.

  3. Visit Ho Chi Minh City: In the city that never sleeps, at the stroke of midnight on the eve of the new year in Vietnam, witness the beautiful fireworks display from the various areas such as Lac Long Quan Flower Garden, My Dinh Stadium, Thong Nhat Park and Hoan Kiem Lake. Though there are other attractions as well, but these have to be the places you need to be during midnight. If you are one who wants to celebrate Tet just like the Vietnamese, do visit the Nguyen Hue and the Tao Ban flower festivals. 
    Fireworks at Ho Chi Minh
  4. Dong Da Festival: This is the festival organised on the fifth day of Tet in Hanoi(Capital City) to commemorate a victory over the invading Chinese forces. For this, you’ll find yourself in the hills of Dong Da in the scenic Southwest part of the city.

  5. Rising of the Cay Neu: Cay neu is a variety of bamboo which is wrapped in red paper to ward off evil. Every household has this, but the biggest and flashiest can only be seen from the Hue Imperial Citadel, which is located in the former-capital city of Hue. This is usually done on the first and seventh day of the new year in Vietnam, Tet, to mark the beginning and end of the festival respectively.

  6. Ong Do: If you are a person who likes art, this festival allows you to buy all kinds of calligraphy which is custom made, just for you. This event takes place in the city of Hanoi.

  7. Visit Hoi An: There is an ancient port in the centre of Hoi An, which has been declared a UNESCO World heritage site. Not only does this place provide you with the thrill of the local market, but it also is a paradise for street vendors, shops and restaurants. And if you’re looking  to learn some crafts, this place offers you a Traditional Vietnamese lantern making class.

    Hoi An
  8. Try the World Famous Vitenamese Cuisine: Just like any other culture in the world, the Vietnamese have an astonishing array of food items which one can enjoy. Plus, with the festivities on, the variety pours out from every direction possible. There are dishes such as:
    —Xoi(sticky rice),
    —Banh Chung(this meal is only served during Tet, and is made of tightly packed  sticky rice.)
    —Canh(Vietnamese Soups)
    —Gio or Cha(this is Vietnamese ham or sausage. Gio means boiled and Cha means fried.)
    The evergreen and ever-tasty, Pho.

  9. SunWorld Ba Na Hills: If you like some adventure and amusement, then Ba Na Hills is the place for you, with beautiful architecture and full on entertainment, this amusement park will give you value for your money. It is located almost 20km from the city of Da Nang and opens from 7am to 10pm. Tickets are available for an adult at a price of VND 700,000 and it is easily one of the busiest places to go during the new year in Vietnam.
    Ba Na Hills
  10. Explore on Rented Motorbikes: Vietnam’s favoured means of transport are two-wheelers. So if you want to travel around during the new year in Vietnam without getting stuck in the hustle of traffic, then skip the four-wheel and hop on to the twos.

  11. Go for some Countdown parties: Yes you guessed it right, there is no lack of late night parties in Vietnam. Crazy Buffalo Nightclub Saigon in Ho Chin Minh city is one of the best places for an all-night party, The Observatory Saigon is a techno-themed club in the same city. Pharoah’s Bar and Upper at Lotte Hotel is the place to be in Hanoi. These are some particular places to be, but you can always find someplace better for you!

  12. Pagoda Viewing: Pagoda’s are the Vietnamese temples, and what can be a better way of celebrating a New Year’s day than at a temple, in peace and quiet. Some recommendations are Bai Dinh Pagoda in the Ninh Binh province, Dai Tong Lam Pagoda, which is situated in Tan Tanh district of Ba Ria-Vung Tau province.
Dai Tong Lam

Some Tips for a Smoother Experience

  1. DO NOT COUNT ON LAST MINUTE BOOKINGS: This cannot be emphasised upon enough. Trains and buses are sold out well in advance during the new year in Vietnam, so keep up with the pace. Although hotels are never booked out, it never hurts to do it in advance.
  2. Also, not every city you go to will have shops open during this time, so keep a backup plan ready, because for 5 days at-least during Tet, the markets are closed.
  3. The worst days to travel are two days prior to Tet and three days after Tet, since most of the shops are closed due to the auspicious festival, and well, after all that fun, they deserve it too.
  4. Finding a restaurant would not be a major problem, even though the markets shut down for a while, there are still places which will be open to cater to tourist needs.
  5. As weird as it may sound to some, but ABBA, the Swedish Band, are awfully popular in Vietnam, especially during the festival of Tet, where the song “Happy New Year” is played over and over again, so be ready for that as well.

History of New Year In Vietnam, Tet Nguyen Dan

Unlike other new year celebrations, the Vietnamese celebration and the very foundation of it is associated with the Chinese and their massive influence on the island nation. For around 2,000 years, China and Vietnam were arch nemeses. During the period when the Chinese ruled over the Vietnamese land, they were successful in dissipating their various cultures and ideas, which also involved the Lunar New Year, which has survived for generations and been adopted by the natives as well. They did modify it a little, but the gist has remained the same.

Significance in the Local Culture

Cay Neu
The arrival of Tet marks the beginning of the Spring season, which brings with itself bundles of joy and good luck. For the same reason, people welcome this positivity with various activities such as whitewashing their homes, settling their debts and disputes, buying new utensils or clothes and trying to get a new start in a new year.

People also decorate their houses with a plethora of ornaments, like the Hoa Mai Vang, which is a yellow blossom, indicating the arrival of spring; people also plant a variety of bamboo, called the Cay Neu, which is ornamented with a good luck red paper which is supposed to ward off evil spirits, which arrive due to the absence of Tao Quan (the kitchen gods) who leave the families during this period to visit the Jade Emperor. Tet also brings joy to the children, as they are given red envelope full of Li Xi, which roughly translates to “Lucky Money”, and this money is always given in an even denomination because odd numbers are considered bad luck.
Hoa Mai Vang
Tet is an extravagant way to bring in the new year in Vietnam and is celebrated from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese Calendar until at least the third day. Tet can be said to be a destination for pilgrims and family reunions, it is a festival of joy, often termed as Hoi Xuan (spring festival). The festival officially ends on the seventh day, with a dragon procession in the streets.

For a festival with this rich a history, there have to be ways with which a person can enjoy their time.
One of the marvels of the modern world, the famous celebration of the new year in Vietnam, Tet is an experience one must go through to understand the various rituals and beliefs of the Vietnamese people. This warm and welcoming festival showers you with love and gives you a feeling you never forget. From mountains to oceans, from fireworks to family reunions, Tet is a festival of joy and prosperity. So if you’re one to travel and explore the beautiful Southeast of Asia and its magnificent culture, come to Vietnam!

This post was published by Shivang Uniyal