Is Tet or Chinese New Year a good time to travel to Vietnam?
Is Tet a good time to go to Vietnam? In a word, no. Tet is lunar new year, or you might know it as Chinese New Year. It occurs on a different day every year, since it marks the night of the first new moon of the year, sometime between January 21st and February 20th. If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam, read on to find out why this is not a good idea.
If you’re a remote worker planning on basing yourself in Vietnam during the Tet holiday, read on to see my best tips for surviving the Tet season. It’s actually not bad for digital nomads and can be a fantastic time to get work done.
Reasons to avoid Vietnam during Tet (lunar new year)
Everything closes down
Okay, not everything, but most businesses, including museums and other tourist attractions, are closed. Sometimes they are closed just for the day of Tet, but many small businesses close their doors days before and after Tet. It gets quiet around five days before Tet and every day leading up to Tet the streets get quieter until finally it’s like a ghost town.
Prices go up
In the days leading up to Tet and for several days after, businesses raise their prices. Some do this without explicitly saying so, and some have signs that tell you exactly how much they are raising prices. My favorite cafe, where I’m sitting right now writing this post, has had a 15% surcharge from the day before Tet until several days after Tet. Same with the bakery down the street where I get my bread, same at the grocery store. So before, during and after Tet you will be charged extra. This is not just for tourists either, everyone is charged more.
Trash goes uncollected
For days. It doesn’t take long before bags of trash begin to pile up outside, dogs and rats start picking it apart…enough said.
Police crackdowns (or shakedowns?)
You almost never see traffic police in Da Nang, but around Tet they are all out on the road, doing their part to rake in Tet money in the form of fines. Some of their activities are legit, for instance, doing alcohol checks on drivers (you should be warned that driving while having any detectable alcohol in your system is illegal. That includes cars, motorbikes and even riding a bicycle).
But a lot of their sudden earnestness is really just about shaking people down for their share of Tet funds.
What kind of crime? Theft, of course. Because people need so much money to fulfill their Tet expectations/obligations. So all kinds of theft, including apartment break-ins rises steeply in the weeks leading up to Tet. Happy new year indeed!
What are some good reasons to visit Vietnam over the Tet holiday?
Honestly, for a tourist, I can’t think of any. But here’s what I enjoy about Tet as a digital nomad based in Da Nang.
It’s customary to celebrate Tet with flowers and fruiting trees. The whole city bursts into color as homes and businesses and even beach walkways are lined with bright, flowering plants. Yellow, orange and red are auspicious lunar new year colors, so you’ll see streets lined with tall potted sunflowers in bloom, five foot tall dahlias, marigolds of all varieties. Also, the golden fruits of citrus trees resemble golden coins and therefore represent good fortune and prosperity. In the days leading up to Tet the streets are full of scooters carrying mini kumquat trees in fancy pots. There are pop up flower markets all over the place and one really giant one.
Everything shuts down
Yes, I listed that as a negative for tourists, but if you live here, that means it’s quiet. Da Nang is one huge construction site. The mind jarring construction noise that is an inescapable reality throughout the city (especially the beach side) suddenly stops. Traffic, and the constant honking that accompanies it shrinks down to almost nothing. You even get a short break from the rock-concert-loud karaoke that ruins 60% or more of your evenings the rest of the year.
Tet survival guide
If you’re vacationing, don’t plan your Vietnam trip over the Tet holiday — really, just don’t. If you’re travelling around SE Asia on a longer trip and your time in Vietnam happens to coincide with Tet, or if you’re working remotely and based out of Vietnam, here are some tips for Tet.
Make sure you’ve got plenty of water and whatever else you need for four days before and after Tet. If you can stock up well before prices start going up for Tet, that’s best.
Top up your phone
If you think you’ll be running low on data on your Vietnamese mobile phone around Tet, top it up ahead of the Tet holiday. Otherwise you might find yourself out on Tet, trying to hail a GRAB ride back home and you won’t be able to. Normally you could just pop into any local Vinmart convenience store and top it up, but you might have a hard time finding one that’s open.
I follow my favorite restaurants and cafes on Instagram. They often post their Tet hours and closures. Make a mental note in advance of what’s open and when.
Expect to pay more
As noted above, your expenses might go up anywhere from 15-30% over Tet. You can’t escape this just by not eating out, because even the grocery stores raise prices.
Enjoy the quiet!
Taking walks during Tet is like being in a parallel reality. Da Nang Without Noise Pollution. It doesn’t last long, so enjoy it. I’ve been out walking on the beach in the morning and evening, taking strolls around the neighborhood. It’s lovely, peaceful. I’ve also been able to do work that requires a quiet environment, like making voice recordings.
Visit the flower market and Lady Buddha
In the days leading up to Tet, definitely visit the main flower market. Also, leading up to and shortly after Tet, head up to Lady Buddha to watch the sunset and see all the locals turned out in their beautiful clothes, making offerings. You can check out the videos I made below to see why these are so much fun.
Also, there are all kinds of massive flower displays and street fairs on the city side river promenade, near Dragon Bridge.
Get into the spirit of Tet
People are excited for Tet and stressed out, too. There is so much preparation, work, anticipation and money that goes into celebrating lunar new year, so it’s kind of like Christmas in that people are excited for it but also stressed by all the demands leading up to it.
Beneath that holiday buzz, at its heart Tet is about closing out the old and welcoming a new cycle, a new beginning and intentionally orienting yourself to new (more fortunate) possibilities. Get in sync with the meaning of lunar new year. Close old chapters, take care of neglected “loose ends”, clean out your closet (or backpack!) and banish bad habits and last era mindsets in the days leading up to Tet.
Give yourself the gift of a lunar reboot.