Tết is an unusual time in Vietnam. The transportation hubs – bus and train stations, and especially the airports – are overflowing with people, while the towns and cities are eerily quiet. Most businesses are closed for this extended holiday, so tourists panic and assume they’ll have to sleep on the sidewalk and fight with dogs to get scraps of food. Don’t worry, though, Tết is actually a wonderful time to be in Vietnam, and here’s what to expect.
All the major means of transportation continue to operate during Tết, but you really should book well in advance. You won’t have much fun if you try to show up at the bus station and get a ticket for that same day – same with flights and trains. Many people from smaller towns work in the big cities throughout the year, and Tết is their chance to return home. They buy their tickets well in advance because every Vietnamese knows how hectic travel can be during this holiday. Expect big crowds and long waits. If you’re flying, arrive at least four hours early – and probably even earlier than that at Tan Son Nhat (Ho Chi Minh City) or Noi Bai (Hanoi).
As a general rule, all museums, art galleries and other cultural sites are closed during Tết. Most close a couple of days before the lunar new year and don’t open up again until five or six days after. There are some notable exceptions, though. For example, the Citadel in Hue, the Ancient Town in Hoi An and the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City all remain open for Tết. Be sure to check online before heading out anywhere.
Markets tend to stay open for Tết, but with fewer vendors. You’ll still be able to find plenty of souvenirs around the touristy areas, but shops that sell primarily to Vietnamese people will all be closed. Businesses consider sales during Tết to be omens of the upcoming year, so don’t be surprised if shopkeepers are extra surly about your attempts to barter them down.
One major concern tourists always have is whether they’ll starve as they walk the empty streets, clawing at endless walls and shuttered security gates. Don’t worry – you’ll survive. Most restaurants do close down, but more than enough stay open, especially in touristy areas. You might not get a table at that highly reviewed restaurant you’ve had your eye on for months, but you’ll find something. Just wander around for a while, or ask a local to point you in the right direction. Tết is the perfect time to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Hotels like to charge dubious prices under the guise of Tết being peak season, but you certainly won’t have any problems finding a place to stay. If you’re part of an unguided motorbike tour in the remote northern regions, then you might have a bit of difficulty when you arrive unannounced and need a bed for that night – but even then, probably not. Hotels are business as usual during Tết.
We love Vietnam during Tết. Everyone is so happy to be spending time with their friends and families. People work long hours here, so any time away from work is treasured – and spending that time with people they haven’t seen in months makes for a joyous mood. The decorations are also wonderful. Flowers are an integral part of the holiday, so you’ll see them everywhere – yellow in the south and pink in the north. The good vibes are infectious. Tết is the happiest time of the year in Vietnam.