Visiting Saigon During TET – 2017
TET or Lunar New Year occurs at the end of January in 2017. The lead up to the Year of the Rooster will be very festive, but during the actual holiday period, the atmosphere around the country will change completely. The usually chaotic city of Saigon turns super quiet as people travel back to their hometown and enjoy a quiet time with close family and friends.
TET is the most important time of the year for locals. Think of it as the equivalent of the Christmas – New Year period in the West. However, as a visitor, if you’re not prepared, visiting Ho Chi Minh City during TET might turn out to be a huge disappointment. Alternatively, you won’t want to miss out on some of the highlights you can only see and do at this time.
Editors Note: Check out some of the pictures we took in the build up to festivities for TET 2015 HERE.
What is TET?
Tet is Vietnamese New Year. It occurs at the same time as Chinese New Year, and the dates change annually in accordance with the Lunar calendar. In 2017. New Years Day in 2017 is the 28th January. And the official holiday period runs from 26th January through to the 1st of February. That means:
- Most public offices are closed on those days, and it will be impossible to get administrative tasks done.
- You need to leave plenty of time to arrange your VISA approval letters, even if you aren’t visiting til just after!
- Most businesses around town, close or operate on reduced hours at some point over this period. That includes street food vendors and souvenir sellers. Where we live in the inner suburbs, it was almost impossible to buy even a Banh Mi (Baguette) for three or four days last year.
Luckily for tourists, most hotels and major tourist sites remain open (although I’ll double check closer to the time).
Here are a few things you need to consider if you are visiting Saigon during TET 2017:
Warnings! Forewarned is Forearmed.
Number 1 -VISAS
Do not leave your VISA ARRANGEMENTS too late; OR expect to get a visa extension just before, during or after TET. I know of more than one person who got into a sticky situation because they didn’t realise that VISA services also go on holidays at this time of year.
Number 2 – Transport
Everyone is going somewhere during TET. There are many additional flights, buses and trains leading into and out of the holiday, but they will be packed. Book early to secure a place and expect line ups at check in, so don’t leave things to the last minute. During the main holidays, some bus services may stop altogether. Check beforehand, so you don’t get stranded.
Number 3 – Activities
Plan your activities well ahead. If you are visiting during the TET holiday period and plan to do any TOURS, inquire if they are running during the holiday and book well ahead, so you don’t miss out. Some companies, for example, street food tours, won’t operate as there will be very few street food vendors around. However, you might still be able to fo on their general tours. It’s the peak tourist season in January and February, so if tours are running, they will fill up fast. Some companies, like the cooking schools, may only close for a day or two, but it’s best to know ahead of time so you can plan your itinerary in advance.
Number 4 – Money
Have plenty of cash available for the holiday period. Banks close and many ATM’s run out of money by the end of the closure.
Number 5 – What’s on?
Check out some local websites to see what’s on. Many locals and expats go away at this time of year so local venues will be much quieter than usual and may even close. Here are a couple of good sources for what’s happening around town:
Word HCMC – also available as a hard copy magazine (perfect for wiling away an hour or two at a local café)
Any Arena – this website focusses on nightlife around town
Vietnam Online – more of a local perspective.
HCMC Anglo Info – a good all round site focused mainly on expats but also useful for short-term visitors.
Number 6 – Big Attractions
When I’ve checked on the big attractions around town such as the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace in previous years they’ve told me they open every day. Different sources say otherwise. I’ll check closer to the time and update this section if I find out they shut and when. Theme parks, DamSen (right click and translate the Vietnamese to English for details) and Suoi Ten are very popular with the locals during the holidays and usually, have special TET activities and displays. A visit to either is an excellent way to enjoy the holiday spirit.
Number 7 – Will you starve to death???
Many smaller local restaurants close as people return to their hometowns.You won’t starve, though. There are at least some restaurants and cafes in the main tourist areas like Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien and other parts of District 1 that remain open.
Number 8 – Health & Safety
Things get a little crazier at this time of year. Take Care!
- Just before TET, the incidence of bag snatching and soft muggings tends to go up. Make sure you read and follow my tips for staying safe in HCMC and be extra vigilant.
- Scrutiny on the part of public officials such as police also increases at this time of year. It goes without saying that you should obey all laws, and carry the correct paperwork such as drivers licenses.
- Much the same as the Xmas rush in our home countries, traffic and crowds become even more frantic in the city than usual. You should always take care on the roads here and have appropriate travel insurance, but it’s even more important at this time of year. Thankfully, it calms down as soon as the official holiday period starts.
- Walking around the city during the day and evening is such a different experience over TET. The traffic is quiet, and the main streets and shopping centres are lit up with beautiful lights and decorations. Just before the holidays, locals dress up in traditional Ao Dai and have their lucky New Years photos taken. They usually don’t mind if you take a few snaps too. Places like the front of Diamond Plaza and a block or two north are usually humming. Just follow the colours, and you’ll be sure to get a few nice pics.
- Ride around the city on a XeOm (motorbike taxi) by night or join one of the night tours. Once again, the traffic will be far less chaotic, but many of the lights and sights will be even more beautiful than usual.
- If you are are a bit of a scaredy cat concerning the motorbike rides, grab a cab and get them to drive around the main areas. Le Duan, the road leading up to Reunification Palace and past Diamond Plaza is especially lovely, and you’ll get a similar but less exhilarating experience. Make sure you watch your cameras if you’re hanging them out to take pictures and make sure you follow my tips for avoiding taxi scams.
- Many of the big hotels around town like will have special (and quite lavish) buffet dinners on New Year’s Eve (27th January). There may even be door shows and performances.But once again, these will fill up fast so book in advance.
- Take time out to visit Cholon (District 5), the Chinese part of town. Temples are covered in decorations, and you will learn much about Vietnamese traditions. Speciality shops in this area are a riot of colour selling TET decorations.
- Try some of the special foods that aren’t readily available at other times of the year such as Banh TET (Steamed rice, mung bean and pork cake), Xoi (Sticky Rice coloured with Gac seed) and Mut (candied fruits)
- Make sure you visit the Flower Street in Nguyen Hue (Walking Street). It kicks off on the 25th January in 2017 and will run through to the end of the holiday period. (final day 31st January) The displays are always exceptional.
- New Year’s Eve means spectacular fireworks around the city. Try and get to a good vantage point like a sky bar to watch them but be aware that the crowds are enormous and it will take a long time to get home afterwards.
So should you Visit Saigon during TET 2017?
Most of us that live here tend to take the opportunity to head abroad or to one of the traditional holiday areas like Nha Trang or Phu Quoc. BUT….This year we are staying. It’s been a huge year for both of us and we’ll be glad of the peace and quiet. We know what goes on and we’ll be well prepared.
So, if you’ve booked your holiday don’t despair. It’s not like there won’t be anything to do. You just won’t experience any of the usual chaos. For many of you, that might be a positive thing, especially if you’re not so fond of big, busy cities. TET is a very special time of year for Vietnamese people, and everyone is usually in good spirits. Learn to say Happy New Year in Vietnamese (Chook Moong Nam Moy!) and use it liberally. The response you’ll get from the locals will be very special – buckets of smiles and good humour. There are still some activities to do, and you will experience many traditional customs you can’t at other times during the year.
So join in with the spirit, learn as much as you can, and have a fabulous time when visiting Saigon during TET in 2017.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi.
For information on other holidays, celebrations and festivals Click Here
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