Visiting Saigon During TET – 2015
TET or Lunar New Year, occurs this month (February 2015). During this period the whole atmosphere in the city changes. It’s the most important time of the year for locals. However, if you’re not prepared you might be disappointed on your visit to Ho Chi Minh City or miss out on some of the highlights you can only see and do at this time.
Editors Note: You can see some of our pictures of the festivities during TET 2015 in our latest gallery here.
What is TET?
Tet is Vietnamese New Year. The dates for TET change in accordance with the Lunar calendar, exactly the same as Chinese New Year. This year (2015), New Years Day is February 19th. Usually the official holidays are from February 17th through to the 23rd. However, this year the government has declared an extra two days from the 15th. That means many public offices will not be open during this period. You will also find many businesses close down or operate on reduced hours over this period. Luckily for tourists, most hotels and major tourist sites remain open.
Here’s a few things you need to consider if you are visiting Saigon during TET:
Plan your activities well ahead. Inquire about, and book, tours well ahead to avoid disappointment. For example, many of the street food tours may not be operating because their street vendors will all be on holidays. Others may only be operating their general tours as their specialist photographers and the like will be away. If tours are running they will fill up fast as this is peak season. Some companies, like the cooking schools, may only close on New Years Day (19th Feb), others for a few days either side.
Have plenty of cash available for the holiday period. Banks close and there’s a big possibility ATM’s will run out of money.
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’s 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 is focused 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.
Most of the big attractions around town will be open. I confirmed with the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace that they are open every day. The theme parks, DamSen (site in Vietnamese. Use Google translate to read details) and Suoi Ten will be open and filled with loads of holidaying Vietnamese. Both will have special TET activities and displays. The locals certainly do enjoy themselves and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t too.
Many of the smaller local restaurants will close as people will return to their home towns. In areas such as Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien and other parts of District 1 there will be more than enough venues open that you won’t want for choice.
Unfortunately the incidence of bag snatching and soft muggings tends to go up just before TET. Make sure you read and follow my tips for staying safe in HCMC and be extra vigilant.
Just prior to the TET holiday, traffic and crowds around town become even more frantic than usual. You can compare it to the Xmas rush in our home countries. This calms down as soon as the official holiday period starts.
TET is a great opportunity to walk around the city during the day and evening. The traffic will be much quieter and the lights and decoration on main streets and shopping centres are beautiful. Many locals will be out and about in traditional dress getting their lucky New Years photos taken. They usually don’t mind if you take a few snaps too.
Take a 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 still a bit reluctant to jump on the back of a bike, A quick taxi ride around the city will give a similar but less exhilarating experience. Just make sure you follow my tips for avoiding taxi scams.
Many of the big hotels around town like The Rex and the Majestic will have special buffet dinners on New Years Eve (18th). These will be lavish affairs. There may even be door shows and performances.But once again, these will fill up fast so book in advance.
It’s a great time to visit in Cholon, traditionally the Chinese part of town. Temples will be lavishly decorated and you will learn much about Vietnamese traditions.
During TET there are a number of specialty foods, not common at other times of the year. Try food such as Banh TET (Steamed rice, mung bean and pork cake), Xoi (sticky Rice colored with Gac seed) and Mut (candied fruits)
Make sure you visit the Flower Festival. It kicks off on February 13th and will run through to the 24th. There will also be beautiful displays in Flower Street. It’s usually held in Nguyen Hue street but this year, due to construction it will be in the adjacent Ham Nghi Street. This run off the round about at Benh Thanh market.
Yes, it will be quiet. No, it won’t have the same chaotic atmosphere as usual. TET however, is a very special time of year for Vietnamese people. People will be even happier and in good spirits than usual. Learn to say Happy New YEar in Vietnamese (Chook Moong Nam Moy!) and you will be rewarded with buckets of smiles and good humor. There will still be plenty for visitors to do and you can observe many traditional customs you can’t at other times. Join in with the spirit, learn as much as you can and have a fabulous time when visiting Saigon during TET.
I’ll see you in 2015 – Year of the Goat. It should be a year of tranquility and cooperation according Eastern beliefs. Let’s hope so. 2014 was a pretty crazy time for the world. Peace and harmony would be very welcome.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi.
For information on other holidays, celebrations and festivals Click Here
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