what to pack
A Party Hat & Patience
et, the Vietnamese new year - the biggest, brightest and loudest festival is a huge draw for everyone, particularly Vietnamese nationals as it's also a week-to 10 day long national holiday.
The date is changeable and it can fall in either January or February as the Vietnamese follow the lunar calendar, but it can disrupt travel plans for weeks either side - especially transportation.
Trains and buses are often over subscribed, the roads jammed (and more dangerous than any other time of the year). Flights and hotels are often booked months in advance and are more expensive than at any other time of the year. This really isn't the time to 'wing it' with travel plans, instead, to make the most of the festivities it pays to stay put in one location and to save spontaneity for your daily movements.
We've done eight so far, and we would happily trade a western christmas for the old fashioned festivities, culture and atmosphere of Tet in Hoi An.
Tet marks the beginning of the Spring and the end of the rainy season. Days are both warming and drying up - think stark wintery sunlight, cardigan-clad nights. Rainy days still vastly outnumber the dry ones, but it's not unheard of for the weather to break long enough to allow for the occasional beach day. Though it may not feel like it on cloudy days, the sun is remarkably strong regardless, so bring a high factor lotion (most brands on sale in Hoi An are fake). Sea conditions at this time of year are rough, with early morning waves worthy of getting your surf board out.
TIP: Keep in mind that things will have been rather damp for a good few months prior to your arrival and cheaper hotels and home stays can feel damp and smell musty.
Accommodation - Where to Stay
If Tet falls during your stay, book ahead and expect to pay premium prices for accommodation. It's the biggest and longest national holiday of the year and both Hoi An and Da Nang are considered to be the place to celebrate.
Resorts and larger hotels are very popular with national travellers and can be inundated with large family groups. If over-enthusiastic early risers and kids bother you, it might be worth considering a more boutique property for your stay.
As for areas, the old town is rather charismatic when it's wearing it's festive crown and if looking out over romantic lanterns sets your heart-a-flutter, look no further. It'll be busy though, so if you're more of a quiet romantic walk with river and countryside vista's kind of traveller, consider Cam Chau, Cam Thanh and Tra Que. Meanwhile at the beach, it's far quieter, though most businesses do stay open. Though it's hardly sunbathing weather at this time of the year, if you have come to surf, park yourself at the beach as the best waves roll in early in the morning (usually by 10am, the sea conditions will have become to choppy for board riders).
Tip: During Tet, it can sometimes feel like you've been lumbered with the B-team at large hotels and resorts. In truth, it's the same as working over Christmas - there is a huge pressure to celebrate these events with family and friends. Those that draw the short straw are quite often cramming in an unimaginable list of soirees, cultural events and family duties between shifts. They are knackered!
Têt, or the Vietnamese New Year, is the largest and most important festival in the Vietnamese calendar. Traditions are anchored into the 11 days of Tết which are filled with religious ceremony, quality family time and purification rituals aimed at washing away all the bad luck of the old year and welcoming the new one afresh.
Preparations begin a week before (with Tet eve and new years day being the most auspicious) and continue for four days after. National holidays during this time vary depending on which day Tet falls. To be safe, prepare yourself for two weeks of crazy and you'll be set.
Though in previous years (and still, in rural areas), many markets and restaurants would close for several days, but with Hoi An being such a tourist oriented locale, most now stay open for the duration. Below are the dates for the next five years.
Festival food - Hoi An's Pop-up Street Food Party District
As Hoi An is a popular Tet holiday destination for national tourists and the Hoianian locals are so knackered from all their Tet preparations that no one can be bothered to cook, the street food scene in the city, explodes. To cater for the increased number of mouths to feed, Nguyen Truong To (the street that runs north of Le Loi) transforms into Hoi An’s temporary street food district. The food is delicious and the atmosphere festive - do eat here at least once. Vegetarian dishes are bountiful as well as seasonal specialities like Bánh Chưng (steamed pork in banana leaves) and numerous forms of xôi (sticky rice).
Tet Festival dates 2018- 2022
16th February 2018 - Year of the Dog
5th February 2019 - Year of the Pig
25th January 2020 - Year of the Rat
12th February 2021 - Year of The Buffalo
1st February 2022 - Year of the Tiger
Post Tet Festivals
With the first full moon of a new year come a host of smaller festivals and ceremonies including, Nguyen Tieu (a spiritual event held in honour of ancestors), which kicks off a spider web of village celebrations from crop blessing to boat racing. For daily updates on the calendar of events head to our Facebook page.