Tet, short for Tet Nguyen Dan, is the Vietnamese New Year usually occurring every mid-January or February. This is the most important celebration in the Vietnamese culture and every Hanoian is expected to bustle around pagodas and sites during the holiday. The actual Tet extends up to two weeks but the holiday typically lasts for about 4-5 days. If you arrived on these months and wondering what to do in Hanoi during the Tet, I assure you that you won’t run out of interesting stuff to discover here.
As your quick guide as an American with itchy feet in Hanoi, here are some of the things you can do on the four fruitful days.
Almost all commercial establishments would be closed by now that you should have splurged on your favorite Pho the other day. I suggest that you jumpstart your first day of Tet with a visit to Hoan Kiem Lake or West Lake. Here, you can see floating flower decors on the water. Vietnamese people have this unending love for flowers that you’ll enjoy and discover in the coming days.
Appreciate the decors! – For now, enjoy the sight of Tet decorations on the streets and don’t forget to bring your camera. You shouldn’t miss capturing the simple beauty of streets with Vietnamese decors. Also, this is your time to rule the streets! Since most locals will close their stalls, the streets are mainly deserted with a couple of motorbikes passing through.
Visit pagodas and temples – After you let yourself loose on the Hanoi streets, take time to visit pagodas where many Hanoians flock. You can start with the Ngoc Son Temple where aside from the typical aesthetic arrangements; you’ll also see cute little ones dressed in traditional Vietnamese costumes. But ask their parents first if you’re planning to take snapshots.
You should also visit the Chua Tran Quoc Temple where locals brim with their holiday vibes as they say prayers and give donations. As an addition on your what to do in Hanoi list, you can light your own incense and say a prayer for a prosperous year before you leave the place.
A Hanoi travel list isn’t complete without paying respect at the One Pillar Pagoda as you walk around the Imperial Citadel. The spectacular pagoda is the culmination of your Hanoi visit.
Before calling it a day, pay a short visit to the Presidential Palace, a stone’s throw away from Chua Tran Quoc Temple. You should also pass by the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Though it’s not open this time of the year, you can always take a few snaps of the façade as a souvenir.
A day’s worth of visiting landmarks here in Hanoi wouldn’t be enough. On the second day, start with art and literature as you visit the Temple of Literature in Quoc Tu Giam. Locals dedicate this place to Confucius and this is where the finest scholars of Vietnam started their ancient greatness.
What to do in Hanoi? Visit more temples – During Tet, the Temple of Literature is packed with interesting sights, the reason why locals and tourists alike consider this place as the perfect refuge for the holidays. This historical place has five courtyards where gorgeous flower arrangements are present during Tet. Locals beautifully adorn some walls with yellows and reds. As what I said, Vietnamese people love flowers, and as a matter of fact, Lotus is the one they consider as the most sacred.
An hour or two wouldn’t be enough to enjoy the place. If you’re interested in exploring its entirety, I suggest that you allow half your day here. But no matter how long you decided to stay here, don’t miss the Scholar’s Street. There are women clad in traditional dresses while many calligraphy masters set up stalls to display their crafts. You can buy a piece to bring home. These shops are only available during the Tet season, so might as well make the most out of it.
If you don’t want to bring something big, you can purchase dedication cards which are wonderful gifts for friends back home.
Eat Banh Chung – When you get tired and hungry from roaming the temple, you can buy a Banh Chung. This is a staple of the streets during the Lunar New Year, and since most restaurants are closed during these days, getting one is an easy hunger-extinguisher.
Head to Hang Ma – Looking for what to do in Hanoi is tiring and as a respite, head to Hang Ma to get your Tet loot. As always, there are lots of flowers available, but one of the wonderful stuff here are the antiques. It can be images of Buddha or other cultural symbols of Hanoi. Getting one would be a nice addition to your home décor.
However, don’t stop at the antiques. Walk and drown yourself on the red Chinese decors. If you’re a Feng Shui follower, you can buy gemstones and lucky charms here. There’s a lot to choose from and at very affordable prices. And as a rule of thumb, don’t forget to haggle!
Check the Kumquat trees – More surprises await here including the sea of Kumquat trees. This is a plant with orange-like fruits that go on sale during Tet. Locals consider this as a symbol of prosperity. Kumquat can cover the whole portion of the street that taking photos alone is satisfying already. Keep in mind those motorcycles carrying tons of it! However, buying one might not be advisable since you might have issues boarding it on the plane.
Don’t miss the Peach Blossoms – Aside from the adorable Kumquat, don’t miss to peruse peach blossoms on the streets that signify luck for the Lunar New Year. I’m sure the merchants will allow you to take photos of its lavender-colored flowers. Again, buying one might not be a good idea, unless you’re planning to give it as a gift for a local friend.
If you want to eat a quick snack while pondering on what to do in Hanoi, there are loads of ambulant and side vendors in Hang Ma. Just be careful about the not-so-sanitary ones.
The highlight and I can say the culminating ceremony of the Lunar New Year is the fireworks display. The schedule may vary so better catch up with the locals. But usually, locals hold this at the grounds around the state ministerial house building and the Opera House. Remember that many folks go here and I discourage you from bringing a car. If your accommodation is near this place, just sacrifice with a few minutes of walk or just use public transportation.
If you’re staying with a local friend, you might receive a lucky money packet. Folks typically give this to kids during the Lunar New Year but locals are thoughtful enough to delight a guest with it. Also, year-end gatherings make the locals busy and if friends invited you, be cordial enough to accept and join other folks.
Tet is a one of a kind event in Vietnam, and if your tour coincided on this cultural wonder, don’t slack on planning your itinerary and list of what to do in Hanoi. There are a lot of things to do here even if all merchants close their shops during the holidays. This makes being a foreigner not even a disadvantage for festivities. Are you in for a Tet holiday? Share your thoughts with us!
More from Vacations / Local Trips!
A cruise vacation is an ideal way to visit numerous destinations on one trip. Cruising takes the hassle out of …
Although there are plenty of housing options in Hanoi that are suitable for all kinds of travel, seeing expats struggle …
When the heat, the humidity and the crowds in Hanoi city center knock you down, just get away from it …