TET 2024, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year 2024, is Vietnam’s favorite time of year.
It’s the main holiday period and festival in Vietnamese culture, and everyone wants to celebrate. Think of it as the equivalent of the Christmas – New Year period in the West.
TET celebrates the arrival of Spring and is full of color, traditions and customs. So, it’s a great time to travel to Vietnam, but there are a few things you need to be aware of and prepare for if you want to enjoy TET celebrations to the fullest and properly welcome the Year of the Dragon.
So first, we’ll look at what TET is, and then we’ll look at how you can best plan YOUR TET 2024 holiday.
What to Expect if You Are Visiting Vietnam During TET
The usually chaotic cities of Saigon and Hanoi turn super quiet as people travel back to their hometowns to celebrate TET and enjoy a quiet time with close family members and friends.
(Note: We do not call this celebration CHINESE New Year here. That is a big Faux Pas!)
When is Vietnamese TET 2024?
The Lunar New Year begins on the first day of the new moon between Jan 1st and Feb 20th annually. This year, it falls on February 10th 2024 in the Gregorian calendar.
Therefore, Vietnamese New Year’s Eve is the 9th of February, 2024.
Different professions and businesses will have different holidays. Public servants and big businesses will close for around seven days (See below), whereas small businesses may only close for one or two. Some businesses servicing the tourist and hospitality sectors won’t close at all, and others will close up for a couple of weeks.
Important Dates for the TET Holiday 2024
The official public holiday in Vietnam, and hence, when most government buildings close (excluding tourist attractions) runs from February 8th to February 14th.
The spring festival’s highlight for all Vietnamese runs for three days, including the day before New Year’s Eve (February 8th) and New Year’s Day (February 10th.)
The longer Vietnamese spring festival lasts from the Kitchen God (Ong Tao) Festival (a week before the Lunar New Year) through to the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year. (February 2nd through to Feb 12th 2024)
What is the Animal Sign of Vietnamese New Year 2024
The animal sign for the Vietnamese New Year 2024 is the Dragon. More specifically, it’s the year of the Wood Dragon.
The Vietnamese zodiac system is based on the year of your birth, according to the lunar calendar.
Each year is represented by one of the 12 Vietnamese zodiac animals – Rat, Water Buffalo, Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monky, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
So, we are coming out of the Year of the Cat and into the Year of the Dragon. 2025 will be the Year of the Snake.
In addition to the 12-year cycle; the Vietnamese zodiac also assigns one of five elements – wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. These elements are believed to influence an individual’s personality. Combining the five elements with the 12 Zodiac animals creates a 60-year cycle. So, another year of the Wood Dragon won’t return until 2084.
Vietnamese Customs During TET
There are many special traditions during the Tet festival that could fill pages. But here’s a quick round-up.
Family and Cultural Traditions
As mentioned in the introduction, the Lunar New Year is a time for family reunions, and most people will use the 5 to 9-day TET holiday to return to their hometown for family gatherings.
Before the holiday, people diligently spring clean their homes to remove bad luck from the previous year and allow good luck and prosperity to enter. Many will even give things a fresh coat of paint.
Cleaning usually starts on the 24th day of the 12th lunar month (3rd February 2024) and continues to the Lunar New Year. Cleaning the house before the Lunar New Year is also a way to show respect to the ancestors and welcome the new year with a fresh start.
TET is also a time for ancestor worship. Family members burn incense and conduct ritual ceremonies to pay their respects in the dozens of pagodas and temples throughout the country and at their ancestors’ altars in their homes.
You will see red envelopes everywhere, which are used to give ‘lucky money’ to children, students, and household help (cleaners, gardners etc.)
There are many other experiences you may have or witness at this time of year, such as traditional games and special foods. There are too many to explain here. But if you are lucky enough to get invited to a Vietnamese family home, it’s likely you’ll have a very special time.
Preparing To Visit Saigon During TET 2024 (or Just After)
What will be affected or closed during TET?
Because of the Tet festival, most government departments close for at least a week, and there is a mad rush beforehand to get things done closer to the festival and before the holiday.
The holiday for officials means it will be nearly impossible to get administrative tasks done during that period, and you may experience delays in the preceding weeks.
So… leave plenty of time to arrange your VISA approval letters, even if you aren’t visiting til just after!
We had no trouble getting our most recent visas through the government portal. But Facebook groups are filled with tales of woe of people having a multitude of issues – payment problems, delays, wrong documents.
So if you don’t want to take a chance, or you leave it too late, try using the expedited service of an online visa service like IVISA to ensure you get the documentation in time for your flight. It might cost a few extra $$$, but that’s way better than screwing up your holiday entirely.
And if you think you might need anything else done by the Vietnamese government while you are here, e.g.,- driver’s license, police check, notarization of official documents, etc., plan accordingly.
Flights and Transport
As TET 2024 is the main holiday period for both Vietnam and surrounding countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year (China, Taiwan, etc.), flights to, from, and around Vietnam will be more expensive than usual. Plan accordingly.
Similarly, buses and trains to and from the major hubs will be packed. And some companies may not run services over the three main days of the festival. So stay in one place, or book well ahead.
We booked our train tickets to Hanoi just before TET in late November 2023, and the train was already fairly full.
We found getting train tickets through 12Go far easier than dealing with the VN rail site. It cost us a couple of $ more, but we had the tickets in less than 24 hours and even got a free upgrade to the LAMAN class. (So it probably worked out cheaper than the official site 🙂 )
Accommodation is a tricky one. You may find that prices in Ho Chi Minh City are lower than normal, as domestic tourists and businessmen tend to stay home or go to popular vacation destinations like Danang, Vung Tau, and Phu Quoc, where prices skyrocket.
However, when you get there, you may find that many hotel staff have gone home, leaving only those with family in Saigon to keep things running. (Ditto for most food and beverage outlets around town.)
My advice is to book early to get the best deals. We use our WayAway Plus account to find excellent deals through Booking.com and get Cashback on top of the usual deals and discounts. You can see our accumulative totals HERE.
Eating and Drinking in Saigon during TET
Saigon is nowhere as dead during TET as it used to be, but it IS very different from normal.
Most food and beverage businesses around town will close or operate on reduced hours at some point over this period. That includes street food vendors and grocery shops and stores. A few years back, buying even a Banh Mi (Baguette) for three or four days in District 1, where we lived, was impossible.
But in recent years, more and more businesses have recognized people (especially tourists and expats who don’t go away) need and want to go out and eat.
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.
Jovel Chan usually updates her website on what’s open over the holidays.
And there are several Facebook pages and groups you might consider joining.
But personally, I would still try and get a room with at least a fridge (and maybe even a small kitchen area) and stock up on some basics – coffee, noodles, fruit, and maybe eggs/cheese and bits and pieces so you can throw together a cheap meal.
And if you are thinking of doing a food tour while you are here, then book ahead, because many guides will return to their hometowns.
Activities and Tours
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 go on their general tours.
I think some of the dinner cruises will probably run. But again, book well ahead.
It’s the peak tourist season in January and February, so if tours run, 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 beforehand so you can plan your itinerary in advance.
Most of the attractions in the city center, like the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace, should be open most days. So, if you can’t get on a tour, why not take yourself around on one of our self-guided walking tours?
Banking and Money
Make sure you get plenty of cash for the entire period. ATMs can run out as the holiday period draws on.
We recommend using a WISE Borderless account in Vietnam as it’s easy to transfer money locally, and they have excellent rates and low fees. Opening an account is free, and this link will get you a discount on your first transfer.
Most consulates close over this period, so you might find it difficult to get all but emergency assistance during this time.
Which brings me to the following unpleasant topic.
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. Ensure you read and follow my tips for staying safe in HCMC (Coming soon!) 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 a driver’s license.
Carrying a dummy wallet with only a small amount of cash in it, is also a useful strategy if you get pulled over and asked for a ‘fine.’
Much like the Christmas rush in our home countries, traffic and crowds right before TET become even more frantic in the city than usual.
You should always take care of 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.
Highlights of Being in Saigon for TET 2024
Walking Around the City
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 centers are lit up with beautiful lights and decorations, giving the city a festive atmosphere.
Just before the holidays, locals dress up in traditional Ao Dai and have their lucky New Year’s photos taken. They usually don’t mind if you take a few snaps, too. In fact, most love the attention.
Places like the front of Diamond Plaza and a block or two north are usually humming. Just follow the colors, and you’ll be sure to get a few nice pics.
Riding Around the City
Usually, jumping on the back of a scooter or on a bicycle in Ho Chi Minh City is either an adrenaline rush or a terrifying white-knuckle death ride, depending on your outlook on risk.
During Tet, however, it’s almost like riding around a ghost town.
So hire a GRAB Bike or Xe Om driver or join one of the back-of-the-bike night tours.
With the traffic will be less chaotic, many of the lights and sights will be even more beautiful than usual.
A Grab car, taxi, or tour with private driver will happily do the same if a scooter is still too scary.
We can also highly recommend the double-decker bus night tour.
Many of the big hotels around town will have special (and quite lavish) buffet dinners on New Year’s Eve (9th February). There may even be floor shows and performances.
A few (but not all) of the dinner cruise boats will also be running.
What better way to enjoy the Lunar New Year’s Fireworks than from a roof-top restaurant or boat?
But again, these will fill up quickly, so book well in advance.
Special Food for TET
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 colored with Gac seed) and Mut (candied fruits)
Immerse Yourself in Flowers
Ensure you visit Nguyen Hue Spring Flower Street in Walking Street. It kicks off on the 7th of February 2024 and will run through to the 14th. The displays are always exceptional.
Tao Dan Park will also be spectacular.
This year, there are also six other flower markets for the Spring Flower Festival. They’ll be open around town from February 6th to 15th. Locations include Gia Dinh, Le Van Tam, and September 23 Parks, and in Thu Duc City, the Phu My Hung Urban Area in District 7, and District 8.
There will be music and art performances run in conjunction with the flower markets.
Visiting Vietnam during TET 2024
So, should you visit Ho Chi Minh City during TET 2024?
Most of the expats who live in Ho Chi Minh City tend to take the opportunity to head abroad or to one of the traditional holiday areas like Nha Trang or Phu Quoc. But we chose to stay put for a couple of years, which was fabulous. The peace and quiet made the city very pleasant.
So, if you’re planning to visit and just realized it will be TET when you get here, don’t despair.
You just won’t experience any of the usual chaos. That might be a positive thing for many of you, especially if you’re not so fond of big, busy cities.
TET is a very special time of year for Vietnamese people; 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 humor, even if you botch the pronunciation completely. There are still some activities to do, and you will experience many traditional customs you can’t at other times during the year.
And while it won’t have as many activities or places open, there should still be enough to keep you amused if you prepare well and book the things you do want to do far enough ahead.
So join in with the spirit, learn as much as possible, and have a fabulous time visiting Saigon during TET 2024.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi.
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