Vietnam Tet Holiday

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Vietnam Tet Holiday

TET is Like Christmas but bigger

TET or “TẾT” is the traditional new year holiday in Vietnam, where everyone takes a week long holiday at exactly the same time… EXACTLY the same time.  Tet holiday is the biggest and longest holiday in Vietnam. It has a similar vibe to Christmas or Thanks Giving but taken far more seriously and everyone in the entire country is involved for a week at exactly the same time.

Christmas is reasonably spread out. A steady calendar buildup with 24, 25 and 26 December all holding some merit. Christmas then overflows into new years and if one important day was missed then the holiday is not ruined. Business and work mostly stays in tact, and everyone manages to get a piece of the pie whilst keeping normal life mostly afloat.
Thanks giving is only one day, so forget that… child-splay compared to the Vietnamese week long TET.

The dates for Tet are based on the lunar calendar, and usually fall into late January – early February of the year. During this time, every business collapses and falls apart.

If a business somehow manages to find a way to stay open then the price will become, double, triple, quadruple or maybe quintuple the price.
Service is likely to fall apart and the people holding the show together are probably the owners.

Hotels, restaurants and other tourist related activities will do their best to stay open with extreme price markups for being the only business in the area still operative.

Government facilities from trains to hospitals will close and be out of operation. Need a doctor in TET? Go home, you are not getting one!

The Vietnamese, as an amazing sweeping generalisation are very good at not caring about their jobs. The countryside family estate is always open and welcoming and that high paying city job that doesn’t respect working hours can get stuff’d. This is why TET happens on such an enormous and ridiculous scale, because no one can stop the work force of the country going home.

Christmas but bigger

TET is all about family and local customs

Tet, shortened from Tet Nguyen Dan, is the most important holiday in Vietnam. It marks the arrival of spring, falling in the months of January and February. It is a time to forget about past troubles and hope for a better upcoming year. Since many people return home for the holiday, busy cities can become almost like ghost towns during the main day of celebration.
New Year’s Eve has a party like atmosphere. Cities will launch fireworks, people will be making noise with gongs, bells, and firecrackers to scare away any evil or unlucky spirits nearby.
Many Vietnamese prepare for Tet Holiday by cooking special food and cleaning the house. Many customs take place during Tet, such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, wishing New Year’s greetings and blessings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, or opening a new business.

Tet is an occasion for family gathering

The cities become ghost towns and transportation becomes impossible during Tet

Try to imagine an entire city leaving for the countryside. Ho Chi Minh City at a casual 8.5 million people abandons city life and goes home to the countryside.
This mass evacuation occurs over the weeks leading up to TET and after TET. With Christmas we have the introduction of annoying adverts and songs.
In Vietnam you have the overload of transport companies as the city rather rapidly evacuates.

By the time TET hits, the city is nothing more than a few people and the streets can finally be ridden at highway speeds. Unleash your Lamborghini or Ducati Monster, it is now possible to drive it down the middle of Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi without anyone getting in the way. No one is left, and the few that that do remain are drunk and passed out in their houses.

honda 67

What actually happens during TET Holiday

Vietnam has a very strong backbone culture of “family first”.
The hardworking city family members spend their days slogging away and sending money back to the countryside. TeT is the time to go back and see the parents that are on the receiving end of the paycheck.
Huge family parties occur with copious amounts of beer and Karaoke.

Buried within the Beer drinking is various religious activities such as visiting the dead and paying respect to Pagodas.

Another amazing element of TET is the way the family members must go to all the houses of people with importance. Visit past teachers, family members, friends of family members and everyone else remotely connected to the family. Imagine trying to visit your entire Facebook friends list with any remote connection to your family, all within a week.
Each meet and greet comes with several beers on the table, and by the afternoon of 6 houses visited. A modest 15 beers have been sunk.

During subsequent days, people visit relatives and friends. Traditionally but not strictly, the second day of Tet is usually reserved for friends, while the third day is for teachers, who command respect in Vietnam. Local Buddhist temples are popular spots as people like to give donations and to get their fortunes told during Tet. Children are free to spend their new money on toys or on gambling games. Prosperous families can pay for dragon dancers to perform at their house. Also, public performances are common and provided within the local community.

Traditional TET holiday Tree

Vietnam is crazy at the best of times, during TET it is drunk crazy

Travelling Vietnam by motorbike is a great adventure activity, but it is held together by the convenience of tourist towns being within one days drive of each other and mechanic shops being placed every 5 minutes. Public services such as transport are also incredible here, all catering towards a remote feeling but without ever being too far from help.

During TET, all these conveniences vanish and disappear. Flights, trains and busses are fully booked weeks in advance and hotels are no different. It is a time when the unprepared traveller finds themselves sleeping on the street as there really isn’t any accommodation left.
Mechanic shops need to be begged for help, and if they do help then it can be assumed they are working under the influence of alot of alcohol. Your standard 30 minute fix, might turn into several hours of thumbling around with a big bill attached to the end for TET inconveniences. In many ways, a breakdown is game over during TET.

Earlier in the article we talked about visiting house after house after house, each with beer being firmly and respectfully put on the table. The Vietnamese don’t walk to the houses, oh no, the motorbike is still used and it is common practice and part of the TET experience to drink drive your way around town.
The government always comes out with alarming drink driving fatality numbers after TET, and this is Vietnam’s way of naturally selecting the drivers that can keep on two wheels after drinking their body weight of Tiger beer.

The real winners are the beer companies

When I think of TET, I think of “TET, sponsored by Tiger beer”. Heineken and other brands try and get a piece of the pie, but Tiger beer has TET holiday dominated. Business to business relationships are respected by companies handing each other crates of Tiger beer.
Buy anything of any value and Tiger comes free with the purchase.

Tiger seemingly sponsoring TET somehow finds its way into the most serious of traditional places, with most houses decorating the dead with Tiger beer cans to celebrate past lives. A picture of the deceased, a few candles and a load of beer delicately placed around the shrine is a very normal entrance to a Vietnamese house.

Beer is needed to show respect. Sit round a table and everyone must drink together with the standard “yo”. Being British, I am used to gently sipping my drinks to enjoy the beautifully crafted alcoholic drink that has been placed in front of me. In Vietnam, drinking alone is unbelievably rude, and so it is custom to join in with the 3 minute “yo” gaps and drink large quantities at a time. Sipping is out of the question!
Tiger beer got the advertising campaign correct. They managed to get their hands right down into the deceased, all whilst producing piss dribble garbage. Tiger bottles are passable, but Tiger cans are nothing but filth.

The Vietnamese secretly know of this filth, and it is normal to water down the beer piss to try and sooth the disgusting beverage. Proud and loud burps are normal combined with crumpling the can and throwing under the table or over your head. All animalistic signs of dominance and to demonstrate the accomplishment of successfully getting through another can of piss.

Get eye contact of a respected elder who wants to show dominance at the table and they are likely to start calling out “100%”, which means you must finish the drink currently in your hands. Sometimes the entire table must show respect and follow suit, but sometimes you can be individually targeted to show your manliness. No different from university drinking games really, as many of us know the “international drinking rules”.

Lucky money, the root of all corruption

In the west, we give Christmas presents which must be carefully planned and thought through. The idea being that a thoughtful present is worth more than a high monetary value present. Laziness has crept into the western world with Gift Vouchers and Amazon Vouchers, but mostly people know and understand that these vouchers simply mean that the person didn’t have time in their busy lives… or perhaps, that they just don’t care!

In Vietnam lucky money is dished around to family members. This includes the parents, the grand parents and the children. The hardworking youngster that is shipped off to the big city to earn some “real money”, not only do they have to send their paychecks home each month but they must also hand out lucky money to all around.

The amazing thing about lucky money is the way it is put into small envelopes and handed over to the receiver in a sly and hidden fashion. Corruption thrives in Vietnam and I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t come from this tradition of the sly slip of money from one to another. Even with the best of intentions, lucky money is handed over as if it was a police bribe!
Children learn at an early age the correct way of slipping a cheeky note over to someone.

Lucky Money


The scale of TET, from the empty cities to the huge drunken family parties is a phenomenon to behold. Take what you know about Christmas or New Year and magnify it 100% and you might start to have some understanding of the scale of this operation.

Vietnam’s “family first” culture certainly has its drawbacks, but at its core it is an amazing way to live life. Jealously comes through as we realise how far we are from home, and the independent lives that we live in the west. In comparison to the Vietnamese where families manage to maintain huge blocks of land where several generations all come together for this once a year celebration. All family generations being found under one roof from Grand Children to Great Great Grandma.

As a traveller we get to witness the closure of a country to the point that no one will do anything but drink beer. As frustrating as this may be when driving along and getting a flat tire or arriving in a city to find no hotels. The dedication to the “I will not work attitude” is something that no traveller would have ever experienced.

We get to see Vietnam families come together and appreciate the huge developments of Vietnam. To see the development of city kids returning home and finding random university graduates that speak fluent English popping out from a bamboo stick hut. The respect of how far some of these people have come and how much life has changed for some.
The gaps in culture are huge in Vietnam with the western idiologies flowing in over facebook and the internet. TET is a dying holiday and each year that goes by the impact it has is less. A country developing as fast as Vietnam can no longer afford to shut down for a month. The young generation understand how costly it is to them financially, and up and coming business owners want to maintain new found international trade.

It won’t be long until TET dies or becomes westernised.
Embrace the beer drinking and get involved and refuse to do anything for a week but visit family. This is TET, and this is what you must love and respect!


The simple answer is DON’T.. Travelling during TET is expensive and mostly suicidal, the drinking and drink driving described above is not an exaggeration.

However, if you do plan on travelling during TET. Book every Hotel in advance, know what you are doing and where you are going to stay. Rent a good motorbike that is not going to break down, because a break down during TET could be a holiday stopper!
We recommend finding one touristy place to stay during the main days of TET, as travelling is dangerous and if things go wrong there is no help.

If you do travel during TET, know how to handle your beer. Avoiding the celebrations will not be easy, so get involved and enjoy the Tiger Beer!

No hotels in TET

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