Tet in Vietnam………. To most foreigners that live in Vietnam will feel a chill and shudder down the backbone at the mention of those words. To the Vietnamese that rarely have a day off during the year, it is a time to spend with family and friends, pray to their spirits, and party. I will try my best to describe both the Vietnamese side and the foreigner’s side of how Tet in Vietnam affects each. Before is start….. I should mention that I always try to be working Tet as all of the cities and towns are shut down for minimum 4 days. In the countryside, people are active outside so it is a great time to tour the highlands, but an awful time to try to be a tourist or resident in the city. Tomorrow on the first day of Tet, I am leading a tour through Ayun Pa, Anh Khe, Kon Tum, and finally to Quang Ngai and the My Lai massacre site. THANK GOD!! My wife can enjoy the rituals and ceremonies that all Vietnamese practice, and I can enjoy not feeling like a prisoner experiencing the same things…… Anyway….. on to the article.
Tet in Vietnam evokes a cultural event that is the same every year. Vietnamese people mostly do the same things at the same time, so it is like watching a classic
play once a year. About 2 weeks prior to Tet it starts. The first of the gold and red decorations start to appear in stores, traffic increases as people begin shopping for the ingredients to make rice cakes and other traditional foods. Beer stores begin to build mountains of product and construction, repairs, and clean up start to become frenzied all to be finished. Busses, trains, and air start to become fully booked and ticketing agencies become overloaded with people trying to get home for the holiday. This continually builds day by day until a week prior to Tet where it is so busy on the streets that people start getting hurt. Traffic deaths and countless pedestrians all scurrying happily to pre-shop sadly are all too common. The week prior, brass is
polished, clothes and bedding laundered, and everything is to be new by the first day. The mountains of goods that have been preordered for supermarkets start disappearing from shelves until bare. The traffic becomes so bad that it takes hours to go anywhere and do anything until the eve of Tet when in the afternoon everything becomes quiet. Doors close and the whole country begins to shut down. All are at home making final preparations for the party to come. After dinner, it seems the whole city jumps on their motorcycles and head to downtown where the fireworks display will be held. It is like a giant explosion with the busiest mass of people a person will ever witness. It is now 9 pm Tet eve. My neighborhood is quiet and empty as most are preparing to watch the fireworks and then perhaps spend the late night drinking
and singing Karaoke. Tomorrow the streets will be deserted and the city quiet for the first 4 days as the Vietnamese visit with family and celebrate with food and drink. All business will be closed and some will open after the 4 days. Slowly over a period of 10 days, life will again start tricking back to normal until all is back to normal. People will return to their jobs, schools, or other lifestyle that was all but forgotten for a couple of weeks. Sooo…….. How do most foreigners view Tet in Vietnam?
A nightmare!! It all starts a couple of weeks before the big day. Perhaps you have a plumbing problem with your house, or need repair on a motorcycle. Good luck! If it is a big job, it is
extremely difficult to find anybody to work. The Vietnamese are becoming so obsessed with Tet preparations, they start to either refuse work or hastily do jobs just to get you by. Quality goes way down hill. Supermarkets start neglecting regular stock (usually items that foreigners prefer) and stock up on things specific for Tet. As Tet looms closer, shopping becomes a nightmare of crowds and lines with the scurry of people last minute shopping. Because the Vietnamese want to start everything new for the year, stock is not replaces and the shelves become barer until the big day. If you have not braved the crowds to make purchases, you are out of luck. NO MORE FOOD!
Getting around has become so mad that a person wants to stay home or….. head to the tourist area. The Vietnamese are far too busy to be bothered to be there. As a matter of fact, employees that have promised to work over Tet begin not to show up for work. Business owners scramble to somehow stay open and make sure the kitchens are restocked for the holiday. Problem is… even the wholesalers have been reducing and shutting down. If one did not start early, odds are businesses will suffer. Trying to get any Vietnamese person to work a few days before Tet is almost impossible unless you throw a lot of money at them. Prices are inflated country wide and transportation for the weeks prior and for 4 weeks after become almost impossible. Travelers become stranded. All busses, trains, and aircraft are full. The tourist areas are quiet a few days before and then the eve hits. It is like the whole country sucked in a big breath and held it until midnight. 3…..2…..1….. Fireworks. Most foreigners that are residing in the tourist areas listen from quiet streets, a roar that is the rest of the city…… CHAOS!! Then a few hours later it is over. Quiet……. Oh the pleasure…. Quiet in Vietnam…. This is the only time it
happens. A person almost gets to appreciate the calmness until….. It is new years day and everything is closed. Nothing is available. Foreigners go to tourist restaurants to find that some are closed because the employees simply did not show up for work. Now it is our turn to run around in madness. ATM’s are empty and not getting refilled for 10 days. Many people run out of money. Everybody becomes more and more frustrated in the fact that nothing is open and if it is, the prices are so high you want to gag. 4 days………. Aaaarrrgghhh!! 4 days…. Tempers flare and depression sets in with travelers that have their vacation interrupted. Even planning ahead cannot prepare a person for Tet in Vietnam. IF your car or bike breaks down… it stays broke down. Then………. The silence is broken. The dragon dancing begins. Dragon dancing is fun to watch one or two times but the booming drums dtart and never stop. For 10 days traffic gets snagged by curious onlookers wanting to see the monkey king dancing with the dragon. Slowly things start to reopen but still prices are high and getting help is difficult. Employees start returning as if nothing has happened fully expecting you to understand their desertion because of Tet. All of the inflated transportation carries people back to their destinations and about 3 weeks later, prices fall and travelers can start moving again. Thank GOD!! It is over. It will be a while before food items are restocked and service will be restored as all businesses will be overloaded from backup for almost a month. If your internet crashed, or your TV cable was damaged, it will be a long wait.
A word of advice to people who want to travel in Vietnam during Tet….. Don’t!!! Unless you have an organized private tour, or am doing an “Easyrider tour” You will have issues. The countryside comes alive and can be great fun during Tet, but most travelers never make it there….. Some random pics included…..
Happy new Beer!!
Now I go up to my roof and watch the fireworks. Tomorrow I escape!