It took me some time to figure out exactly what TET holiday was about. At first I looked for a deeper meaning, a religious significance. When I first arrived in Vietnam it was all a big mystery and very exciting. I searched for some real genuine new year experiences, I joined the masses in District 1 to celebrate and marvelled at the atmosphere.
Over the years I’ve had various TET experiences, and all of them good. I’ve reached the conclusion that just like Christmas back home in England, the deeper meaning is more important for some than others, and generally it is just a wonderful time of year when everyone has a holiday, spends time with family and eats and drinks way too much.
Having both Christmas and the lunar new year within close proximity is a double bonus, but the unique atmosphere of the TET holiday is always to be savoured in Ho Chi Minh City. The weather is fair and the streets light up with colour. The air buzzes in the days leading up to New Years Eve, beautiful kumquat plants in full blossom are seen all around the city, strapped to motorbikes. The children are excited, the house full of fruit and cakes and they are awaiting their little red envelopes of money from their relatives. Activity reaches a crescendo and a million people head into the city center to get a glimpse of the fireworks on the river. Forty minutes later and there’s a deafening roar as the bikes start their engines and begin to inch their way home or to the pagoda. Personally, its the happy nature of the people during holiday time that makes it such a pleasure to be here.
Last year I spent new years day on a typical TET picnic, visiting my wives family in Cu Chi district. A loud, chirpy minibus ride got us there at around 9.30am, where already a huge feast was laid out. All kinds of dishes were laid out including my favourite, thit heo kho trung. We sat on the tiles outside and shared the food and drank beer, and I was stuffed and half drunk before noon, and that’s how it should be.
Spending time in Saigon in the peaceful days after the new year has turned is the only time of year you can drive along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai or Dien Bien Phu and not be choking on exhaust fumes or stuck in traffic. For me, that novelty is well worth it alone, seeing the normal hectic city streets almost deserted. People often ask me where to go during TET and I always tell them its one of the best times to just stay in Saigon and relax. Travelling around the new year period is not easy. All the resorts are fully booked long in advance, flights out of the country are too. Prices for everything are more expensive...so I often wonder if it’s worth travelling during TET.
For newcomers to Saigon’s celebrations I always recommend a stroll down Nguyen Hue at some point after the new year because I think the city does a great job turning the street into a pretty and colourful display, and I have numerous pictures over the years with the various different animals of the zodiac - the Tiger last year. I wonder what to expect from the Rabbit this year!
This year my family and I will be heading to Vung Tau for a couple of nights to take in some sea breeze and delicious fresh seafood, and then for New Years Eve we decided to stay in a hotel in Saigon and watch the fireworks. We haven’t done it for a few years, and I have to introduce my little girl to the festive celebrations too! After that, it’ll be friends, family, food and drink - the uncomplicated essence of TET holiday in Vietnam.