In my book, I talk about our vacation to Vietnam. We (James, Rikka, Rebecca and I) flew into Hanoi, Vietnam during the Spring Festival, which is Chinese New Year. During this time schools and many businesses shut down for several days, as families go home to their native cities or towns to celebrate with family. We took this opportunity to vacation in Vietnam as it was a cheap trip and a cheap country to stay and shop in. Vietnam celebrates it’s New Year around the same time. It’s called Ted Nguyen Dan which translates to mean “the first morning of the first day,” or TET for short. It features aspects of the western Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, Halloween and Birthday. Many East Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year which originated from China TET started on January 28 this year. It starts on a different day every year. See below on how it’s calculated. However, TET is really not the best time for a visit to any Asian country that is celebrating it because many businesses are shut down and many streets are like ghost towns. We lucked out as we arrived in Vietnam at the end of TET celebrations and some businesses were re-opening. Many of the ATMs were empty, especially at the airport. I almost was not able to scrape the money together to check my extra bag of goodies.
Below info is from www.vietnamonline.com
Tet is considered the biggest and most popular festival of the year in Vietnam. Celebrated on the first day of the first month in Lunar Calendar, Tet’s celebration is the longest holiday which may last up to seven days. It has lasted longer in the past. Tet is an occasion for Vietnamese to express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors as well as welcoming the New Year with their beloved family members. Moreover, in the past, Tet was essential as it provided one of few long breaks during the agricultural year, which was held between the harvesting of the crops and the sowing of the next ones. To make it easier, one can imagine Tet as a combination of Christmas and New Year: every family will get together to have big meals, decorate Tet trees and eat Tet food but to welcome the new year instead of a religious cause.
How is Tet celebrated?
Since Tet occupies an important role in Vietnamese’s religious beliefs, Vietnamese will begin their preparations well in advance of the upcoming New Year. In an effort to get rid of the bad luck of the old year, people will spend a few days cleaning their homes, polishing every utensil, or even repaint and decorate the house with kumquat tree, branches of peach blossom, and many other colorful flowers. The ancestral altar is especially taken care of, with careful decoration of five kinds of fruits and votive papers, along with many religious rituals. Everybody, especially children, buy new clothes and shoes to wear on the first days of New Year. People also try to pay all their pending debts and resolve all the arguments among colleagues, friends or members of family.
Like other Asian countries, Vietnamese believe that the color of red and yellow will bring good fortune, which may explain why these colors can be seen everywhere in Lunar New Year. People consider what they do on the dawn of Tet will determine their fate for the whole year, hence people always smile and behave as nice as they can in the hope for a better year. Besides, gifts are exchanged between family members and friends and relatives, while children receive lucky money kept in red envelope.
No matter where Tet is celebrated, it must be clarified from the beginning that Tet is not a day, but several days of celebration.
How Tet is calculated?
Different from the Gregorian calendar, Lunar Calendar has a fix number of twelve months with 30 days each, and a leap-year will have a whole intercalary month instead of the 29th day of February. The new year of Lunar Calendar normally will start in late January or beginning of February according to Gregorian calendar. That explains why Tet days vary from year to year: it is because the leap month may fall shorter or longer which create a smaller or bigger gap between the two calendars.
Arriving in Hanoi
“The Nexy Hostel we stayed in is on 12 To Tich Street in the Hoan Kiem District of Hanoi located in the Old Quarter. Upon our arrival in Hanoi, we checked in, dropped our bags off, as our room would not be ready until 3pm. It was just 10am. Now we were back on the streets of the Old Quarter to explore. Within minutes of stepping out of the hostel, Rikka and I were purchasing shit from a vendor that was still in the middle of opening up for the day. By the time James and Rebecca caught up to us, I already had a huge, black bag full of lacquer plates, chopstick holder, and wine holders. At this point in this vacation, I knew I would be checking a bag on our return trip back to China.”
“How do I begin to describe the Old Quarter? Hoary, crowded, narrow streets lined with plastic chairs and tables a bustle with street vendors dishing up pho, bun cha, meat on a stick, fried rice, and banh mi with a bottle of bio ho, which is a Vietnamese draft beer, if you fancy it. Friendly, and sometimes a bit aggressive merchants pushing beautiful clothing, jewelry, bags, souvenirs, art, and mani-pedis. Motorbikes honk and weave through pedestrians and automobiles with impressive skill. Shisha bars, lounges, and restaurants line the streets at every corner with patrons inside and street-side. At night, you can never walk too far without hearing a familiar jam pumping from one of the nightclubs. Old Quarter pulls you in with its friendly locals that are always glad to meet and socialize with a foreigner. Old Quarter is a place where a day of shopping easily segues into a night of having a few beers or cocktails or huffing laughing gas out of a balloon. The streets in the Old Quarter give you a feel of being transported to earlier years as many of the structures are dated, but all with the Art Deco legacy of prior French occupancy. One cannot help but notice the thickly, knotted power lines that I have observed are the inspiration for many of the beautiful paintings I’ve seen in the art shops here.”
Hoa Lu, Vietnams capital city
“On our second day, we took a tour to see two temples in Hoa Lu. Hoa Lu is Vietnam’s ancient capital city. The bus ride out of the Old Quarter to Hoa Lu was brutal as it was a 2-hour drive in cramped space. We muddled through and it was well worth it. The first temple was of the Le dynasty, the second the Dinh dynasty. Here is where James spotted a lady he said was, ‘Doing Vietnam things.'”
“What are Vietnam things? Things you may have seen Vietnamese people doing in the movies like working in rice paddies, which this lady was doing. After this tour, we were on our way to Tam Coc for lunch. After lunch, we all boarded little boats (two each) that would be navigated by a local. James and I shared a boat while Rebecca and Rikka shared another. This was the best part of the tour.”
Video of mine and James’ navigator rowing with his feet. He was quite popular.
“Our guy is popular,” laughed James, “He’s all like ‘Wassup’ to all his homies when he passes by.”
“The most enjoyable and majestic part of this trip was the Halong Bay cruise. We bussed it out to Halong Bay the next day, where we got on a dingy and sailed out to our cruise boat.”
“I’ve never kayaked before, but I got the hang of it quite fast I think. The only issue with two newbies is the confusion of which way each of us thought we should paddle. But no worries, we went in a few circles but we got where we wanted to be. I kept pausing just to breath in the moments; I was floating on Halong Bay, in a kayak, watching the sunset. It was peaceful and quiet. It was simply beautiful”
This lady was waiting for me when we returned from the caves and kayaking.
It is not uncommon for the locals to navigate up to ships and solicit goods, “You buy some tings?” I promised her I’d buy a bottle of vodka. Hours later she rowed up as our dingy came back in to collect.
We all enjoyed the vodka!
One of my fellow travelers left her wallet in the taxi and they all went outside of the airport to wait for him to return so that she could retrieve it. I stayed inside with the bags. I was used to getting stared at of course, but what was happening here in this airport was different. Before I knew it, there was a crowd of Vietnamese people around me. I text Rebecca to come back inside the airport. It was weird. Finally, a young boy about the age of 14 asked if he could get a picture with me. After that, they all converged around me, all excitedly asking for pictures with me. They were so friendly and polite, unlike how it’s done in China. I truly felt like a celebrity. At one point I joked around with James pretending he was my assistant as I asked him to hold my bags so that I could take more pictures as Vietnamese patrons continued to come up to me. One lady even placed her baby in my arms and encouraged me to kiss the baby on the cheek. It was crazy.
The photos on this page are accredited to James, Rikka, Rebecca and me. I want to thank you all for graciously sharing your photos with me.