Chinese New Year, called Têt Festival here, is widely celebrated in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese New Year actually celebrates different things; the arrival of spring (like the Chinese New Year) but also the deceased of each family. It is a family celebration that determines the whole year.
Indeed, everything that is said and done on the first day of the new year may have consequences for the entire year. The children receive a beautifully decorated envelope with new banknotes inside. The ancestors are the subject of prayers and offerings in all the temples and pagodas.
All the most beautiful pictures that I have seen around, for instance about the floating market on Mekong river, were shot during this period of time. So I decided to make my second trip to South Vietnam exactly during the Têt Festival. A few days before the official date, the activity is at its maximum in the Mekong delta. All market sellers are busy, inland as on the floating market, and every family get prepared to celebrate the New Year. The perfect gift is flowers, so every market is covered with yellow flowers and it looks beautiful!
In order to enjoy this occasion, you will have to go to Cantho or Cai Be at least 5 or 4 days before the Têt. The closer you get to the date, the more the sellers are going to Saigon to sell their products, and thus you will find them on the Saigon river side, which makes beautiful pictures too!
The second good reason to go to Vietnam at this period is to see some Lion Dance all over the city. The only trick is that those dance are organised by young student in order to raise some money, and therefore they are quite unpredictable. Most of the hotels are organising one, so they can inform their customers about the timing, as the one we were staying and which I highly recommend as it is a wonderful place (Villa Song Saigon). But the most spectacular dance is the one taking place in the temples, in the middle of the crowd, and for this one no schedule available. We were lucky enough to visit the most famous temple of Saigon, the Jade Emperor Pagoda (Chùa Ngoc Hoàng), among a heavy crowd, when a performers troupe arrived. It was an amazing moment! I will always remember this little guy scared to death when he had to fill the dragon mouth with some banknotes, hilarious!!!
During three to four days, the city of Saigon get empty from the millions of scooters and that’s the right moment to visit without risking your life each time you cross a street. Some light and sound shows are organised on the main buildings such as the City Hall and some fountain shows and decoration related to the New Year animal are settled in the Nguyen Hue Avenue. I highly recommend a drink on the Rex hotel rooftop in order to have the view on all those festivities while having a nice cocktail. Few museums are closed during this week (for instance the charming small traditional medicine & pharmacy Museum), but most of the city is opened as usual.
Whether you visit the South of Vietnam during the Têt festival or at any other time, here are some addresses that we highly recommend:
L’Usine, fashionable concept store and restaurant really cool.
The Temple Club, for its colonial decoration but also for its fantastic menu.
Saïgon Kitch, 43 Ton That Thiep, Dist.1, for perfect small gifts to carry home (such as recycled products with a trendy design).