Hanoi over Tet

What we say: 3.5 stars

I’ve noticed a few forum posts recently with visitors worried about what they’ll find when they arrive in Vietnam during the 2011 Tet holidays. Yes, the country pretty much closes down for a few days at least, and yes, travel is difficult, but it’s really not the end of the world: hotels are available, tourist restaurants and bars remain open and tours still operate.

There are plenty of fireworks on New Years' Eve

There are plenty of fireworks on New Years' Eve

In 2011 New Year’s Day falls on February 3. The main holidays are between the 2nd and the 8th but many offices and government facilities will shut down for 2 weeks.

We arrived in Hanoi shortly before Tet last year. I hadn’t heard of it until I arrived here and didn’t have any idea what to expect. Then we found a flat and were told we couldn’t move in until after Tet because the air-con and internet fitters were all off for a couple of weeks. Hence we found ourselves based in a hotel in Old Quarter for a month.

It was quiet. Very quiet — but in an “Oh look, I can cross the street without fearing for my life!” kind of way. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing, although of course Hanoi is defined by its craziness so you’ll miss out on that. But this silence only lasts for a few days really, and then the city gradually comes back to life.

Onto practicalities…

Firstly, we didn’t have any problems finding places to eat and drink. Now this was last year and things do change, but the couple of bar and restaurant owners I’ve spoken to are staying open and I’ve seen signs around reading “Open over Tet”. You might pay a premium and be stuck with a set meal, but worse things have happened.

*UPDATE* A few places that will definitely be open during Tet (though some have shorter opening hours): Minh’s Jazz, Easy Rider, Dragonfly, Le Pub, Hanoi Backpackers’ Hostel, Joma (Ly Quoc Su), Restaurant Bobby Chinn, the Press Club, Pepperonis, Al Frescos, Jaspas and Puku (not 24 hours). And a few that won’t: Koto, Highway 4, Khazaana, La Place (only closed on 3rd and 4th), The Cart.

Secondly, museums and so on won’t be open, so if that’s your bag it’s not a great time to be here, but tours do operate across Tet so you could book onto a Halong Bay trip – then you won’t even notice anything’s amiss.

Thirdly, it is probably a good idea to book your hotel in advance. They won’t be full but they might be shut. We were the only guests at our hotel for two nights and I got the feeling they were only still open because we were there. But there are so many hotels here you’re bound to find something even if you just show up — just be prepared for a bit more searching.

Fourthly, don’t expect to get a visa. Government offices pretty much shut down for two weeks.

Finally, don’t plan to get out of Hanoi during Tet unless you’ve pre-booked your transport. You might be lucky with a Open Tour bus but trains and flights will be full.

Citrus trees are a common sight around Hanoi at Tet

Citrus trees are a common sight around Hanoi at Tet

On a positive note, they really know how to do fireworks here (let’s ignore the unfortunate incident that occurred prior to the 1,000 year celebrations …). At midnight on February 2, fireworks will be set off at 29 locations around the city. The main displays are at four of the lakes: Hoan Kiem Lake (Hoan Kiem district), Dong Da Lake (Dong Da district), Thang Loi Hotel (Tay Ho district) and Van Quan Lake (Ha Dong district). Expect it to be extremely busy. Enjoy!

Last updated: 11th December, 2014

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