I'm thinking about traveling from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi from January 29-February 7. I've read on some sites, though, that traveling in Vietnam over Tet is pretty unpleasant, due to crammed transport, closed businesses and big price mark-ups. Just wondering if anyone with personal experience of traveling over Tet could offer some advice. Is it really such a headache? Or are these sites exaggerating? Maybe it would be advisable to scrap my plans and go to another country instead?
I traveled the same route around tet last year, and while it was manageable it does get a little hectic. It's true that the buses are more crammed as the Vietnamese travel home to visit families, and possibly the prices are increased. One thing that I would advise to watch out for is that a lot of places close for the holidays. When I was in Sapa, about a day or two before actual tet, everything was closing and everyone was busy preparing to spend a week at home with their families, not working. But it is especially pretty traveling around that time with all the decorations and lanterns hanging in the streets, "chuc mung nam moi" greetings. If you go, make sure you have plans for the actual holiday, and don't expect to be able to catch a bus or travel elsewhere on a whim. I made the mistake of trying to cross over to Laos two days before tet, and well, we were lucky the border was still open... but getting a meal in Dien Bien Phu was impossible, nor were there any buses leaving for days (we managed with oreo cookies for dinner and crossing the border by foot!).
But I bet it's a lot of fun if you spend the holiday with the locals and experience authentic celebrations. It is a little bit more of a challenge traveling around that time, but well worth it if you plan accordingly.
Have a great trip (wherever you decide to go),
Thanks so much for your advice! I really appreciate it
I think it's a good suggestion to make plans in advance for the actual holiday. By that time I'll have made it to Central or Northern Vietnam, but not sure exactly where. Are there any cities you would suggest for the actual holiday? Do you think it's better to find a bigger, more touristy city where there might be more businesses open?
I would personally recommend Hoi An, as it is an absolutely stunning town especially with all the lanterns in the streets and lights by the water during tet. Its big enough and very well catered for travelers, so I'm sure there would be some businesses open. Also, if at least some of the tailor shops close for tet (there are about a billion of them), then that would be even better! You'd be able to appreciate the town without being hassled every 5 seconds to get something made.
Have a great trip and enjoy tet!
But I bet it's a lot of fun if you spend the holiday with the locals and experience authentic celebrations. It is a little bit more of a challenge traveling around that time, but well worth it if you plan accordingly. Ruta
#5 69bertie has been a member since 22/12/2009. Posts: 90
thanks for the advice
tickets are already booked and i'm committed to going at this time, so let's hope everything turns out! i'm excited to witness the excitement of tet, even if that means a lot of the normal tourist services are suspended.
Based on my experience and staying in Vietnam (on and off) for years now...Its not advisable to visit Vietnam on Tet Holiday.
Most stores in the cities are closed (coz people go back to their province to celebrate Tet).
Not enough transportation..
Citites are deserted... IM SURE..lol....
Thats why, most of the expats who stayed here in Vietnam travel outside of Vietnam during Tet Holiday....Try Bangkok,Laos, Cambodia, KL instead.....BTW OFficial Tet Holiday for this coming Lunar New Year is from 2 February. However The entire first week of the month of february is considered holiday....Lastly, you will get a hard time purchasing tickets to bus and trains...since all locals will travel to their hometown.
Though the above is not encouraging and you may find dissappointing, I hope you still find other option to travel in other countries. Good Luck.....
#7 JiroIsCounting has been a member since 23/12/2010. Posts: 24
Don't do it! The whole country shuts down over TET. It's not just travel that will be uncomfortable, but it's also hard to find a hotel or a place to eat, as everything is closed because the whole country is visiting with family.
I know this from experience. I spent the last year living in Vietnam. I was in Cambodia for two weeks prior to Tet, but returned to Haiphong, Vietnam about halfway through Tet. Everything was closed.
#8 joeaddison79 has been a member since 5/1/2011. Posts: 7
I moved to Hanoi just before Tet last year. Hanoi was dead (heaven in some ways!) and we were the only guests staying at our hotel for a couple of days but some restaurants were still open and if you booked in advance I'm sure you'd find a hotel that was staying open - but perhaps don't rely on just showing up. The problem is that you don't get a feel for the real Hanoi when the streets are so quiet!
My parents came to visit over Tet and travelled to Hue , Hoi An and Nha Trang during the extended holiday. I booked their trains to Hue and then from Danang to Nha Trang a couple of weeks in advance and managed to get them sleepers but not on the trains I wanted - but at least got something. The problem was getting them from Nha Trang to HCMC at the end of the holiday - no trains and no flights so they ended up on the overnight bus. Quite an experience for two 60-somethings!
They were in Hoi An on the main day of Tet and there was plenty open around that time. They did have some trouble getting a hotel for the first couple of nights in Nha Trang (it's a popular locals holiday spot) but were OK after that.
So in summary, it's not the best time to be here but you'll still enjoy it if you plan your itinerary and transport well enough in advance.
I was planning practically exactly the same as Ann, I arrive in Ho Chi Minh on the 30th Jan (after doing 2 weeks through thailand/cambodia) and wanted to travel up the coast to Hanoi. Ignorantly I didn't know about Tet until a few days ago and since then I've been thinking a lot about what to do.
I'm on a fairly limited time scale, (5 weeks, flying back from bangkok 6th march) in which I also wanted to do the northern parts of Laos and Thailand. So I'm now considering skipping Vietnam and focussing on those two places. I really wanted to see Hanoi/Halong bay but I guess I can always return at a later date...
Anyway my point is I would really appreciate any opinions/advice on what the smartest move would be. Sacrifice Vietnam, but have a less rushed time through Laos and Thailand, or brave Vietnam during tet and have less time in the other places....Hmm decisions
I'm also going to Vietnam over Tet, we're only there for 2 weeks and half of that will be when Tet celebrations are in full swing, so I've got to make it work.
We were aware of Tet when booking, but it's only over the last few weeks that I've comprehended quite how much the country shuts down...
We're going from 25th Jan - 7th Feb, flying into and out of HCMC.
Accomodation shouldnt be a problem since we are planning to book everything before we leave (not my usual style but it sounds like it would be a good idea!) but transport worries me..is there any way to book bus/train tickets before we get there?
Was roughly planning to go to Phu Quoc Island for Tet itself and the days after, if there are still flights available (last time I looked there were a few left!) which seems like a good idea to me, as long as our guesthouse/hotel is open, and a restaurant, I dont really need much else
To All :
This Year , Tet will be from Feb 2-Feb 8.....But they will celebrate it from the last week of January to Second week of February....
It means, people from the cities will comeback to their hometowns from as early as January 24.
If you have plans to travel here in Vietnam, I suggest to reschedule and move to your next plan...You will be just disappointed and it will be difficult for you and expensive....
-Bus tickets sell like pancake on those durations...
-If you are lucky to get a ticket it will cost you x3 the usual price
-Hotels,restaurants,stores,markets are close.
-Cities are deserted.
-Not enough local bus and taxis
-Locals book early as First week of January,chances are if you arrived it all fully booked
It will be very disappointing and inconvenient with you during this period.
When I say inconvenient - it's like a 24 hour convenience store that closes during lunch time
#12 JiroIsCounting has been a member since 23/12/2010. Posts: 24
i appreciate all of the feedback and advice, though it's really making me nervous! i guess i didn't realize just how difficult traveling over tet would be when i went ahead and booked flights. right now i have a nonrefundable ticket to fly out of hanoi on february 7. not sure what to do ...
if it's possible i'd still like to make it work. as sidewinder is doing, i'll try to book everything in advance.
travellingsarah, as your post was one of the most optimistic, i'm wondering if you know how non-residents like us can go about booking transport ahead of time? is it possible to do it online?
I feel the same..I like the optimistic posts but the negative ones make depressing reading...it's not as if we can really change our plans now, those are the only weeks we have off work.
Our flights are into Bangkok first so technically we could go elsewhere instead but that's not what we want to do, especially not after paying £50 for a visa! And having plans to visit my girlfriends family (which I suppose does at least give us somwehere to stay if things are THAT bad)
Ever optimistic - that's me!
I think some of the negative posts are overly negative. As I said in my previous post, Hanoi will be dead, but there WILL be restaurants, bars, shops and hotels open. I've even checked with my friends at the Backpackers' hostel and they will be open, if you prefer a dorm (or they have private rooms too but might be a bit pricey) or as a last resort! We were still in a hotel over Tet last year so had to go out for food and had no problems at all.
As for travel, Ann you only have about 9 days so taking a flight for at least part of the journey will probably make sense, and of course you can book flights now! I was looking the other day and there were still some internal flights on Vietnam Airlines so have a look asap - they might be a bit pricier but that's something you'll have to live with.
Buses - I don't think you can book in advance but as I said, when all else (trains and flights) failed, my parents were able to book a bus from Nha Trang to Saigon the day before travel. And it didn't cost 3 times as much - double at most but it was still relatively cheap.
Trains - You can book the Danang to Hanoi part in advance if you're willing to pay for the private Livitrains carriage (www.livitrain.com), but that doesn't run on the rest of the line so I'd say don't rely on being able to get a train. Travel agents MIGHT be willing to book tickets for you, if they're available, but I don't know any in HCMC.
Overall, you will just need to build in a bit of flexibility, especially Ann as you have such a limited time here. Infact I'd recommend you plan to get up to Hanoi area at least a few days before your flight. Where do you want to go as you can't do the whole country in such a short time? Sidewinder - you have a bit more flexibility so can hibernate somewhere for the main couple of days if you want to!
Feel free to ask for any other advice or reassurance - it's not the best time to be here but you're committed to it now so I'm happy to help in any way I can. And remember - my parents didn't feel they had any less good a time for being here over Tet last year (apart from the overnight bus!!). Their comments regarding Hue and Hoi An are below (Tet was 14th Feb):
"In Hue (Thurs and Fri, 11th and 12th Feb) we only did sightseeing bit so not sure if shops were open - if you remember we got a hotel in an area which was not the best for the town. We left on the 13th and drove through the town - which looked quite buzzing. In Hoi An, the advantage was that all the places of historical interest were free entry because of Tet, restaurants were open and all the cafes and souvenir (art shops etc) were open. I'm not sure about all the tailors as we didn't investigate these, but I do remember some fabric shops being open. I see from my notes that some shops were closing early on the 14th. Fireworks in the evening."
Thankyou for all that information Sarah.
Currently we have booked flights to and from Phu Quoc, getting back to Saigon on 31st. We were hoping to go to Hue , Hoi An, and then spend Tet in Nha Trang.
I have heard the Open Bus service is largely unaffected during Tet, as locals dont tend to use it. Can anyone confirm this?
We have been offered some tickets to Hue in a soft sleeper but they are a day after we wanted and are $75 each, which seems steep, though I guess I was expecting a surcharge..
Should we just go with them, or chance our luck booking an open tour ticket to Hue (and back again!) when we first get to Saigon on the 25th Jan?
Well, the main day of Tet is the 3rd, but as you know, the Tet holiday runs either side of this, so if you only get to Saigon on the 31st you're going to have to go some to get to Hue and Hoi An and back to Nha Trang by the 3rd! If you can get a flight to Hue then travel back down by bus, that will probably be your best bet, otherwise you're looking at 20+ hours up to Hue and the same back to Saigon, with your stop in Nha Trang. With your limited time this is a long time to spend on a bus or train!
I think Open Tour buses are OK around this time, although the locals do use them too.
Hmm yeah when you look at it like that it does sound a bit tight! Maybe we should just do Hue OR Hoi An ..or stay in Hoi An for Tet, going to Nha Trang afterwards
I did look at flights to Hue because it would have been perfect, but Vietnam Airlines seemed to be (unsurprisingly) sold out totally...although looking at Kayak they reckon there is still flights available, though for quite a lot more
Thanks for the advice again!
I am leaving for HCMC in 2 hours and will be there for around 4 weeks. I thought Tet was going to be a great time to visit but I guess I was wrong. I am going anyway and will make it work. I was going to try and make it to Hanoi for Tet but after reading the above posts I will probably hang out around Da Nang or somewhere close. Even if hotel rooms will be 3x the price then WOW I might have to pay $40 for a room. Thats still not bad IMO. I am buying a motorbike in HCMC so I'm not worried about buses and such. I will probably get a better idea of what to do once there.
#19 artvandelay has been a member since 11/1/2011. Posts: 3
thanks for all of your advice and optimism!
actually, i've decided to stretch my time in vietnam to 12 days. since i'll be in cambodia beforehand, i think i'll just head over to vietnam sooner than originally planned. that way i won't be so rushed when making my way up to hanoi to catch my flight out on the 7th.
in the 12 days, i'm hoping to go to ho chi minh city, mui ne, hoi an, hue, halong bay and hanoi. do you think that's feasible? if i stick to this itinerary and plan on getting to hanoi a couple days before my flight, then i guess that would mean spending tet in halong bay. do you think that's a good place to be during the holiday? if not, how would you recommend changing my itinerary?
thanks again for all of your help!
Yeah, Jetstar still had a lot of flights between Hanoi and HCMC on Wednesday when I looked (as I'm going to HCMC for Tet) but I'm not sure about other destinations.
Ann - 12 days is just about feasible though will still be very rushed. Say something like:
1 - HCMC
2 - HCMC
3 - bus to Mui Ne
4 - Mui Ne
5 - Mui Ne and overnight bus to Hoi An
6 - Hoi An
7 - Hoi An
8 - bus to Hue
9 - Hue and overnight bus to Hanoi
10 - Hanoi
11 - Halong
12 - Halong
Although if your flight's on day 12 you'll need to cut a day out elsewhere. So I think you'll be around Hue on the 3rd?
I've been in Vietnam over TET for at least the last 5 or 6 years, and it's really not all that hard to move around. Planes are the worst, then trains, and last buses. I would try to book your train ticket in advance. Yes, the buses will be running, and packed, and prices will be up, but not unreasonably. Finding rooms under $25USD shouldn't be a problem in Saigon. So, book the train ahead, be flexible, and accept that a $5 bus ticket will likely cost $10. If you can do that you'll be fine.
#23 jackdsilva12 has been a member since 18/1/2011. Posts: 31
This all makes interesting reading. We are currently (29th Jan) in HCMC and plan to go to Cat Ba Island for a week of climbing. We are waiting here to use our train ticket to Hanoi which is booked for the 1st Feb. This was the earliest date we could secure. Problem is we arrive at 4.20am on the 3rd Feb. We need to then get a bus to the coast and a boat across. Does anyone know if the bus will be running as there is no advance ticket sales? There's one from Hanoi at 5.30am, so this would suit us well. The bus company is Hoang Long.
If there's no buses we will have to stay in Hanoi. Any suggestions on cheap ($10ish)backpackers that we could book ahead?Big thanks,
Liz and Greg
#24 lizzykay has been a member since 29/1/2011. Posts: 2
I'm afraid I can't answer you about the bus but regarding the accommodation - have a look on the listings here, you should be able to book any of them ahead. Or if you're happy in a dorm try Hanoi Backpackers Hostel in Ma May - they have double dorm beds for $9 and you can book online. Good luck with the train journey - very brave!
Thanks Sarah for the suggestions. I have since found out that the bus resumes on the 4th Feb, so hopefully we will only need the one night in Hanoi.
#26 lizzykay has been a member since 29/1/2011. Posts: 2
Well, I got back yesterday, and generally all the fears before I went were unfounded - traveling over Tet really wasn't a problem.
I think the only thing that was annoying was the doubling of the price of the Open Tour buses, but it wasn't like it was unexpected, and actually getting seats wasn't a problem at all.
We spent a few days in Saigon with my girlfriends family from the 25th, with lots of pre Tet feasts, then went on a 2 day Mekong Delta tour, then a few days in Phu Quoc (which is staggeringly beautiful), followed by 3 days in Nha Trang, which is where we spent Tet - hotels were not a problem, the decorations were cool, and watching the fireworks at midnight on the beach was really fun.
We then spent a few days in Mui Ne, this was the only place where finding decent cheap accommodation was difficult, but from what I understand it is always like that.
So overall, I had an amazing time, and if anyone is ever worried about traveling over Tet, don't be. That said, I wouldn't rush to go back at the same time again, but I would have no qualms about doing so if that was the only time I could get.
Also, general advice for Vietnam, as I was advised not to do before I left - don't try and squeeze too much into a short time. We only saw the south of the country in 2 weeks, and even that involved a fair amount of traveling, any more wouldn't have been enjoyable. Distances are long, and buses are slow!
I also recently returned from my trip to Vietnam, and I'd like to agree with Sidewinder's contention that traveling over Tet isn't a problem. It's not the ideal time to go if you're tight on money, but it's definitely not as if it makes for a disappointing experience. I loved my time in Vietnam! Even without any sort of foresight or planning ahead, I was able to do everything I wanted to do.
We traveled from Ho Chi Minh City all the way up to Hanoi and never had a problem finding bus tickets, even when booking just one day before travel. On the day before Tet, the actual day of Tet and the day after Tet the prices were a bit inflated but certainly not three times as much, as some have said. At most, we paid a 50% markup, which isn't a big deal when tickets are so inexpensive to begin with. We just had to do a bit of shopping around to find the best deal, which is something I think most money-conscious travelers try to do regardless of the time of year. So, getting from one part of the country to another was not nearly as stressful as I expected it to be.
Finding hotels/hostels was also no problem. Usually, there is a "backpacker area" with bunches of hotels/hostels in close range of each other, so it never takes too long to get a room. If the first place you stop at is full, you just go down the street a bit and you're fine. We stayed in Ho Chi Minh, Mui Ne , Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi. The only places that presented a bit of an inconvenience were Mui Ne because it was a little more expensive and Hanoi because we arrived at 5:30 in the morning and had trouble finding places that were open at that time. So, while you might want to book ahead, booking on arrival always worked just fine for us.
For the actual Tet holiday, we were in Hoi An. It made for a fine place to stay, and even though some businesses were closed, there was still PLENTY to do. After experiencing it for myself, I'm surprised that some people have said that "everything is closed" and "cities are deserted". I don't know where they were staying! In Hoi An, many of the old historic houses were closed, as were some tailors, some markets, and some restaurants. But there were still tons of businesses that stayed open, knowing that the tourist market never stops and not wanting to miss out on the extra income. We walked around the city, went to restaurants and did some shopping - all without any disappointments. We also rented motorbikes and drove to Marble Mountain to see the caves, statues and pagodas there (very highly recommended!). At night we enjoyed the festivities by the riverfront where they had live music and lighted lanterns on display. It was really nice! The only bit of trouble we encountered was finding a cooking class to take. Many were not running or booked because of the holiday, but we DID manage to find one after checking three or four restaurants.
So, all in all, I'd say that travelers considering visiting Vietnam over Tet shouldn't be discouraged! All it requires is a little more hunting and a bit more money. As Sidewinder said, I think the biggest concern isn't related to Tet at all and that's overestimating the things you can see and do in a limited amount of time. I was in Vietnam for only twelve days, and I went all the way up the east coast of the country. It was an incredible time, but I did feel rushed and had to endure some 15+ hour bus rides. So, if I were to do it again, I would focus on a much smaller region of the country and spare myself the excruciatingly long bus rides. Oh, that constant honking! I can still hear it ringing in my ears!