From the dizzying heights of the Tet Festival to the more low-key celebrations of the Lim Festival, there are dozens of different ways to experience the local culture in Vietnam. Year-round discover the local traditions through festivals, holidays and celebrations. Even the lesser-known events can be just as spellbinding as the big T-E-T.
Vietnam’s most major and famous annual festival is the Tet, who’s presence and grandeur can be felt nationwide. This opulent occasion is a celebration of the Lunar New Year, which is the same for the Vietnamese New Year as the Chinese New Year. Tet is celebrated in style across the country and will fall between Jan 21 and Feb 21 every year.
Formally known as Tết Nguyên Đán, this celebration is welcomed across Vietnam with all the pomp and pageantry that Christmas and the Fourth of July are. This year the Vietnamese New Year begins on February 12, 2021, but the days leading up to the festival and the days preceding it are considered national holidays.
Though officially a three-day festival, parties often continue for over a week. In this time, gifts are given (a lot of lucky money in red envelopes), pagodas and shrines are visited, and tribute is paid to ancestors of past generations. There’s even some light gambling on the streets.
Tet is an event for both reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. Food is considered an integral part of the festival and locals are known to prepare their delicacies well in advance of Tet’s beginning.
In anticipation of the New Year, Vietnamese citizens clean out their homes and purchase new clothing. Children receive gifts and money from elders, and blooming flowers are grown, with yellow being especially popular for Tet, such as marigolds, orchids, cockscombs and chrysanthemums.
A special time of year, the nation’s atmosphere during Tet is truly sometime worth visiting. And if you’ll be visiting the major cities, do note that some shops will be closed and the city a bit more empty than normal as natives will retreat to their hometowns to be with family.
Tet in Saigon
Though Saigon is a considerably quieter than usual, Tet is still a fun time to visit this international city. In addition to the colorful fireworks, there’s also a beautiful flower garden along Nguyen Hue Walking Street where observers can observe the collage of bright, vibrant colors on display.
District 1 hosts an annual book event from the fourth day of Tet where books and magazines are welcomely exchanged. Decorations are fitted throughout the city and food stalls line the busy streets. Certain shops may be shut, but overall, Ho Chi Minh is a wonderland during Tet Festival.
Tet in Hanoi
The capital city is at its best during Tet and celebrations begin well before its official start. Dazzling firework displays are apparent here, too, as is the tapestry of food and drink stalls.
Locals purchase orange kumquat and pink peach boughs as a symbol of good luck and fortune. Hanoi’s Quang Ba Flower Market is particularly busy during Tet, and a visit there will immerse you in the kaleidoscope of colorful plants displayed there.
There are also parades, parties, and smaller festivities taking place in the city, creating an incredible atmosphere in Hanoi has to be seen to be believed.
Tet in Hoi An
The ancient town of Hoi An is a magical place to celebrate Tet. Already swimming in quaint charm and rustic beauty, the grandeur of Tet brings the already-stunning Hoi An to a new level.
Be sure to catch the lantern display. Starting one week before Tet, this beautiful showcase illuminates the skies of the Ancient Quarter as musical performances and workshops happen beneath.
Most strikingly, a boat festival takes place on the second day of Tet to pay homage to the water gods. Teams from all over Hoi An compete in a sailing race as cheering observers delightfully watch on from the shore. In a symbol of good luck and fortune, the locals splash water on passing boats.
Hoi An, already a mystical and beautiful town, is even more impressive during Tet. If you’re lucky enough to be there during this time, then you will be treated to a spellbinding occasion.
Twenty kilometers away from Hanoi lies Lim Village. Here, the locals celebrate the life of a Buddhist nun named Ba Mu who serves as the inspiration behind January’s folky Lim Festival. A musical occasion, visitors can listen to the sounds of the UNESCO-protected Quan Ho Tribe’s vocal expressions and unique, intricate dance routines.
A highly active tradition, numerous games are played during Lim including tug-of-war, human chess, freestyle wrestling, and cockfighting. Watching is not only entertaining, but it’s also a great way to mingle with the friendly locals. Be sure to catch the tribute to Nguyen Ding (the founder of Lim Festival). Locals ascend Lim Hill until they reach the pagoda at the summit, where citizens share aromatic incense and pay tribute to the town’s founder.
The Lim Festival usually lasts for three days between January 12th and January 14th. The second day, January 13th is considered the main day so be sure to visit then. Though not nearly as famous as Tet, Lim Festival is still a captivating and unique celebration and one definitely worth witnessing.
Hung King Temple Festival
Vietnam’s first king was Kinh Duong Vuong, who allegedly lived to the ripe old age of 127. Hung King Temple Festival, which is celebrated in early April, is held in remembrance of this ancient ruler.
Hung Temple is the epicenter of this festival. Located in the Phu Tho province, the festival is usually celebrated with a flower festival and an intricate lantern display. Worship, music, and celebration are all commonplace at this sacred and holy sight. If you’re looking for a festival that celebrates Vietnam’s deepest roots, the Hung King Temple Festival is a great way to get informed.
Hoi An Lantern Festival
If you’re familiar with Hoi An’s Old Town, then you’ll have heard of the famous Lantern Festival, which takes place there every month. One of the most beautiful attractions in all of Vietnam, the event brings an extra touch of mystique to an already magical location.
During the festival, the city’s lights are all turned off. At 8 pm, dozens of multi-colored lanterns ascend to the skies, illuminating the whole city in a bright collage of colors. The ban on cars and motorbikes allows you to safely wander the streets whilst gazing above.
In addition to the lanterns, there are also a host of ground-based activities taking place including musical performances, poetry readings, street games, and food stalls. These all take place along the banks of the famous Thu Bon River, which in turn reflects the colors of the lanterns.
The Hoi An Lantern Festival is also a time for remembrance. To honor previous generations no longer with us, locals often visit shrines and burial sites to reflect on their lives. A truly spellbinding occasion, the event is a must-visit if you’re lucky enough to be in Central Vietnam.
Pilgrims from all over Vietnam flock to Perfume Pagoda to celebrate the upcoming year ahead. Celebrated in either February or March, Perfume Festival takes place in Hanoi’s Huong Tich Mountains.
Featuring mesmerizing dance ceremonies, delicious food offerings, and incense gatherings, Perfume Festival is a celebration of both the New Year and Buddha’s rule. At Perfume Pagoda, the pilgrims make the 120-step odyssey to the base to pay their respects to Buddha. The stunning landscapes of the Huong Tich Mountains feature rising cliffs, steep hills, and overhanging stalagmites, which locals believe to have spiritual and magical powers.
The journey between the various festival sites takes place by boat. As you sail along the water, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the landscape and a symphony of sights, sounds, and aromatic smells emanating from the burning incense of the Perfume Festival.
Phat Dan, the celebration of Buddha’s birth, is celebrated in either April or May. This grand occasion is celebrated across Vietnam in serious style. Places of worship are booming with the sound of prayer, music, and emphatic speeches. Much like the Perfume Festival, incense is burned and food offerings are left at the feet of the many pagodas which grace Vietnam.
Phat Dan is held on the 15th day of the 4th lunar month, falling in April or May in the Gregorian calendar. To celebrate the Buddha’s life and enduring legacy, gifts are given and exchanged and the poor and needy receive food and presents from the monks.
There are also night parades and musical performances for Buddha’s Birthday. One of the holiest celebrations in Vietnam, Phat Dan remains an important occasion in the country more than 2,000 years after his famous life.
Known as Tet Trung Thu, the Mid-Autumn Festival is held during the eighth lunar month (which would be October in the Western calendar) and is eagerly awaited by children across Vietnam. Tet Trung Thu is a heartwarming and wholesome occasion featuring delicious mooncakes, colorful lanterns, and entertaining live performances.
Children are given lit lanterns that they gleefully parade around the streets at night. It’s also traditional to observe, and participate in, the Lion Dance – a staple of the Mid-Autumn Festival. This iconic dance features two costumed performers (one portraying a man called Ong Dia and the other portraying the lion) dancing merrily and performing various tricks to a delighted young audience.
Tet Trung Thu is almost like the children’s version of the Tet Festival. This tradition can be observed across the country with charismatic live performances, brightly colored lanterns, and freshly baked mooncakes.
There’s never a dull day in Vietnam. The constant stream of festivals and celebrations is enough to keep you occupied and entertained no matter which time of year you choose to visit.