Happy Chinese/Vietnamese New Year from Saigon, Vietnam!

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Happy Chinese New Year from Saigon, VietnamOr as the Vietnamese locals say, “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!”

I was warned about the chaos of being in a large city like Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for Lunar New Year due to the scale of the celebrations, but the experience was unforgettable and I’d recommended it to anyone who wants to feel the vibe of this important Asian holiday.

The New Year’s Eve festival in Saigon was unlike anything I’ve seen. The city centre was closed off, lit with decorations, exhibits, events, stages and completely packed. In Toronto, it’d be the equivalent of filling Nathan Phillips Square and the financial district downtown with people and motorbike traffic (see photos below).

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During New Year’s, or the “Tết” festival, many shops are closed for the week for people to prepare for the holiday or travel to see family. In my last two weeks in Vietnam (Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An), I’ve seen lots of renovations, store openings and many hotels and shops filled with fresh flower plants and 6″ tangerine trees with red and gold papers.

Back home in Toronto, Canada, I’d normally celebrate Chinese (Lunar) New Year with family, making snacks, eating my mom’s delicious cooking (including shrimp rolls, sauteed crab, vegetables and more) and playing board games.

I did keep some of my traditions from home like decluttering and getting something new: I lightened my backpack by giving away items I haven’t used or won’t be using anymore on my trip and I happened to have a suit and work dress tailored in Hoi An earlier in the week.

New Year’s Eve – February 2

  • Arrived in Saigon from Hoi An ($32 USD, 1 hour flight) and checked into my hostel in the city’s backpacker area, aka “District 1″
  • Walked around the city centre, bought a new pair of sunglasses from a street vendor, got a haircut, a la the Chinese tradition of having something “new” for new years
  • Ate a giant bowl of pho soup noodle (30,000 dong or $1.50 CAD) for dinner, where I met a traveller from the US and we walked around with downtown for New Year’s Eve
  • The city was indeed packed, but it was buzzing with energy and I can’t think of a better way to have spent Tết Eve than surrounded by with celebrating locals.

From the seas of motorbikes in photos below, I was back in a place since India where just crossing the street was a thrilling adventure.

New Year’s Day – February 3

  • Met another traveller at the hostel in from Singapore who was also in the city the night before, but had his wallet and phone pick-pocketed (I told him he should have really good luck this coming year since he got rid of all his bad luck right before the year started!)
  • We self-guided a walking and photo-taking city tour, visiting highlights like the People’s Assembly Hall, the Opera House, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Xai Lo Pagoda, Water Puppet Show, and the (Vietnam) War Remnants Museum. I’m still at a loss for words to describe the atrocities documented at that museum.
  • Called home to wish my family Happy New Year, “Sun Nin Fai Lok”!

Happy New Year everyone. I wish you have a wonderful, healthy, happy and successful year of the Rabbit!

On another note, I had a third article posted today on the Toronto Star newspaper’s Moneyville personal finance website on 6 ways to plan for an around the world trip. Please do have a look and click on the “Recommend” link at the top of the article :) Thanks for your support, my friends.

New Year’s Eve, Ho Chi Minh City

Haircut, Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam New Year

Small haircut on Vietnam New Year's Eve, 150,000 dong ($9 CAD)

Crossing a wide sea of motorbikes, Saigon, Vietnam

Walking through the New Year's Eve crowd, Saigon

Crossing a wide sea of motorbikes, Saigon, Vietnam

Crossing a wide sea of motorbikes, Saigon

Motorbike traffic, New Year Eve, Saigon (HCMC) Vietnam

More motorbike traffic in the city centre, Saigon

Light display in front of the People's Assembly Hall

Light display in front of the People's Assembly Hall, Saigon

New Year’s Day self-guided city tour, Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh statue in front of the People's Assembly Hall

Ho Chi Minh statue in front of the People's Assembly Hall

Me, in the garden in front of the People's Assembly Hall

Me, garden in front of the People's Assembly Hall, one of many lush gardens/parks in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Jensen L.

Saigon (HCMC) Vietnam - War Remnants Museum

One of the 10+ jets/tanks from the Vietnam War, War Remnants Museum, Saigon (HCMC) Vietnam

Notre Dame Cathederal, Saigon (HCMC) Vietnam

Notre Dame Cathederal completed 1880 by French colonist, Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

Locals at the Buddhist Xa Loi Pagoda saying prayers at New Year. District 3, Saigon

Prayers at the Xa Loi Pagoda on New Year Day. District 3, Saigon

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  • Richard Birecki

    Hi Lilly
    Great photos and extensive travel journal you have here! Here are two posts I hope you enjoy about Vietnam/ Hanoi Who Wants to be a Millionaire – Vietnam Style and … Sharks, Pollution, and Communists in Hanoi
    As you point out, the prices are … quite a benefit of travel within the country .

  • Pingback: Greetings from Heavenly Koh Tao Island, Thailand()

  • You’re giving me late-night wanderlust, Lily. A dangerous, dangerous thing.

  • Wow- HCMC looks busier than hanoi! CHUC MONG NAM MOI!!! I was so excited to say that to everyone. Some people looked at me funny- like what the heck are you saying?

    And others smiled.

    Loved Vietnam. Loved $1.50 Pho Bo. Loved $0.50 Vietnamese coffees. I bought 6 of those vietnamese coffee strainers to take home. $1.10 each. Can’t beat that. Gonna make my own coffee at home to reminisce about the great time in Vietnam.

    • Did you find the Vietnamese coffee really strong? I had to add the same amount of milk into the coffee to be able to drink it comfortably. Did you buy some of those Weasel poop beans to bring home too?

      HCMC was a great city, very metropolitan, it even had really high-end stores like Louis Vuitton, Chanel. If I measure city busy-ness by how afraid I was that my feet would get ran over by a motorbike, then it was definitely busier than Hanoi!

  • Congratulations on getting your article published on the Moneyville website! Love the photos too. :)

  • Kim

    Great photos! It looks like there was amazing energy there.

    • It was certainly packed and lively here! It’s awesome that (most) people take the entire week off to celebrate. It’s Sunday today (3rd day after New Years) and most shops are still closed until tomorrow.

  • Lily, such a great photo essay. I wish I was there with you walking through the crowd and enjoy that cheap soup noodle with you. I just had mine and it was $6.00 here. lol I should ask them why they charge so expensive here. J/P. You looked like you had an amazing time and meeting new people on the road.

    • We’ll find a holiday/festive crowd to walk through together in the future, take ample photos, and then eat a massive street food feast! I haven’t been posting many of my travel photos on this blog, but I think seeing your Italy photos a few weeks ago inspired me to show mine too, so thanks for that! :)

      – Lily

  • Hi Lily, New Year’s looks crazy but fun. Sounds like you’re enjoying Vietnam. It’s 25F and snowing here in Dallas so I wish I was somewhere warm!

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Whoa, I thought Dallas was too far south to get snow. In any case, I will have a fresh fruit smoothie for you and wish you some warmer weather!

      – Lily

  • Those crowd shots look awesome! I love the movement.

    • Thanks Ayngelina, I have to confess part of the movement was me trying to not get ran over while I walked among the sea of moving motorbikes and tried to photograph at the same time. Happy to report that my feet didn’t get ran over a single time :)