Or 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).
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.