Don’t be in Saigon during Tet, everyone says. Everything is closed, everything is three times the price, there’s nothing to do, and it’s impossible to get out. Contrary to all this advice, I decided that I HAD to be in Saigon during Tet, the lunar new year celebration. After all, it’s the biggest holiday of the year for Vietnam, surpassing both Christmas and New Years. Plus, I always have to be a rebel.
Conclusion: Saigon during Tet is totally awesome, and completely worth it.
Tet in Vietnam is very different from New Years in western countries – whereas New Years in the west is a one day event of partying and watching the ball drop at midnight, in Vietnam it is two weeks of taking time off of work, going back to your hometown, and spending time with family. As a result, everything is closed, and it’s impossible to travel as all forms of travel have already been fully booked. So during Tet, cities like Saigon almost become ghost cities, whereas small villages outside of Saigon suddenly swell to twice their size as everybody returns to their hometown.
But anyways, the prime attraction of Saigon during Tet is flowers. Right in the city center, there’s a street completely filled with flowers. Millions upon millions of flowers, arranged into the shape of larger shapes, horses, scenes from Vietnam, and other decorations. I got quite a nice collection of photos:
Amusingly, it took me a long time to figure out that it was the year of the horse. Walking through the flower displays, I thought to myself, “why are there so many horse displays?” It was only until the next day that it hit me: “ohhhhh, it’s the year of the horse!”
Fortunately, I managed to visit the flower street on a great day, Tet Eve, when the crowds were at their minimum. In the following days, there was an incredible crush of people at the street, making it next to impossible to take good photos:
On the subject of flowers, in the days leading up to Tet, Saigon is home to a massive flower market right in District 1, with vendors selling all sorts of potted flowers for people to take home. Yellow flowers are the most traditional, but other types of flowers are also represented.
– All stores along the street are also closed! Normally, I would be fine with all these shops being closed, since I don’t buy much anyways. However, right now I wanted to get a local Vietnamese SIM card for my phone. It took a good half an hour of walking around before I found a shop open.
Oh, and there’s fireworks, visible from the river. They’re not quite as grand as those from the Taipei 101, but still, not bad.
The pagoda by itself is rather unimpressive (but quite crowded), but I noticed that there were a lot of disabled people hanging about, asking for money. Apparently, for Tet it’s considered good karma to give money to those less well off.
Bits and bobs:
– There were a lot of balloon vendors around for Tet, like this one. He’s got got something like a hundred balloons, all tied to a bamboo pole that he carries around. How much does it weigh? Does bamboo pole + balloons weigh more or less than just the bamboo pole itself?