Known in Vietnamese as ‘Tet,’ Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture. You’ll find that big cities like Hanoi are suddenly very quiet, whereas sleepier areas like Sapa are overrun with local tourists. Each destination will have their own unique character around Tet.
The main piece of advice when traveling over Lunar New Year would be to book any travel or hotels well in advance. Most people will be traveling to their families, so public transport gets booked up fast. When it comes to hotels, it may be that some aren’t open, making rooms harder to come by.
Here’s our advice on Tet and how it shapes northern Vietnam’s three most popular destinations: Sapa, Hanoi, and Halong Bay.
There are many good reasons why Sapa gets so busy during Tet. This hillside town has plenty going on, and many Vietnamese take advantage of the time they have off to enjoy this mountain destination. But for many, a big part of the appeal of Sapa is its distinctive rice terraces and villages, with a diverse and interesting ethnic makeup.
Depending on when Lunar New Year falls, Sapa will usually be pretty cold. Temperatures reach highs of 13 degrees Celsius and lows of 7, which in the crisp mountain air can feel very chilly.
Staying in Sapa during Lunar New Year will provide many of the normal appealing factors: hikes with stunning views, interesting tribe cultures, charming homestays and awe-inspiring nature. Around this period, though, Sapa livens up a little more and you’ll be able to try some traditional Tet foods, such as chung cake, te cake, pickled onions, and dried bamboo, along with the chance to marvel at the beautiful peach flowers.
If you like the cold and don’t mind the crowds, Sapa is worth considering.
Tet is a chance for residents of Hanoi to visit their families in more rural parts of Vietnam. This means the whole city essentially shuts down, leaving a few major restaurants and a portion of Hanoi’s Old Quarter still open. While this quiet milieu may appeal to some, it does, unfortunately, mean that visitors would be missing Hanoi’s erratic charm.
Due to the lack of people within Hanoi during Tet, one of the top recommended activities would be walking around the capital city’s various lakes. A stroll around West Lake or Hoan Kiem Lake is an activity unlike the conventional Hanoi experience: one of peace and tranquillity in an otherwise hectic city.
Hanoi will usually start to thaw out around Tet, moving away from the colder months of December and January, with temperatures starting to climb to up to 21 degrees Celsius. While this is a suitable temperature for walking, you may experience some light downpour.
If you’d like to see the city at the quietest time of the year, and you don’t mind that many restaurants and street food stalls will be closed, then Hanoi is a good
Halong Bay might be the ideal location in northern Vietnam during Tet. Unlike busy Sapa and quiet Hanoi, Halong Bay remains almost unphased by holiday inconveniences. Cruise-goers aren’t reliant on public transport, so getting to and from destinations is no great difficulty. The same is true of eating and entertainment. Cruise companies like President Cruises won’t allow the holiday chaos to impact on the quality of their cruises.
With a relatively unchanged atmosphere throughout Halong, the bay is a fantastic place to ring in the Lunar New Year. The weather is warm, though not unbearably hot, with highs of 21 degrees Celsius and while it does drizzle, there are no torrential showers. Note that you may want to bring an umbrella. Most importantly, you can travel carefree knowing that the national holiday won’t get in the way of your holiday.
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