Vietnam's most important national holiday is Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. During Tet, almost everyone in Vietnam has the day off and festivities take place all over the country. This makes it more difficult for tourists to travel through the country. Moreover, no visas are granted during the festivities, which means that many travellers do not receive their Vietnam visa on time and get into trouble as a result. Here you can read all about Tet and other Vietnamese holidays, and what to take into account.
Tet: The Vietnamese New Year
The official name for the holiday is Tết Nguyên Đán, which means "Feast of the First Morning". Because Vietnam uses the lunar calendar, the holiday does not take place on the same date each year. The exact date depends on the position of the moon. According to our calendar, the holidays usually fall either at the end of January or the beginning of February. The Vietnamese New Year takes place at the same time as the Chinese New Year. In 2021, Tet falls on Friday 12 February, so New Year's Eve is celebrated in Vietnam on Thursday 11 February.
Although Tet officially lasts three days, most Vietnamese people are free for a whole week and festivities also take place in the days surrounding Tet. New Year's Eve is Tet's most sacred moment; during this evening, Vietnamese people perform rituals together with their families, make sacrifices and pray for a good new year. After this, the new year begins with many festivities and entertainment. Firework shows and large flower markets take place in almost all cities.
Festivities during the Vietnamese Tet New Year
Travelling during Tet or after the holidays?
It is, of course, an interesting experience to witness the biggest holiday in Vietnam in person and get a close view of Vietnamese customs and rituals. However, there are also disadvantages to visiting Vietnam during Tet. The holiday is generally celebrated with family, so many Vietnamese people travel to their native village. It can be difficult for tourists to travel through the country during Tet, because many buses, trains and flights will be fully booked, and hotel rooms will not be readily available. Accommodation, flight, train and bus tickets may also be more expensive than usual. Travellers going to Vietnam during Tet are advised to book transport and accommodation well in advance.
Because Tet is a real family holiday, most festivities take place in people's homes and tourists do not get to see too much of it. In addition, most shops, restaurants, museums and other places of interest in Vietnam are closed during the holidays, and certain excursions are not possible. The beaches will be more crowded, because Vietnamese people are on holiday and spend time with their families. For these reasons, most tourists choose not to travel to Vietnam during Tet, but either before or after.
Keep the Vietnam visa in mind
Normally, visas for Vietnam are granted within a week. Travellers who apply for an urgent visa receive their visa on average after 3 working days. However, these average processing times do not apply during Tet. In fact, all offices of the Vietnamese immigration service are closed during the holidays. This means that no visas are granted for Vietnam during and around Tet. Urgent applications cannot be processed during this period either. It is therefore important to take this into account when planning your trip, and to apply for the visa well in advance.
Travellers who want to travel to Vietnam in the first months of 2021 are therefore advised to apply for their visa as early as January, but no later than 4 February. This will enable the application to be processed by the Vietnamese authorities before the festivities begin. The visa can be applied for as far in advance as desired. In the application form, you can fill in a date on which the validity of the visa is to start. Starting from this date, you can stay in the country for up to 30 days. It is therefore possible to apply for the Vietnam visa several months before departure, as long as the general date of arrival in Vietnam is known. You do not have to arrive in Vietnam on the exact date mentioned on the visa, but you are not allowed to enter Vietnam before that date, only after.
Other national holidays and festivals in Vietnam
Aside from Tet, Vietnam has countless other national holidays and festivals. The most famous festivals and holidays are:
- Hùng Kings festival: During this festival, called Hùng Vương in Vietnamese Giỗ, the 18 kings of the Hùng dynasty are commemorated. The main festivities take place in the temple complex at Hy Cương in the northern province of Phú Thọ, which was created in honour of the Hùng kings. In addition, the various temples in the country dedicated to the Hùng kings are surrounded by processions of colourful dragons and dancers, and the temples are filled with loud singing. The festival is held on the tenth day of the third month of the lunar calendar, usually at the beginning of April.
- Reunification Day: On Reunification Day, officially called the "Day of the Liberation of the South for National Unification" (Giải phóng miền Nam, thống nhất đất nước), Vietnam commemorates the victory of the North Vietnamese army over the Americans and thus the reunification of North and South Vietnam on 30 April 1975. Parades and fireworks shows are held in the larger cities.
- Labour Day: On 1 May, the day after Unification Day, Vietnam celebrates Labour Day. Reunification Day and Labour Day are both national holidays during which Vietnamese people do not work. When applying for a visa, take into account that no applications will be processed on these days.
- Buon Ma Thuot Coffee Festival: The Coffee Festival was introduced to promote local coffee beans and takes place every two years (so in 2021 and 2023), usually in March, at different locations in the city. There are performances with music and stilt-walkers, and many cafés offer free coffee during the festival.
- Mid-Autumn festival: The Mid-Autumn festival, in Vietnamese Tết Trung Thu (which literally means Mid-Autumn Moon and is therefore also called the moon festival), is a festival organised mainly for children on the 14th and 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar (in our calendar, in September or October). Children can take part in writing and drawing competitions during the festival, lanterns are hung up, and moon cake, a cake with a sweet filling of red beans, is eaten.
- National Day: National Day (in Vietnamese Ngày Quốc Khánh) is a national holiday celebrated on 2 September. It commemorates the day that Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Viet Minh, declared Vietnam’s independence from French Indochina on 2 September 1945. It is celebrated with fireworks displays and parades, and a large parade and gathering is held on Ba Đình Square in Hanoi, where the declaration was read out and the mausoleum of Ho-Chi-Minh also stands.