To start this article honestly, when we booked our tickets to Vietnam we had no idea we would be there during Tet (Lunar New Year). After we booked our tickets to Vietnam (and simultaneously my sister booked her ticket too, as she shortly joined our travels, yay!), we soon found out about the timing “issue”. A lot of people recommend not going there during these festivities. Of course, we went, because we already had our tickets. And, to us it actually sounded like a fun timing! Read in this article what you can expect when you are visiting Hanoi during Tet.
What is Tet?
Tet is short for Tet Nguyen Dan and is celebrated on the first day of the first month in Lunar Calendar. The celebration is the longest holiday which can last up to seven days. During Tet the Vietnamese express their respect and remember their ancestors, and also welcome the New Year together with friends and family. Every family will get together and have a big meal, decorate Tet trees and eat traditional food.
The Lunar Calendar has a fixed number of 12 months with 30 days each, unlike the Gregorian calendar. Instead of a leap year with the 29th of February, there is a whole intercalary month. The new year of the Lunar normally starts in late January or beginning of February. So each year, the dates of Tet varies!
Reasons not to visit Hanoi during Tet
Before we give you recommendations on what you can do in Hanoi, we will shortly reflect on why people would suggest you shouldn’t go there. The thing is that most Vietnamese people visit their families during Tet and thus a lot of places shot down during these days. Also, travel is a bit harder in the whole of Vietnam, since all the Vietnamese people are traveling themselves. A lot of buses, flights and trains are already fully booked in advance.
In Hanoi you will find that some restaurants and bars are closed. The ones that are open often add an extra percentage on their regular prices. Furthermore, all the museums are closed. Of course, it’s also advisable to book your hotel up front.
Basically, if you’ll be in Vietnam during Tet, make sure you plan ahead a bit. Not only in Hanoi, but everywhere. Other than that, you won’t have a lot of trouble to have a fun time!
Things to do in Hanoi during Tet
Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake
We heard that Hanoi is a lot more quiet during the holidays, as a lot of Vietnamese people visit their families. Of course, as it was our first time in Hanoi, we couldn’t compare it with how busy it normally is. We found that it was nice that there wasn’t a lot of traffic with cars and scooters. However, it was still busy around Hoan Kiem Lake, where you can find most of the festivities.
Around Hoan Kiem Lake you can enjoy the flower and holiday decorations and locals in traditional clothing, who are taking lots of family portraits together.
Unfortunately for us, they didn’t have any fireworks this year. The government decided to cancel the show. You can read why here.
Ngoc Son Temple
At Hoan Kiem Lake one can find Hanoi’s most visited temple Ngoc Son temple, meaning “Temple of the Jade Mountain”. Ngoc Son Temple was built in the 18th century in commemoration for General Tran Hung Dao, scholar Van Xuong and Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu. It’s located on a small island on the lake, and is connected to the shore by the iconic Rising Sun Bridge. The bridge is often lit at night. Also, the pagoda has two towering posts decorated with Chinese writing.
We visited Ngoc Son Temple during the first day of Tet, and although it was a little too busy, it’s not to be missed when walking around Hoan Kiem Lake.
Entrance fee: free
Opening hours: daily from 08.00 – 17.00
Go to a Water Puppet Show
We went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to enjoy one of the famous water puppet shows. This show is a form of folk art that originally comes from the Red River Delta in the north of Vietnam. If you visit a show in Hanoi, the stage is a pool of water and the lead characters are the wooden puppets.
Although the show is in Vietnamese, it’s still worth visiting a water puppet show. It’s a way to enjoy the Vietnamese culture through entertainment. They sing songs, play instruments and the puppets dance on the water.
During Tet the show goes on. You can buy tickets at the entrance.
Entrance fee: 100.000 VND (about 4 USD/EURO)
Times of show: 15.00 – 16.10 – 17.20 – 18.30 – 20.00 – 21.15
Visit the West Lake
West Lake is Hanoi’s largest freshwater lake. It’s a nice place to walk around, and you can visit one of the surrounding restaurants or coffee shops. While we were there, we sat down at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for some drinks and lunch.
Tran Quoc Pagoda
The Tran Quoc Pagoda is a Buddhist center located on the East side of the West Lake. It has a history of more than 1500 years. Although it’s definitely worth a visit, it is crowded there during Tet. It was busier at Tran Quoc Pagoda than at Ngoc Son Temple. A lot of local people went to say their prayers, which creates a walking line to get in. If you are interested in seeing the prayings, it’s definitely worth a visit. However, if you are a bit claustrophobic, go early and avoid the crowds.
Entrance fee: free
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday from 11.00 – 11.30 & 13.00 – 18.00. Sunday and Holidays from 07.00 – 18.00
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
This is a very special place, as it contains the balsamed body of the first president of North Vietnam and the leader of the liberation: Ho Chi Minh.
Although the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum was closed when we visited Hanoi, we have read it’s often open during Tet. We actually liked walking around the area without it being overly busy. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see it from the inside, but the building itself is very beautiful too.
The Mausoleum is located at Ba Dinh Square and there are lots of other noteworthy monuments you can visit too. For instance the One Pillar Pagoda, the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh Museum and the house of Ho Chi Minh. During Tet we could visit the House of Ho Chi Minh, the Presidential Palace and the One Pillar Pagoda.
Entrance fee: 10.000 VND (about 0.50 USD/EURO)
Opening hours: Closed on Monday and Friday. The rest of the weekdays it’s open from 08.00 – 11.30 and 14.00 – 16.30
One Pillar Pagoda
The name already says it: it’s a pagoda standing on one pillar. It’s located next to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, right in the center of Hanoi. The pagoda was built in 1049 under Ly’s dynasty. Legend says that one night King Ly dreamed of the Holy Lady sitting on a lotus, and made him create a similar building, topping it with the lotus of the Holy Lady.
It’s also said that the One Pillar Pagoda represents a lotus flower growing from the water.
Entrance fee: free
Opening hours: 09.00 – 16.00
Go for a Spa Day
It was my sisters birthday, so I decided to treat her on a Spa treatment. After doing some research online we found SF Spa. Although it’s a bit more expensive than I expected (but still cheaper than European prices), it was well worth the money.
They have lots of treatments and packages. As an price example; an Aromatherapy massage of one hour costs 499.000 VND (about 20 USD/EURO), and a Energy Booster package of 110 minutes costs 1.140.000 VND (about 45 USD/EURO).
SF Spa has more locations, and two of them were open the days after Tet. They did add an extra 10% service charge on January 29th and 30th. Luckily, we went on the 31th and the opening hours and prices went back to normal.
Opening hours: Daily from 09.00 to 23.00. Check their website for changes during Tet.
Where to sleep
We stayed in two hotels and we recommend both of them. Obviously, they were both open during Tet. They both had less staff due to the holidays, but it didn’t bring any problems.
Helios Legend Hotel
First we stayed in Helios Legend Hotel. It’s simple, but definitely comfortable. The staff was kind and helpful. The rooms had everything you need, breakfast was included and the location was in Hanoi Old Quarter, definitely a good central point.
They upgraded us from a Superior Double to a Deluxe Double, which is the same but with a window according to them. The price per night was about 25 USD/EURO.
We stayed two nights at Splendora. This is a lovely boutique hotel, located in the Old Quarter as well. Our favorite part of our stay here was the included breakfast. They had a buffet, but you could also order different styles of eggs and crepes from a menu (also included).
The only thing that bothered us a bit was the staff asking us to put a review on TripAdvisor while we were there. This is something we have been noticing more often in some hotels, and we actually rather just post a review without having them ask us to. It feels a bit forced if they ask us to write a review and immediately ask us to see it. Nonetheless, we had a good stay overall.
We had a family room in this hotel, which costs about 70 USD/EURO per night. The room was basically two double beds put next to each other.
Where to eat
One of the things to keep in mind during Tet is that some restaurants close their doors. If you feel like eating at a restaurant, make sure to ask your hotel or do research beforehand which place is open. It is certainly possible to walk around and find a restaurant. However, we noticed that a lot of places that were open were already full and we had to wait for about 30 minutes (which isn’t much of a problem) if we didn’t have a reservation.
It’s one of the things Hanoi is known for; awesome street food. Also, on our Instagram we asked our followers for some recommendations for Hanoi. The most frequent tip we got was: Eat the street food! Well, we did, and we love it. A good way to spot a good street food restaurant is if you see a lot of (local) people eating there. Simple as that. Also, if a lot of people are sitting there, you can also sneak peak how the food looks like.
We also enjoyed other places and recommend the following spots:
This restaurant is close to the St. Joseph Cathedral. It’s a small place, with a great ambiance. The speciality of Mediterraneo is, like you can guess, Mediterranean- and Italian food. We had great pizza and pasta here. The price is a bit expensive for Vietnamese standards, but that can be expected for a European style restaurant. We had dinner for 60 USD/EURO with three people. This includes one shared appetizer, three main meals and red wine.
Cau Go Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine
On my sisters birthday we went to Cau Go. It is a bit of a fancy place, but not snobbish. We really liked the Vietnamese food and thought the service was excellent. Again, it was relatively expensive, but still not crazy expensive. We had dinner for 60 USD/EURO with three people. This includes one shared appetizer, three main meals with two extra portions of rice, red wine and tea, and one shared desert. Also, one free slice of cake for my dear sister.
Not only the food, service and interior is good. This place is worth visiting for the view of Hoan Kiem Lake.
This is a great place if you need a little vitamin boost. We came back here a few times to create our own smoothies. As far as we know they only sell drinks and not food, but it’s worth a visit if you like healthy and delicious smoothies and other juices. It is actually located across of Mediterraneo, and the first time we visited the Raw Juicery was when we had to wait 30 minutes for our table at Mediterraneo.
Would we recommend Hanoi during Tet?
Well, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend going there especially for Tet. It was great to see the local people celebrate. However, without the fireworks and as we missed the dragon dance (we don’t know how) there wasn’t much to see apart from the celebrations around Hoan Kiem Lake.
We didn’t really mind that not all the restaurants were open, because there were still enough possibilities. However, it is of course too bad that we couldn’t visit any of the museums. Luckily there are still enough other cultural sights to see.
In short, we would say that you should definitely go to Hanoi. Don’t let Tet stop you from going, if that are your most convenient dates.