Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Happy New Year!
Did you know that this year is the year of the Cat in Vietnam? While China and many other places in the world may be seen celebrating the Year of the Rabbit, Vietnam switches out the Rabbit for the Cat in the Zodiac. And thus, walking around the city in the days leading up to the New Year, the streets were filled with Cat icons, statues, posters, and even massive cats made out of flowers in the middle of the street.
Tết (Vietnamese New Year’s) is a vibrant and festive time of year in Vietnam, with celebrations lasting weeks. In the South, the city is lit up with yellow flowers, and there is definitely a heightened sense of celebration and happiness. Getting to experience Tết in Vietnam has been one of the highlights of my time in Vietnam, not only because of the festivities but because of the sense of community and family the holidays bring. All of my co-workers were getting ready to go back to their hometowns and celebrate with their extended families.
To celebrate, everyone across Vietnam will get at least a week off from work. For me, I got ten days off and tried to make the most out of it by attempting a “crash course in Vietnam” travel adventure up the country. Destinations included Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh.
I was lucky enough to spend New Year’s Eve in Hoi An in Central Vietnam. Hoi An itself is magical – an ancient town preserved in time. Walking around the ancient buildings is serene and beautiful. As part of the festivities, we took a lantern-lit board ride along the river, ate street food, saw Lion Dances and stayed until fireworks at the stroke of midnight. Walking back to our hostel was unbelievably special as we walked past local houses, each of which was burning offerings, eating together as a family and, in some cases, singing karaoke.
Our journey up further north took us past Da Nang and Hue, and finally to Ha Noi. Here we spent a day visiting the famous train street, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, lake, ancient town and the French district. Compared to HCMC, Hanoi’s 14 degree weather is freezing and I’ve had to put my bartering skills to the test – I went and bought a fake GAP sweater and fake North Face pants.
The city isn’t very busy as everyone’s gone home for Têt. That doesn’t mean it’s not overwhelming for a lil New Zealander though and, as expected, there is a much more governmental and offical atmosphere as you walk around the capital.
I then went to Ha Long Bay (a UNESCO heritage site) where I’ve spent 3 days on a boat. Again, this is somewhere that photos will never do justice. It’s stunning, grand and magical. You’ve probably seen it as peoples lock screens but the real thing is superb, larger than life.
The first day we got to swim around the beaches, and sail around the islands. The swim really divided the Aussies and Kiwis from the Europeans and South Americans, as we were the only ones who could last more than 5 minutes in the cold water. The second day we docked at Cat Ba Island and cycled around the maritime town, then treked to the top of a mountain where the view of Ha Long Bay was incredible.
Our next stop was Ninh Binh. The weather absolutely shone for us here, and it made the mountains looking down on the city even more magical. We go to row a boat on the river (more like a grandma rowed us, using her feet to paddle), explore on pedal bike and walk around the temples commemorating the first Kings of Vietnam.
We then stayed for a day in Hanoi before going back to work in HCMC.
All in all, travelling around Vietnam was incredible. The country is filled with such a diversity of beautiful sights (not to mention the best food), and I already know that I will be coming back as soon as I can!