Much like China, Vietnam follows a lunar calendar and celebrates a different New Year’s Day than other parts of the world. They call their festival Tết (short for Tết Nguyên Đán) and it is the most important holiday for Vietnam.
I spent more than a week in the capital city Hanoi during the Vietnamese Tết Festival, which is celebrated at the same time as the Chinese New Year. At first I was kind of bummed because this meant lots of shops and restaurants would be closed for the holiday, but it actually turned into a special experience.
CELEBRATING WITH A VIETNAMESE FAMILY
My awesome travel buddy Rachel (it was fun introducing ourselves to people when traveling – yes we’re really Rachel and Rachel) has a friend who lives in Hanoi named Giang. Rachel was in the same teaching program in China with Giang last year, and Giang’s family kindly invited us to their home to celebrate Tết with them.
Giang and her father picked us up and drove us to their house outside the city center. It was a beautiful apartment with five floors, and her mother was in the kitchen cooking a dozen different dishes for us. Giang’s grandparents came out to say hello while we waited and they were the sweetest (and so cute!)
Giang’s grandfather greeted us with a loud “Bonjour!” Some Vietnamese people can speak French, as many were taught when they were younger when the French were in Vietnam. Luckily, Rachel speaks French too and they had a great conversation, which he then translated into Vietnamese for Giang and then Giang translated into English for me.
When lunch was ready they ushered us to the table and explained the various dishes – spring rolls, pepper chicken, cooked cabbage, dried meat and cheese, fried noodles, cucumbers, a soup, and a special sticky rice dish. It was an amazing spread and we were so excited to try all the different Vietnamese foods! Anytime we stopped eating they would encourage us to eat more, and if our glasses were empty they’d pour even more.
After lunch we sat in their living room, talking and drinking tea and coffee. They told us about Vietnamese traditions and how important Tet is to their families.
“So many people have come to visit us these last few days!” Giang said. “People will just stop by, you never know who is going to come everyday.”
Giang and her father drove us back towards our apartment and on the way we stopped at Giang’s favorite restaurant.
“We’re lucky today,” Giang told us, “this place was closed for Tet and just reopened today.”
I couldn’t even tell you how to find it now, I never would have found it on my own. It’s a well-known place to locals in Hanoi and only serves one thing – beef pho (pho bo). It was definitely as good as Giang promised it would be.
It was so exciting to celebrate Tết with a local Hanoian family thanks to Rachel and Giang! One of my favorites things about traveling is the chance to experience a different culture, not only through places and beautiful sites, but also through people and their stories and traditions. I’m so thankful for Giang and her family’s hospitality!
Happy Tet Festival!