Traveling around Vietnam is relatively easy. There are numerous companies that offer what are called Open Tour bus tickets. You can either buy tickets point to point or you can buy them for a set itinerary and just confirm the day before you trip when you want to go. I chose to do this and to pick all the stops on the way. I figured I couldn't go too wrong with this considering it only cost me $22 for the entire thing including stops in 6 cities. I also figured that I might decide to take some trains along the way instead of the long overnight bus rides, but that was not to be. The main reason was because of Tet which is the Vietnamese New Year. The trains sell out quickly as do the local buses because everyone takes the week off and goes to celebrate with family.
I arrived in Hoi An very early in the morning after one of the famous overnight bus journeys. I explored the city and it has a nice old town which was left almost untouched by the American (Vietnam) War. This picture is of the old city on the river. This was once a major port in Vietnam (now overtaken by DaNang, about 30 km north). I made sure to arrive a couple of days before Tet started so I could settle in. Not much happens once Tet starts and the town is pretty much closed down for a few days after the New Year.
Getting ready for the New Year
In the days before Tet, the whole city is in a frantic mode getting everything ready for the holiday. It is a lot like Christmas at home where everyone goes to the market and shops for the next few days (the food market closes down for 3 days after Tet starts) and buys plants and any other items they might need for the holiday. In the market they sell specialties like the ones here wrapped in banana leaves to look like small packages. They can contain many different things including pork, rice, etc.
New Year Tree
Trees are an integral part in the celebration, especially kumquat trees (small orange trees). They are on display across the country in homes and businesses much like a Christmas tree would be at home. They are said to ward off evil spirits. Since the main mode of transportation in Vietnam is a motorbike, they find very creative ways to carry these trees home from the market. As you can see here is can be quite a balancing act! (sorry for the blurry picture, but the motos go too fast for me!)
Temples Vs. Pagodas
I also learned the difference between the term Temple and the term Pagoda while I was in Hoi An. A temple is a place of worship that does not have monks or images or Buddha (just an alter). This temple here is built into the side of a covered bridge built by the Japanese and is known just as the Japanese Covered Bridge.
The pagodas on the other hand do have monks and nuns in residence and they include images of Buddha throughout the temple. As you can see from the architecture there is a lot of Chinese influence in Vietnam, especially as you work your way more north.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi--Happy New Year
The main festivities for Tet began around 11pm on Jan 28th and lasted into the morning of the 29th. Everything was lit up and ready to go. Although it rained some throughout the night, it did not dampen the celebrations. They had boats lit up with candles in the river which made for a nice backdrop to the celebrations.
Dancing and Singing
They also had a stage set up where they invited everyone to listen to performances by local singers and dancers. It was very tourist friendly with all the commentary being both in English and Vietnamese.
They also played Vietnamese Bingo where they gave everyone in the audience a paddle with certain symbols that had to be matched up with the symbols being called out.
The evening ended with a procession of Dragons going through the old city with everyone dancing along with them. All in all a great night and a wonderful way to experience the culture of Vietnam.
When I was on the bus to Hoi An, I met a guy from Scotland (Leon) who had met a Vietnamese girl (Nhi) in Saigon who was also going to be in Hoi An for Tet and she told him to get in touch with her. She started hanging out with us in her free time along with a few other westerners I met along the way (Dave, Heidi, George, and Joelyne). She joined us for a number of meals and for the evening celebrations in the city. It was great to have someone on the inside who spoke the language and could explain many of the cultural differences. She invited us to her house for the second day of Tet to celebrate with her family and we readily accepted. The family was great and really seemed to enjoy having us there as much as we enjoyed being there. Her mother prepared make your own spring rolls where we all sat around and put in our own ingredients and had a real family Vietnamese meal.
Nhi and her family
Nhi is the one next to me and her father is the proud man next to me. Nhi's sisters are in the back row with her mother on the far right.
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