A guide on Tet: how to celebrate like a local

A guide on Tet: how to celebrate like a local

Whether this is your first Tet in Vietnam or you have already had many experiences, check out how RMIT students and staff celebrate the occasion and find inspiration.

When is Tet?

To Vietnamese people, Tet Nguyen Dan – or Lunar New Year – is the year's most important celebration. On this special occasion, the whole country becomes a beautiful symphony with brilliant shades of red lanterns and pink and yellow blossoms, along with a sense of hope and celebration.

"You can see Tet just around the corner through blooming apricot plants being trimmed for a new spring, the busy stores with red lanterns and couplets in District 1, or the vibrant shades of the Ao Dai at the city's landmarks" – Hong Anh, Student Communications Coordinator, RMIT Vietnam, observed how the city, and the whole country, prepared for Tet.

Tet lunar new year market in Vietnam Vibrant red lanterns and couplets are a Tet’s staple decoration. The bright red colour symbolises good luck and fortune (Image courtesy of Canva)

Usually taking place in January or February, the main Tet celebration lasts for five days, from 29 December to 3 January according to the lunar calendar. For 2024, the first day of the lunar new year is 10 February. Symbolising the transition between the old and the new, Tet is the time when family members travel from across the country to spend the holiday in each other's company and welcome a new year of improvements.

Clean and decorate your home in Tet

As Tet marks new beginnings, people would spend half of the month before Tet cleaning their houses, from dusting all the furniture to trimming their gardens. They believe that good fortune will visit the clean, neat, and tidy homes, and all the cleaning should happen before the Kitchen God goes back to Heaven to make his report to the Jade Emperor on 23 December in the lunar calendar.

During this time, Vietnamese people also like to decorate their houses with vibrant plants and decorations. While spring flowers like chrysanthemum, gerbera, and lilies are in favour, the three most important plants that cannot be missed on Tet holidays are peach blossoms (for the North), apricot blossoms (for the South), and kumquat trees, which symbolise prosperity, abundance, and vitality for a whole new year.

Yellow flowers and pink flowers on a branch. Peach blossoms (for the North) symbolise strong vitality and a brave heart, and apricot blossoms (for the South) represent the luxury, wealth, and noble roots of the Vietnamese (Image courtesy of Canva).

"If I get to introduce Tet to an international friend, I’d take them to a flower market. The vibrant colours and all the hustling and bustling there capture the holiday spirit perfectly," – Bao Han, a second-year Design Studies major, shared enthusiastically. "Every year, I look forward to going to a small flower market nearby with my dad and bringing back beautiful flowers for our home," Han added.

To immerse yourself in the holiday spirit, consider visiting a flower market this weekend and pick up a small kumquat tree or a peach/apricot blossom branch for your place. These are some of the popular flower market spots in HCMC and Hanoi:

  • HCMC:
    • Ho Thi Ky Flower Market: Ward 1, District 10
    • Phu My Hung Tet Flower Market (from 23 December – lunar calendar): Tan Phu Ward, District 7

You can learn more about flower markets in HCMC

Taste all the Tet specialties

In Vietnamese, the term "celebrating Tet" ("ăn Tết") literally translates to "eat Tet", emphasising the importance of feasting and cuisine during this holiday. On a traditional Tet meal offered to the ancestors and then enjoyed by family members, there would be dishes signifying abundance and fullness for the whole year, such as boiled chicken, pork ham, fried eggrolls, and regional food like jellied fatty meat (in the further, cold North) and braised pork with eggs (in the South).

And it would not be Tet without banh chung/banh tet – sticky rice cake with fatty pork and mung bean filling wrapped in dandelion leaves. Dating back thousands of years, banh chung has been a fixed stature and the centre in Vietnam's Tet traditions to express gratitude and devotion to your elders and ancestors. When families making banh chung together, it embodies a sense of reunion and love.

A pile of banh chung traditional cake Made from sticky rice, fatty pork, and mung bean and boiled for hours until smooth and tender, banh chung/banh tet embodies gratitude, harmony, and abundance (Image courtesy of Canva).

"We live in HCMC, but when I was eight, my father decided that we would spend the holiday with my mother's side in a small village in Thanh Hoa, a northern province of Vietnam. We drove and drove, and when we finally got there, it was already 1am on the first day of the new year, and it was freezing cold. As we stepped inside, the whole family was still waiting beside an open firewood stove for boiling banh chung. To a kid who had never experienced the cold or this tradition before, it was so heartwarming to me", Hong Anh recounted.

A girl posing with yellow flowers Hong Anh posing with her family’s apricot plant in Lunar New Year 2017 (Image courtesy of Hong Anh).

Other than the traditional dishes, Tet is also a time when you can indulge in special treats. Diving through the busy Old Quarters for holiday shopping with his grandmother and mother, Phuc, a third-year Digital Marketing major from Hanoi campus, thought it was worth the effort. "To people in Hanoi, the Old Quarters are the go-to place for sophisticated and traditional foods and goods. Even though we don't live nearby, I still drive my mom there to buy things like sticky rice cakes, cooked hams, and candied fruits for our guests. It's as 'Tet' as it could be for me", Phuc shared.

Bowls of dried fruits and seeds Dried nuts and candied fruits are often offered with tea for guests who come to give new year greetings and blessings (Image courtesy of Canva).

While it could be difficult to prepare the whole Tet meal by yourself, you can still get a taste of Tet specialties from local bakeries or shops. Check out our recommendations for some delish treats and enjoy the festive aspects of Tet like a true local:

Traditional deli meat/dishes

  • HCMC: Nhu Lan store (Location 1: 50 Ham Nghi, District 1 | Location 2: 365 Hai Ba Trung, District 3)
  • HN: Sausages Quoc Huong (9 Hang Bong, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District)

Assorted dried nuts and candied fruits

Hong Lam stores

  • HN: 51 Dao Tan, Ba Dinh District
  • HCMC: 286 Hai Ba Trung, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1

L’angfarm stores

  • HCMC: Lotte Mart Nam Sai Gon, 469 Nguyen Huu Tho, Tan Hung ward, District 7
  • HN: Lotte Mart Center Hanoi, 54 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh District

Visit friends and family and enjoy the spring

"Every year, my family would leave for my father's hometown and spend the holiday with my grandparents. My dad's sister would also bring her family over and visit. As it's like a special occasion when the whole family gets together, our little tradition is to take a family picture in front of the house every year”, Han shared about her family's Tet routine.

A group of people posing for a photo in a cemetery. Han’s family photo during their visit to their ancestors’ resting place (Image courtesy of Bao Han).

As Tet is the time for reunion and togetherness, people from all walks of life try to return to their hometown and be with family and friends. After fulfilling all their spiritual duties during the holiday, Vietnamese people will make trips to their friend's and relatives' houses to give greetings and blessings for the new year. This is when li xi – "lucky money" in red envelopes – are distributed and/or exchanged as a sign of luck and happiness. Giving lucky money during the Lunar New Year is considered to bring fortune to both donors and recipients. While the money in the envelope can vary depending on the relationship, it is important to use new paper money. And when it is your turn to receive li xi, it is recommended to receive it with both hands and express your greetings and wishes to the giver. While the working and the married are usually expected to give out li xi to the elders and children, you can prepare some red envelopes to offer to your Vietnamese friends on your first meeting of the year.

Young girl posing with lucky money envelopes Li xi – Lucky money – are given as blessings and greetings to friends and family during Lunar New Year.

For many families, visiting temples during the first few days of the year is a custom one cannot miss out. As many Vietnamese people believe that Tet is the most sacred time to worship and pray for blessings from their ancestors and deities, pagodas and temples are popular sites during the Tet holiday. This is also the perfect time to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, reflect on the past, and appreciate the scenic views of the spring. "We often choose smaller, quieter temples in the neighbouring provinces of Hanoi for our family's spring outing. Besides praying for peace and good health, we'd just enjoy the trip together and look forward to a new year", Phuc shared.

If you plan to stay in HCMC or Hanoi during the holiday, you can visit many local temples and pagodas in the cities and enjoy all the Tet festivities, from the fragrance of burned incense to the excitement from drawing lots to "forecast" your fortune.

Check out these temples and pagodas and see it for yourself:

  • HCMC:
    • Jade Emperor Pagoda: 73 Mai Thi Luu, Da Kao Ward, District 1
    • Thien Hau Temple: 710 Nguyen Trai, Ward 11, District 5

Learn more about temples and pagodas popular during Tet in HCMC

  • Hanoi:
    • Ngoc Son Temple: Dinh Tien Hoang street, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District
    • Quan Su Pagoda: 73 Quan Su, Tran Hung Dao Ward, Hoan Kiem District
    • Tay Ho Temple: 52 Dang Thai Mai, Quang An Ward, Tay Ho District

Learn more about temples and pagodas popular during Tet in Hanoi

Looking forward to a new year of improvements and explorations

This year is the year of the Dragon, representing authority, prosperity, and good fortune. After some challenging times of the previous year, this year's brighter prospects bring hope and new goals to the RMIT community across our campuses.

Graduating from RMIT in the first semester of 2024, Phuc looks forward to attending the graduation ceremonies and gaining the necessary skills to find a firm footing in his field, Digital Marketing. "I wouldn't wish for enormous success, but I hope I can keep going this way and find a job that is suitable for me and helps me learn and be happy every day. I hope that everyone will be healthy and stay resilient to whatever goals they set for themselves," Phuc noted.

A young man in a red shirt holding a cell phone. “May all of my fellow students stay resilient to achieve their goals and determine their paths to success”, Phuc sent his new year wish to his RMIT peers (Image courtesy of Phuc Pham).

Stepping into the new year with exciting plans like visiting her sister in New Zealand and gearing up for her important third year at RMIT, Han has set her mind to completing all her coursework and expanding her experience. "Congratulations to all students who have completed a semester of hard work. I wish you all good health, peace, and success in 2024", Han shared.

"May you always have the health, strength, and good luck to overcome any obstacles in your life to expand your horizon and fly high like mighty dragons", Hong Anh added.

A group of people posing for a photo in a room. International students celebrating Tet at RMIT Vietnam. (Image courtesy of International Student Support - RMIT Vietnam).

When celebrating Tet in Vietnam, it is essential to know that you can still access to critical services for international students.

Author: Thao Pham


Aquino, M. (2020, March 28). Celebrate Tet like a local in Vietnam. Tripsavvy

Lynn. (2023, October 7). Things to know about Tet Festival (Vietnamese New Year). Indochina Odyssey Tours

Phan, J. (2022, January 22). 7 Ways for expats to celebrate Vietnam’s Lunar New Year. Vietcetera

31 January 2024


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