Image credit: nguyentuanhung
Vietnam is amazing — but you should avoid travelling during these major civic and religious holidays:
- Tet – End of January / Early February
- Hung King Day – Late April
- International Labour Day & Reunification Day – April 30th & May 1st
- National Day – September 2nd
- Month of Death – Lunar month of July-August
Read more about the exact dates for 2023 and 2024 below.
For travellers in Vietnam, these holidays are a source of major frustration: overcrowding, over-priced tickets, and everything becomes extraordinarily difficult to do.
You shouldn’t plan to do anything time-sensitive or important close to these holidays (such as renew a passport or get a doctor’s certificate), because offices may be closed and services shutdown — plus or minus a few days around a holiday can be unexpectedly unannoying due to staff shortages.
In this post, we discuss what you can expect, as a traveller, during these 5 major civic and religious holidays in Vietnam.
Tet – When is the Vietnamese New Year?
The date of the Vietnamese New Year (Tet) changes every-year according to the Lunar Calendar. Tet typically occurs sometime in Late January or Early February. For 2023 and 2024, the Vietnamese New Year happens on:
- Tet 2023: January 21st to 27th
- Tet 2024: February 9th to February 15th
Tet is the absolute worst time of the year for travellers in Vietnam, as everything shutsdown, and travel becomes extremely overpriced and over-crowded leading up to the holiday: hotels, flights, traffic, any and all travel services are to be avoided. Expect delays and cancellations — critical services may just not being available.
The week period prior to Tet, starting on the Kitchen God Day, is the beginning of difficulties.
We have plenty of personal horror stories of having to do very important things around Tet, only to lose money and/or incur extreme stress. The worst is when a non-Vietnamese entity requires something official of you near to Tet, such that only a Vietnamese agent can provide. For example, the Canadian government needs you to get a Vietnamese police check, or an American university needs a Vietnamese transcript: avoid anything important around this time, because things will not happen fast, nor maybe at all. We’ve personally lost >$2500 from bureaucratic stress during the Tet holiday.
READ MORE about the fun aspects of Tet here.
If you are in Vietnam during this time, the best thing to do is rent a “serviced apartment” in a big city like Hanoi — don’t depend on normal hotels for bookings. Just book well in advance (like 3 months), and stock-up on essentials. The big cities become like empty ghost towns as families flee to their ancestral homelands in the rural hinterlands.
Hung King Day – Late April
The Hung King is a mythical being from the Vietnamese origin story: He was the first son of the Lac Long Quan (Dragon King) and Au Co (Fairy Mother), the mythical progenitors of the Vietnamese people.
The Hung King’s death is celebrated every year on sometime in April, varying according to the religious Lunar Calendar. Technically, there is a festival on the 8th to the 11th days of the 3rd Lunar Month. In 2023, the Hung King Holiday will be on April 29th, while in 2024, the Hung King Holiday will be on April 18th.
Governments and banks and schools will be closed. Malls, restaurants, and tourism-operators will be open. However, many employees use the Hung King holiday as an opportunity to take an unofficial four-day weekend. So, the Thursday, Friday and Monday surrounding a Hung King day can be frustrating for services, even if they are nominally open and functioning: expect employees to be absent, and services to be degraded and unreliable.
Travel is annoying around this time: expect overbooked domestic flights as Vietnamese tourists flock to all the popular domestic tourism spots, such as Da Nang, Dai Lat, Hoi An, Sapa, etc.
The traditional thing to do on the Hung King day is to go celebrate at the Hung King temple in Phu Tho province (near Hanoi). However, few Vietnamese do this more than once in their life (its boring). If you are a tourist in Hanoi, its only 83 km away and could be an interesting spectacle: there are costume parades with royal palanquins, traditional singing competitions (“Hát xoan” style), tug-of-war competitions, swimming competitions, and other military games.
See the temple location in the map below.
May 1st – Reunification Day & International Labour Day in Vietnam
If you come from the Western Europe, you may recognize May 1st as an annoying day of agitations by anarchists and socialists and other radical leftists. Ironically, in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the twin holiday of International Labour Day plus Reunification (when the North took over the South) is just a nice four-to-five day weekend and popular time to take a domestic vacation. The Vietnamese could not care less about the history of Labour Movement: Labour shmabour! Let’s travel!
On the Labour Day weekend, Vietnamese like to travel to locations like Ha Giang or Da Nang or Da Lat or other getaways. Nearly everything non-essential shutsdowns, but travel and tourism and retail places will be open. You won’t have a difficult time finding a place to buy food, and there will be lots of entertaining things to do — but beware, don’t let important business activities happen close to May 1st (e.g. don’t plan to renew your visa renewal or do a medical check-ups).
As a traveller, April 30th to May 1st are not the time to try and enjoy Da Lat or Sa Pa or other idyllic getaways — they will be overcrowded with domestic travellers, and the prices will be exorbitant. During this weekend, just stay put, don’t go anywhere, and relax.
Vietnamese National Day – September 2nd
Parades, fireworks, public performances, games, festivals, contests — the Vietnamese National Day is a giant celebration, happening concurrently in nearly all towns in Vietnam, both big and small.
In some ways, the mood and festivities are recognizably similar to the American Fourth of July or Canada Day celebrations — except in Vietnam, the official events are much more intense than in North American. After all, the saying is that “Communists love to parade”.
If you’re from a Western country that is sheepish and ashamed of nationalism, you may not be prepared for the spectacle of what a proper Communist parade looks like: with goose-stepping military troops, glorious national emblems, and the appearance of fierce national unity. All civil groups participate in and are represented in the parade, especially the military, coast-guards, schools, minority peoples (>50 different groups), farming associations, senior associations, labour unions, doctors and nurses.
The Vietnamese nationalist parades are massive and worthy of your attention, especially in Hanoi.
On the downside, it is super annoying to travel outside the cities during the Vietnamese National Day. Everyone takes between three to five days off, disrupting services. It is a loooooooong holiday. Try not to visit popular tourist destinations: travel will be crowded, annoying and more expensive. Instead, just stay in a big city, watch some parades, and relax.
Seventh Month of the Lunar Calendar – “Month of Death”
- 2023: July 18th to August 15th
- 2024: August 4th to September 2nd
According to Vietnamese tradition, the 7th month of the Lunar Calendar (aka, “Lunar July”) is a dangerous month full of extra risk, bad luck, and ghostly interventions. Superstition citizens, like business people and government workers, believe that they should not do anything important during the auspicious month:
- don’t travel
- don’t start a new venture
- don’t buy property
- don’t buy a car
- don’t get married
- don’t have a baby
… basically everything important in life and business should be curtailed during the 7th Month.
Why? Ghost are trying to mess with your affairs in Lunar July. According to superstition, the Jade Emperor (aka “God”) releases ghosts from the spirit realm to walk among the living and co-mingle. Evil spirits are looking for an opportunity to disrupt people’s lives.
So, if you are thinking of starting a major project in Vietnam, or considering doing a lot of travelling, doing so in Lunar July be a double-edge sword:
- you may discover that Vietnamese partners are reluctant to engage with you seriously during the 7th month; or
- there may be nice discounts for major purchases, as the Vietnamese retreat from important economic activity. Buying a house? You may have less competition in Lunar July.
LEARN MORE about Vietnamese superstitions in our post dedicated to the topic
The date of the 7th month changes every year. For 2023, the start of the Lunar 7th month is July 18th, 2023 and ends August 15th.. For 2024, the start of the Lunar 7th month is August 4th and ends September 2nd. During these times, you make get a cold shoulder from business associates — or press your advantage!
Mid-Autumn Festival – Actually Okay for Travelling
Astute readers may have noticed that the Mid-Autumn Festival is missing from our list of Worst Times to Travel in Vietnam. That is on purpose: the Vietnamese people DO NOT get a work-holiday on Mid-Autumn.
Much like Halloween in the West, Mid-Autumn is mostly about kids dressing up and eating candy in the evening. There is no big 4-day weekend or time-off, even for children. Therefore, no strain on tourism resoures.
Read more about this important religious festival here.