The Vietnamese capital is the best place to see traditional Tet celebrations taking place, all taking place between the second and seventh day of the festival week.
At the stroke of midnight on Tet eve, fireworks shows will go off at five key areas across Hanoi: Thong Nhat Park, Van Quan Lake, Lac Long Quan Flower Garden, My Dinh Stadium and Hoan Kiem Lake.
On the fifth day of the Lunar Month, Hanoi citizens flock to Dong Da Hill southwest of the capital to celebrate Dong Da Festival, which commemorates a victory over invading Chinese forces (the hills in the area are actually burial mounds, covering the remains of over 200,000 Chinese soldiers buried on the battlefield).
On the sixth day, the Co Loa Citadel to Hanoi's north sees costumed locals forming a procession, much as their ancestors did long ago, in the Co Loa Festival. Nowadays, civilians march in the parade, instead of the former military officials and government mandarins.
Finally, a calligraphy festival takes place all throughout Tet on the grounds of the Temple of Literature in old Hanoi. Calligraphers called ong do set up shop in about a hundred booths, brush in hand, writing auspicious Chinese characters for paying customers.
The Hue imperial citadel, located in the former royal capital of Hue, has seen a renaissance of royal-era traditions. The most significant is the raising of the cay neu, or Tet pole, on the palace grounds.
The cay neu repeats itself as a traditional bamboo plant in millions of Vietnamese homes, but the one in the Hue citadel is the biggest and flashiest. The first cay neu was traditionally first set up by the Buddha to drive away evil monsters.
An elaborate ceremony raises the Tet pole on the first day of the holiday. The process is repeated on the seventh and the last day, marking the end of Tet. In olden times, Hue residents would take their cue from the palace ceremonies to set up and take down their own cay neu at home.
Visiting Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
The mass of motorcycles jamming Ho Chi Minh City doesn't go away during Tet, but parts of the city explode in color during the week-long festival.
On the eve of Tet upon the stroke of midnight, fireworks shows will ignite at six areas across the city: Thu Thiem Tunnel between districts 1 and 2, Dam Sen Park in District 11, Cu Chi Tunnels in Cu Chi District, Rung Sac Square in Can Gio District, Lang Le-Bau Co historical site in Binh Chanh District, and the Nga Ba Giong Memorial in Hoc Mon District.
In District 8, Tau Hu Canal becomes the site of a flower market, with blossoms and ornamental trees sourced from the nearby provinces of Tien Giang and Ben Tre. The market's wares vary wildly, from cheap cockscomb flowers in pots to expensive yellow apricot trees.
In District 1, a book festival takes place from the first to the fourth day of Tet along the streets of Mac Thi Buoi, Nguyen Hue and Ngo Duc Ke. Thousands of books and magazines will change hands during the festival.
In District 5, Cholon (Vietnam's traditional “Chinatown”) offers both color and flavor in excess; as you admire the flowers and decorations adorning the area's temples, take a chance on local, Tet only foods like banh Tet (a cake made of steamed rice, mung-bean and pork) and Xoi (colored sticky rice cakes).