Tet is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar. It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tet by cooking special holiday foods and cleaning the house. There are a lot of customs practiced during Tet, like visiting a person's house on the first day of the new year, ancestral worshipping, wishing New Year's greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, and opening a shop.
I was lucky to be in Hanoi during Tet in 2009 and the markets and shops and streets were simply heaving with people buying goods. The main photo shows a guy with a kumquat tree on the back of his motorbike which is used as decoration in the living room during Tet. Its many fruits symbolise the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the coming year. I've included a separate tip on the Tet celebrations plus added some video.
Favorite thing: As I mentioned earlier, 70% of Vietnam's population was born after 1975. For demographers, this creates a real worry as the agricultural society is experiencing a huge bubble of people moving through their child-bearing years, presaging a baby boom. During my stay there, it became clear that the government was worried about this, as there was an article in the state-run newspaper about the cultural reluctance of Vietnamese men to wear condoms, and how that needs to change. Birth control seems to be on the mind of many state planners, as well as AIDs control (though that was never stated). The sign in this photo is part of that public relations campaign.
In temples as well as ancient Vietnamese literature, you will find Chinese characters.
Vietnamese langauage was original written using Chinese script called Chữ-nôm or Nôm until the 20th century.
In the 17th century, Roman Catholic missionaries introduced a Latin-based script called Quốc Ngữ (national language).
Today only Quốc Ngữ is used.
While I was only in Hanoi for couple of days I was quick to note several tips:
* be firm with what you want to do - and where you want to go etc. I heard and read just one too many stories before my trip to Vietnam that drivers are just great at diverting your plans to say stay at Hotel ABC, and send you to some other Hotel XYZ for a small commission. Stories like the hotel is closed down, flooded etc cannot be taken seriously.
Do not every get PUSHED around to making decisions other than those you have planned for.
* avoid private taxis instead take taxis that you flagged down preferably Hanoi Taxi, CP taxi etc. The private touts usually have tempered meters.
* when shopping at the Old Quarters, you can always request the shop to deliver your goodies to your hotel....so you can keep strolling and rolling down the streets to buy even more!!! without having to lug your purchases everywhere!
* there are lots of pretty Vietnamese girls...even those girls riding on the motorbikes are fashionably clad, with highlights on their hair and even hving a straight perm etc!!! despite lagging behind most of the SEAsian countries, the people here are well presented, with good behaviours.
to be continued....
Hanoi has lots of street markets, some are so inconspicuously blended with an alley, that you might walk right past it and not even notice that it was there.
The pasageway for pedestrians is very narrow, and it gets even narrower when a motorbike wants to pass by. There will always be some light motorized traffic in those alleys.
This street market was very close to the Melia Hotel; they sell food, vegetables, live chickens, incense, clothes, shoes, haircuts, pots and pans, etc.
In Vietnam, the rural peasants produce a type of moonshine called Can that is made from fermented rice husks. But this isn't your typical moonshine. Can is only sold in 5 liter ceramic jars, and when you buy it the jar is filled with dry fermented rice husks, but no liquid. You have to fill the jar with water yourself and then let it sit for several hours or overnight. When you return to it, the water has transformed into a potent rice wine. You then take a very long, slender bamboo straw and stick it into the bottom of the jar and begin sucking out the potent brew.
This was definitely one of the coolest things I've ever experienced. And it is something that only the real country folk would drink, definitely not for the sophisticated city dwellers in Hanoi and definitely not something that is marketed for tourists.
Just ask a knowledgable local about it, and you will eventually find someone who can point you to a place where you can find some. Although will probably have to drink it in Vietnam, as I don't know how customs would react to someone bringing in a large jar of fermented rice husks.
Favorite thing: In temples, you might spot these iron urns, with some intricate animal details. This dog (?) was the cover handle. I thought it was cute... ;)
Favorite thing: This is Chef Mai at Sofitel Metropole Hanoi. The class I took was a demonstration class, unlike the "hands on" one I did in Bangkok.
In Vietnam the turtle is a symbol of long life so statues are to be found everywhere.
This one was one of many used as the bases for stele in Van Mieu (Temple of Literature)
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