Happy New Year Again – Celebrating Tet in Vietnam

Brian came down with the flu two days before we were scheduled to temporarily leave Hanoi for a two-night stay in the countryside. Luckily, he mostly recovered within those two days, and we departed on our car-train-car journey to our guesthouse as planned.

Theo’s favor (and presence in photos) is very much courted in Vietnam – not as intensely as in India, but close. On the train, a family with a child about Theo’s age gestured for him to come over, and he spent about an hour watching videos with the girl and eating various snacks the family plied upon him. (We eventually lured him back to us and re-implemented our comparatively draconian screen and snack policies, but the sight of him sitting with the girl was too cute to spoil at first.)


The guesthouse was lovely, and we mostly just relaxed the first evening. IMG_9087


The next morning was Tet!

We planned our trip to Vietnam knowing that our stay coincided with the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year. Many people advise not visiting Vietnam during Tet, because most museums, restaurants, and shops shut down for the celebrations – some for as long as a week. However, after reading this article by a family who was in Vietnam for Tet last year, we decided to go anyway. A little bit into our stay in Hanoi, I decided it might be fun if we joined the people flocking to the countryside for the holiday, which is how we found ourselves in this guesthouse near Ninh Binh for an (abbreviated) Tet holiday.


Kids (including ours) are given lucky money on Tet with the idea that it will help bring them success. Theo, above, is his holding lucky money under a peach blossom tree beside a family shrine.

Some places were closed for Tet, Brian was feeling run-down, and we have a three-year-old who doesn’t like being strapped in a car for long periods of time. So, we skipped most of the usual sightseeing, even though there were apparently a ton of gorgeous things in the area (including the famous Trang An – which we did peek at on our car ride from and to the train station.) Our exception was a boat ride at Galaxy Grotto Caves, which was really beautiful. As usual, Theo befriended our guide through the almost complete language barrier.




Later in the day, I went for a walk while Brian and Theo hung out at the guest house. The roads were mostly peaceful and empty, with families occasionally zooming past on motorbikes.






Partway through my walk, I was invited to tea by a woman sitting outside her house who spoke less English than I speak Vietnamese. (To put this in context, my Vietnamese is limited to hello and thank you, both mispronounced.) We sipped tea and attempted (and mostly failed) to communicate, before I mispronounced thank you, bowed, and continued my walk.

A bit farther down the road, a group of children practiced their English on me:

“What is your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“How old are you?”

When I answered “America” to the second question (saying United States often just launches blank stares here) one of the girls started jumping in circles yelling “America, America, America.”

Throughout the day, Theo would periodically run off with the gaggle of children who lived at the guest house and the owners’ parents’ house next door.



After taking the picture above, I realized that the cans the kids were drinking from contained, um, beer. Theo watched a boy take a swing of beer* and very matter-of-factly said, “he’s going to die now.” I explained that wasn’t quite what would happen, while moving the cans out reach.

The next morning, our train was scheduled to leave at 1:15 pm.  Since this is the only time we’re going to be spending in the Vietnamese countryside during our mostly city-based trip, I wanted to see a little more of the area. So, we borrowed some bikes and headed off for a ride. We were all feeling reasonably healthy and the scenery was beautiful.


A few minutes after Brian took this photo, Theo caught his foot in the bike wheel… and that was the end our bike trip. We should have realized that the bike seat was too small for him and left his legs dangling near the wheels. We messaged the guesthouse owner who helped us get home and then ran off for supplies to clean and bandage the wound.** Definitely not fun for any of us.

On the train back to Hanoi, I started feeling sick. By the time we got back, it was pretty clear that I had caught Brian’s flu.

The next day, Theo still couldn’t walk, and I was sick and mostly stuck in bed. (Luckily, Brian was healthy again, though feeling behind in work because of his earlier illness and our trip.) Theo is a very active three-year-old, and we all felt the pain of his not walking. We took a break from our limited-screens policy for Theo, and took turns playing video games and watching movies with him, so that the other adult could rest and recover (me) or work (Brian).

The next day, Theo started walking again***, though still without shoes, and I started to feel healthier. Thank goodness.

Thus far, the beginning of our Lunar New Year has been quite eventful! We’ve been reminded of many things, among them:

  • That sometimes travel is hard (this is especially true with a three-year-old)
  • That often travel is an opportunity to meet others and share pieces of their lives (this is also especially true with a three-year-old)
  • And that overall, people are amazingly kind, which helps a lot when travel is hard.


* I’m pretty sure that my paternal grandmother has family videos of both my brother and I being given tastes of Budweiser as toddlers. If I recall correctly, I grimaced, while my brother was unfazed and wanted more. While we’ve never deliberately given Theo a taste of beer, when he was a toddler back in California, I once walked into the room as he was taking a sip from a glass of sour beer. We had left it in small glasses that he apparently associated as belonging to him. He seemed pretty pleased.

** Both getting his foot caught and having the wound cleaned out was a pretty upsetting for Theo, who hasn’t been injured often. He’s declared that he never wants to ride a bike again. We hope to convince him differently before we get back to Europe this summer.

*** Since returning to Hanoi, we’ve taken Theo to the (very nice) clinic near our apartment twice to have the wound checked and cleaned. The first time, it cost 25,000 VND, just a little over a US dollar. The second, time we apparently came outside of opening hours (they told us after checking and cleaning the wound)… so there was no charge.

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