I managed to board a 15-hour flight from Milan to Hanoi one week before the Lunar New Year (*), reuniting with family and friends before taking off again in March. It was mid-January, still winter time in Northern Vietnam although the temperature hovered around 20 degrees Celsius. My brother picked me up at Noi Bai airport and drove us straight to our small but vibrant hometown just three hours away.
Vietnamese New Year, or ‘Tết’ as we call it, is the most important festival in our country. Government offices, schools and most of the businesses close for a week-long holiday while the festivities stretch all the way from the God of Kitchen Day on 23-Dec till the Lantern festival on 15-Jan (according to the lunar calendar). As the new year coming close, our central coastal town became much more bustling with lots of shops lined up on two sides of the pedestrian walkways. You can ride motorbikes through every single stall, window-shopping all you want, even parking your vehicles right on the street for a closer look at the good items. Unlike many Western countries, there is no such thing as Christmas or New Year market here. Weeks running up to the new year, traders and farmers would bring kumquat and peach trees downtown from the mountains, joining other ornaments and flower vendors to form an open market on the sidewalks.
On the Feast of the first morning, we allowed ourselves to be a little lazier, having brunch at eleven o’clock before heading south to the Le family temple. Over the past five centuries, the temple has been a sacred place to worship 27 Kings in the Later Le, the longest-ruling dynasty in the Vietnamese history. We came here to remember our former Emperors, but also to find luck. Much influenced by the Chinese culture, we believe the lucky feng shui direction would attract positive and nourishing energy to our home. In the year of the rooster, the southeast is said to increase chances of prosperity while the northwest brings good fortune and happiness.
We had a soul-soothing retreat the next day when visiting Dad’s homeland in the countryside. It was a 20-minute car ride out of the city but a world away: no changing color lights and busy traffic in sight, only rustic houses fusing with pure nature and the fresh cool breeze bringing in the sweet aroma of the young rice fields.
Coconut and banana trees mirroring themselves onto the pond
My little niece posing in front of a rice straw pile & bamboo fence
Some random shots on Day three:
Paper horses, boat and elephant for sale at the temple
A classical opera (Tuồng) singer waiting till his performance at the village festival
(*) The Lunar New Year begins on January 28, 2017. Some people think it’s a Chinese festival, which may be an offense to many Vietnamese. Please note that this festival is celebrated by so many countries in Asia and not just China.
Feature image: Hanoi flowering peaches, January 2016