Tet is a blursed time to travel. While it’s a great time for a quiet staycation, hanging out with friends and enjoying the blissfully empty streets, staying home feels like a bit of a waste of precious time off. Unfortunately, the alternative is dealing with crowds and jacked up prices if traveling anywhere in Vietnam, or shelling out extra to go to somewhere that doesn’t observe Lunar New Year. However, here are some recommendations for traveling within Vietnam while still avoiding the crowds.
Halong Bay Your Way. Yes, Halong Bay is Vietnam’s busiest tourist destination after Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and it’s often packed even during nonholiday periods. But one way to get away from the Tet crowds in Halong is to cruise a different itinerary from the norm. The very pretty Au Co (www.aucocruises.com) has two identical steelhulled ships that sail true 3-day / 2-night itineraries. The best part is that because Au Co’s parent company has several charitable projects on Cat Ba Island, it’s currently the only ship permitted to sail from Halong Bay’s Tuan Chau Marina through Halong Bay and on to the less-developed yet equally stunning Lan Ha Bay to the south. Sailing farther means it’s off the normal “cookie cutter” route which most other overnight boats take, hitting up less-touristy caves and beaches, and with more time for kayaking and swimming. On a recent cruise, there were several spots where we were the only ship in sight. It’s also a true two-night itinerary, meaning no offloading to a small day boat.
Trinh Nu Cave – Image by Bhaya Cruises
Bhaya Cruises (www.bhayacruises.com) is also worth looking into for its reasonable charter options. With 19 day and overnight boats, it has the largest fleet in Halong, including Bhaya Legend with 1-3 cabin ships available for charter. Grab some friends and book out an entire boat to yourself. Guests are invited to work with the captain to come up with a completely personalized itinerary, taking in lesser-visited spots timed when no one is around. The next best option is Bhaya Premium, available on a charter or join-in basis. The ships are smaller (3-7 cabins) and feel more intimate. Bhaya also exclusively manages an island with a hidden beach, accessible only by walking through a cave. Few other companies go to this spot which means you very well might have the whole beach to yourself.
Lan Rung Resort Phuoc Hai – Image by Lan Rung
Take to the Skies. Another way of enjoying quieter travel moments is by seeing familiar destinations in a new way. Hai Au Aviation (www.seaplanes.vn) operates 12-seater Cessnas on scenic and scheduled flights all around Vietnam. They’re best known for their sightseeing flights over Halong where from 300 meters up, the islands look completely different, almost as if they connect to form the undulating body of a dragon. The water take-offs and landings are pretty cool, too. Hai Au has recently expanded to Hue and Danang with a few more destinations in the works. Sightseeing flights are surprisingly reasonable, coming in at around USD100 for a bucket list-worthy experience. Best of all, you’ll only be sharing your bird’s eye views with fewer than a dozen other passengers.
Danang – – Image by Hai Au Aviaton
Castaway in Vung Tau. Going to the beach is always a popular choice for a Tet holiday. However, instead of busy Vung Tau or glitzy Ho Tram, consider the lesser-known stretch of Phuoc Hai, located right in the middle of the two. A relatively new property here is Lan Rung Phuoc Hai. Designed by the same architect as Vung Tau’s Imperial Hotel, Lan Rung has that same quirky feel to it—a European palace by the sea. While there isn’t much else to do right in the walkable vicinity, the gorgeous seaside swimming pool and wide stretch of beach are a true tonic. The property has its own well-stocked minimart (think: cheap snacks) and the wonderfully kitschy Elvis Café connected by a passenger bridge pays homage to both the King and his Vietnamese counterpart, Elvis Phuong. There’s a stage for karaoke and Elvis himself (the Vietnamese one) is known to pop in from time to time for nostalgic performances. Toan Thang (www.toanthangcar.com) offers transportation between District 1 right to the resort in just two hours for VND160,000 per person in a 9-seat limousine van.
Victoria Mekong Cruise – Image by Victoria Mekong Cruise
River Cruising through the Mekong Delta. While there are around two dozen ships sailing across the Mekong Delta, the Victoria Mekong (www.victoriamekong.com) is the only one that leaves out of Can Tho (rather than the closer My Tho). While it’s a bit further to get to (passengers can either meet the boat in Can Tho or pay a bit extra for a transfer from Saigon), the newly launched 35-cabin ship sails the Hau River (rather than the Tien River), opening up whole new shore excursion possibilities. I was on the inaugural sailing in mid-December, and waking up right in the middle of the Long Xuyen Floating Market was a real treat. The four-deck ship is one of the most spacious river cruisers I’ve ever seen, complete with a small pool, putting green, and even a movie theater (with real theater-style bucket seats). The leisurely four-night cruise ends in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. While the ethnic Chinese Khmers take off for Lunar New Year, it’s not an official holiday (Cambodian New Year is in April, the same as Thailand’s), meaning most shops and tourist attractions remain open. So feel free to stay a couple extra days after the cruise and when you’re ready, the return bus trip to Ho Chi Minh City will only set you back around USD12.