Vietnam Adventure 2: Tet: Leading up to wonder and exhaustion

Dong Hoi Market just prior to Tet 2016


So our town of Dong Hoi is buzzing and there are more cars in town than I’ve seen here in the past 4 months.  The market is bustling with people hurrying to stock up on their needed supplies for hosting family and friends.   We have brought our lucky $2 bills straight from Indiana, sure to be a hit with the kids.  The anticipation is growing and I can’t help but feel the similarities with our holiday season.  Much like our holiday season, I am noticing excitement and anxiety often go hand in hand.  I my first post, I started to talk about culture.  As Tet is the biggest holiday in Vietnam it deserves a deep dive.

Tet, is the Vietnamese lunar new year celebration.  You may have heard of or participated in lunar new year festivities in your home town – perhaps a Chinese New Year celebration with dancing dragon, fireworks or cultural performance?  Well, In Vietnam, this is a time for family, friends, and it is custom to return home for a period of 9 days – one full work week and the weekends on each side.  This causes most of the transportation options (bus, train and plane tickets) to be sold out heading toward the countryside from the big cities at the beginning of Tet and the opposite direction when Tet comes to a close.  We were warned of this the first week we arrived in Vietnam (in October) with conflicting advice.  Most of the foreigners we talked to (and books we read) said, “get out of the country, as everything is closed and travel is difficult”.  The more Vietnamese we befriended gave us very different thoughts and invites to join them at their homes to experience Tet from the inside.  Tet will officially begin this coming Saturday, and we currently have invites to visit many of our colleagues and friends, including our adopted taxi driver (turned Vietnamese language tutor) and his family.

Here is what we know:

  • Tet officially welcomes Spring – let’s hope so on this record year for cold weather.
  • There are 3 official days of Tet – pretty much all business comes to a close
    • first is for family
    • second is for friends
    • third is for teachers – highly regarded in Vietnam
  • Everyone cleans extensively prior to Tet
  • Many times, this is when children receive new clothes
  • The first visitor to a house on Tet signifies the next year’s luck and prosperity
  • Visitors sometimes bring a gift for the family, but always bring ‘lucky money’ for the kids
  • We gather that most friends just show up at homes throughout the days, to eat, drink and socialize

I’ll give an update after our first Tet experience next week.

Had to pick up this Orange tree to liven up our house pre-Tet.
Had to pick up this Orange tree to liven up our house pre-Tet.

Ok, what???  Had this blog ready to go, just ran out to grab pictures of the market.  Before I could add them, Beth and I decided that for the first time, we would try to call our landlord and pay our rent with no help from anyone that speaks English.  After braving the busy streets on our bycycles, we felt we could do anything.  You see, our landlord, Mr Nhat, a retired police officer, speaks n0 English and talks to us (at a pace an auctioneer would appreciate) as if we understand every word he says.  Well, 45 mins after he arrived, our table looked like this

Pre-Tet rent payment delivery aftermath.
Pre-Tet rent payment delivery aftermath.

and we raised our glasses to cheers in Vietnamese many, many times.  I think we are in for a very wild and fun ride over the net week.

UPDATE 15/2/16: Chuc Mung Nam Mui

Tet is officially my favorite holiday.  Think of it as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s wrapped up into one week of non-stop activity.  The amount of food and alcohol consumed in the past week rivaled  that of the past month for both Beth and I.  Invites are given on the day or even at the moment they would like you to visit their homes.  Because we are the ‘foreigner’s’, I think this is how the invitations were given to us.  It appears most people just show up at their friends and relatives homes over the period of Tet.




Leading up to Tet, there were end of year parties for work, social groups, and families.  The parties consisted of large meals with special food signaling the end of the year (bitter melon soup, etc.).  In preparation for the New Year, traditional food is prepared like Banh Chung (Sticky rice with mung bean and pork filling, wrapped in banana leaves, taking 12-15 hours to prepare).


Families each had a ceremony to invite their ancestors back to their homes for the Tet holiday.  A similar ceremony takes place at the end of Tet to see them off.  The alters in each house were filled with offerings (like fresh fruit, stacks of food and sometimes cigarettes or other gifts).


At midnight, to bring in the New Year, fireworks were displayed over the main bridge in Dong Hoi.  Tradition dictates the first day of Tet is for family, so we had a nice relaxing day at home and then went to one of the few restaurants open for dinner and a drink.  The next 4 days were filled with travelling to the homes of our friends and colleagues (4-6 each day) and having tea, snacks, usually a very large meal with many drinks, then tea and fruit to close out the visit.  We had the opportunity to visit many homes in the city of Dong Hoi and also the chance to travel to Le Thuy, a district approximately 40 mins south of Dong Hoi to visit relatives of friends.


Overall, besides the need to go on a post Tet diet, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  We feel like we got to know our friends and colleagues on a more personal level and appreciate the openness and warmth shown to us during this holiday.  We have been reflecting on this gratitude and also some of the inequalities we saw that are always present, but amplified during Tet; mainly the women taking on most of the work/stress.  Maybe Beth will dive into more on her Flowing with Purpose blog.

Our Work:

My wife Beth Kreitl and I decided to resign from our jobs in Corporate and Higher Ed to experience our first year of marriage together volunteering in Vietnam – The Vietnam Adventure.  We are working with the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation to create and lead a drowning prevention program in Central Vietnam.  In Vietnam, on average, there are 35 deaths per day from preventable drowning.  We hope that providing interventions in Community Awareness, Water Safety Education and Learn to Swim infrastructure, teacher and student training, we can reduce this unacceptable number.  You can find more info here or see a video produced by the Microsoft Alumni Network of our move here.

Appreciation for helping hands:

Thank you to Allison Morton for finalizing the tri-fold brochure so we can better tell our story in Vietnam and the US.

Thank you Chandra Thornburg and Bill Haugen from Lynnwood pools for sharing their Learn to Swim curriculum (in pool and in-class) as well as their passion and knowledge of Swimming and drowning prevention work.

Always a need for additional help:

If you want to get involved in any way, fundraising, friend-raising or volunteering your skills, let me know as we can always use extra hands – employer volunteer matching benefit is a plus as well!  (I know, old habits of a volunteer program lead die hard!)  Experience in water safety is not needed, just the desire to use your time to help the cause.

If you are interested in visiting Vietnam and seeing our work up close, we’d love to host you.


Please share this blog with your friends and family and anyone that is interested in Vietnam, Water Safety, Education, or would like to help us save lives.  🙂   Thank you in advance for checking out our facebook page!!!


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