How Did Tet Holiday Celebration Look for Me?
Well, it was amazing and at some moments very blurry and hard to remember since Vietnamese people love their alcohol (and me too)! Sometimes even too much. If you ever come to drink with locals, be prepared that they are very proud drinkers and they will definitely try to outdrink you.
I was lucky that during my time in Vietnam I was living with few families and met a crazy amount of local people in Da Nang while volunteering. Many people invited me to their homes during Tet, but I was only able to visit a few. The final decision was to visit three provinces - Ha Tinh, Nghe An and Thanh Hoa.
The whole trip lasted for a bit more than two weeks and I stayed with three families, one in each province. I was driving 'Dragan', my trustworthy Honda Wave that passed through heavens and hells with me but still rocking solid. My beloved bike clocked just a bit less than 2,000 km on this trip. I decided to try something different in this article - going visual with a bit of text since the picture says 1,000 words.
Well, in the end, why not to try and test new things?
Note: All photos were taken by my phone that was slowly dying on the way and these are not the highest quality, but can definitely show you the vibe and how it all looked like.
1st stop - Ky An, a small industrial village in Ha Tinh province
In Ky An, I was invited by a good friend Vu who I met in Da Nang. I was living with his family for four days and during that time I've met so many people, friends, and family. Also, I experienced the culinary heaven of traditional food and rich preparations for the Tet holiday.
Here you can feel the vibe from that special place: Overlooking Ky An was really nice. People in that small village are mainly Catholic and it's shocking how many churches they have. Also, they put an extreme amount of effort and money to build those since they pay attention to every detail. It always looks foggy around here, but it's actually not a fog - these are the gases from the huge international corporation that is located here.
It creates jobs around here as it seems like every person works for the corporation which is good short-term, but again, they are slowly killing their sea and air which will definitely come with the price for this and many other generations. Also, don't forget that the majority of people around here lives from seafood and farming.
What's your thought on it? Are you for a short-term or long-term?
Or maybe you see a balanced option that can benefit all the people now, but also, won't have a negative effect on generations to come?
We moved down from the hill and visited the church. It's still in a construction phase without much work being put on. Around the church, there are many community buildings where locals usually hang around. Also, kids play football on the rocky field barefoot. This is how the church looks like now. It's probably one of three or four churches around there. Maybe there are even more, who knows? You can see they are done with outside construction and they slowly moved to detail phase. It's funny that only a few people work on it and they are definitely taking their time while working on it.
Read, having a thousand smoke and beer breaks. Vietnamese people love their coffee time! They have such a strong coffee culture and amazing coffee (mainly robusta, for coffee enthusiasts). We usually drink Ca Phe Sua Da which is translated as coffee with milk and ice. If you never tried Vietnamese coffee don't be surprised how creamy and sweet it is.
They use condensed milk as a sweetener that gives a special creamy texture. Some people can't stand it as at the times, it can be extremely sweet! Also, you always get free tea and you can drink as much as you can. Tea is very tasty and sometimes really strong. Depending on the province, people combine different snacks that go well with coffee - in Ha Tinh, they like their sunflower and watermelon seeds.
It is so easy to make a mess! After a few minutes, the floor looked like this! It was full of sunflower seed shells and it's totally normal around here. Everyone is throwing everything on the floor and people just don't mind. The bartender just swipes it away once the people leave the table and the floor is ready for new customers faster than a blink of the eye. Oh yeah, not to forget - a gaming culture is huge among Vietnamese youth. It was very impressive and at the same time shocking to bump on these gaming rooms everywhere! Literally, there are places with nothing, just a few stores and of course a full gaming room. Majority of these works during the whole night, so many young people come there before sleep to play some games with friends.
It's also very shocking to me to see very young kids spending hours there instead of playing outside and experiencing a beautiful nature. How different is the childhood now! Not judging, since Croatia and other parts of the world are no different. But just an interesting observation when you how a traditional lifestyle is slowly getting influenced by technology and modern lifestyle. In the countryside, you reap what you sow. We were catching some chickens for the barbeque later. People around here don't earn much money, but they usually live in their house with the family, raising animals and growing their own food.
People here live self-sustainable and it's nice to be around there as you learn many things about the food and the way they grow and treat the food. A blurry photo is posted for the purpose! People in Vietnam love their drinking time! It's called Nhau and it's basically drinking and eating without any reason. They are doing it almost every night with their friends and family. It's amazing how good and diverse food they eat. Of course, there is no Nhau without beers and tons of rice wine.
It's sometimes annoying when you focus on eating and every second someone wants to cheers with you. After a while, you forget and don't mind. Also, they have a culture of drinking everything bottoms up, even the beers. That's so heavy for the stomach and I'm struggling to keep up with their beer drinking pace. At the table, you can see their iconic hot pot.
They burn a fire below the pot and inside the pot, there is a liquid or a broth. When the broth is getting hot, mix raw meat and fresh vegetables to make a delicious soup! One of the fishermen villages I had a chance to visit. The beach is visibly polluted by all kinds of human waste, like almost every beach in Vietnam. People here are simply not educated about pollution and its effects on the environment. Also, it seems like it's in their culture to litter. Anyway, people around Ky An live mainly as industrial workers, farmers, and fishermen.
It's very crazy to see huge industrial boats on the horizon. This part of the sea is totally flocked with these kinds of boats. This is the local way how to make a fish sauce and shrimp paste. I personally don't like any of it but can eat the fish sauce with some food. Shrimp sauce has a very strong smell to me and I'm simply allergic to it.
The woman was showing me how she makes both sauces and what kind of fish and shrimps she is using. It was a good knowledge to get since these two are basically staple sauces when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine. All that you can see on the table is fresh and locally made. That's what I'm thinking when I'm talking about self-sustainability. People don't have much, but they have everything they need. The food is very delicious and fresh.
We were eating cooked squid combined with rice paper and tasty mint. Also, there are baby shrimps that are used to make a shrimp paste and some kind of beef sauce that goes good with the food above. Many locals don't use the gas or electric stoves - they simply build a fire and cook on it. In this huge pot, there is a traditional food called Banh Chung which is the sticky rice combined with some beans and sometimes meat. It's a traditional food for the Tet holiday and it can make you totally full in seconds. It's full of calories and people usually mix it with sugar when eating.
I'm not a huge fan of it but can eat a few pieces. They also wrap it in banana leaves and it looks like a wrapped gift. It's a good gift for the families while visiting at the time of Tet holiday. Preparing a chicken we caught before for the barbeque. People here seem like they are doing it every day so they are doing it so fast. As you can see, they have football dresses on since they just came from a football match. Football is a huge thing around there and almost everyone is playing football. They have teams and they compete against other teams.
People just rent a football field and play against each other. It's such a good and healthy way to connect with people, but also it's a good excuse to drink after. A chicken that we caught before. We were dipping the chicken in all kinds of spicy sauces while drinking a beer. People here love spicy food as it makes you thirsty and what's the better way to kill your thirst than drinking a cold beer.
Also, Vietnamese people usually drink everything with a ton of ice. I don't personally like to drink a beer with the ice, but in Vietnam, it's hard to avoid it. It was so funny experience buying a winter hat since it was very cold to drive around that time. We went to the local market and soon, there were like 20 people around us looking at me as an alien. I guess they rarely see a foreigner.
They were very friendly and treated me very nice. Also, there were some people talking English, so they were asking me do I need any help or what I'm looking for. Such a nice bunch of people. Local markets in Vietnam are very colorful and lively. You can buy literally anything there and it's the place where some people socialize as there are few local eateries and cafes around. I always have a great time just walking around these markets. After a few amazing days in Ky An, it was time to say goodbye and move a bit north to visit another friend in Com Xuyen. It's a small village located on the off skirts of Ha Tinh city. The place is beautiful, but the people are noticeably scared of foreigners (or just me?). I was lost around since it's very hard to find an exact house there and I was asking people for help and in some moments they were really terrified and running away from me.
It was probably because I didn't remove the full face helmet and people rarely or never saw a foreigner around. Anyway, I spent like an hour driving around these beautiful rice fields while looking for my friends' house. After finally meeting each other, we went to eat and drink a few beers. He invited me to a traditional restaurant to eat duck liver salad. It was very tasty. You always mix it with rice bread and fish sauce mixed with garlic and chill peppers. Also, a cold beer goes so good together since all of this food is a bit spicy.
I was literally starving at that point so I ordered a chicken soup that isn't on the picture.
2nd stop - Vinh City, the center of Nghe An province
After visiting my friend in Ha Tinh, my goal was to reach Vinh City where a good friend of mine is working and living. I planned to stay one night and to continue my way to Cau Giat, a town where I was volunteering as an English teacher. On the first night, I knew I will prolong my stay there since I've been to Vinh City many times, but never had a chance to roam around the city.
Here are a few photos from Vinh City: Fried rice - one of my favorite dishes around Vietnam. It's different as you travel through the country and also, it has a different name. For instance, in the north, it's called Com Rang, while in central Vietnam it's called Com Chien. I was missing a huge bowl of fried rice so much! I was driving around Vinh in the morning and I was aimlessly looking for a place to eat. I always go to the restaurants or street places where I see a lot of locals eating.
You know you will get amazing food for an affordable price there. I saw a Pho place filled with locals, so I was like, let's check it out. As soon as I got inside I saw they are preparing fried rice and I was like, let's eat it! It was so delicious and so huge! I almost couldn't finish the bowl! It was so good to eat it again. On the way to Ho Chi Minh's hometown. It's a small village located just outside Vinh city. The whole distance is about 15 kilometers, but it's easy to get lost around countless rice fields that are around.
The road is pretty nice and you're passing through small and charming towns where you can stay for a quick caffeine refill. The most amazing thing for me on the route is that you can drive through rice fields and small villages which gives you a completely different experience. It's the house where Ho Chi Minh was born. The house is fully built from bamboo and palm tree leaves. Also, people living in that period were extremely short as the ceiling is so low. Another interesting thing from the house is that they didn't have a furnished floor as every floor was just made of mud. The house inside is totally traditional and simple.
People had few bamboo beds, one or two hammocks, and a traditional kitchen where they were setting the fire and cook directly on the fire. And yeah, they had tiny gardens around the house where they were raising all kinds of vegetables and sugar cane. It was a pretty simple, but self-sustainable lifestyle around there.
Also, I bet they weren't littering on each step like they usually do nowadays. This is the rest of the village where Ho Chi Minh was born. The village is very well preserved as many workers are taking care of it. It really amazed me how actually the whole place looks so furnished and chilled since there are not many visitors there (at least not at the time when I was visiting).
3rd stop - Cau Giat in Nghe An
Cau Giat is a small town located on the national highway QL1. The town is 250 km southern from Hanoi and about 60 km northern from Vinh. It's a very meaningful destination for me since I spent 4 months volunteering as an English teacher there. I haven't seen people and the place for about 6 months, so I was very excited to come there.
My initial plan was to stay there for two days, but I prolonged it to 4 days since there were some old friends coming in and I met amazing new friends on the way. It was very hard to leave one more time.
Here are some photos from my time in Cau Giat: Ah, that smell of the rice fields...It's simply hard to explain the smell, but it smells like home. The majority of people in Cau Giat live from the rice, livestock, seafood (a bit out of the town, but in the district) and there is a huge pineapple plantation near. It's amazing to see that many people and households are almost totally self-sustainable. Even they don't earn much money on a monthly basis, they manage to have their basic needs met.
It struck me all the time to see that we don't need much to survive and live a good life. That's the bridge across QL1 national highway in Cau Giat. I was usually coming here during the night to just chill and drink a beer with fellow volunteers. Also, this place is always filled with people after 8 pm. Some people come here to socialize, some people even come here to train. It's a lively place at night and really cool to be here one more time. I was randomly driving around the town to get the vibe, and stumble upon these twins! They were my students back when I was teaching here. Their family has a small clothing shop so I saw them playing with some toy rifles in front of the shop. I pulled the motorbike and said hello, but they ran behind the counter just looking at me with the smile. I was calling them and they were a bit shy but they remembered me.
After a minute they run to me and hug me. It was a very emotional moment and we were hugging each other for minutes. It was an amazing feeling when you see your students after a long time. Quang and Sue, the part of the family. I missed these two kids so much! They are growing so fast and they are getting much better in English. It's such a pleasure to see these kids are growing in a positive direction so fast.
We had a lot of fun during these few days. They were showing me many tricks and plays they learned during the time I was away. There is a small hill overlooking the whole town where I usually went when I needed to recharge my batteries. In Cau Giat there are three rice harvests per year and no matter which time you go to the hill, you have a different vibe and a look. I love to play the guitar and sing songs on that hill. Also, remembered the moment when I bring my brother here. We were just sitting here, drinking beers, looking at the stars, and talking about life.
This hill is definitely magical and holds a special place in my heart. Ao Dai is a Vietnamese traditional dress that people usually wear during weddings or special and meaningful periods like Tet holiday. It's a very beautiful costume with many details. I was lucky to get invited by locals to the shop. I tried a few Ao Dai costumes, but they didn't have my size so it looked very funny. Did you know that you can get a tailored Ao Dai in Hoi An?
It's a perfect idea for a souvenir from Vietnam that will last. The people who were wearing it were stunningly beautiful. We went outside and took some photos for the upcoming Tet holiday. In the shop, there were two funny kids who were eager to learn some English, so while the people were trying different dresses, I was playing with the kids. A totally random photo, but needed to share it with you. This is the waiting line for the ATM! There are at least 30 people waiting in front of this ATM and it's impressive for me how chilled they are in the row. If that happens somewhere like in Croatia, someone would get hurt for sure! People are spending much money on decorating and preparing their homes for the Tet holiday since it's their most meaningful holiday of the year and it can be quite expensive.
The same situation was in front of every ATM for a few days. One day I woke up around 6 to drive a bit and there were still waiting lines at that time! If you're traveling through Vietnam around Tet holiday, be sure to have cash prepared since you may end up in a waiting line! Does the photo above remind you of stacked decorated Christmas trees? People in Vietnam, instead of Christmas trees, have orange trees. It's very interesting since they decorate these trees with all kinds of colors and lights and it actually looks like the Christmas tree. When it comes to oranges, people told me it's not good to eat since they used a huge amount of fertilizers when growing.
Anyway, I tried a few oranges, and it was so bitter that I couldn't eat it. Probably people were right! Quynh Phuong, a beach located just 15 km away from Cau Giat. It's not touristic place and the beachfront just went through some minor developments like building a boardwalk and there are few restaurants. At that time, the beach was almost empty and nothing was working since almost every business is closed for the Tet holiday. It was such a good vibe to chill and get a fresh breeze. At the time of the trip, I was trying to stop smoking cigarettes, so I got hooked to this baby called Thuoc Lao. It's a bong mainly made from bamboo or in some instances from metal and people use it to get high. How does it work? Well, you fill the pipe with tobacco, then burn and inhale the smoke. The tobacco is pretty strong and it gives you the lightheadedness feeling. Few times, I almost got unconscious after taking a big hit. Be careful when you're taking Thuoc Lao and always have some liquid next to you.
People in the north simply love their Thuoc Lao and you can find it in almost every cafe or restaurant. In central or South Vietnam, it's very hard to find one as the culture is a bit different. Quynh Nghia beach from the mountain. We climbed the mountain and were prized with this view. It's a very nice way to recharge your batteries being near the sea on the fresh air. The place is about 15 km away from Cau Giat. Every time when I see this sign, I get chills. I'm very connected to Nghe An province and its people so I always feel weird when I'm leaving. This time, I was driving the bike with my friend Chien and we were heading to his hometown in Thanh Hoa province that starts just after this sign.
4th stop - Thanh Hoa Province and Chien's Hometown
After a short but amazing visit to Cau Giat, I met Chien (a best friend from Da Nang), and together, we jumped on my motorbike and drove all the way to his hometown. I spent 4 days in his hometown and celebrated Tet holiday with his amazing family. There were many funny, crazy, scary and beautiful things that happened.
Here are some pictures from Thanh Hoa province: Chien and I just arrived in his hometown in Thanh Hoa. Nothing much of the picture, just to see our faces after his first trip with the motorbike outside Da Nang. He was driving the whole province and there were moments where I was completely scared for our lives. But luckily, we arrived safely at the destination. His family greeted me with a few shots of beer and Thuoc Lao hits.
In Vietnam, people are drinking bottoms up with beer and it really makes you drunk very fast since their pace is hard to follow. Also, they love to eat while drinking which is a great habit since the hungover is minimal. We were doing like that for the 3 days in a row, but after 3 days your body is simply telling you - STOP! Vietnamese people are keen to their karaoke and it's the part of the culture. Friends and family gather together and usually sing their favorite songs while drinking overpriced beer and eating fruit salads. It's impressive how much effort they put in furnishing karaoke rooms. Every room looks so luxurious, even in the most remote places.
We got so drunk there and after a blast time in the karaoke room, we just continued with the party at Chien's family home. It's hard to be the only foreigner around these people as everyone wants to cheer with you and it's inevitable to stay sober. Some karaoke has a huge selection of songs. In Da Nang, I was able to sing a few Croatian songs! As I already mentioned, Vietnam has a deep coffee culture as well as their export of coffee is one of the highest in the world. Vietnamese people simply love their coffee with condensed milk. I must say it's one of the most delicious and strongest coffees I had a chance to try. This one is the best egg coffee I ever tried.
The egg coffee is made by mixing coffee, condensed milk and egg which gives you a tasty coffee with a strange creamy texture. Some people love it, while some people hate it. I'm in the first category! Egg coffee is extremely popular in the north, mainly Hanoi, and it's a real struggle to find it in central or South Vietnam. The landscape around Thanh Hoa is stunning and it reminds me of Ninh Binh province that we had a chance to visit during our epic motorbike trip around the country. We took the bikes one day and randomly driving around to energize our bodies since it was a day before Tet.
For Tet, you simply had to have a lot of energy since people drink like crazy and you can't expect to go to sleep early. This is the view over Thanh Hoa city from the monument that pays respect to heroic mothers during the American war. We were greeted with an amazing view and a beautiful sunset over the city. Such a unique moment to be there! Ah, the night of Tet looked like this. We started to drink at 10 am in Chien's family house until 10 pm. During that time, I met a crazy amount of locals who were extraordinarily nice, and of course, they all wanted to cheer as the sign of welcome to their town. I was just trying to follow up and I made it! 12 hours of hard drinking! I didn't know what was following...
Well, we came back to Chien's house around 10 pm and chill a bit while drinking a few beers and smoking a few Thuoc Lao. Chien asked me to go to visit his friend nearby. We went there and we got really drunk at that house. When we were going back to his house, we met his brother and friend on the street. It was a group of 20 drunk people singing and going to visit every house around the town to give the best wishes for the Tet.
We started our march to visit all the houses and the thing is that you have to drink in every house you visit. We started around 12 pm and I remembered throwing up in the lake around 4 am. The next day I woke up with a huge hangover, headache and I was unable to open my eye. A crazy night for sure it was! A beautiful sunset captured from Chien's house. It's amazing how simple people live here. They don't have much but they have enough! Me next morning after Tet night. It looks like I got hit in the face, but no, I managed to get some eye virus. At first, I didn't want to take the medicine since I knew I will be drinking, but after Tet night it started to look very bad.
I've got some medicine and creams and everything settled to normal pretty fast. Some older people had it and they were told it's very dangerous and it can spread around the whole body. I was so lucky nothing serious happened. A traditional meal in Vietnam. People here eat very healthy and diverse cuisine. Usually, they put a bamboo mattress on the floor and stack the food around while people are sitting in the circle, next to each other. There is a lot of alcohol involved too, but luckily for me, I didn't drink any since I was on the medicine.
Some people were drinking for 5 or 6 days in a row and still going strong. It's crazy how much Vietnamese people can drink.
Going back to Da Nang
After celebrating a lunar new year in Thanh Hoa it was time for me to return back to Da Nang. There was a long way in front of me and it was impossible to do it in one day, so I broke the trip into three parts.
I visited family in Cau Giat again (along with visiting a friend from Da Nang around Quynh Luu district), stopped in Ky An to visit family, and then from Ky An drove 350 km all the way to Da Nang.
Here you can see a bit from the trip back home: On the picture above, you can see a traditional preparation of betel nut or quid. This nut has a significant meaning in Vietnam culture and today, you can see older people consuming it. Consuming this nut for long periods makes your teeth black, so that's one of the reasons you can stumble to people with complete black teeth. An interesting fact is that the black teeth were the standard for a beauty a long time ago.
The combination of a nut, powder, and leave is used as chewing gum and the taste is similar to a minty gum. It's said it gives you energy and more brainpower, but I really didn't get any of these effects. Meeting some random families around Cau Giat. I met a few new friends in the small town, and they were visiting some friends, so I was going there with them. The families are always so warm and welcoming. You instantly feel as you're at home while visiting a Vietnamese family. Of course, there was tea, rice wine, a lot of sunflower seeds, and Thuoc Lao. An interesting fact is that Vietnamese people believe the sunflower seeds will make you lose your voice.
I don't know if it's true fact or they were just telling me that as I was literally killing all of their sunflower seeds. These seeds are so addictive! This is another family I've met in Quynh Luu District. It's about 15 km away from Cau Giat and these are father and mother of my friend from Da Nang. We didn't have a chance to spend more time together as the timing was very tight, but still, had a great time with, you can guess - a Thuoc Lao, strong tea, and plenty of sunflower seeds. Almost reaching home! It's the view from the top of Hai Van Pass which is just 25 km away from Da Nang city center. I was greeted with sunny weather and not the best visibility. Usually, on clear days, you can see a whole city and the beach from this point. This place is one of the top touristic places around central Vietnam, and I won't tell you about the beauties of the place since everyone is talking about it.
I will tell you about the problem of littering! People, what's wrong with you?
I'm living in Da Nang for the past 7 months and it was my first time visiting Linh Ung pagoda or how we like to call it; Lady Buddha. It was an amazing place that is by far overcrowded. But if you're patient, you can have a truly great experience and also, stunning views over the city. Getting a tasty cup of egg coffee (can't compare it to the one in Thanh Hoa!), few hits of Thuoc Lao, and having a great day with an amazing person is a great way to put the end of this short, but meaningful journey.
This was the overview of my two weeks on the road while celebrating Vietnamese New Year with local people. I have tons of pictures and so many more experiences to share, but it is impossible to include all of them. I'm sorry if I didn't include something that was very meaningful to some locals that I met on the road, but believe me, I remember all of you guys!
Thank you one more time for making Vietnam much closer to my heart!