The mythical origins of bánh chưng, a traditional Tet food in Vietnam, go back to the sixth Hung King, whose son created the recipe for the steamed cake in a bid to become his father’s only heir. The green leaves that encase a bánh chưng represent the earth, reflecting the green forests, mountains and meadows of Vietnam. Inside the cake, hidden beneath a thick layer of sticky rice, are beans and pork, which are symbols of the earth’s plants and animals. During Tet, families make bánh chưng and offer them to their ancestors, and share them with friends. This year, you’ll know exactly what you’re biting into – a piece of Vietnamese heritage.
Giving lì xì or red envelopes containing lucky money is an integral aspect of Tet. Foreigners are very welcome to join in this custom. Apparently, it’s not the amount of money inside the envelope that counts – it’s the thought – so don’t get hung up deciding on how much to give. Anything from 10,000 vnd upwards is fine, but make sure the money you put in the envelope is new and clean. Many Vietnamese will go to the bank before Tet just to get hold of brand new money for their lì xì. Giving old and tattered notes is considered disrespectful.
If you receive some lucky money, don’t be in a hurry to spend it. It’s better to save your lucky money to use on something special. Both givers and receivers of lì xì will be lucky in the ensuing year. By handing out lì xì, you are inviting the flow of money and luck into your own household.
It looks like Moldy march has arrived 2 months early in Hanoi, so it’s time to post some tips that will keep your home or apartment dry and mold-free:
- Ventilate the 2 wettest rooms of the house -your bathroom & kitchen.
- Wipe down the shower recess with a clean towel or squeegee as soon as everyone has had a shower. Make sure you remove wet towels from the bathroom immediately after use.
- Keep windows open when it’s dry outside and close windows when it rains or it’s foggy. Ceiling or pedestal fans can help keep air moving – mold forms when the air is still.
- Direct sunlight kills mold – take moldy items outside when the sun is shining and let them ‘sunbake’.
- Keep the doors of your cupboards and drawers open. If possible, store everything on open shelves for the entire month.
- Turn on the dehumidifier. Check your aircon – does it have a dehumidifying function? The symbol for this is usually a water droplet.
- When you water your indoor plants, mix some Taheebo tea with the water. This tea kills mold and will prevent the soil in your pot plants from becoming mold factories!
- Don’t put furniture up against outside walls. The inside walls (between rooms) are always warmer and less prone to condensation. Leave a gap between the wall and each piece of furniture so that air can circulate freely.
- Stuff your shoes, boots and handbags with magazines or foam to keep them mold-free. Store them in a well-ventilated part of the house.
- Vacuum more often when the weather is humid, because mold spores attach themselves to dust particles.
- Don’t dry your clothes inside – put them in the clothes dryer.
- Clean the filter inside your air conditioner – this will stop mold from growing inside the unit.
In the north of Vietnam, the 2 most popular trees for Tet are the kumquat and the peach. Decorating your home with one or both of these trees signifies growth and luck for the new year.
If you’re buying a branch of a Cây Đào (peach tree) rather than a potted bonsai version, as soon as you take it home, lightly char the stump of the branch over a gas stove. Next, ensure that there’s plenty of water in the base of the vase you display the branch in, as this will prolong the life of the flowers. Check on the water level every few days to ensure that the stump of the branch is always immersed.
One of Hanoi’s best-kept secrets is out – go to Long Bien Bridge to watch the fireworks this NYE. Our advice is to catch a taxi or a bus to the bottom of the bridge at about 10pm. Pack your own drinks, cups, food & utensils, for a picnic-style evening. Walk up the ramp (see the photo above) and find a comfortable perch about 1/2 way along the bridge. At midnight. You’ll have one of the best views of Hanoi’s fireworks, including the launches from Hoan Kiem & West Lake.
Christmas Eve is always beautiful at St Joseph’s Church in Ly Quoc Su St, but be prepared for crowds of people. You’ll have more room to move at Cua Bac Church at 56 Phan Dinh Phung St (near to top of the Old Quarter). This church is beautifully lit-up at night and has some amazing interior architecture including stained-glass windows.
The riot of colour on display at Hang Ma St in the lead-up to Christmas is definitely worth a look. At the moment it is jam-packed with Santa Claus suits and there’s a frenzy of people strapping gigantic Christmas trees to their motorbikes, driving off into the chaotic traffic.
Just about all the major hotels have Christmas buffets – the Intercontinental Westlake, the Metropole, the Sheraton and so on.
If you’ve been living in Ha Noi for a few months of more, chances are you’re already familiar with Ba Dinh Square and/or Ba Dinh Square. There’s an interesting story behind the name, Ba Dinh, which means ‘3 communal houses’.
Over 130 years ago in Nga Son district, Thanh Ho province, 3 villages turned their communal houses into guerilla bases, from which they attacked the French colonialists who ruled Vietnam at the time. The fighting raged for 32 days and nights and the incident became known and celebrated as the Ba Dinh Uprising.
When President Ho Chi Minh read the Declaration of Independence from France in 1945, he chose to do so from Ha Noi’s Ba Dinh Square, giving a nod to the rural men and women who bravely rose up against the colonial oppressors back in 1886.