Story: Giang Lê 
Photo: Giang Trịnh

While many choose to travel for the Tet holiday, some stay home to enjoy the rare moments of calm and serenity in Hanoi on New Year’s morning.

The first morning of the Lunar New Year in Hanoi is pristine and immaculate, like the swirling scent of an early winter cup of tea. After a long year, Hanoi wakes up to a quiet morning, where sounds are muted and streets are almost empty. For some of us, this morning helps us admire the charms of the capital city even more.

New Year’s morning in Hanoi is in deep contrast to the ambience of New Year’s Eve, when throngs of onlookers crowd Hoan Kiem Lake and other sites to watch fireworks. In the first moments of the New Year, the city is touched with a rare serenity and idleness.

At dawn, when families are still draped in slumber, the streets are nearly deserted, save for some salt vendors who roam the streets to peddle messages of good luck. Handfuls of early pagoda visitors or the elderly may stroll or cycle to visit each other on the first morning of the year.

As a “first visitor” of many homes I can enjoy the glimpse of the traditional elegance of Hanoians. Older people in Hanoi, clad in either traditional dress or modern clothes, are sure to be neat and well-dressed to welcome the New Year. They visit each other to “launch” their houses and celebrate the rituals of Tet. At the other extreme, many youngsters also wake up quite early, don in their graceful áo dài and pose in some tranquil corner in the Old Quarter on the first morning. Many young photographers scamper around from New Year’s Eve to the First Morning to capture moments at Nghi Tam Flower Market, Long Bien Bridge, mist-drenched West Lake or Hoan Kiem Lake as the year changes. I sit with them, sip some tea at one of a few open vendors and admire the Old Quarter, where tiled roofs crowd densely under the red shade of the national flag.

On the first morning, almost no open cafés or restaurants are to be found. Streets known for their all-night shops and restaurants, such as Dinh Liet and Ta Hien, are taking a rest before coming back to life at night. Most of the vibrant shopping streets, including Hang Dao, Trang Tien, Hang Gai, Hang Bong also turn out to be charmingly quiet. It is a rare and lovely sense of calm in Hanoi.

However, one must hurry to enjoy this rare slow pace, because by 11am, the city starts to stir. Families set out on visits to their relatives while pagodas are cramped with pilgrims in search of inner peace. Hanoi returns to its whirlwind of activity vibrancy, and as the dark falls, streets are already filled with vendors and cafés for both locals and visitors who keenly celebrate the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

The luxury of a brief calm between the dawn and the midday makes the Lunar New Year morning even more special. For me, these pristine moments of calm are at the core of Hanoi’s New Year delights.