First published February 2024 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Tom Divers is the founder and creator of Vietnam Coracle. He’s lived, travelled and worked in Vietnam since 2005. Born in London, he travelled from an early age, visiting over 40 countries (he first visited Vietnam in 1999). Now, whenever he has the opportunity to make a trip, he rarely looks beyond Vietnam’s borders and his trusty motorbike, Stavros. Read more about Tom on the About Page, Vietnam Times and ASE Podcast.
It’s Tết Lunar New Year in Vietnam. In the south, the streets are festooned with yellow marigolds and mai flowers; in the north, pink peach blossoms adorn every porch. The air is rich with incense. Families are gathered together in their quê hương (ancestral home, village, town, commune or district) to tend to the memory of their ancestors, enjoy the present, and hope for prosperity and fortune in the future. After the familial obligations to ancestors at altars and spiritual rituals at pagodas, the nation will travel and celebrate the longest holiday of the year. Tết is special. But this year even more so, because we are entering the Year of the Dragon.
New Year is a time to reflect, celebrate and look forward. The last Year of the Dragon was 2012. That was the year I started Vietnam Coracle. Twelve years is a long-ish chunk of time – a full cycle of the zodiac. But at this particular period in Vietnam’s history, 12 years is equivalent to a generation in most Western countries, such as my own (the U.K). Since the last ‘dragon’, certain tourist destinations in Vietnam have changed beyond recognition; the skylines of most major cities are totally different; an urban Vietnamese 22-year-old today has very different wants, needs, desires and expectations to a 22-year-old in 2012. Change is the defining characteristic of 21st century Vietnam so far. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on many plans and projects, both private and public. But, on the surface and to the casual observer, Vietnam in 2024 is back in its groove: moving forward, active, busy, hungry, curious, eager and excited. I know these kinds of generalizations are easily torn down and contradicted. But go stand at the centre of any Vietnamese town at 5pm and you will feel the pulse of a nation that appears to be heading somewhere with a common drive and purpose. Perhaps that shared direction is towards ‘modernity’, ‘industrialization’, ‘higher living standards’ or ‘wealth’. Whatever the drive may be, there is an undeniable dynamism and vitality to Vietnam that I do not recall witnessing anywhere else that I’ve visited, certainly not since the last Year of the Dragon, perhaps ever.
Vietnam reopened almost two years ago. The recovery has been slow but steady. My first hand experience is in the professions I work in: travel and education. Both have noticeably picked up post-pandemic. My classes have more students, language centres are busier and expanding nationwide; popular tourist destinations are crowded again, big travel and tourism infrastructure projects have recommenced, and I see more road-trippers on motorbikes throughout the country. In reality, many people and many businesses continue to suffer in the post-pandemic era. Global events since the pandemic haven’t helped to improve the situation. But it is difficult not to lean more towards optimism than pessimism in Vietnam today. In the last 12 months, the Year of the Cat, I have travelled the length and breadth of the nation several times. My impression is of a population that is still relatively young and there’s a palpable excitement among Vietnamese youth that I don’t think you’d find in the U.K. Obviously, I’m not ‘qualified’ to make any of these observations: I’m not a sociologist nor an anthropologist, nor do I care to back up any of my opinions with statistics. These are just my feelings as I continue to live, work and travel throughout Vietnam on the eve of the dragon.
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Happy New Year!
*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this article because I want to: I like Tết Lunar New Year and I want my readers to know about it. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page