Days before the Vietnamese Lunar New Year or Tet, hundreds of thousands are already on their way to their hometowns. People eagerly hop on motorbikes and into their cars; and drive hundreds of kilometers to be with their families. For those traveling farther, the resumption of domestic flights and inter-provincial buses is a sure blessing.
Tan Son Nhat Airport reportedly handled 59,000 passengers over the weekend, while bus stations in Saigon sold out more than 100,000 tickets for trips to central and northern provinces.
Even amidst the threat of the Omicron variant, there’s no stopping the Vietnamese from being with their loved ones on this most important day of the year. Tet is, after all, a family occasion — often the only time of the year when people get to be together to reminisce nostalgic stories and share their hopes as a new year unfolds.
But for many Vietnamese living abroad, flying back home to celebrate Tet with their families this year is troublesome, if not impossible.
Max Tran, a fintech expert currently based in Amsterdam, last celebrated the new year in Vietnam in 2019. As much as he wanted to get on a plane and spend the holidays here to be with his family, commercial flights from the Netherlands have yet to resume.
If Max chooses to fly through other European countries, the price could go as high as three times the normal. And he would have to quarantine for seven days before he could be with his family.
“It’s really sad, to be honest [to be celebrating Tet away from Vietnam],” Max said. I am fortunate, though, that I have my sister here in Europe so we can at least be together. I’ll fly to Copenhagen and celebrate with the small Vietnamese community there. But the whole Tet vibe is not the same.”
“I just really want to be with my parents now. Homesickness is real.”
For investment strategist Ha Nguyen, traveling from Switzerland isn’t a risk worth taking at this time, especially as she’s pregnant with her first child. “I am extra careful about the risks involved,” she said. Ha plans to wait until her baby is big enough to fly long-distance and until “everyone in my family receives their booster shots.”
‘To travel freely’
Pre-pandemic, Viet Kieu can travel back and forth to Vietnam as they please. Flag carrier Vietnam Airlines operates over 90 routes to 29 international destinations, averaging 400 flights per day from major airports like Saigon, Hanoi, and Danang to different parts of the world. Bamboo Airways and Vietjet Air, meanwhile, fly to select destinations, mostly within Asia. Dozens of international airlines also offer direct- and non-direct trips to Vietnam, like Qantas and Emirates.
However, these trips have been virtually non-existent since 2020. When Vietnam closed its borders two years ago, it automatically suspended all commercial inbound flights. Other nations, which were suffering far worse outbreaks, also restricted the entry and exit of citizens. The World Health Organization advised against cross-border travels at the height of the pandemic, and governments were urged to implement travel measures.
But recent developments — more controlled outbreaks and active vaccination drives — are now paving the way for the ‘new normal.’ Here in Vietnam, a few international commercial flights have restarted, and quarantine mandates have been relaxed.
However, for many Vietnamese who’ve been longing to be reunited with their families, the resumption of flights does not necessarily mean hassle-free travel. Before boarding a flight, several entry and exit requirements are needed to be complied with: RT-PCR COVID-19 tests, vaccination certificates, entry permits, etc. All these cost a hefty amount of money, and these do not include the airfares yet. Prices of flights from Vietnam to the United States, for one, now start at 40 million VND (1,763 USD).
These are the very reasons university researcher Ha Luong opts to stay in Bavaria for Tet. He celebrated the Lunar New Year in Vietnam in 2020 and 2021, despite all the restrictions, to honor family traditions. But this year is different.
“The situation does not allow convenient international travel from Germany to Vietnam. I have read many stories of Vietnamese people arriving in Vietnam via Cambodia (usually by car to cross the border),” Ha Luong explained. “Recently, a limited number of flights between Asian countries and Vietnam have been reopened, but the airfare is really high. Considering all the factors, I guess I just have to delay visiting home this year.”
Ha Luong hopes to visit by summertime, instead, if both Vietnam and Germany further relax their travel policies.
Sang Le, a student and entrepreneur based in Canada, wishes for the same thing: To be able to travel freely again. Sang last marked the new year in 2017, right before she left to pursue her studies in Vancouver.
“I’ll be calling home close to midnight of new year’s eve, and also having a small celebration dinner,” Sang shared. “I wish for good health, happiness, and fulfillment for me and my loved ones.”
“I also hope that we can all travel freely again.” If all goes well and traveling back to Vietnam won’t require a great deal of effort, money and paperwork, she might just be able to finally book a ticket come June.