Thanks for stopping by and please accept my wishes for a wonderful Holiday Season and for a Healthy, Happy New Year for all.
As I look forward to spending Christmas & New Year’s this year with family and friends, I am reminded that just last year, Mike & I spent both these holidays on the other side of the globe, far away from everyone else that we know… in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
I feel like a terrible blogger because a year later, I still haven’t written about my time in Vietnam (though you can read about the rest of our Southeast Asia trip here).
I promise more details about Vietnam will come in 2013, but in the meantime, here’s a glimpse into how we celebrated our Holidays last year in Vietnam!
Last year, on the evening of December 23rd, we boarded an overnight bus from Sihanoukville, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City. I thought we were being fancy by booking ticket on a sleeper bus, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We traveled bunk-bed style, yet did somehow fall asleep, until at 2am when we stopped at a bus station attached to a night-club (really) in Phnom Penh to make a transfer onto a traditional-style bus.
Google Maps says the trip can take between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the route taken, but we spent at least 14 hours on buses before we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City around lunch time on Christmas Eve. We checked into our hotel in the lovely Dong Khoi area (the Saigon equivalent of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue). We grabbed lunch across the street and then napped the day away. This lovely tofu in a Clay Pot, in a nice restaurant, in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Saigon, was about $4 USD (or 85,000 Vietnamese Dong).
For dinner, we decided to go all out and treat ourselves to a proper Christmas Eve dinner. Our concierge recommended the Lemongrass Restaurant at the neighboring Palace Hotel for a nice place with Vegetarian options. The food was good enough, but the decor especially made me feel like Christmas.
In Vietnam, soups (and many other dishes) come with a fresh plate of herbs, lime, and sprouts for customizing your dish at the table.
I was a little over-zealous from the excitement of Christmas AND our first day in Vietnam and ordered soup, a tofu dish, and a side of water-spinach all just for me.
After dinner we went out for a walk. While the restaurant’s Christmas decor may have been geared towards foreign tourists, the rest of the city was decorated for it’s own citizen’s sake.
Yes, Christmas is a big deal in Saigon, and not just according to the complimentary magazine in my hotel room.
Look! There’s Santa flying over the mall’s entrance (below)!
And many of the streets were lined with beautiful lights (as shown below, taken from the back of a taxi).
There were also large displays of decorations downtown that the locals couldn’t get enough of. Everyone walking past seemed to stop and pose for cell-phone photographs.
We decided to act like the locals and pause for our own Christmas photo.
We ended the night by sharing some Strawberry Shaved-Ice from the food-court of one of the upscale shopping malls along Dong Khoi. Delicious and Festive!
On Christmas morning, we enjoyed our hotel’s complimentary buffet before heading out for a day of sight-seeing. The buffet was huge, and the best part was the huge assortment of fresh tropical fruits – Dragon Fruit, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Rambutan, and Pineapple, oh my!
We were in Ho Chi Minh City for a full week. Half way through, we decided to switch hotels for a different perspective on the city (though in hindsight we liked our first hotel & location much better). Our new hotel was more centrally located, just steps from Ben Thanh Market. There was a large International Food Festival taking place in the park across the street from our hotel. We checked it out one night and wound up hanging out at the band-shell for a few hours for an amazing live concert, including several perfect covers of The Cranberries by a Vietnamese singer.
For New Year’s Eve, although there was a stage setup downtown (pictured below), we decided to just go across the street to the festival again. The entertainment was so good earlier in the week, we figured New Year’s Eve would be at least equally good. But we were so wrong!
First, the music on New Year’s Eve was not to our liking at all. Far from Rock or popular music, the performances had a Pageant-like feel to them.
Each act was better than the previous though, so we remained hopeful that it was only getting better. Until, at 11 o’clock, the music simply stopped. The announcer said a few words (in Vietnamese) and the crowd left. Mike and I were stunned. How could the show end before midnight? We stayed in our seats, unsure of what was going on.
Before we knew it, a children’s ballet school was up on stage – conducting a rehearsal – at 11pm on New Year’s Eve. A few parents remained in the audience as the instructors made sure each child knew where they were supposed to stand on stage. For Real.
At this point, Mike and I gave up and left the stage, finding the rest of the crowd milling around in the square, many resting on their motorbikes, waiting for the fireworks at midnight.
For our last surprise of the evening, when the fireworks finally went off at midnight, they were so far off in the distance and blocked by the tall buildings downtown that we could barely see them. I couldn’t believe so many people had camped out for a spot with such a horrible view!
I think Mike’s face sums it up the best: New Year’s Eve in Saigon was a disappointment. Though I hear Saigon celebrates the Chinese New Year (in Jan/Feb) exceptionally well.
I wish you all a Happy & Healthy Holiday Season!
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever been away from home for the Holidays?
What would you miss the most?