We landed at Saigon on the 23rd December at around 3.00 p.m.after an 8 hour flight through Qatar. Saigon airport was small and met our expectations. It was neither grand or big. Simple, small-town airport.
First feel : Anybody who has visited Bangalore, in India, or Srilanka would feel Vietnam’s no different except for the fact that the place is a tad warmer than the other 2 places in December.
As you venture out into the city, it surprises you pleasantly- green trees line the pavements, roses grow like wild flowers, a thousand motorbikes fill the roads only interspersed by green taxis and tourist buses (every house has a 2-wheeler or maybe even 2 or 3 and is the main mode of transportation).
Little shops selling chinese made goods, spare parts, French styled cafes decorated for Christmas, foot massage parlours and boutiques selling tailor-made clothes exist in perfect harmony on the same street. A street with a high-end restaurant and a little eatery with people sitting on the pavement is a regular sight in Vietnam. So don’t be shocked to see people sharing a bowl on a stool as you step out of your fine dining restaurant!
Though Buddhism is the primary religion at around 9%, followed by Christianity at 6% and majority of the population are atheists (79%), Christmas and New Year is celebrated with great fervor. At this time of the year, little fairy lights adorned the streets and brightly lit Christmas trees of all sizes and colors stood at the entrance of literally every shop and restaurant. If you can’t head west and are on a budget, then this is the perfect place to be on Christmas!
Saigon City,also called Ho Chi Minh city ( after the great leader) is in the South of Vietnam. In December, it was 26 degrees and hot; you need to wear light clothes and loads of sunscreen so you can hit the streets, without worrying about getting tanned.
Day 1 – 24th Dec: Cu Chi Tunnels, President’s Palace, Notre Dam Cathedral, Central Post Office and Christmas eve dinner on the boat.
Note: Before you visit Cu- Chi tunnels, it’s a good idea to read a little about the U.S. – Vietnam war. Go through the tunnels made underground and see the hand-made weapons which they used to fight the war, the seemingly innocent looking ant-hills which provided ventilation to the tunnels inside, and you will leave the place, feeling nothing less than respect and admiration for the Vietnamese people who fought by day, and toiled by night on the paddy fields or digging tunnels and making their own weapons to fight the technologically advanced enemy. Vietnam had been ruled by the French before the second world war, by Japan during World War II and by the French again after the war until they decided to fight for freedom in 1955. You get to see a little of all these cultures in Vietnam.
If it sounds boring, serious stuff, just want to say the kids loved it and enjoyed listening to stories of how the Vietnamese fooled the U.S sniffer dogs by placing “Duran” fruits near the vents (fruits look like jackfruit and have a strange stench that one really needs to get used to, to eat it), or how they had several exits from the tunnels to mislead the enemy and they absolutely loved going into the tunnel. The tunnels in real were much narrower but a few have been widened up now for tourists to go through.
After spending the morning in Cu Chi Tunnels, lunch was more than welcome. Set on a lawn with a stream on either side, we definitely felt pampered at Ben Nay Restaurant which serves Vietnamese Cuisine.
Independence Palace – the second stop for the day
It was the seat of the French Government when they ruled Vietnam followed by the Japanese and then the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the U.S. – Vietnam war. It was where the war ended when North Vietnamese army stormed in through the gates. The palace was reconstructed in 1962. It still houses the bunker built underground and the kids got a chance to see the telephones we used in our times 🙂
Christmas Eve Dinner on the cruise- the perfect way to celebrate Christmas in a foreign land- away from home and family
A little of the Vietnamese dance that we got to watch on the boat. The quality of recording isn’t too good, but it will give you a fair idea of the experience, I hope.
P.S. Again, wherever you feel the photographs are great, the credit goes to my husband, Sanjay Nair and the ones that may not be too clear would be the ones that I have clicked…hope they are not too bad though 🙂
Tomorrow in this series of the Vietnam Diaries, we go to Mekong Delta…chow for now.