Dec 16 2011
Saigon is in the grips of the Christmas spirit. Everywhere you go, something will be there to remind you that the happiest time of the year is right around the corner. Large streetside decorations, cafes pumping out your seasonal favourite songs, and tin foil snow is everywhere. A Saigon Christmas is a different sort of Christmas and you’ll need a guide to help you navigate the festivities.
Just like for Halloween, several stores sell Christmas decorations and paraphernalia, such as a wide variety of Santa hats and suits. Besides clothes they also sell full, life-size figures as decorations — one of the more popular Christmas activities you can take part in around the city is hanging out in front of some of the large displays of lights and Christmas scenes. The more elaborate showings, with giant Santas and snowmen to take your picture with, attract quite a crowd.
The decorations are unique in the fact that they don’t follow any rules. You’ll see life-sized Tet (Vietnamese new year) characters being re-used — throw a hat on them, stick them next to a snowman and you’ve got a whole new take on Christmas. If you want Santa to be friends with the creatures of the sea, put him next to an octopus!
At night, sidewalks and streets around big displays will be packed to the point of insanity. In fact, if you’re driving your bike down some of the major streets downtown, like Le Loi or Nguyen Hue, stay on your toes because other commuters will recklessly gawk at the lights.
Getting a taxi downtown is a huge hassle at night and just the prospect of going through will have normally good taxi drivers refusing service or trying to haggle an unusually high fee.
The big crowds of people are like mini-economies, drawing in a large variety of vendors selling anything from Santa hats and balloons to cotton candy and banh trang nuong. Some of the more popular spots are the Pax and the Rex Hotel on Le Loi and the Vincom Centre on Dong Khoi. Things will get especially crowded around these areas as we get closer to the New Year, as street decorations dominate the whole downtown area.
For a more traditional Christmas, several restaurants offer a Christmas turkey dinner. Turkey is somewhat of a rarity in Saigon, so when it’s on a restaurant’s menu you will pay high prices by any standard. Christmas dinner buffet at the New World will cost 1.4 million VND, while at the Caravelle early Christmas dinner will set you back 1.3 million VND.
So if you are in HCMC on Christmas (instead of say being someplace like Nha Trang), head out and see the lights — the people watching opportunity alone is worth the trip.
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