Dec 19 2011
Christmas in HCMC is a bit of an extravaganza, with fantastic decorations everywhere and people making an evening out of just hanging out around them. But as crazy as Christmas gets it has nothing on New Year’s Eve in Saigon. Ringing in the New Year right is a high priority for the city; decorations line the street, lights sparkle everywhere, roads are shut down, and basically 8 million people or so cram into District 1. Things get hectic, so I thought I’d give you a guide to better navigate the city if you’re lucky enough to be in town.
A few places in town are set up for massive crowds, with large New Year’s displays. At the Ben Thanh Market end of 23/9 Park, which runs along Pham Ngu Lao, there is a big display plus the park is full of various activities and some live music. The true epicentre of celebrations is at the intersection of Le Loi and Nguyen Hue. Here you will find the main, dropping-of-the-ball celebration area as well as a huge proportion of lighted arches enveloping the statue of Ho Chi Minh. Besides taking your pictures in front of the lights, you can buy all of your necessary New Year’s party supplies from vendors: glow sticks and flashing light glasses, anyone?
Besides gathering areas the streets themselves are being dressed up for the big day as we speak. Not only are they lined in flowers and lights but the decorations also go above the streets as well, making a sort of archway of light. This is important to notice because the streets that are decorated are closed to motor traffic for the evening. These are major streets; Le Loi, Nguyen Hue and a large portion of Dong Khoi are all closed. In fact, the decorated area has expanded this year and Le Duan is also covered in flowers and lights between the Reunification Palace and Hai Ba Trung, meaning it too could be closed.
With these major spots closed for the night, the already ridiculous traffic reaches a new level of epic-ness. For example, last year the roundabout in front of Ben Thanh Market wasn’t closed but was a literal sea of motorbikes. You could barely walk through it, let alone drive, and catching a taxi in or around the confusion was an expensive endeavour. If you plan on visiting the downtown area my best advice would be to make a day out of it and go early, like before the sun goes down early, if you want any chance to make it through the mess of people.
All in all, New Year’s is quite the event in Saigon and one I wouldn’t want to miss. Don’t be scared by the crowds: once you get past the motorbikes and onto the closed streets it’s actually pretty calm, and pretty much every hotel, bar and restaurant in town has something going on. Plus, how often do you get the chance to count down with millions of people?
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