Before we travelled in Vietnam during the festive season, we never realised that despite being a Buddhist country, Christmas in Vietnam is a pretty big deal! Here’s our post on our winter adventures in Vietnam!
Feeling the Chill in Sapa
Our the next few days were spent mainly holed up in a cold damp hotel in Sapa. In addition to there being no heating, condensation ran down the walls of our room while the rain fell relentlessly. Even the staff were wrapped up in coats, woolly hats and scarves! We went down to breakfast on the first morning and ordered drinks to warm up. The friendly Manager brought over coffees announcing ‘hot coffee!’ It was, in fact, so cold and strong that even T couldn’t drink it! Furthermore, the omelettes weren’t omelettes at all, but fried eggs. It was like the Fawlty Towers Vietnam-style, but instead of being annoyed, we managed to see the humorous side to it all.
The Bizarre Dragons Jaw Hill
We did make it to Ham Rong (Dragons Jaw Hill) before the rain set in. Although we weren’t able to see Mount Fan Si Pan through the mist, there were some cool rock formations, caves and grottos. Bizarrely, there were also some gigantic statues of Scooby Doo, Mickey Mouse and various other characters set amongst the rocks!
Log Fires and Hot Wine
We borrowed huge umbrellas to venture into town at lunchtimes and looked for the restaurants with log fires – just to keep warm! One day we sampled the hot wine – red wine, cinnamon, honey, apple and lemon. T also tried the grog – rum, honey, cinnamon, honey and sugar (medicinal) and Ku had some local plum wine. It was indeed very warming and just what was required! To make matters worse, we believe the hotel staff thought we had stolen one of their umbrellas! Three different staff enquired after the elusive umbrella! It was quite obvious with our small backpacks we could not hide the umbrella they were referring to!
Snow Arrives in Sapa
After three days of consistent rain, it finally stopped raining, only to start snowing! Apparently, the last time that it had snowed here was three years ago! Thankfully, we made it to the railway station through the snowstorm in an overcrowded minivan. Indeed, we couldn’t wait to get back to Hanoi!
Back to Hanoi
We enjoyed a relaxing last few days in Hanoi, further exploring the streets, small temples and returning to our favourite restaurant, KOTO.
We also had a ‘Ho Chi Minh day’ when we went to the museum honouring the revered leader. It was, in fact, interesting and visually impressive, with some unexpected art installations here and there. Additionally, we visited his house on stilts, which is situated in a peaceful area, next to a lake behind the presidential palace. Apparently, ‘Uncle Ho’ refused to live in the presidential palace claiming that it belonged to the people.
Full of Christmas Spirit
We discovered ‘Christmas Street’ in Hoan Kiem, shop after shop full of snowmen, Santa Claus costumes, tinsel, trees and all the usual festive paraphernalia! We had noticed more and more Christmas lights and decorations appearing all over the country. It seemed that even though only a small percentage of the population is Christian (it is overwhelmingly Buddhist), the Vietnamese don’t need an excuse to celebrate. Some of our meals were even accompanied by Christmas music!
We also took a trip ($30.00 each) to the jewel in Vietnam’s crown, Halong Bay. Luckily, it was a beautiful day, blues skies and sunshine. After four hours on a mini bus (our least favourite form of transport!), we arrived at Halong City, where we boarded our boat. We had lunch on board – fish, salad, rice, chicken with beansprouts, shellfish and eggs with watermelon for dessert. T enjoyed the veggie option – taro cake and peanuts!
We stopped off at some amazing caves. The stalactites, stalagmites, pillars and various other rock formations were illuminated by coloured lights and it was like entering a huge fantasyland. It was possible to make out the shapes of faces and animals in the weird and wonderful rock formations.
We continued on the boat through the stunning limestone outcrops to a fishing village, where the locals lived on floating platforms. The boat returned to Halong City. We braved the chilly air on the top deck to watch the big red ball of sun sink into the horizon.
Our first visit to Vietnam has been a fascinating insight into the country’s history, culture and people. We have experienced snow and sunshine, kind and hospitable people, beautiful landscapes and ancient temples. And now, it’s off to Thailand for Christmas!