Christmas was rapidly approaching, and I had NO idea what I was going to do to celebrate. It was going to be my first time spending Christmas away from my family. This impending bout of loneliness was weighing on me, but then I received an invitation.
A couple of my friends from college who were, at that time, teaching in Thailand, suggested I join them in Ho Chi Minh City for Christmas. Plane tickets were about 1,000,000 VND (46.75 USD) each way through Jetstar, so I felt adequately frugal in buying them. We got a 3-bed room in a hostel for the equivalent of $13.00 per night per person. We stayed there for 3 nights. This brings the fixed costs of the trip to a grand total of $132.50. So allow me to introduce you to my adorable travel companions for this post: George & Josh.
I had been warned that flight delays are just part of the deal when you buy a plane ticket for such a low price. You get what you pay for I guess. Sure enough, my flight was delayed and I didn’t get to Ho Chi Minh City until at least 2:30am. I was sitting on a small plastic chair in the street drinking beer by 3am. That’s what the drinking culture in Vietnam is.
I topped the night off with some 5:00am McDonald’s. It had been a solid 5 months since I had seen one. You can hate on McDonald’s all you want but it tasted like America. Over the course of the rest of the trip we ate at Dunkin’ Doughnuts, Popeye’s, Subway and (almost, if it hadn't been so expensive) Baskin Robbins. And those restaurants were just the ones we happen to walk by! That about covers my food consumption during that trip. None of these restaurants are present in Hanoi so I said ‘carpe diem’ and pigged out. It's the little things that remind you of home.
It's A Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh Christmas!
Is there even anything to do in Vietnam for Christmas? Asia has definitely bought into Christmas for the pure commercialistic value of the holiday (check out below if you don't believe me) but does anybody here actually care?
It was the evening of December 24th and though some light Googling I had happened upon some vague information about Christmas Eve festivities at or around Notre Dame Cathedral in the center of the city. So we got in a cab and told the driver to head to that general area. By the time we were within a mile of the cathedral the streets were too swamped for the cab to continue to drive. We paid the fare and hopped out into the crowd.
There were easily 10,000 people gathered that didn’t seem like they had much to do that night. Vietnamese families sat on blankets in the grass, teens (or maybe adults, I can't tell here) took selfies left and right and we just tried to follow the flow. I had quite a few groups of people ask to take a picture with me, presumably because I am tall and white. I was happy to oblige them and make some small talk as we pushed closer to the giant church.
On our way over we noticed some locals around our age spraying each other with cans of shaving cream. One boy was covered in the white foam while others chased him. After a few more steps we noticed a couple of girls spraying shaving cream straight up into the air and taking selfies as it made its way back down to the ground around them. Then it clicked. The shaving cream was snow. We kept walking, trying to avoid the blow back of shaving cream Christmas.
When we got closer to the giant church though what had previously been a light flurry of shaving cream turned into a blizzard. Cans were being sold for 10,000 VND ($0.47) so we abandoned our efforts to stay dry, each buying our share of canned snow and running into the frenzy. As large, moderately attractive white men we attracted a little bit more snowfall then your average participant but we all had a good ol' Vietnamese time in there anyway. These pictures were all that I could sneak before getting buried in white foam.
Eventually, soaking wet, littered with globs of foam and covered in a light coating of glitter, we made our way out of the madness. We brushed off a couple pimps soliciting us cheap sex on our way to a bar where had a beer each and then went home.
Before I conclude this post, if I might be so bold... this was the coolest Christmas Eve tradition I’ve ever heard of.
Here are a few pictures I snapped that day:
All things considered, I'd say that I had a pretty good Christmas Eve. Christmas, however, was going to take a turn for the worst.