Our online research showed us that Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, was going to be a very festive place to spend the holidays! Although Vietnam is mostly Buddhist and they don’t really celebrate Christmas in a Western way, they certainly did decorate the city and celebrate in their own way!

First off…we stayed in a hotel downtown and found that there were lights everywhere!  Every hotel and many big businesses had little Christmas scenes set up on the street, and guess what this means to the Vietnamese?  It’s PHOTO-TAKING TIME!

As we neared the Christmas holiday, we found the crowds to be almost overwhelming…particularly around each Christmas display where hoards of young women posed while their boyfriends took photos of them on their smartphone (no joke). My kids had to fight for a chance to stand in front of a trees, too!

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The girls with their friend, Poppy, daughter of the awesome couple that does Saigon Street Eats (Food Tours in Vietnam)!

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One thing became immediately evident the first night in town. Vietnam traffic is crazy!! Not every intersection has street lights or stop signs…and crosswalks for pedestrians truthfully aren’t really needed. If you want to cross this road…you are simply going to walk into the madness of fast-moving motorbike traffic, praying that no one hits you!

Okay, admittedly, there are some rules to crossing the road. You put your group in a line (shoulder to shoulder), and walk slowly into traffic while making the smallest target possible (only one person wide…because your line of people goes downstream). You watch the oncoming bikes, preferably raising your arm or making eye contact to know that they will not send you to your deathbed. Surprisingly…we had no close calls. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t hold my breath whenever we crossed…

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While there are some cars in Vietnam, motorbikes outnumber them 30 to 1. Unlike Thailand where cars seem to yield to motorbikes, in Vietnam the bikes yield to the cars…and a car will not slow down even for pedestrians!

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Lights deck the major streets, making even more crowds because everyone wants to go there and take their photos!

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Guess who sponsors these beautiful light displays?  Burger King, Pizza Hut, Heineken, you name it…

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One morning we were eating breakfast in our hotel’s dining area, and a nice British couple came up to compliment us on our well-behaved children (“we have grandchildren, and I can assure you they would have not acted as well as yours!”). We graciously accepted the compliment…but I could have assured them that their good behavior that morning was not always the case. But thanks for encouraging a young family, anyways!

Meanwhile, they informed us they had come to Saigon as part of a yearly trip where they collect funds from church members in France (where they then lived) and bring them to a children’s group in Ho Chi Minh. They told us they heard that the Catholic Congregational Church was doing a big shin-dig event that night, and they thought it might be something we’d enjoy bringing our kids to.

As they were telling me this, Jared ran from the table, dashing upstairs to throw up his breakfast. Good thing our room was only on the first floor! (FYI: Jared is allergic to shrimp, and the breakfast that morning entailed fried rice with shrimp. He picked out all the shrimp and decided to give it a go, anyways…but less than 5 minutes later his body said “NO WAY!”).

I realized why Jared had dashed off and excused him, as well as exchanged some information with the couple so that we’d know where this event was taking place.

I was pleasantly surprised that by the evening Jared was feeling better, and he was actually willing to check it out! It was a MASSIVE event with thousands upon thousands of people, as well as food and craft booths.

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A huge stage had been set up and group after group performed well-rehearsed numbers. Apparently they also got a surprise from a well-known Vietnamese artist, guessing from the amount of children and adults who stormed the stage, asking for autographs!

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I ditched Jared with a few sleeping and tired kids, and took Maiya around to some craft booths to have a look. I discovered that most of the booths were set up by organizations that assist disabled children or adults (handicapped people were all over the event). Also, some of the booths showed that these disabled groups actually made and sold the crafts…which was cool!

So, I purchased a Christmas surprise purse for Ella to carry her camera in, and some ornaments for our friends in Vietnam.

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Check out this artwork they do with paper!  Wow!

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Most of the food booths didn’t appeal to me…I’m a bit picky (to say the least). However, we enjoyed several cups of passion fruit juice, and Maiya even tried some fish balls, which she surprisingly liked!

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It was a fun way to get festive for the upcoming Christmas holiday! And in general, with all of the Christmas lights and displays throughout town, it was hard not to feel a little bit of “Christmas spirit!”  Only a few days to go…

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