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Winter Vacation - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 2006/12/24

Christmas Eve in Saigon


View Winter Vacation 2006 on agc_cwm's travel map.

After our adventure to the tunnels yesterday we decided to sleep in. We woke up around 9 today, showered and ate some breakfast. We decided to go back to the market and check it out again (it was a lot better the second time around). We poked around at all the souvenir shops and bought some chopsticks and a carved wooden box to put them in. Again, I managed to shave a couple bucks off our purchase.

By the time we got through the market we wandered around some more then realized it was lunch time. We stopped had a bite to eat. Then went to the Rex Hotel for dessert I think either reporters or American soldiers stayed at the Rex during the Vietnam War (it was in the 1000 places to see before you die book, so we thought we should go). Here are a few shots from the roof of the Rex.

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Once we left the Rex we slowly made our way up to find the Jade Pagoda. It was on the walking tour, but we just didn't make it there the other day. On our way to the pagoda we passed in front of the French post office again. There were people on the sidewalk selling postcards and other things (as there are everywhere in Ho Chi Minh City). While we were waiting to cross the street we heard someone say something to someone else then next thing we know they all picked up there displays and started running down the street to hide the displays in a nearby alley. We had no idea what happened we just assumed it was the police.

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It took us a while to walk up to the pagoda, but we eventually found it. We turned down one street and were looking lost when a random guy sitting on the street pointed in the direction we wanted to go. I figure a lot of people come up to find the pagoda. This afternoon was really hot. We were sweating pretty bad, and then we saw this guy. He knows how to beat the heat.

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I also liked seeing the balloon vendors walking around with their wares.

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We got to the pagoda and there was a ceremony happening, which was really interesting to see. Inside the pagoda there were a lot of carvings, sculptures and burning incense. They were all fascinating to see. It would have been better if we understood what everything was, but it was still great just to look at them.

This is the pagoda.

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These are some shots from inside and the grounds.

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We didn't stay long because all the incense started to get to us so we went back outside to find a cyclo to take us back to the hotel. Cyclos are bikes with a carriage on the front that you sit it and someone pedals you around. Unfourtunately, we saw a lot of cyclos earlier in the day but now that we wanted to take one, NONE. We started to walk back to our hotel and about half way to the hotel we saw some cyclo drivers, but we had walked a long way already so we didn't get a ride.

Along our way home we found this nice park to rest in. It was really hot out so we decided to sit in the shade for a little bit and people watch. There were a lot of runners with some pretty bad glamour.

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We continued on our way, but decided we had to have some ice cream and sit in some air conditioning. We found a small cafe on our way to the hotel and filled our need. On our way back to the hotel Court wanted to stop at the market to get a skirt for church that evening (aside: it's Christmas Eve. You have to look somewhat presentable; the travel duds weren't going to cut it. ~CW). We got the skirt and returned to our hotel.

We showered, vegged and ate dinner. Then we headed back out to the cathedral for the church service.

By the time we got to the cathedral the courtyard out front was jammed packed with people and people on motorcycles. They didn't close the street to traffic, so people were still driving through. I'm not that good at estimating the amount of people, but I would guess there was probably 20,000 to 30,000 out front.

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We went over to a cafe to grab something to drink and come up with a game plan. We decided we didn't know where we were going, but we had to make an effort to get into the cathedral. We paid for our drinks and entered the crowd.

We started to go through the crowd and make our way to the front doors. This took a long time and involved squeezing between many stopped motorcylces and past a lot of people. We got close enough to the front doors to realize that they were locked and we weren't getting in that way. Luckily, (or was it a Christmas miracle?) someone handed us a card. However it was written in Vietnamese. We stood there looking at this card for a while when two Veitnamese girls in front turned around and asked if they could help us. They read the card and explained it said Merry Christmas and was a pass to get in to the church. They also pointed us in the direction of the door. It was on the side of the church. We thanked and wished them a Merry Christmas then started to push through the crowd again.

Christmas Eve in Saigon was a huge party. There were vendors selling confetti and balloons. Everyone bought confetti and threw it. By the time we made it through the crowd we were covered in confetti, silly string and shaving cream. I think every Vietnamese person saw us thought "Hey, they're not from here. Let's throw confetti on them." And they did. At least they wished us a Merry Christmas afterwards. It was a little frustrating, but it was fun. This is Court in the church and this is my back after we got back to our hotel. We were picking confetti out of everywhere for a few days afterwards. It's kind of like going to the beach or haying. Sand and hay chaff gets places you didn't think anything could and then won't come out.

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We made it to the door on the side of the church and entered. We managed to ask if it was ok to go in covered in confetti and they said it was. Maybe the Wise Men threw confetti too.

We entered the church and scoped out some seats near the back of the church. By this time it was 9:30 and the service started at 10. We sat through the prayer vigil in Vietnamese and watched the church fill up. By 9:50 the pews were full. Then at 9:55 they opened the front doors and people just poured in. They kept the center aisle open but the aisles and neon alcoves on the sides were full all the way to the front and were about 4 or 5 people deep, with some people sitting on the shoulders of others so they could see. I figure there was 4,000 to 5,000 people at the service. They also left the front doors open, so we could hear the big party and horns happening outside the cathedral, but not much of the service.

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Here is a video from the start of the service. If you listen closely you can here "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" being sung in Vietnamese. Also look at all the people. And also note the man in the foreground who attended Christmas Mass in his PJs and slippers.

Once the opening procession finished I realized that Roman Catholic services are a little long and dry for my liking (I prefer our 40 minute re-enactment of the Nativity Scene). Then when you do the service in Vietnamese it's even worse. We snuck out of the church around 10:30 to brave the crowd outside and get a good nights sleep for our tour the next day.

Posted by agc_cwm 04:02 Archived in Vietnam

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