Christmas in Vietnam
My first steps in Vietnam soil were on the early afternoon of 24 Dec 1997 in Saigon. It was an unforgettable experience, having no idea what to expect for Christmas in a Bouddhist country. Churches were packed, streets were taken over by millions of motorbikes, no way to get through by car. Make sure to book a hotel at walking distance from the restaurants and bars !
Christmas in Vietnam is both hilarious and confusing, because, really, it’s just another day. Vietnam is officially an atheistic country, so nobody gets the day off — but you’ll hear Christmas carols everywhere you go and many businesses put up elaborate decorations. For most Vietnamese, Christmas is more of a curiosity than a religious holiday. Luckily, Christmas falls in the middle of the peak tourism season so there’s plenty to do.
Buy a Santa outfit and sing carols
Shop owners in Vietnam certainly aren’t blind to opportunity, which means you’ll have no problem finding Christmas-themed items as the big day approaches. You can even get complete Santa outfits for under $20. You’ll also be amazed by how many Christmas carols Vietnamese know, even though the holiday isn’t actually celebrated. While they might not understand the words, they’ll sure belt them out with you. There’s nothing quite like singing Jingle Bells in a crowded seafood restaurant on the beach.
Enjoy a feast
Many high-end restaurants and hotels put on specials around Christmastime, offering buffets or set menus with all your traditional favorites — turkey, ham, roast or even some tasty Vietnamese cuisine. Call the restaurants in your area and ask what they offer. Most will at least point you in the right direction if they don’t offer a Christmas meal.
Have a look at some of the churches
There are many beautiful churches around Vietnam to check out. Catholics are a minority, but they still make up approximately 17% of the population. You could even take in mass, but you’ll probably have to stick to humming along with the hymns unless you know some Vietnamese.
From Gothic-style stone cathedrals, to elegant golden marble altars, and hot-pink facades, Vietnam flaunts some gorgeous churches. The country’s architecture is owed to years of French colonial styles, paired with traditional Oriental designs, resulting in an elegant combination of antiquity and modernity. Check out the most awe-inspiring churches you’ll find throughout Vietnam.
Phat Diem Cathedral, Ninh Binh province
Located in Ninh Binh province, this stunning cathedral, built in the mid 1880s is carved entirely from natural stone. The cathedral sits in a serene complex with a lake, bell house, and several grottoes.
Cua Bac Church, Hanoi
While the official name is “Church of Martyrs”, Cua Bac Church is considered a prime example of the marriage between European and Vietnamese architectural styles.
Tan Dinh Church, Saigon
Feast your eyes on a sight I bet you have never seen before: a Gothic-inspired hot pink church located in Saigon’s District 3. This unique church is one of the most underrated sights in the city. Its intense colour is hard to miss, and the interior is equally as stunning. During Tan Dinh’s 1929 reconstruction, wealthy parishioner Francois Haasz and his Vietnamese wife generously decorated the inside with Italian marble, creating a rich, elegant feel.
Church of Christ the King, Nha Trang
Constructed in 1928, this church is built of simple cement blocks, yet it is a marvel to behold. Located in the upper part of coastal Nha Trang, the Church of Christ the King features a striking exterior, but it’s the interior that will take your breath away.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hanoi
St. Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi, with construction beginning in 1886, and the design intending to emulate its Parisian counterpart (Notre-Dame de Paris). St. Joseph’s holds mass several times per day, with each mass broadcast outdoors to anyone unable to enter, leading to regular, large crowds during mass times. The cathedral was built in Gothic Revival-style, built of granite slabs and gorgeous stained glass windows shipped to Hanoi from France.
Basilica of Immaculate Conception, Phu Nhai
Fun fact: After a major storm devastated this church in 1929, a nation-wide lottery funded its reconstruction in 1933. This basilica is yet another stunning architectural marvel in Vietnam. The cathedral rises 30m high and is flanked by two tall bell towers with four bells each, and each bell weighs a staggering two tons.
Notre-Dame Basilica, Saigon
This list would be incomplete without the most famous church in Vietnam on it! At any given day, you’ll find crowds of selfie-stick wielding tourists, just-married couples and their professional photographers, along with everyday locals camped around the Basilica selling souvenirs. The red bricks adorning the facade were shipped to Saigon from Marseilles, garnering a lot of attention from the locals, as they were unique at the time. While it is one of the top tourist hot spots in the country, it is currently undergoing a massive renovation, and you won’t be taking any tours of the inside until 2019. However, an English and Vietnamese mass is still held every Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
Get a tailored outfit
There are quality tailors around no matter where you are in Vietnam, and what better way to add to the Christmas cheer than to get a hilariously tacky suit or dress made up. Splurging for a custom-made outfit in Vietnam won’t set you back too much, so have some fun and get something you can wear for years to come at Xmas parties back home. I had my first taylor made Tuxedo done in Hoi An back in 1998 for barely $50, won’t be that cheap anymore, but still good value for money !
Enjoy a massage
This one is fairly self-explanatory. If you’re bummed out that you’re missing another Christmas at home — and especially if it’s your first — then take your mind off things with a massage. You could even go for a manicure and pedicure or a foot massage. Be warned, though, foot massages in Vietnam are sometimes thinly disguised torture sessions, but you will feel great afterwards.
Go to the beach
You’re never more than a half-day’s journey from the beach in Vietnam, and this country has thousands of kilometers of picturesque coastline waiting for you to enjoy as you sip on your favorite drink, singing carols to yourself while the sun dips into the ocean and night brings laughs and good company. O holy night, the waves were gently lapping…
The rainy season in the South is supposed to be over by the start of the Christmas Holidays, there might be an occasional downpour, but the temperature is still nice and hot.
There are plenty of beaches to choose from :
- Mui Ne : Mentioned enough of this area in my last newsletter …
- Nha Trang : The nicest beach resorts are close by Cam Ranh airport, but Nha Trang city at 20-30 minutes by taxi offers the cheaper hotels in the city at 5 minutes walk from the beach and enough entertainment.
- Phan Rang : For those who prefer to be quiet, tucked away and just relax.
- Phu Quoc Island : An idyllic island, the only place in Vietnam where you can see the real sunset in the sea.
- Con Dao Island : Smaller, but still a great escape from the bustling life.
- Quy Nhon : A fast developing beach destination.
Enjoy a 2 or 3 days cruise in Halong !
With cruise lines from three to five stars such as Starlight Cruise, Oriental Sails, and Calypso Cruiser, your journey to discover Ha Long Bay is not just a normal trip but also a fascinating experience.
Oriental Sails is preparing the final stages for the launch of two four-star cruises to discover Lan Ha Bay. Calypso Cruises I & II will be launched in early November and will be the fifth and sixth vessels in its fleet, with the impressive slogan: “The Timeless Experience of Lan Ha Bay.”
Calypso Cruises, a steel cruiser with a sturdy double hull, wears a white gown of a beautiful goddess in her twenties, full of life and energy. Each cruiser has 20 luxurious cabins designed in a classic Indochinese style. All furniture is made from high-grade wood with a deep brown color, creating a warm and natural ambience. Rooms are well-equipped with modern amenities and large windows with beautiful views out over the bay. With a capacity of 50 guests, Calypso Cruises creates a cozy and fun space. The highlight of the cruise is the three white masts. Looking from afar, the three masts stand out against the sea and make it appear to glide across a green channel, providing a sense of security and excitement for guests visiting Lan Ha Bay.
Discovering mysterious Lan Ha Bay with Calypso Cruises, visitors can kayak around the Van Boi area or be immersed in the blue water of Ba Trai Dao Beach. On this journey, visitors also visit Sang – Toi Cave in the area adjacent to Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay, discover Quan Y caves – a landmark of heroic history, or visit Viet Hai – an isolated village located entirely in the middle of the sea, covered by the high mountains and jungle of Cat Ba National Park.
In the morning, when the sun starts to flow through the glass door, the sound of the waves will wake visitors up to welcome in a new day. They can go to top floor for tai chi, play golf, or simply lie on the sun loungers and enjoy panoramic views of Lan Ha Bay while the cruise gently sails across the water.
Calypso Cruises will help you experience exciting emotions and memorable moments when cruising on Lan Ha Bay.