Christmas Celebrations in Vietnam!
24.12.2011 - 25.01.2012
24.12.2011 – This morning we caught up with Laurence and Tessa again over breakfast, we were staying in the same hotel. We wanted to find somewhere for Christmas dinner so began the trek around town to all the major hotels and restaurants and see what was on offer. There were plenty of buffets in the major hotels, but we wanted something a little bit different. We had eaten in a restaurant called KOTO in Hanoi, and I knew it had a branch in Saigon, so we looked it up and gave them a call. They were still accepting reservations for Christmas Eve, but not for the Christmas set menu, just the A-La-Carte menu. As we had a vegetarian in our group, this actually worked out great – so we went around and checked the restaurant out and made a booking.
The restaurant itself is lovely; it’s a modern design restaurant upstairs/downstairs with a large courtyard area outside. The staff are always smiling, and seem to thoroughly enjoy their jobs. The concept of the restaurant is ‘Know One, Teach One’ (KOTO), and the non-profit restaurant is run in conjunction with Australians as a project to teach skills to disadvantaged and street children. They take on ‘trainees’ onto a 4 year programme to teach skills within the restaurant, as well as financial skills, interpersonal skills and English. Once they have graduated they have a 100% success rate in placing their trainees within restaurants and hotels in Saigon and Hanoi. We had eaten in the restaurant in Hanoi and were very impressed with the food and service, so this was the perfect place for us to celebrate Christmas.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the streets of Saigon and checking out the area near our Hotel. Later that afternoon we got ready and left for KOTO around 5:30pm. We were the first to arrive and had a lovely table in the courtyard underneath the stars. We ordered a bottle of wine and began to unwind, away from the chaos of the Saigon traffic.
We had starters of pumpkin, feta and pesto flatbreads which were delicious. So delicious that we enjoyed second starters of duck (and tofu) before heading onto the main course of sirloin steak with green beans. The wine kept getting topped up, and after our mains the staff performed Christmas carols in English and Vietnamese for us. The KOTO choir was fantastic and the staff looked so happy and excited to be singing for us. That was when it really began to feel like Christmas celebrations.
After the singing, we enjoyed desserts (that were delicious, but I can’t remember) before wishing the staff a Merry Christmas and heading out to the streets of Hanoi. The dinner may have been our Christmas celebrations, but the street party was definitely our fun! There must have been thousands of people on the streets, mopeds filling the streets and the roads blocked in every direction. Everyone smiling and wishing us a Merry Christmas (even though they technically don’t even celebrate it!). We made our way to the cathedral area and there were street sellers selling cans of fake snow. For Laurence and Tess, who usually celebrate Christmas in the cold snowy winter, it was a chance to bring a piece of home into the celebrations, so we grabbed a few cans. After some happy snaps with the snow, we soon realised it was also a chance for people to target one another and cover them in snow and as foreigners, we were prime targets!
However what they didn’t realise when they came in to spray us though, is that we also had cans and were great at retaliation. They were always surprised when we sprayed them back and burst out in laughter. We ran around the streets spraying these cans for ages, and met lots of people who wished us Merry Christmas along the way. After about 4 cans, we decided it was time to keep heading in the direction of our hotel as we were still a little way away, and with the streets blocked it was going to take a little longer than normal.
We made our way back to the streets around our hotel and the boys enjoyed a 50c beer in one of the street-side bars. Around 1am we called it a night, wished each other Merry Christmas and headed to bed.
(**If you are ever in Hanoi or Saigon, I thoroughly recommend you visit the KOTO Restaurants; they are a fantastic environment to relax within the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, and the staff so friendly and warm. And if you need any more reasons, the food is exceptional! ***)
25.12.2011 – Merry Christmas Everyone!! While Santa didn’t manage to find us (I suppose he’s still too busy looking through the 23 other countries we’ve been in this year!!) we still woke feeling festive at yet another Christmas overseas. With most of the celebrations happening last night, it really was just another day in Saigon unless you were in a big hotel having a buffet dinner. We’d decided that last night was our Christmas, so enjoyed burgers for lunch before having a restful afternoon. I went for a wander around town while Chris watched the afternoon movie. Boring perhaps, but Christmas is really all about family, and when you’re away from family it just becomes another day.