After giving it a lot of thoughts, we decided to finish our trip in Laos a little earlier than we had planned in order to celebrate Christmas in Vietnam. Since Vietnam was formerly a French colony, we thought that the city of Hanoi would be more festive at this time of the year, so we ended up celebrating Christmas in the Vietnamese capital! We actually saw more decorations and Christmas trees there. We also heard some Christmas music at the shopping mall and the overall atmosphere was a little more festive in this cosmopolitan city.
Since we could not find any suitable gifts for the children during our stay in Vientiane, we, like many latecomer, spent the biggest part of December 24th shopping for Christmas gifts in a shopping mall with our two boys that we unfortunately could not leave by themselves in the hotel room (the thought did cross our mind :)). It reminded us of a time, not so long ago, when our little elves were still sitting in their strollers and we were able to shop and hide their gifts in the compartment under the stroller 😉. Today we have to be much more subtle with our big boys. Unfortunately, our experience at the mall proved to be a failure. The boys wanted to receive Lego from Santa, but we could not cope with the fact that we would have to pay two to three times more than what we would have paid in Canada for these small plastic bricks. We had to quickly turn around and find a solution since we had a dinner planned the same evening for Christmas Eve. Simon went for a walk to “find an ATM” and did some small miracles in a few hours. The boys loved the Vietnamese-themed gifts they received on the morning of December 25th. Curiously, they did not even wonder why the gifts were not wrapped this year.
The hotel where we stayed in Hanoi had a small dinner party for guests and employees on Christmas Eve, so it was in good company that we celebrated Christmas. We were treated to a typical festive meal from the Vietnamese mountains, a roasted pig and its offal. Let’s say that we were not very adventurous that evening and we ate the more common parts of the dishes. Kolya, who is very curious by nature, convinced Hugo to eat a dumpling stuffed with a mixture of meat and quail eggs, he even tasted the intestines. As for the adults, we tasted a fermented rice liquor. You need to drink this liquor as a gang and there must have been a dozen straws in the jug. Let us tell you that Vietnamese people like their alcohol quite strong.
On Christmas Eve, we opted for a special three-course Christmas dinner in a nice little restaurant on the water’s edge. Even though we were far from the turkey, meat pie and traditional cranberry sauce we craved, we were treated to a more western meal with roasted vegetables, meat and stuffing. It was a nice change from the typical Asian dishes. Even though in Canada we felt like we could never get tired of eating Asian food, after two months in Southeast Asia, we enjoy any meal that is not made with rice, noodles or soup.
Water Puppet Show
Santa surprised us by offering us four tickets to see a water puppet show. In Vietnam, every big city seems to have its water puppet show but the one in Hanoi was strongly recommended. The show we saw was traditional Vietnamese puppetry combined with live music. The play was portraying a few myths that were taking place in Vietnamese rice fields and duck ponds. The puppets were operated by stems moving under the water and the effect was quite pleasant. It is with a big smile that young and old came out of this theater the day after Christmas.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum
The city of Hanoi have certainly no shortages of activities for tourists. There is an impressive amount of museums and we had to make some though choices to select some of the attractions we wanted to visit during our short stay. It’s a bit odd to visit a war themed museum on Christmas Day, but the war does not take breaks, right? We were able to see the famous mausoleum for Ho Chi Minh and a museum about him. Ho Chi Minh is recognized as the founding father of modern Vietnam, being an important actor in the liberation from the French colonies and the through the rise of communism. There were many information signs in this museum but the boys were more or less appreciative of the museum. Nevertheless, it was interesting to learn more about this Vietnamese personality. It was also really interesting to see how different the perspective from the Vietnamese people is with regards to the decolonization of Indochina and the Vietnam war (which they call the American war). They also take a very critical stance at capitalism and imperialism and praise the communist system that still governs them today.
The Hoa Lo Prison Museum
The few buildings that make up this museum are all that remains from the former Hoa Lo prison, also ironically called Hanoi Hilton. We learned that this prison was first used by the French during the War of Independence in the 1950s. It recounts the atrocities that Vietnamese prisoners suffered between these walls. It is possible to see a guillotine that was used to put to death Vietnamese rebels who had poisoned French soldiers and officers. When the French left Vietnam, the prison was used by the Vietnamese during the American war to imprison the American pilots who were captured. It is told that the American prisoners were treated like princes receiving very good meals, good care and had interesting activities to do every day. The contrast with the treatment that the Vietnamese had received in the past is strongly emphasized and gives the impression that the Vietnamese Communists were much more kind towards their prisoners than the Westerners. It is a very different story than the horrid treatment and countless atrocities that the Americans who have been imprisoned in this prison have claimed to have experienced. Honestly, what emerged from this visit was that war brings out the worst in people and that the perspective of each side is always altered and legitimized by their convictions. Peace is much simpler ✌️.
Hanoi is a big city and we could have stayed a few more days to explore further, but we decided to accelerate the pace to arrive in southern Vietnam a bit earlier in order to enjoy the beaches and the heat. We have not been on the beach since our stay in Greece and we are greatly missing the fine sand and warm turquoise water. Having known the surprise that awaited us in Hue, we might have done otherwise, but this is for the next post 😉.