New Year in Ho Chi Minh City
This year I saw in the New Year in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) as it’s officially known. We weren’t sure what to expect of an Asian New Year’s Eve – we knew that the lunar New Year, Tet, is widely celebrated towards the end of January, but would the Western New Year be a non-event? We weren’t disappointed; Vietnam most definitely sees in the New Year and they do it big time and we loved every minute of Saigon’s sparkling celebrations.
As soon as we arrived in the city on 30th December the first thing we noticed, well we couldn’t avoid it, was Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’ belting out from every shop, restaurant and hotel – in fact anywhere with a sound system. Vietnam has apparently adopted this song as their New Year theme tune and by the end of the first day if we couldn’t hear it playing we found ourselves humming it!
New Year at The Rex Hotel, HCMC
We stayed at The Rex Hotel which is very central and has a fabulous rooftop bar. As dusk fell that first evening we looked down on the city, enthralled, as it gradually lit up in a show of multi-coloured luminosity. As well as the usual brightly lit neon billboard signs the tower blocks, hotels and shops were all lit in swathes of sparkling decorations. Pink petalled flowers were strung across streets, blue and silver stars and swags adorned another and a giant, gold dragon twisted and turned its fiery way down Le Loi Street. All this added to by the buzz of a million motor scooters with their lights creating a moving spectacle all of their own.
As with many of the larger hotels it was compulsory, when booking a room, to buy into their New Year celebrations which meant dinner would be in The Rex on New Year’s Eve. But given its superb location and the view from the rooftop terrace we didn’t miss out on any of the atmosphere in the streets below – in fact, we had a fabulous view of everything. The dinner was excellent with lots of authentic Vietnamese food, barbecued steak, lobster and chicken with a vast choice of salads, pastas – even frogs legs. My favourite dish was the little clams in a coconut, chilli and peanut sauce – heaven. The wine waiters were very attentive and glasses topped up without a wait. The entertainment was, shall we say, unusual and included a guy who put frogs and snakes in his mouth after producing them from his shirt and trousers. We’ll leave it at that.
After dinner, we wanted to go and join the ever-growing crowd in the steamy city outside. The roads had closed to traffic and in the place of scooters were now thousands of people of all ages and nationalities milling around waiting for midnight. Small children with helium balloons, groups of teenagers, families and tourists all smiling and gently jostling for the best view. Live music rang out from a space-ship like stage further down the street and vibrant green globes of the earth with large digital counters ticked down the minutes and seconds – a sense of anticipation filled the air. Ten seconds to go and we all joined in the countdown ending in a deafening cheer at midnight as the crowd exploded along with the fireworks and Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’ rang out at mega decibels. New Year Saigon style – absolutely brilliant!
If you ever get the chance to celebrate Saigon style it’ll be a New Year to remember and on this the day of the Lunar New Year I wish you all a very happy, healthy year of the dragon and as the Vietnamese would say “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!”