Hanukah in Ho Chi Minh City & Santa In Saigon

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is Vietnam’s largest metropolitan area. We were welcomed with full holiday spirit including blinking lights, a gingerbread Cathedral, snowmen and even Santa hat-covered chairs.

We enjoyed a cosmopolitan Christmas brunch with resident-friends that included bagels and lox along with Canadian French toast and fresh fruit. The day included several other special treats including a private tour of the US Consulate (no phones inside). A favorite local shop was a great place to sip some iced coffee and as the day came to a close, we headed to the Chabad House for the eighth evening of Hanukah. There was a potato latke cook-off and perfectly baked/fried Sufganiyot (jelly donuts).

A movie, a video-charades game (jackbox.tv) and Vietnamese pizza completed the evening. No matter where in the world we are, good friends and good food make it perfect.

There is no shortage of wonderful things to do, learn and discover in this lively and exciting tropical city. We have learned that HCMC is about 300 years old and has several iconic buildings from the days of the French occupation including the Opera House, the Central Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral. The Opera House was recently renovated and we hope to catch a show during our visit.

The Central Post Office, which is still a functional post office, was designed by Gustav Eiffel. The stately building has the original telegraph maps, phone booths, and tile floors along with gift shops and an imposing portrait of Uncle Ho.

Close by is the Notre Dame Cathedral. It is, at the moment, closed, and mostly covered in scaffolding. The gingerbread version gives an idea of its character and presence. All of the bricks were brought from France. It must have been quite an undertaking.

Across the street is Book Street; it is pedestrian-only and filled with about twenty bookstores. There are benches and a few cafes where you can immediately enjoy reading your new book. The street’s purpose is to encourage a culture of reading. It is a cultural and spiritual destination for local residents and tourists.

The Presidential Palace (Independence or Reunification Palace) is a few block walk from Book Street. It is not in the French Colonial style, more a mid-century communist-concrete style. We did catch some bridal photos on the way in.

Inside, the Palace there are floors filled with conference rooms, dining and reception rooms, an industrial kitchen, a helipad and a bunker filled with communication equipment made by GE. The furniture and the lighting are beautiful examples of mid century design.

Following the Palace, we stopped at the War Remnants Museum. It is a difficult display of how unjust war is. The exhibits boldly show war crimes, the consequences of war and equipment and vehicles left behind. It was a powerful and difficult visit.

More to explore and discover in the days to come. This city keeps on giving.

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