Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy New Year of the Snake!

Being in Vietnam over the Lunar New Year has its good and its bad points. Quite a lot of shops and restaurants are closed, tours unavailable etc. It's crazy-busy, especially in the evenings. I don't know how much busier than usual. On the plus side, the atmosphere is pretty amazing - so many people, it's mayhem but it's good mayhem.

I feel I have become one with the constant horn beeping. I'm normally quite averse to crowds but these ones are very non-threatening, no pushing or elbowing, and I think it helps being relatively tall here (Vietnamese are among the world's shortest people and at 5'4" I'm the same height as the average man!) Dgym is spending a lot of time hiding out in the hotel until either all the beeping goes away or we do.

We arrived in time to see the beautiful flower displays on Nguyen Hue, a wide street which has been closed to traffic for the celebrations. It seems a popular activity for young women at this time of year is to dress up in your prettiest dress (and there are some very pretty dresses) and smile your sweetest smile while posing for photographs in front of flower displays, fountains, bonsai trees and whatever else happens to be nearby.

Flower street

On New Year's Eve we went down to the flower street to join in celebrations and see the fireworks. The street was full of people sitting down eating sausages on sticks and chatting. Midnight came and there were fifteen minutes of fireworks - it was a bit weird not having Big Ben to tell us when the moment had arrived, although there was some beeping from nearby speakers. After the display was over everybody walked back very slowly and smelling of fireworks.

New Year's Eve, Saigon style

Next day I visited the Spring Flower Festival, quite accidentally - I wanted to check out a park on the way to the War Remnants Museum. It looked as if something interesting was going on in the park, and the something interesting only cost 20,000 dong (about 60p) to get in. Museum could wait! It turned out to be... well, an assortment of things but mainly bonsai trees, ranging in size from small to really small. Also some bonsai islands - big slabs of stone modelled into tiny worlds with trees, waterfalls, tiny people, pagodas and bridges. This turns out to be a Vietnamese specialty called Hòn Non Bộ and there were some really stunning displays. There were also a few more flower displays and some cacti which seemed to be a more permanent part of the park but it was really all about the bonsai.

Bonsai scenery

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