My Christmas holiday with my family is over and I am back to being 8 hours time difference away from them and being left to face the second semester of my study abroad. It’s time to recap the incredible 2 weeks I had with my parents and my brother!
This was the first time we had spent Christmas outside of England, and only the second I can remember out of our own house! So being half way across the world in the heat and Asian culture was definitely a very different experience for everyone. First they came to Singapore for 4 days, and as we have done the main tourist sites it meant that we were able to be very relaxed about itineraries, there was no route marching and we mainly focused on eating our weight in food. Food consumption included satay, sushi and Japanese fusion food alongside a few bars. Our cultural quota was filled by a visit to the art-science museum to see the Escher exhibit and went to the Christmas market in Gardens by the Bay.
It seemed only fitting that I should spend Christmas in yet another new country to go with the precedent set by the last 5 months, so we jetted off to Hanoi. Vietnam is the 5th new country I have visited since beginning of my year abroad but going with family gave me a very different experience of travelling compared to the backpacker hostels or budget hotels I have stayed in on most of the other trips.
Hanoi was incredible. It was extremely busy with roads filled with motorbikes. To cross a road you take your life in your hands but you can’t assume you’re safe on a pavement as the motorbikes will come at you along the pavements too. It seemed very lively, for Christmas they had the road around the lake pedestrianised and they were full of people playing games and enjoying themselves but also remote controlled children’s toy cars that covered the area. As if the roads weren’t bad enough we were also dodging 3 year olds in mini Jeeps and Ferrari’s!
But despite this outward appearance of freedom it was very evident that Vietnam is a communist country. Communism is an ideology that I have been taught a lot about in school with reference to Russia but it almost seemed a concept resigned to history for me
as I hadn’t been exposed to a country so obviously controlled and monitored. There were communist flags flying all over the city and swathes of red everywhere, but the oppression was most evident at Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. The impressive and threatening structure is highly guarded and was very similar to buildings I have seen in Nuremberg that were used as Nazi rally grounds. Being around the whole central area felt very like I was being watched by military personnel, I didn’t want to say anything that might cause offence out of a growing sense of fear. It wasn’t something I thought was a modern reality but the wide spread sale of t shirts and caps with the bright red Vietnamese flag and the hammer and sickle were a stark reminder of the reality that Vietnam is facing.
We spent Christmas day having a delicious buffet at a hotel around the corner from us and the feast didn’t disappoint! I think I had 7 courses including oysters, caviar, lobster, smoked salmon, foie gras, yule log and chocolate fountain. All this was consumed alongside free-flow wine which involved the 4 of us polishing off at least 1 bottle of dessert wine, not to mention the red and white with the rest of the food. Safe to say we were satisfied with the day and after watching The Lion King in bed in the hotel we called it a day at about 8pm and went to bed. Christmas Day done pretty well I would say.
After exploring Hanoi and being done with the constant prospect of being run over, we headed out to Ha Long Bay for a 3 day 2 night cruise. The chaos of Hanoi was such a contrast to the complete serenity of Ha Long; we chilled out on deck, got paddled around a floating village, visited a beach on the first afternoon. The second day we were offloaded onto a day boat with only 2 other people, this boat headed off into the much quieter part of the Bay where we could appreciate the limestone a bit closer up and kayak around. The whole cruise was pretty special and seeing the sunrise was one of the most special moments of this year!
Another day back in Hanoi’s chaos including stocking up on scarves, tailored suits, silk purses and other essentials before flying back to Singapore to see in the New Year.
Staying in the Pan Pacific Hotel we got super lucky with the room as it overlooked the Bay so we set ourselves up to see in the New Year from the comfort of our hotel rooms. I got to spend New Year with my family and also one of the amazing people I have had the privilege to meet in Singapore with Lifeguard Corps. It was an incredible night; drinks at Green Door and the eating Chilli Crab at Jumbo on Dempsy Hill, followed by bubbly on the balcony while listening to Alicia Keys perform. Seeing the New Year in in style! Angelove and I then headed out to see what was going on in the streets but the barriers around the streets made it hard to get anywhere, we headed towards some very loud music blaring from Suntec. 10 minutes later ended up with beers standing at the front of a concert by Singapore based duo Rave Republic. Another very memorable way to spend the holiday and to welcome the new year!
It was a very special holiday and I couldn’t have wished for a better trip with better company. I’ve undoubtedly left out details but it would go on forever if I recalled every moment. Here’s to 2017 and the opportunities it will bring to see more of the world and meet more amazing people – including my new flatmates who move in one by one this week!
Happy New Year!!