Vietnam has been introduced to Halloween and as with most things, the Vietnamese have put their own unique spin on this unofficial holiday. The celebrations sometimes start the night before October 31st but Halloween is quickly becoming a fun, spirited people-watching event with every year. As East meets West, you will see witches, ghosts, the walking dead and goblins riding their motorbikes all over the bigger cities of Saigon and Hanoi. You may even find a haunted house filled with devilish scary things and see that many businesses are decorated with pumpkins and skeletons.
More family friendly events are available away from the “walking street” bars and clubs that feature festive decorations, bright lights and cute childrens’ costumes. Tourists that visit Vietnam in late October are surprised by the popularity of Halloween as many hotels and malls have trick-or-treating and concerts for the kids. If you have scheduled a trip to Southeast Asia over Halloween, be sure to pack a scary mask or simple costume so you can join in the spooky and fun festivities. Don’t worry if you have nothing to wear because stores to buy Halloween decorations and costumes are popping up in the larger cities. Most locals don’t wear full costumes and prefer to don only a mask or have their faces painted by one of the many available artists out on the street. Whether you join in on the parade or sit back to marvel at the people going by, this celebration is an event not to be missed.
For the UNESCO Heritage Town of Hoi An, it’s all about the lanterns, from the cute floating ones to the impressive hanging ones, there isn’t a night when you can’t experience the colorful beauty of these little gifts to the gods that hopefully bring us fortune and love. While the biggest and best lantern festival of the year happens in February on the first full moon of the year after Tet, on the 14th day of each lunar month Hoi An comes alive as locals and tourists celebrate by lighting candles and floating lanterns down the Thu Bon River.
The full moon plays a significant role in the monthly Lantern Festival but don’t worry if you plan your visit to Hoi An on days other than when the full moon occurs because the lanterns are permanently linked since the Japanese merchants brought them in various shapes and sizes to hang in front of their homes. Many opportunities exist to make your own lanterns but many are available for purchase, you can even hop aboard a sampan to see the gorgeous display of lights and colors of the hanging lanterns from surrounding buildings reflecting from the water, launch your own floating lantern and hear some traditional music on bamboo flutes and fiddles.
Around 1998, local authorities began planning the lantern festivals around the full moon, a time to honor deceased loved ones by burning incense and making offerings such as food, flowers, candles and fake money which is deeply rooted in Buddhist traditions that are both transformative and enlightening. Hoi An goes dark at 8 pm and turns off all fluorescent lighting and a magical glow takes over the town as people walk throughout the old quarter along the river enjoying delicious food from street food stalls, especially moon cakes, a sweet, yummy pastry filled with red bean paste. Our hearts and our bellies are full, what a great experience with another Vespa Adventures tour in Hoi An.
I had only been in Saigon for 5 days when my mom called to tell me my Daddy had been taken to the Emergency Room and then admitted to the hospital. Talk about a wake up call, that news hit me like a ton of bricks but what could I do from halfway around the world?! While I wanted to go straight to the airport and catch the next flight home, and after crying for about 30 minutes, I caught my breath, said some prayers both for my Daddy and me to be strong, then I went on the Vespa Adventures Insiders Saigon tour. What a blessing this turned out to be!
My favorite part of taking the tours is meeting new people but on this morning I was uncharacteristically quiet as I was anxious and worried about my Daddy. The first stop on was the Thich Quang Duc Monument – aka Burning Monk Monument which encouraged me to think about loyalty, faith and renewal. Who sets themselves on fire to die for their beliefs?! A strange feeling of calmness washed over me and I began to worry less about the situation back in the US and be more present in this place to memorialize such astonishing bravery. As our tour continued, the next stop would prove even more amazing and make me feel even better.
We entered the Chinese pagoda through these beautiful gardens with fountains, statues and ornate altars with burning incense that immediately made me feel peaceful and prayerful. I spotted hundreds of yellow, spiral-shaped cones hanging in one courtyard area, each one with a red tag. After explanation from our tour guide, I was invited to write down the name or intention that I wanted to be remembered, attach the tag to one of the incense cones, light and hang it. No need to guess whose name I wrote down, of course I was crying but doing this gave me confidence that all would be okay and I appreciated this opportunity. This is one reason that I love Vespa Adventures tours-finding these out of the way places where there are few other tourists and distractions.
Our tour continued with a stop at the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas which was also an astonishing place filled with reverence and respect, especially for the dearly departed. I’m learning more and more about the mix of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity that is ever present in Vietnamese culture, always jubilant in life while celebrating death because when you really think about it-this is when life really begins.
I like my newish job more than you will ever imagine! When I think about all of the travel opportunities I have been a part of because of working for Vespa Adventures, I could scream with joy! While there is much hard work involved with the writing and making of promotional videos, etc., it’s always thrilling to meet new people, see interesting places and experience exciting things that I never dared to dream about. You know another thing I really like – BEER, COLD BEER!! Since I’ve been rather busy with work lately, I decided to share some of my most recent “work” with you, here’s an article I wrote about the Vespa Adventures Craft Beer tour in Saigon-enjoy! Please be sure to make note of some of the names of the beers-that’s my favorite part!
I’ve quickly realized that the Vietnamese language is very difficult to learn but another ongoing problem for me is “speaking” Vietnamese as many words have a different meaning depending on the inflection of your voice which means that my southern drawl has got to go! When I do attempt to say words or speak in Vietnamese, I’m usually saying profane things that mean body parts spoken of only in private! I will never stop using “y’all” and I still say “thank you” because I’m sure people get my meaning. Thank goodness that I’m dealing with Roman characters, I can’t imagine trying to learn a symbol based language such as Japanese or Chinese. Even the Google translator doesn’t understand half of what I enter!
Honestly, I’m not making much of an effort to learn Vietnamese, I know a few names of foods I enjoy but I can’t handle a new job, new living environment, food I don’t recognize, not having my own transportation and playing catch up with computer skills, programs and technology on top of learning a new language. This old dog cannot do that new trick, don’t judge me! On a positive note, I’m developing a new form of sign language, it’s a Westerner white girl system, a Sister version that is not highly effective because I am the only one that understand it!
I have a quick wit and fast tongue, I try to slow down my speech but I get excited and I can’t help myself! As well, my bubbly personality and enthusiam are often misunderstood, why are the eternal optimists and happy people always accused of having too much to drink? Slowing down seems like I’m treating people like they were elderly, deaf or stupid, and let’s face it-most of these folks are smarter than I will ever be. Names and some faces (I will stop short of saying everyone looks alike but they do, especially in motorcycle helmets!), are particularly tough to remember but I like that different names have meanings that seem to fit people’s personalities, another fact that is universal. My new friends have one easy name to remember-I have about one hundred-so far! The Sister party continues even if I don’t know the names of the invitees!
It’s now time to discuss a topic which must be addressed – going to the bathroom, and before you start saying “gross” and “eeeeeeew,” just listen. “Going” is very different in foreign parts of the world, not that I thought everyone had private, above-ground toilets but I do appreciate a little bit of peace and quiet, as well as privacy when I use a powder room, water closet, lavatory, latrine, john or my personal favorite-the loo. Don’t worry if you are staying in a hotel or eating at a restaurant – you will be fine but here are a few things you should know about using a bathroom here: First: what is up with barely any toilet paper and no paper towels in Vietnam, is this part of some wicked tourist initiation?!
Some toilets in rural, outlying areas do not even have a flush handle or button, there is a hose or spigot that goes to a bucket with a scoop or ladle, then you pour a few scoops of water into the bowl to flush, strangely effective depending on whether you went #1 or #2 and if you had any toilet paper. I’ve read many articles about how going “sqatty” style is much better for you physically but again, if all you find are raised sides to stand on and a drain, you better pray your thighs and knees can take it! My biggest suggestion is that you always carry extra tissues and be prepared to dry your hands on more extra tissues or napkins, your pants or wave them around to shake off excess water and air dry. Two words here ladies………Pure and Ell!
The rest areas in rural areas of Vietnam are actually made for resting and eating, not really going to the bathroom. and what is up with Vietnamese men thinking it’s acceptable not to use a restroom at all – I’ve never seen so many guys peeing on the side of the road in my life! You”re welcome for no pictures of that! You have been warned so be prepared and be thankful that most homes, hotels and hostels are available with a safe, private bathroom for a fairly peaceful bathroom experience! I’ve included a picture of my new bathroom with awesome pink tile and a bathtub – I knew this was where I would live the moment I saw it! Let the Sister bubble bath parties begin…………………….!
I’ve learned an exciting way to get around Saigon and other cities in Vietnam that is cheap and in my opinion, daring and exhilarating-it’s a ride service called Grab Bike. It’s almost what it sounds like, a motorcycle “cab” business that is run through an app from your mobile phone, you enter a pickup and drop off point, it tells you what the charge will be and you can even link it to a credit card for payment but I stick with cash. You are sent a picture of your driver and his license plate number because the service is used by literally hundreds of people at any hour of the day or night and they provide you with a helmet, it’s definitely illegal and stupid to ride a motorcycle without one on these very busy streets.
Of course, cars or limousines are available for more money but you would be surprised how much these drivers can carry on their bikes, don’t be alarmed when someone rides by with a refrigerator on the back. The driver will call you for better directions if he can’t find you, I say “he” because I have only ridden with male drivers, but minor issues arise if you don’t speak the language. I’m pleased that these men don’t mind stopping to ask for directions and keep checking the maps on their phone to make sure they are going in the right direction, American men could learn something here!
I say it’s daring because there are literally thousands of motorbikes on the streets at one time, weaving between each other, honking their horns, dodging around cars, mysteriously reading each other’s body language and I have seen only 2 accidents! One way or another, you need to get comfortable with riding on the back of a Vespa, scooter or motorcycle, it’s the Vietnamese way and I like it! I’ve been here for about 2 months and my mother just figured out that I was on a bike AT NIGHT-oh the horror! Another suggestion I have is not to get drunk using this service, yes, it’s easier to have one more since you don’t have to drive but you don’t want to take the chance of falling off! Look Mom, I’m wearing a helmet!