In this post, let me take you to the fields of my village. My village, Birati, is located in Hooghly district in West Bengal, India. Agriculture is still pretty much the mainstay source of income for the majority of the population out there.
I was there for a couple of days last month, and it was the beginning of the rice plantation season. So, here is what transplantation of paddy looks like. Transplantation is when the saplings of paddy are moved from the nursery where they germinate to the fields where they shall actually grow to become lush green paddy.
In about three months time, these fields will turn golden yellow and the rice plants shall be ready to be cut, sheafed, thrashed, and go on to become edible rice grains. That is also the time around Durga Puja, so, I will be in my village for the same. An update can be expected on this topic. Plus, posts with insights into a Durga Puja at a bengali household shall be up too.
I was at a noodle making workshop lately. While learning how to make noodles, some amazing photo opportunities did come up, and I shall share them here, in the next post. Stay tuned.
After we were back, we had just crashed into our beds, tired and exhausted. We had planned to go to the beach, the An Bang beach. When we woke up, twilight was fast fading. So, we quickly got on our bicycles, and rode for about 4 kms to the beach.
We paid 30000 VND per bicycle as parking fees and went in. It was dark by then, and we could see lights of far away ships near the horizon. There were deck chairs on the beaches, and it seemed that they were free to use. We sat there for some time, and were hungry. A hour and a Banh Mi later, we were ready to leave.
As we were retrieving our bicycle, Ankita noticed that here phone was missing. She had put it in the cycle’s basket an instant earlier and now it was gone. We started searching for it desperately everywhere. Our primary suspect was the attendant, who had suddenly turned deaf and mute! We glared and growled at him, and bared our teeth, and he slithered away to a hidey hole. Ritwik followed him, came back victorious with the phone. We made a swift exit out of the area to avoid any such risks any more.
We crossed into the old town soon, and it was just wow! Lights all around, lamps, lanterns, LED lights. Best bit, no vehicles. We parked our bicycles beside the Japanese Covered Bridge and hit the streets.
Camera set on lowest ISO, long shutter exposures and deep apertures, I went about shooting.
Every other street had lamps in them lighting up the street. The shops had various happy hour offers and it was thronging with tourists and locals alike.
The Thu Bon river, now had multiple boats with tourists on board, rowing up and down. Some had the floating prayer lamps with them while some were simply enjoying the ride. Ritwik and I got interested in the long exposure opportunities while Ankita and Manas went ahead to a nearby museum.
Now, it was almost 2100h and we were hungry too. So, we crossed the river and went to the other bank, where it was as if a carnival was on. All shops were glittering with lights, live music being played, food and ale galore. And then, the street which had every kind of food imaginable.
The other bank also gave a perfect shot of the Japanese Covered Bridge.
Promptly at 2200h, the lights went out and the music subsided and it was the end of a long day. We lingered back to enjoy the quite and calm atmosphere of the place for some time, and shot some more photos.
We reached back around 2330h to find the receptionist at our hotel fast asleep. Had to wake her up for the keys though, guess people sleep early in this side of the world. And, that is how our stay in Hoi An ended. Next day, we would leave Hue, via train! The journey would be something to look forward at.
As we were back quite late from the previous day’s adventures, we woke up late. Meaning, we had to rush and ration our available time between the Ben Thanh market, the War Remnants Museum and the Bitexco tower.
We made our way on foot to the Ben Thanh market, located centrally within the city.
It has a big gate proclaiming the market and within is a market where you can find almost everything.
We were hungry and in need for some urgent breakfast, hence we made our way to the food street within the market for Banh Mi.
After we were done with the breakfast, we roamed within the market looking at the wares to offer. Bargaining and haggling is rampant and is definitely needed. A general rule of thumb to be followed is that to begin the bargain at 50% of asking price and gradually increase to a maximum of 70% of the asking price.
We bought few souvenirs from the market and were headed towards the War Remnants Museum.
A 15 minutes Uber ride got us to the museum.
This museum is special, for the fact that it highlights the ugly face of the invading army in the country and this time, it was the smaller country which had won. History is written by the victors holds true, and we get to see the evils which the US Army had done to the ones they considered to be threats. The museum is rife with stories and artefacts from the times of the Vietnam war. Stories of future leaders of US population, who were then deployed at Vietnam and the atrocities they committed are plastered all around the walls in vivid details.
True, that the museum is depressing and the descriptions are gut wrenching, but it is a necessary bit of knowledge that should be imparted to the populace.
The museum gives an insight into how much the country has evolved from the devastation and destruction that was there just a few decades ago.
Next up, we went back to our place and grabbed the bags. We were headed to the 3rd tallest building in Vietnam, the Bitexco Financial Tower. Tickets are available at the ground floor for the sky deck tour and also a Heineken factory tour is available. The Heineken factory offers a unique tour, which includes a couple of pints of beer and the souvenir that you obtain, is a pint with your name engraved on it. Sadly, we were out of time for the Heineken tour.
Later, we booked an Uber, yet again and made our way to the airport, for an onward flight to Da Nang. There, a taxi would receive and drop us at our next destination, Hoi An!
As with any trip, there ought to be proper planning. This time, it had to be much more detailed.The scope of winging it in a foreign country was limited.
Visa: Vietnam offers Visa On Arrival (VOA) for Indian citizens, if they have the approval letter already. Obtaining the letter was not a difficult job to accomplish. We searched for visa to Vietnam on Google, and then it was just finding out the cheapest option. We went ahead with this website. We had to pay 8 USD per person for the approval letter. The letter arrived within a couple of days, along with a copy of the form that we would have to fill. A mandatory visa stamping fee of 25 USD per person is to be paid during immigration at the point of entry.
Flights: We had booked our flights, to and fro well in advance. This may appeal to the mass, as it did to us. Make it a point to book the tickets from the airline company’s website. ENSURE that each booking are on a single PNR. Since the flights have a stop invariably, which will either be in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, having the booking on a single PNR ensures that you do not have to go through immigration at the intermediate country and that your luggage is counted as a through baggage, so you check in your luggage at home, and retrieve it right at the destination. In case you have a long layover and want to check out the country, make sure you have a visa prior to your arrival. Do not depend on a VOA. Flights within the country is fairly easy and cheap. Make sure that you are at the airport at least 2 hours prior to the flights for the domestic flights while it should be minimum 3 hours for the international flights.
Hotels: We also had our hotels booked at the places we would stay. It should be noted that if its just you, or max two of you, staying at the backpackers’ hostels is the best way to go. You get to meet people of various countries, interact with them and make friends. While if you are travelling in a bigger group, it is better if you book hotel rooms. The cost per head will be similar, but you shall have multiple bathrooms at your disposal. This is preferable if you guys need to leave at the same time. Since we were 4, we had hotel rooms booked. While booking the hotels, we tried to go go for the ones which have been vetted multiple times by travellers across the world and were within walking distance of the tourist hub. I shall tell more about the hotels we were in as and when we reach each city.
Trains: Vietnam has a limited number of train plying their reunification route, starting right from Ho Chi Minh City ending at Hanoi. It passes through picturesque routes, hills, sea shores, markets and even doorsteps. We had ours booked from Da Nang to Hue. You can book the tickets from the Vietnamese Railway’s website. Do check out this website for a treasure trove of information about the travel.
Food: You must understand that vietnamese people are primarily meat eaters. Beef and pork are the most commonly available kinds of meat. Chicken is a rare find. Egg is common though. In the week that we were there, I did not spot any place serving lamb or goat. If you go to places like Da Nang or Hoi An, which are beach towns, you can get ample sea food. Fried food is not common. Most of the food is baked or boiled. Noodle soups or Pho, are most commonly available. A food that kept us alive, for it was healthy, readily available and cheap on the pocket was Bahn Mi. It is a baguette with shredded meat and some sauces and comes mainly in beef, pork and egg variety.
Drink: Packaged drinking water is fairly easy to obtain, but it does not hurt having some sort of water purifying options along. Beer is cheap and plentiful to choose from. The most common were Bia Ha Noi, Bia Saigon, Bia Huda and Heineken. The beer felt toned down, and I would feel more fuller than being tipsy at all.
Clothes: Restrictions on what you wear exist at the religious spaces where it is expected that one would wear clothes which are not revealing. Other than these places, we didn’t see any signs or reactions which would suggest that the people are remotely bothered of what you wear. I suggest you have a look at the weather forecasts and pack accordingly prior to your trip. In case you want new clothes, night markets are present in the tourist places, which are amazing places to get stuffs cheaply. Do remember to haggle about the price.
Currency: The local currency is Vietnamese Dongs. 1 INR = 350 VND roughly. Do not get excited about the exchange rate for the minimum denomination we came across was a 1000 VND and it was not enough to buy a bottle water. So often you shall find yourself moving about with millions of dongs, just be careful with the money as you pay. It is easy to confuse a 10000 VND with a 100000 VND. With a little practice, it shall be fine. Also, the big shops have card swiping options. Do note, the cards swiped do not require a pin to complete the transactions, they just make you sign the slip, so hold on to your cards real tight. You shall need to convert INR to USD here, and then use them to convert to Dongs at Vietnam. You can pay by USD, but you shall be overcharged invariably, hence, stick to Dongs.
Now, that you have a back ground about the country, we shall continue post the arrival at HCMC.
Feel free to reach out to me for any doubts and clarification that you may have till now.
India, land of dreams and dreamers. We dream about everything. From having a perfectly cooked rice for dinner to achieving pin point accuracy in missile hits, we have dreamt it all, and collectively, have achieved them all. On an individual level, going on foreign trips using your own hard earned money is a dream that every person harbours over here. I also had the dream. And now, that I have achieved it, I want more.
It all began sometime in September 2017, when me and my fellow colleague, Ankita, found ourselves in a crowded cafe discussing the possible countries to visit. Our first point of consideration was exchange rates, how much does 100 INR translate into?. Not the brightest way to make choices, but it did get us rolling. Then we compared the easiest thing available to compare against, beer price. That gave us a realistic idea of the places we might choose for our visit.
We concentrated on the south east asia, simply because the travel is not the biggest expense here. Touring within Europe might be cheap, but getting to the starting point of the tour is the maximum share holder in the entire expenses. Here, we did not have similar problems.
We wanted to visit a country which has not yet become a tourist hotspot amongst us. Cambodia and Vietnam were the contenders, and we chose to go to Vietnam. We called up two other friends of ours, Ritwik and Manas, and they were ready for the trip immediately. So, we decided, that in on 1st of April, 2018, we shall meet at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I intend to be as detailed as my memory serves throughout the series. I shall talk about the flights we took, hotels we booked, places we visited, what we ate, what I liked, what I didn’t and there shall be photos. The posts shall be long and opinionated. So, strap in, for the series shall be a long one, and I hope to keep the posts regular.