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.
Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) or Saigon, used to be the erstwhile capital city of South Vietnam, prior to the reunification of the country. It used to be a French capital town too during their reign over the Cochinchina colony. Now, HCMC is the most populous city of the country. A city bustling with traffic, energy and food.
We landed at the Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport (SGN) on 1st of April, 2018 at about 1300h local time. We had a layover at the KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Terminal 2) and onward flight to Saigon. At SGN, we had to clear the immigration first to get to our baggage.
Immigration procedures were fairly simple. There is a window where you submit your passport, the approval letter and the filled form (attach 2 photos with the form) and then you wait. Your name shall get called out from another counter, where you need to pay USD 25 and receive your visa affixed passport back. Then you go the queue for the passport control, they stamp your inwards date, maybe ask a couple of questions, done!
We retrieved our luggage, bought a couple of local sim cards, costing us each 9 USD and came out. We also converted 100 USD to VND, which turned out to be about 2.2 million VND. Be careful of the denominations though. I found that they have currency notes of the following denominations (in thousands) – 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. It is easy to confuse amongst the zeros and sometimes the notes stick together too. Just take your time to count and pay, simple.
We had booked our stay with the Chill Box hotels. It was a couple of kms away from the airport and the best way to reach there seemed to be using Uber. Later, we found that Uber was indeed the best way to travel within the city for they are quick to respond, and the cost is quite reasonable. The local taxis do rip you off real bad.
We dropped our bags, bathed, refreshed for a bit, and were out on the streets by 1700h. Since we were famished, the first place where we saw something being cooked and served, we went for it.
What you see above is fried rice, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and a pork sausage. I do not remember what it was called, but it tasted quite nice. The sausage had a slight sweet taste to it. The rice, when mixed with the soup, soya sauce and some chilly paste, became absolutely amazing. Chicken, egg and beef options were also available for the same dish.
Next, we were headed to towards the town centre. Since we werent scheduled to be in HCMC for a long time, we concentrated only on the places within the city. It was past 1730h, so we could not go in the museums. We went to the Notre Dame Cathedral and found it very beautiful.Right beside the cathedral is the post office, which has been operational since the French were there.
There were street performances in progress in the lanes and we progressed towards our next destination for the evening, The Hard Rock Cafe, Saigon!
Since it had become quite late by then, we decided to head back, and retire early.
For dinner, that night, we gave Pho, which is basically a bland-ish noodle soup with choice of meat, a try. I did not like it much and in the trip, never did we have another bowl of Pho.
We retired for the day by 2300h and had planned to visit the Ben Thanh market, The War Remnants Museum and the Bitexco Financial Tower before we flew out the next day.
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.