To Vietnam: Epilogue

Hi there all,

Recently, I and three of my friends, Manas, Ankita and Ritwik, we went to the amazing country of Vietnam. Detailed accounts of the planning, travel, places we visited, food we ate, what we liked, what we didn’t are typed down in the links below:

  1. Prelude
  2. The Planning
  3. Touchdown – Ho Chi Minh City
  4. Ho Chi Minh City and onwards…
  5. Hoi An by the day!
  6. Hoi An by the night!
  7. Hoi An to Hue
  8. Hue
  9. Hue – Imperial Citadel
  10. Hanoi
  11. Ha Long Bay

You can go through each of the above links or find them all at a glance by following this tag: A week in Vietnam.

There are a few things I wanted to add which I felt is necessary to be known to all the travellers who are planning to make the trip:

  • Plan early and plan meticulously. Go through every blog, website, journal and book that you can find and gather as much information that you can get.
  • Save money for the trip. Yes, Vietnam trip can be done on a shoestring budget, you never know what extra expense you may incurr or rather what new dress shall entice you suddenly. It is always good to have a certain amount of headroom.
  • Travel insurance is a must. No arguments whatsoever.

  • Book through tickets. Cant stress this enough. Book tickets which belong to a single airline. The booking must be point to point, say from Mumbai to HCMC. In case there is a need to change flights, and the journey is in parts, please make sure you have the Visa already. It becomes very frustrating when you have the boarding passes but cannot get past the immigration to transfer the luggage to the next flight.
  • Get a local sim. You may not need the calling facility, but to have internet is a blessing. Most of the places within the country has a good network coverage and speeds are decent.
  • It is generally a better deal to withdraw cash from the ATMs in Vietnam than to trade in USD at restaurants or jewellery stores.

  • You will need to pay USD 25 as visa stamping fee at your port of entry.
  • Do not give up on the opportunity to travel in the train in this country. The trains are smaller, so are the berths. The view is scenic. I can vouch for the Da Nang to Hue.

  • The Ben Thanh market at HCMC is pricey, the food is fine though. A must visit off course, maybe just to enjoy the place. Bargain, and bargain hard. Be ready to be hear “You handsome/pretty, I give you best price…xyz dongs”.
    Despite being pricey, the collection in this place is damn impressive.
  • Try your best to transact in VNDs. Every time you transact in USD, you lose out some value.

  • Be careful of the notes. The denominations have a lot of zeros. Mostly the shopkeepers return or point out the correct denomination if you are paying excess or less.
  • The paper cut out cards are really interesting.

  • Veg food is rare. Chicken is scarce. Pork and beef galore.
  • Banh Mi is a lifesaver. Pho is bland, to a Bengali palate at least.
  • Pack carefully; for south of the country is warm and cosy, while the north is chilly and grey.

It is a beautiful country, Vietnam and I suggest you do visit it. Respond in the comments if there is any thing that you would want to enquire about.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Ha Long bay

It was effectively the last day at Hanoi, for the next day, we would fly back home.

Our day began, yet again with the tour bus picking us up from our AirBnb and we were happy to know that we were headed to Ha Long bay. Our back up plan was Ninh Binh province.

En route, we crossed the Red River and realized that kids, in both our country and theirs, are absolutely same. They get excited to see a bus full of foreigners always 🙂

The Red River, Hanoi, Vietnam

Happy kids waving at us, Hanoi, Vietnam

Now, as we were closing in on the coast, we could see the isles at distance and it was very beautiful! Honestly, it felt very much out of the world.
Soon, we were at the dock, which looked more like a transit station, with people bustling all about. Our tour guide kind of herded us to our boat. As soon as we were seated, we were underway and lunch was served.

Lunch included eggs, chicken, squid, prawns, potatoes, rice rolls and a full fish. Accompanying these was a bowl full of sticky rice and some condiments.

Rice Rolls, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Rolled fried eggs, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Boiled prawns, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Fried chicken, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Squid salad, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Fried potatoes, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Full cooked fish, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Now, that we were well fed, we moved to the upper deck of the boat to take in the views and we were amazed. The islets rising out of the bay, hundreds of them and some even had caves.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

As we cruised on, we approached an encircled area within the bay where there seemed to be a floating jetty of sorts.

Towards the fishing village, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

On that floating jetty, it turned out to be a hub for kayaking or guided boating. Now, neither of us had ever done kayaking, and when offered with the prospect of kayaking, I and Ritwik were beyond ready, immediately. Ankita and Manas were hesitant, but since a boat would take 4 people, and the two of us had left them on the jetty and were donning our life vests already, they got themselves a kayak too. It seemed very easy to kayak, you pedal, you move, simple. Except it was not. Instead of us taking a turn and going towards the caves, we were moving towards the open sea, unable to turn left or right. Finally, we realized that we were horrible kayakers and pedalled back to the jetty. The men took pity on us and let me and Ritwik to the boats. In the meantime, Ankita and Manas, also first timers, had proved that they understood physics better and were already kayaking away to glory.

Boats and kayaks exploring, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Boating on the emerald green waters of the Ha Long bay was nothing short of a cinematic sequence.

Through a cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Boating, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

There were collective ooohs and aaaahs as we crossed the caves with limestone karsts and we spotted Ankita and Manas, happily kayaking away.

Ankita and Manas Kayaking, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

We went about boating for some more time and then headed back, on towards the limestone caves.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The limestone caves with their stalactites and stalagmites all about, was eerie and it fueled our imaginations.

Limestone formations in the cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Limestone formations in the cave, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

The views within and from the top of the hill were just amazing.

We had booked the tour after extensive searches on TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet websites and came across many wonderful options, including this one Halong Bay luxury day tour, which turned out to be quite interesting.

I thank Ankita for being steadfast in her orders to go to Ha Long Bay, no matter what! Glad we carried it out 🙂

That evening, after we were back, we went back to the streets near the Hoan Kiem lake and got sloshed. Tottering, we made our way to a tiny shop, which was closing down, and asked for food. The guy had two options, a roasted quail soup or a beef jerky salad. We took one of each type and wolfed them down. Honestly, they tasted horrible!

Beef Jerky Salad, Hanoi, Vietnam

We had our taxi booked, and the next day, we flew out of Hanoi!

With this, our tour of Vietnam came to an end. It was an amazing experience and a welcome break from the daily grind back home.

In the next post, I shall do a quick recapitulation of the places, and also thrown in the learnings from the trip.

Cheers!!

To Vietnam: Hoi An by the day!

Our flight from HCMC to Da Nang was delayed by about 4 hours, so we requested the VietJet associates on station to possibly find an alternative flight, they got us something that was just a couple of hours away. The flight was uneventful and we reached Da Nang around 2100h. Luckily, Ritwik had the foresight to book a cab beforehand, which would take us to our hotel in Hoi An. I highly recommend this. Yes, it will cost you some money, but it shall be totally worth it. We were picked up by a Ford Endevour and off we went to our hotel, the Green Apple hotel in Hoi An.

We were welcomed with a plates of fruits and fruit juices.

Fruit Platter at Hoi An

By the time we were ready to go out and eat, most of the nearby shops had shut down, so we asked the ladies in the hotel to help us out, and they pointed us out to a nearby restaurant.

Sticky Rice and sauted chicken, Hoi An

Fried Calamari, Hoi An

Chicken Ramen Noodles, Hoi An

Spicy rice and chicken fried, Hoi An

We found the food to be outright delicious. We retired, excited that we had an entire day to roam about the town the next day.

Next day at Hoi An began with us gorging on enormous quantities of bacon, sausages, eggs, boiled chicken, bread, jam and butter; not forgetting the juices and coffee, all in the amazing buffet breakfast at the hotel. We began the day trip by getting ourselves cycles from the hotel. The cycles were free to use, and all you had to do was ensure that at the end of the day, you brought them back in one piece.
Now, in Hoi An, there is an old town area, which has the typical french charm to it. There are some old houses which are preserved in their original conditions, community halls and assembly halls, etc, strewn all about the place.

We travelled on bicycles, Hoi An

Buildings with french influences, Hoi An

Buildings with french influences, Hoi An

To enter these, you shall need a ticket. On a single ticket, there are 5 tiny slips of paper, which are torn away as and when you enter these ticketed places. There are a total of 11 such places within the Old Town area. Also, the area is marked walking and cycling only.

Boat on the Thu Bon river, Hoi An

A street in the old town, Hoi An

We went to the Cantonese Assembly Hall, the covered Japanese Bridge and the Cam Pho Communal House during the day.

Cam Pho Communal House, Hoi An

The Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An

Cantonese Assembly Hall carvings, Hoi An

Murals at the Cantonese Assembly Hall, Hoi An

These places were quite fine, in my opinion, but not exactly spell binding sorts. Yes, the work done on the murals and the sculptures are quite artistic, yet I didn’t feel them to be absolutely amazing.

Instead, what I did like was the An Hoi Bridge, which bridges the Thu Bon river.

An Hoi bridge, Hoi An

This river is also known as the bridge of lights.

There were these heads, made of plants, up for sale. Found them a tiny bit creepy!

Weird artefacts on the streets, Hoi An

Hawkers were highly enthusiastic about selling a flying object, which resembled a bird. It was powered by a twisted rubber band and once released would flap its wings and fly.

Flying objects, Hoi An

We also got ourselves some pop up cards. These greeting cards come in various themes and tones. Choose your favourite and always bargain.

Pop up Cards, Hoi An

By this time, it was past noon and we felt hungry. So, after roaming aimlessly for sometime within the Old Town area, we crossed to the other side and found a place where the sign board signed the presence of cheap beer; and egg coffee.

Spring rolls, Hoi An

We made peace with beer, spring rolls and egg coffee. The spring rolls are different from what we have here. These were not fried, and the covering was made of thin rice film.

Egg Coffee, Hoi An

The egg coffee was a different matter all together. Rich strong coffee, sweetened using condensed milk and sugar, with an egg added to it, while it was piping hot, and then served. It was very filling, and very sweet. Had to tick it off the checklist, done that.
Then, we were on our way back to take a bit of rest. Later we would go out again, to the beach, and then we had plans to come back to the night market.