SJ Mobilità Travel Diaries

September 25, 2020

Vietnam – The Hidden Treasure

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 10:07 am

Vietnam was a surprise, as I never thought I would be visiting Vietnam so early, as I hardly hear about this country. When ATF hosted the conference in Vietnam, I thought why not? So once I got accepted, I asked Sur to join me as well, so that we could do a bit of sightseeing before the conference starts.

Visa:

Vietnam tourist visa is pretty simple, you have to apply for e-visa through the portal wherein you would be issued 30 days single entry visa. Do refer the below link for the details.

https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt

About Vietnam:

Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. Hanoi, the capital, pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. The credit goes to him mostly for making the Vietnam that is today. My respect and love for their leader.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We had boarded the Singapore Airlines late night; this was part of my wish list to fly with this Airlines and was glad it came true and I enjoyed their hospitality.

Day 2: We landed in Singapore in the morning and were in transit for few hours. Sur and myself explored the airport and went to Sun flower Garden and then Orchid Garden. It was beautiful and the airport is well maintained as well. No wonder this is the best airport in the world.

Then went for a quick bite in one of the food courts, it had lot of options and were great. Then we boarded the flight to Hanoi.

We landed in Hanoi in the afternoon and had to go to Ha Long Bay where my conference was held.  We booked a taxi and it was almost 3-4 hours of drive. The driver stopped midway for a small break for some snacks and we reached the Ha Long Plaza late evening. We decided to stay in the same hotel even for preconference days as the location was more convenient. We had a shock when we had to pay to the driver, as he was charging in millions and then we realized the Vietnamese dong value is much much lower and the payments are in lakhs. Even the currency notes were all in lakhs and we realized minimum currency values were in Thousands. First time in Vietnam, we felt we were crorepatis, because we just needed 32,000 INR to have 1 crore of Vietnamese Dong. Do remember to ignore the last 3 zeroes because of the lower value of the currency. Don’t worry about burning the wallet as well. You will feel like a millionaire or may be a billionaire as well.

For budget travellers in India, you should travel to Vietnam.

Finally after the currency fiasco, we checked into Ha Long Plaza. We rested a while and booked for a massage in the same hotel. That was disappointing, it was not as we expected and was nothing encouraging.

Then we walked around the hotel, we found a travel agency board in a grocery shop next to the hotel, so we enquired and booked for the next 3 days for a sightseeing tour. They were insisting for cash payment.

Thankfully Citi ATM was close by, but withdrawing almost a crore of Vietnamese dong for the 3 day trip was exhausting. Then we headed a little further, found a good restaurant, had our dinner and then returned and crashed for the night.

Day 3: The best thing that I started enjoying during breakfast was the Noodle soup and it was the best soup that I ever had. The extra meat balls, chicken pieces and other non veg item that gets added later in the soup is an acquired taste as it has a very strong flavour. After tasting few times, even I preferred without that. The soup anyway had a chicken broth by default and most of the sauces also were non-veg, which enhanced the flavour, so we didn’t miss out any. I heard from the guide later there is no veg broth made in Vietnam. It’s by default made with meat only. The soup was my favourite so I ended up having for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never got tired of it. We also enjoyed other local delicacies from the breakfast buffet, even they had a Chinese pork dish which was a stable menu for the breakfast, which was similar to the one I had tasted in Beijing.

After a hearty breakfast, we were picked up by the guide to go for the one day Ha Long Bay cruise. We were dropped in the Marine Plaza and we had to walk from there to go to the local boat. The plaza itself is a big shopping place where you can purchase lot of things like exotic dry meats like Scorpion etc, local handicrafts and lot of other items. Since we had to rush, we thought we will check out the plaza later in the evening when we return and headed to our Ha Bing Cruise boat.

We had lot of fresh cut fruits on sale in the boat and beverages. The boat ride was awesome. We could go on the deck on the top of the boat which had a seating arrangement as well and could enjoy the cold breeze as we went in the month of January. If you are travelling at this time, do carry warm clothes. On the way to islands, we were shown multiple rock formation in the shape of 2 cocks fighting and elephant. Sitting in a boat in an open sky, watching the rock formations in different shapes is breath taking. The first pit stop was to Sung Sot (Surprise) cave which has lime stone formation across 10,000 sq feet and its spectacular and it’s a place for photography lovers. Be prepared to climb lots of stairs, but its worth it. You will also find very few local handicrafts being sold as well. Please do not miss out this place.

After a tiring climb to the cave, when we returned to the boat, we were treated for a sumptuous local lunch. The food was served on the table, so the vegetarians had to sit in a separate table to make it easier to keep the veg food together, so Sur has to sit separately and I was left with another large family whose language I didn’t understand and I sat alone with them. The food was kept in each table and we had to serve from there. It was a little awkward for me to ask to pass onto things, because, sometimes by the time I asked to pass on the dishes, those were almost empty and I was too hesitant to ask them to refill.  It was a very awkward situation sitting alone. I also noticed that the elders in the group were very sensitive and they were trying to pass me the dishes before the younger ones finish the plate of food so that I don’t miss out, they kind of realized later.  It was a lesson for me to learn from those elders about being sensitive and inclusive which I didn’t find it with the youngsters of the group. After such an awkward experience, all that I wanted was to leave the table, so I just had a quick lunch and then joined back to Sur. However, the lunch was delicious, they had served noodle soup (it’s a staple food everywhere), fish, meat and fresh vegetables.

After a hearty lunch we headed to the Pearl Museum. Here you can see the pearl cultivation and the entire process of harvesting the pearl. It was a different experience against actual pearling in the sea which I have heard of which is very difficult. This is less tedious way of getting the pearl and also they cultivate as per the desired requirement which is a very good business. There is also a shop to buy the exotic pearls, but I felt it was overpriced.

Then we headed to TiTop Island. Here you have a great view point for which you have to climb quite a lot of stairs and then once you are done, you can come back and enjoy the beach. It was crowded but was good. We spent more time to chill here as this was the last stop before we head back. We enjoyed the local tender coconuts and fresh fruits. The fresh fruits in Vietnam are more tempting than any other food, as they look very colorful, fresh and huge. So we had finished the quota of having fresh fruits in our diet. Then we headed back to the boat, enjoyed the nice boat ride back. I did doze off and by the time we woke up, we reached the port.

We did a little shopping for the local handicrafts in the Marine Plaza and headed back to the hotel. We had our dinner, Sur for a change tried the pizza at the hotel and he couldn’t eat that. The base was so thick, had 4 slices of tomatoes on the top with some cheese slices. That was a disaster. I had to tell Sur to stick with his omelette as he didn’t have much options as he was a vegetarian. I am glad he could eat eggs, that saved him in Vietnam. We then called it a day and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had our quick breakfast and headed to the capital Hanoi. We reached this time within an hour or two as I understand there was a shortcut which has a toll, which reduces almost 50% of the time taken from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay but has expensive toll charges. Many of the cab drivers, do not take this route as they don’t want to pay this extra toll charges, which is way too expensive for the locals. We asked the guide to take us to the short route as we agreed to pay him the extra toll charges.

Finally we were in Hanoi, we were glad we had a guide with us who knew Vietnamese. Here people hardly spoke English but the youngsters did speak but we found very few in the shop, am sure they were at college.  The people were good, its just that since we didn’t know the local language, most of the communication was done through the guide. My guide had studied in Hanoi, so he was taking us through his memory lane.

We started with a temple visit to Hoen Kiem Lake, here you cannot go to the temple which was in the middle of the lake, but can be viewed from far. After a prayer for the people of Vietnam, we headed to the old quarters. This is the happening place similar to chickpet in Bangalore. You can get almost everything and including wholesale. First I tasted the egg coffee (normal coffee with egg broth), which was recommended by the guide and was good and then walked around the streets. We did a bit of shopping as I heard, most of the high end products are manufactured here and prices are low compared to India.

They had good jackets in Vietnam and Sur was insisting me to buy one, so we went to the shop and asked the girls. They started laughing, saying they don’t have clothes for my size. First time I felt in Vietnam I was obese. This is according to Vietnamese standards as the girls are petite. We laughed and then guide insisted that we try more shops, saying ee might be lucky to get one or two. Then we found a wholesale store, where we did the final try and for our luck, they had 2 jackets. The girl spoke English and she said that’s all they have and it’s very difficult to find my size in Vietnam. Then we  shopped for jeans in the same store as they had good collection. The girls at the shop were extremely friendly and they were happily helping Sur to shop his jeans and he got quite a few as the quality was superb and it came 1/3rd of the price of Levi’s that we would have spent. If you are a jeans lover, this is the country to shop for men. Indian Ladies, sorry, unless you are extremely slim, then you might. I wouldn’t mind going again just to buy jeans for Sur. They are really good and on that excuse, we can also explore more of Vietnam, as I realized we didn’t explore much as we came for a very short period.

The guide recommended a place for lunch, it was a very small local shop which had just 4-5 benches and tables for lunch. Even though Sur doesn’t like soups, (he is scared of hot beverages as he is afraid to get his tongue burnt) we didn’t have much option as there was only soup available. So Sur decided to have a soup, then guide guide informed me that the broth is actually a chicken broth, so I had to cancel the order for Sur and then informed the guide to get just the noodles as he is a vegetarian. They were very kind and customized the noodle just for him, with their own sauces. The noodle served to Sur was the best. Even though my soup was equally good, his noodles scored an extra brownie point for their love and warm hospitality.

After thanking them for accommodating our request we headed to Temple of Literature. This site is the national symbol of Vietnamese education. The temple has, records of Vietnamese scholars, and statues of turtles which are said to bring students good luck in their exams. So every student is asked to visit this place especially before their exams to bring good marks.

Then we headed to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which houses the embalmed body of Vietnam’s greatest political leader, Hồ Chí Minh. We were not allowed to go inside, we strolled around the building, it has a huge open area.

Then we headed to Hoa Lo Prison Relic. This prison was used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.  This is the saddest, most gruesome treatment to Vietnamese people and they are not happy to show this to the visitors. My guide stayed away and we just went silently, said a prayer for the people of Vietnam and stepped out and started back to Ha long Bay.

Day 4: After our breakfast, we headed to visit temples close to ha long area. We rode to Cai Bau Pagoda, which is situated on the mountains overlooking Bai Tu Long Bay. This is also known as Truc Lam Giac Tam Monastery and it has the stunning landscapes and maintained well. My favourite was the bonsai plants all around. They looked spectacular and if you are into photography this is the must place. This took almost half the day and the drive was amazing as we drove though the local villages, fields etc. We had our lunch on the way and then headed to Quang Ninh Exhibition of Planning and Expo Centre to collect my entry passes for the conference next day. We came to the hotel and then after some time walked around opposite to the hotel, which was overlooking the waterbody. We found another good restaurant at a walkable distance, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 5-7: Next 3 days was busy with conference and meeting travel suppliers. FLC luxury resort hosted the dinner and that hotel had the best of hospitality. The opening and closing ceremonies were awesome and spoke volumes of the local culture and enjoyed their warm hospitality. I also enjoyed the frog meat. I was surprised, it was served in a five star hotel restaurant for a dinner buffet and was great. The conference ended with memorable experiences and was in awe knowing the local culture, traditions and people more. As I was busy with conference, Sur enjoyed the hospitality of Ha Long Plaza.

Day 8: We had to check out early as we have to reach Hanoi to catch our flights, so had to bid adieu to Ha long Bay after enjoying the hospitality of Ha Long Plaza. Reached Hanoi after a long drive and then boarded the Singapore Airlines for Hanoi. Had a few hours of transit in Singapore. Sur bought his speakers and then it was time to board our flight to Bangalore.

Vietnam surprised me and I think it was my ignorance that I didn’t read about the country, so I didn’t know much about them. I wished we had spent more time as there was lot to explore and am looking forward to visit again. The people are so warm and simple. I just loved enjoying their warm hospitality. My love to Vietnam and their people.

See you Soon, until then Stay Safe, we will defeat this Covid Soon.

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