Vietnam is still a mysterious destination for Indians. Not many are inclined to explore this beautiful bouquet of a country. We traveled to Vietnam for just over a week last November and even though we only touched the highlights, we fell in love with the land.
We absorbed the hustle-bustle of old quarters at Hanoi, explored the gorgeous limestone islets at Halong Bay and dipped in the surreal atmosphere at Hoi An. Each region was unique in its own way and knocked us out one after the other.
But for us the most striking feature of our trip was not the historical cities or delicious food or the natural beauty but the amazing hospitality. The Vietnamese are wonderful people. And the hospitality was probably the best we could have had. We were welcomed with a smile and all our hosts went out of their way to help us whenever they could.
Our sojourn started at the capital city of Vietnam. Being a capital city, Hanoi is a vibrant hub of culture, history and trade. We were swamped with choices of unique temples, range of museums and overflowing markets.
We stayed in the heart of the city at the Old quarters and most places of our interest were in walking distance from there. We got to enjoy the hustle-bustle of the old quarters in the day as we walked through the numerous crisscrossing streets. Our itinerary landed such that we got to revel in the energy of the weekend night market. An added bonus!
The highlight of our stay in Hanoi was the “water puppet show” near the sword lake. As the name suggests, it is a unique experience where the puppets emerge from underwater. Though we didn’t follow the stories to a large extent (as they were in Vietnamese) we still enjoyed it a lot.
Apart from walks around the sword lake and the different markets in the Old quarter, we also visited the Ho Chi Minh museum complex with one pillar pagoda and the temple of literature.
Famous for its emerald waters and hundreds of limestone islets, Halong Bay is a UNESCO world heritage site. The best way to enjoy its beauty is on a boat cruise (called junk cruise). There are several recognized travel/tourist companies which can arranged for your travel and stay at the bay.
We opted for a 2-night junk cruise instead of more popular 1-night package. The extra day meant we had more time to relax and got to experience more islets.
On the cruise, the days were packed with activities but we never felt like rushed into anything. We had Tai-chi sessions in mornings and cooking lessons in the night. The days were filled with kayak rides, fishing village trips and visit to islets. The views of the bay were ethereal, both from the boat and from top of the islands. We got up close the bay as we rode our kayaks through the islets and the caves.
The food was extra ordinary, as everywhere in Vietnam. The chef made sure we enjoyed fresh seafood and also the vegetarian among us had the best meals.
If you are visiting Vietnam, do not miss the Halong Bay cruise trip. You should definitely opt for at least one night stay.
Among the gems in Vietnam, Hoi An stands out with its surreal old town charm. The city has the best food, one of the most beautiful ancient town and an amalgamation of French, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese culture.
Our take: when in Vietnam, visit to Hoi An is a must irrespective of the time of year. We visited during rainy season with the looming threat of floods, but we enjoyed every bit of the stay.
We rode bicycle across the countryside and strolled through the old town. We relaxed at the beaches and were charmed by the twinkling lanterns. And throughout we fell in love with the food.
Hoa Lu – Tam Coc (Ninh Binh province)
We had a spare day at our hand as we couldn’t fit in Ho-Chi-Minh city in our itinerary. So we jumped on a group tour to the Ninh Binh province. It was a day well spent.
Our first excursion was Tam Coc, touted as the mini Halong Bay on land. We would however recommend to visit the original one as the experience is nowhere close. You have caves on river and limestone canyon but it is not the same, is it?
The local buffet meal was delightful. We gorged on the local delicacies and Vietnamese staple meal. Probably the best part of the day was the bicycle ride. The tour guide arranged bicycles for us to ride through the fishing village and the beautiful countryside.
The last stop was the visit to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu. As we ambled through the temples of the three kings, we got a quick download of the Vietnamese history from our guide.
We left Vietnam with a firm promise to return back soon. We loved every bit of our trip but our research showed that we still have to explore the tribal life at Sapa, the pulsating Ho-Chi-Minh city, the Mekong delta and the beautiful beaches around Nha Trang. So much to see.
Do you have a story to tell about your Vietnam experience? Drop in a comment or send us a mail. We will definitely reply. All the interesting tales will be published in a special feature.