A trip to Vietnam

It started on 24th March 2017 at 10:30 pm when our flight took off from Chennai International Airport bound for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam via Bangkok. Five of us traveling on our first leisure trip out of India. We touched down at Ho Chi Minh at around 9:30 am next morning. Visa on Arrival, phone SIM and currency conversions took up a couple of hours at the airport.

Ho Chi Minh City

In Ho Chi Minh, we had booked Cozy House in District 1. It was near to all the tourist attractions the city had to offer. First up, we visited the War Remnants Museum which provides you with a graphic view of the horrors of the Vietnam War. It holds showpieces for all the weapons used, and the statistics of the huge losses of lives in Vietnam. The museum is quite vast and if you are short of time visit the second floor for sure.

A few images from the Museum
We had some bad luck as we couldn’t go inside Independence Palace and Notre Dam Cathedral as they had closed for the day. We had to be content admiring them from the outside. Heads up, visit both these places before 4pm in case you are planning to.
Independence Palace
Notre Dam Cathedral

We then went for the Central Post Office. We sent postcards back to our families and friends from there. (One reached my friend but one didn’t). You can also buy postcards and old stamps as souvenirs there.

The Central Post Office with the image of the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh on the wall.

Finally we left for the Bitexco Tower and enjoyed gazing over the entire city. The views were really breathtaking. As we all know the camera lens doesn’t come close to the human eye.

Views as captured from the top of the Bitexco Tower.

Finally we visited the Saigon Opera House. There were no shows on that weekend so we just relaxed a bit on its steps before heading off for dinner.

The Saigon Opera House

We rounded off the day with a couple of drinks at the Glow Skybar Saigon. Awesome ambience though a little expensive. We paid around a million dongs. Best part of Vietnamese currency is you feel like millionaires.

Next day we headed for the Cu Chi tunnels which was around 40 kms from the main city. It was a great experience traveling through the different parts of the underground tunnels which connected the North to the South during the Vietnam War. I would suggest not to go for the 50m long tunnel in case you feel claustrophobic or have breathing problems. After that we bought some souvenirs and then headed for the shooting range. The noise you get when the shots are fired was deafening. We fired five rounds of AK-47 and ten rounds of M-16 which felt awesome!! Don’t carry the shells though as they will remove it from your luggage during security check at the Airport.

Traps used on the American Soldiers during the Vietnam War

After returning from Cu Chi we headed for the Ben Thanh Market where we spent some time shopping and bargaining with the local shopkeepers. We finally visited Biacraft where we had some awesome craft beer in Saigon. The guys had a two page menu on just beers!! The staff were also really friendly.

Beers!!

Danang

Next day we took an early morning flight to Danang. The weather kept getting better throughout the trip the farther north we travelled. We stayed at Eco Danang hotel which was a comfortable stay for us. We first headed for Museum of Cham Sculpture which is dedicated to the Champa existence of 192AD for the indigenous Cham people who lived an Indian way of life in both culture and language.

Some sculptures in the museum

After that we leisured around some time at the My Khe Beach. The weather made it very pleasant.

The view at My The Beach in Danang

We then headed off to the Lady Buddha Statue and temple which was around 15 minutes from the main city. It was a really beautiful sight. The statue of Lady Buddha stands at 72 feet and the temple looked breathtaking in the cloudy weather.

Lady Buddha Temple

After that we headed to see the four bridges of Danang in the evening.

1) Dragon Bridge

2) Han River Bridge

3) Thuan Phuoc Bridge

4) Tran Thi Ly Bridge

Make sure you visit these bridges in the evening as the lighting makes them awesome to look at.

Finally we headed to the Sun Wheel Park where they have a Fun Wheel which moves slowly like the High Roller in Las Vegas. Here you can capture views of the entire city from the top of the wheel. They even have roller coasters and some other fun rides if you are an adrenaline junkie.

The Fun Wheel at Sun Wheel Park

Hue

Next day we started early to Hue by road. Most of our travel in Vietnam was done on rented bikes. We took the road via Hai Van Pass as it provides for some alluring views to look at. Also witnessed one of the most romantic wedding photography I had ever seen.

Views from Hai Van Pass
The romantic couple atop Hai Van Pass

We finally reached Hue around 1 o’ clock in the afternoon. We first headed for the Hue Imperial City which was the former imperial capital of Vietnam. It was build around 1362 and was splendid to look at. We spent around an hour roaming the grounds inside Imperial City and admired its architecture.

Hue Imperial City
The Citadel in Imperial City

After that we visited the Thien Mu Pagoda which was seven storied and was once regarded as the unofficial symbol of Hue City.

Thien Mu Pagoda

Next up was the Minh Mang Tomb who was the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam, reigning from 14 February 1820 until his death, on 20 January 1841. The main burial area is opened once a year on account of the death anniversary of the emperor.

Minh Mang Burial Entrance

We finally completed our Hue visit by visiting the Thanh Toan Bridge and Tiger Arena.

We started our journey back to Danang around 5:30 pm. Before getting on Hai Van Pass we stopped at a petrol station. One guy at the stop was friendly and started enquiring where we were headed. He told us it was dangerous to get on Hai Van Pass at night due to fog and events where people sometimes get robbed. We decided to take the risk anyway and when we got on the pass, there was not a soul in sight in the 21km pitch dark mountain stretch. All of us were shit scared and finally when we covered the distance and hit the city roads again, we stopped to celebrate with a roadside beer.

The guy warning us through Google Translate

We finally reached Danang without any further developments.

Next morning, we started off the day by visiting the Marble Mountains. It was 10 kms from Danang City. Buy a one way elevator ticket, if you are lazy like me so that you can go up the mountain via the elevator and walking down is easier.

Sanctuary on top of the Marble Mountains

Hoi An

We then checked out of Danang and left for Hoi An via cab. We reached Hoi An around 2 o’ clock in the afternoon. You get tickets to get to 5 tourist attractions of the many available choices listed out. We could visit just two due to lack of time - The Fujian Assembly Hall and the Japanese Covered Bridge.

The Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An

We spent the evening walking along the riverside appreciating the beautiful decorations and lights.

Hoi An Riverside
Decorations along the road

Finally we hit the Central Food Market where we tasted all the amazing local delicacies before calling it a day.

Cham Islands

Next day we had booked a scuba diving and snorkeling trip to the Cham Islands which made everyone 75 dollars lighter. It was my first time doing scuba and it was an amazing experience. Our instructor JZ was really cool and handled a noob swimmer like me really well under water. We hit a depth of 8m while swimming with the fishes and saw some beautiful coral reefs. Unluckily, the conditions were not good enough for underwater photography. If you have allergy asthma like me you are good, people with stress asthma will be prohibited from scuba. We finally reached a beach at Cham Islands where we had some lunch and rested around an hour at the islands. (The 75 dollars was inclusive of 1 round of scuba, snorkeling and lunch arrangements. You can do another round of scuba for additional 20 dollars).

Cham Island Beach

We all felt really drowsy after scuba and rested once back at the hotel in the evening.

Hanoi

Next day we took a flight to Hanoi which got delayed by 4 hours and crapped a bit on our scheduled itinerary. It made us miss entry to The Citadel of Thang Long, which we could only admire from outside. Next we visited the Hoa Lo Prison which showed all the details of the French Oppression on Vietnam. It was a depressing place to visit, fully colored in black and grey.

The prisoners depicted by puppets
A prisoner at “The Hole”

We then left for the Opera House before the Water Puppet Theatre, which a completely different experience for us.

The puppets performing at The Water Puppet Theatre

Finally we roamed around the Hoan Kiem Lake which looked magnificent with the lights at night.

The Hoan Kiem Lake

There were different activities going on around the lake as it is a vehicle free zone. We even saw flashmobs near the lake over the weekend.

Ha Long Bay

Next day we temporarily bid adieu to Hanoi and went for our overnight cruise stay at Ha Long Bay. We had opted for Rosa Cruise and the staff and our guide Minh were very friendly. We enjoyed some stunning views from our cruise deck. We visited the largest cave on Ha Long Bay, the Pearl Farm (where we saw the process of making pearl from oysters) and also the beach next day. We also rested a lot on the cruise overnight and the food was awesome and plentiful. We tasted shrimp cocktail for the first time. Minh even gave us a cooking class where he taught us to make spring rolls using rice paper. Overall another awesome experience!!

A view of Ha Long Bay
The cave we visited at Ha Long Bay

After coming back from the cruise to Hanoi, we spent that day buying souvenirs for people back home and celebrated the end of our trip at Legend Beer near Hoan Kiem Lake.

Tips

For food do try Pho, Bánh mì, Cao lầu and Spring Rolls in Vietnam. Pho Ga was my favorite dish there. Ga stands for Chicken in Vietnamese. Not a friendly place for vegetarians. Pork is the most common form of meat in Vietnam.

A version of Pho

As gifts you can get coffee, different Vietnamese handicrafts and Non La (The traditional Vietnamese conical hat)

We missed Nha Trang, Mekong Delta and Sapa Valley due to lack of time. You need at least two weeks to cover the entire country.

The people were very welcoming and friendly. I remember one guy who took a U-turn in heavy traffic just to show us the gas station. Thanks Vietnam for all the awesome experiences!!