Vietnam – Well to be fair I didn’t have much idea about the place untill I saw the Top Gears special on it. But ever since then, it has always been on my must-see list. Winter of 2013, after a lot of back and forth communication with my friends, we decided to move our asses and get to Vietnam. Everything was set, flights and hotels booked and visas stamped. I was the first to land in Ho Chi Minh City and to my horror, I realize my phone’s battery gave away and to top it, I had no idea about the name of my hostel! To add to the misery I had forgotten my charger on the flight. It took me a while to find someone who didn’t think I was creepy while I asked them for one! (phew!) An hour later I was on the taxi to Ho Chi Minh City which I found to be quite vibrant with restaurants open late into the night. As mentioned in Top Gear, bikes really were the favoured mode of transport. As the receptionist at our hostel rightly said” No money no honey,no bike no wife”.
For our first day, we rented bikes and went around the city; we saw the Reunification Palace,the Jade Emperor Pagoda and the War Remnants Museum. The horrific pictorial descriptions in the museum really leaves you speechless reflecting on the tragedies the country has been through.
In the afternoon we took a bus to visit the Chu chi tunnels , a 200 km tunnel system that stretched from Saigon to the Cambodian border used by the Viet Cong to fight against the Americans.
Over the course of the next few days, we ended up getting lost in Saigon, visiting more pagodas, a cruise on the Mekong delta,the Ben Tanh market and of course stories from the lovely locals.
After an overnight bus journey, we arrived at the mountain city of Dalat. With it’s staggering views, coffee plantations and the fairy tale crazy house, Dalat was a relaxing break from the bustling Saigon city. It will also be forever remembered as the place where we slept on the platform in front of our hostel (as the person running it didn’t wake up till 8 in the morning)!So yes make sure the overnight buses you take don’t reach at an ungodly hour!
Dalat was beautiful, but the city of Hoi An , with its grand architecture and beguiling riverside and lovely candle light in the water at night was simply mesmerizing.
We rented bikes from Hoi An to do the Hai Van pass, the twisted mountain road linking the city of Hue and Da Nang. The ride was thrilling with the weather being perfect except for light showers towards the end and the parking problems at the top of the pass as I was short! (#shortgirlproblems)
From Hoi An, we traveled north to Hanoi. Unlike the south,Hanoi was coooold and the traffic was more crazier. The city does not have much to offer but the Halong bay cruise more than made up for it.
With my birthday falling on Christmas day, we decided to celebrate it differently by staying overnight at the bay. During the day we visited the nearby islands and beaches and spent some time canoeing. At night there was a surprise birthday dinner which the cruise had organised and we sang karaoke afterwards. Singing Vietnamese songs on a mike in the middle of the bay on my birthday was something I never did think I would be doing – guess never say never!
As the third week at Vietnam came to an end, it was time to get back to the reality of our boring desk jobs, but with memories which would last a lifetime. The country was so amazing, with its history, people,beaches and last but not the least the FOOD which was worth every penny that we spent visiting.
Also as a word of caution – Vietnam has plenty of tourist scams especially tour operators offering Halong bay cruises at exorbitant rates. The tour prices vary from 35 to 250 US dollars,but they all offer the same itinerary.