Time follows its serpentine course as we make merry by the side, all engulfed in fun and frolic. It was a little more than 30 months, Sayantan proposed me a plan of Nam escapade. Now, I am a Thai travel veteran and in love with the tiny nascent beaches by the Andaman sea. I had my apprehensions before saying yes to Vietnam trip.
While I was growing up in Kolkata, during the last lap of Left front government, I learnt to revere the red flags of Communism with no flaw. For me, the quite summer noons were all about finishing Sunil Ganguly’s literature, depicting West Bengal of 1970. As the new world beckons with the Naxalbari revolution breaking hard on the suburbs of Kolkata, Bangladesh emerging as a new democratic, secular country, there are frequent mentions of Vietnamese war with their communist leaders’ prowess and dedication. So there, I knew Vietnam, the country to be a winner against hostile and humongous opponent, United States of America.
Air Asia offered generous discounted tickets, only catch was a long waiting period in between. I was allowed to plan, re-plan and change the whole itinerary for long 12 months. Elation knew no bound as I began with the DIY trip. And overwhelm came in the way shortly for the country is spread across varied terrain, each unique in culture and heritage and it breaks your heart several times if you have to give a place amiss!
Flight tickets: Bangalore to HCMC (INR 14000, $200 Per Person)
(Fly during weekdays for cheaper rate)
Ensuing days had kept us busy in delving deeper into Vietnamese history. We sourced a lot of books and watched all the war movies (a religious practice over the weekends) because traveling in Vietnam is experiencing a load of emotion, way beyond the realm of natural wonders of beaches or mountains. The dog-earred book Street without Joy, the photograph of Kim Phuc, weary account of Bao Ninh from Sorrow of War and many more became our companion for after work hours. Hence the initial plan of traveling to Cambodia from Vietnam got shorthanded to Vietnam only, further truncated to the Northern part of the country. Two weeks did not suffice. If you want to soak in the glory of Nam culture, I suggest devote ample time to the cities of Hanoi and Saigon.
A poet renders the Vietnamese love for lotus flower…
“In the pond, the lotus flower is beautiful
Green leaves, white flowers, yellow stamens
yellow stamens, white flowers, green leaves
near mud but it does not stink like mud.”
As I write this Vietnam travel blog, I go back to my journal and smile at the multiple lists, stricken off in disdain. The North of the country is influenced with Chinese culture, people are different, weather is soothing and boasts of gorgeous Fansipan mountain ranges as well as Halong Bay, the dragon’s abode.
However the south of Nam has the melancholy of the river Saigon. The river remembers history as she busied herself making the Mekong delta. A round boat kayak will take you to the sombre villages fisherman’s villages and whispers :
“There are no memories
of dead bodies floating
or of massacres…”
What we did:
Head out to the distant mountains of Sapa, tour the villages for 2 nights>
Head to Hanoi, do not spend the night, the affair becomes serious>
take the flight to Danang, cross the bridge to go to Hoi an. 4 long nights here, go ahead, find an abode. Rent a scooty so that you can quickly commute to the violent beach or the ruined temples of My Son.>
Head back to Saigon. Stay put at the District one. Spend the night before heading towards Bangalore.
I strongly recommend you to get done with a prior Visa to Vietnam.Visa on Arrival is a lengthy process. We tagged along with VFS office, Bangalore 3 weeks prior to departure date and paid around INR 2500 ($40) to get the Visa done.
We took along us about a grand. Mind you, hotels and flights were pre-booked. We spent around $750 and rest of it is safe-kept for the next destination.
Know for sure, Vietnam underwent a massive inflation resulting in heavy exchange rate. Exchanging few hundred dollars will make you a millionaire in Vietnamese dong. The lowest of it starts with 1.000 VND(Vietnamese Dong). Pay attention when paying for bills for you may end up paying more than what is required.
About lodging: Airbnb and cute little hotels costing about $35 per night (I will elaborate when I write about each Nam town)
About food: Most days we had a heavy breakfast leaving us little space for lunch. We snacked on street food and indulged in elaborate dinner. Unlike Thailand, Vietnam does not offer much for your taste buds when it comes to street food, however their restaurants are class apart. And boy, do they serve fish, well cooked fish! The memory of Indo China rule lingers in gourmet dishes, be it a rare done steak or the fine blend of a creamy sauce. Even after splurging, expenses never crosses $30
About transport: We had trusted Uber in all the major cities. In Sapa and Hoi an, we rented scooty on a daily basis. In Saigon, I saw Uber Bike taxi in action. If you are traveling solo, you may trust them while exploring the city.
The cultural shocks or what I call as “Mithi Si Mushkil” (the adorable problems)
- The Coffee: Say good morning Vietnam with the folk coffee, rich with egg yolk, sweetened with condensed milk. Coffee and cafes are lifestyle essential in the country. “Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love” that is how Nam people describe their coffee.
- The snails in the Pho: I tried their roadside Pho several times. Meat is never my first choice. In lieu, they proposed me to opt for snails several times. Guess what? The snails are from the ponds. Oh my god! I gorged on them for sure, but I wonder how!
- The Francophile: Your heart opens up to the people of the country, smiling at you with eloquent eyes. At times, I was pleasantly surprised to find they converse fluently in French. English, however is limited to people dealing with tourists majorly.
- The North and the South: Star difference in culture and food habit of the Northern and Southern part of the cities. Be respectful to the difference of thought. I shall keep the rest secret, go to Vietnam and find out for yourself! As far as the weather is concerned, south is sultry and rains can be excruciating. (A Kolkatan terming rain punishing is something you should take seriously!) When it comes to tea, what northerners call chè becomes trà in south.
- The bikes: The propaganda posters: As I said, born to a CPIM Bengali family, I looked at them with huge admiration and reverence. My dadu (grandpa) described to me the Vietnamese war as, “they were farmers. They had no weapon. Yet a lot of them came together and fought to win the war against America.” No wonder I am raised in a way to admire the red and white propaganda messages. They are found in abundance in and around the major cities.
- The dormant land Mines: While stepping on the sprawling temple complex of My Son, the guides told us to follow a path in Particular. He warned us, “Not all the mines have exploded yet!” This is the case in areas surrounding DMZ too.
- The War Museums: The museums carry profound sorrow and can even mar your day if you have delved deep into Vietnamese history. However they carry huge resources and an ode to the days bygone. Lastly, all the museums celebrate life with children’s painting denoting peace and harmony world over.
The important Vietnamese Phrasebook
I used Xin Chao abundantly without knowing the real meaning of it! It means good afternoon while I used it to mean good bye! Nonetheless the effort counts. Nam people sure smiles back. They are adorable.
- Sorry is Xin lỗi
- Thank you is Cảm ơn ông
- I don’t know is Tôi không biết
- Welcome is Hoan nghênh
- Hello is Chào anh
Hopefully these will help you break the ice. We used to learn with the Duo Lingo app. It is indeed helpful!
[I was overwhelmed after the Nam travel. I hardly had a clue about being a travel blogger back then, however my photographs were a big hit in Facebook and many of my friends suggested I write about the trip. Needless to say i am exited that it is happening finally. I plan to write about each and every city I visited, the food I ate and the books and movies I finished before the visit. Do let me know in case you want to know something specific. I will sure try to help you!]