Looking at various options for a winter holiday, I stumbled upon Vietnam, didn’t know much about it so decided to search the various Youtube videos and travel articles which only gave me halfhearted confidence to join it, but in the end, decided to join the Flamingo group tour by Flamingo Transworld .
Since the group was leaving from Ahmedabad, I had to travel from Mumbai ahead of time. We took the late night flight to Saigon(Ho Chi Minh City) on 14th December at 00:05 hrs.
We reached Saigon at 700 am local time (90 minutes ahead of IST). After clearing the immigration facilities we left the airport. The first thing we did was to collect the local currency, the Vietnamese Dong. This is a currency that makes Indian feel rich at first look, since 1 INR = 280VND. The Vietnamese currency starts from 1000vnd to 500000vnd. Once we were done with the currency exchange we left for our Hotel Central Palace – Saigon, a nice boutique hotel in central Saigon.
After freshening up and some rest, we went for our first Indian Lunch at a restaurant called Dalcheeni which is a chain of restaurants across Vietnam.
Our sightseeing tour started with the Presidential Palace built during the French colonial period, not very grandiose just like a decent official palace. We explored various staterooms and offices, the secret security rooms, war rooms, and the president’s private quarters too. The same building is also called the Reunification Palace, as after the American war the reunification proceedings of North and South Vietnam were held here.
Vietnam was a French colony until 1945. After World War II, France attempted to reclaim its colony, which resulted in a situation resembling the Cold War, with the southern part of the country being held by France and its western allies, including the USA, and the northern part being communist and under Chinese and Russian influence. This conflict lasted until 1973 when the Viet Congress defeated the allied forces led by the USA in a prolonged, messy war.
The next stop was the War Remnants Museum and Independence Palace. The museum was originally called The War Crimes Museum but was renamed later in the 1990s as relations with the United States improved. Display of pictures and various weapons, including results of chemical weapons (orange gas) are actually bone-chilling and depressing. The inhuman treatment of Vietnamese people and their suffering reveals a lot about the modern world’s so-called human rights guardians who go around sanctioning others.
Late afternoon we went around what can be called Saigon’s Champs De Elysses. It is a beautiful street lined with branded shops, a French-style Opera house, the city municipal office, and a grand promenade with a statue Of Ho Chi Minh in the center. We finished the day with dinner at Nataraj, another Indian restaurant.
Also Read : 6 Reasons to Choose Vietnam for Fabulous Spring Vacation with Your Family!
We left for Cu Chi Caves after an early breakfast. These caves are about 45 km from Saigon. The caves are part of a jungle area. It is an underground tunnel system spread over approx 250sqkm. They were the epicenter of the Guerilla warfare between the Vietnamese fighters and the French during their war of independence.
The area has many traps and bunkers hidden underground linked to each other. It was a fascinating experience. Some younger group members tried to experience the tactics by going inside the tunnels where at some point you can just crawl or worse slide through. The only dampener here was the hot and humid weather. Most of us also tried our hand at shooting practice on LMG (light machine gun) or AK47. Though I must say that most of us missed target.
After approximately 2-3 hours of trekking inside the jungle, we finally left for our lunch, back in the city at a south Indian restaurant called Banana leaf. This is a nice experience to try a different cuisine. Post lunch, we had free time to visit a local flea market called Benthem Market. Here we tried our hands at local bargain shopping.
The Evening dinner was quite an experience. Our dinner was at a rooftop restaurant called Benaras Heights, on top of Hotel Renaissance Riverside. The view of the city at night were simply amazing. The food too was nice, especially the Panipuri in Vietnam – which was a surprise for all of us.
Also Read : 4 Best Places To Visit In Vietnam And Cambodia For An Unforgettable Trip!
Day 3 – we had to explore the Mekong River Delta region. We started from the Mytho area, around a 2-hour drive from the city. We first got into a motor boat to an island where we did some scary stunts, like holding a beehive in our hands and a python across the neck. We also tried some honey tea and tropical fruits, which were really tasty. Next, we took the small boats carrying 3-4 passengers each to sail through the Mekong River Delta. Small rivulets surrounded by dense jungle, an experience somewhat like Kerala backwaters, up to the next Candy Island. Here we tried freshly Coconut candies, but honestly, I did not like these candies.
After taking a quick packed lunch which was too much for one to finish, we proceeded to Chua Vin Trang a Buddhist Pagoda built in the 19th century. The architecture of this Pagoda was inspired by the Angkor Vat Temple in Cambodia. It was really very beautiful.
In the evening we tried the famous Vietnamese coffee at Highlands Coffee – a national coffee chain similar to CCD in India. Vietnamese coffee is very strong and those who don’t drink black coffee can add condensed milk to it. You can also try another variant – egg coffee where they add egg yolk instead of milk. It is very famous in Vietnam but was invented as a result of milk shortage during war times. Now, people have a special liking for it and the country has dedicated egg coffee parlors.
We started the next leg of our journey to Danang. A rescheduled flight meant we had to leave the hotel at 4 am. We all had our packed breakfast at the airport post-check-in. And after a 75 minutes flight, we landed at Danang airport in totally different weather. It was chilly and rainy, in contrast to the hot and sultry Saigon.
The first stop from the airport was the Cham Museum. Danang area is a part of the ancient Hindu Champa Kingdom which thrived from 800AD to early 1400AD. It was subsequently ruled by the Viet kingdom to the north. It depicts a story of marriage and familial disputes. Later in the 19th Century, French archeologists unearthed various artifacts and structures; these were displayed in The Cham Museum. It also displays a superb array of idols of the Hindu pantheon ranging from an imposing Shiv Lingam to Vishnu, Laxmi, Ganesha, and other deities. Finding such a culture in a distant land brings pride and awe to our ancient heritage.
We were not able to continue with the remaining sightseeing of the day due to continuous drizzle. We had our lunch at a restaurant named Indian Curry. After lunch, we headed to our Hotel SEL DE MER Hotel and Suites. The hotel is just opposite the beach and is undoubtedly the best property of this trip. The view from our sea-facing room balcony was breathtakingly beautiful.
In the late afternoon, after borrowing umbrellas from the hotel – we resumed our sightseeing for the day. Danang is famous for its marble mountain hence first stop was at a marble Gallery. All the displayed stuff was very nice but super expensive. So after a brief look and a few photos, we continued for the ancient river port city of Hoi An. It was a significant trading port in the 15-16th century with cultural influences of China Japan, the Philippines, and India. The town though very congested and crowded due to weekend travelers had its rustic charm. It had an old Japanese wooden bridge and Chinese and Japanese temples on the riverside. The highlight of this place was its late evening lantern boat ride. Scores of boats simultaneously on the river with their colorful paper lanterns – almost felt surreal.
We had our Dinner at a Family Indian restaurant in Hoi An managed by a Srilankan lady. The long drive back to the hotel gave us all a chance to show our singing talent. It seemed like a whole concert was present in our coach, wherein both youngsters and elders got a chance to display their talents.
Also Read : 5 Famous Beach Resorts in Vietnam For Dreamy Holidays!
The day started with a visit to the My khe Beach. The beach was beautiful with nicely arranged palm trees and crystal blue water. We had a brief stopover here. We wished we could have spent some more time but unfortunately due to a shortage of time, we had to proceed to our main destination for the day Bana Hills.
Bana Hills is a small French town developed during the colonial period atop a 5000ft high hill. It is now managed as a theme park and amusement park by The Sun World Corp. The Sun World Corp – which we were told is the number one today in world-class luxury tourism, especially for amusement parks and cruises.
From the beautifully decorated base, we traveled up the hill through a series of escalators and then a 20min scenic cable car ride. Like yesterday, today also, the weather was chilly with rains, plus, it was really cold at the top. Almost 8 degree Celsius it was humid and foggy. The beautiful medieval-style French town was further authenticated by European weather. We roamed around the town with umbrellas taking snaps and taking in the beauty of the town.
The tour was followed by lunch at a world cuisine buffet at the top of a huge place wherein at least 500 people can sit at a time. The multiple options in the cuisine allowed our first look at Vietnamese cuisine, though mostly nonveg, we could find nuggets of veg options, though Indian cuisine was also there.
The place also has a small indoor play area and 3D 4D theatres but pretty modest. No great shakes, while kids and youngsters enjoyed the rides I used this time to get a shot of Vietnamese coffee and a nice massage on the automatic massage chairs.
We now went to see the next big attraction of the place – the famous Golden Bridge. This bridge is very popular on Instagram. This is a bridge on the valley held by two huge hands. The clouds and fog were spoilers here as the outside view was fogged out. There is a garden too at the other end of the bridge, which was too slippery and wet to explore. So we restricted ourselves to the bridge area. After a while, we began our journey back downhill through the same route and left for the next destination.
The Lady Pagoda, which was seen at a distance from our hotel was now in full glory and beautifully lit in multiple colors in the evening, along with a beautiful temple.
Post Dinner we needed to complete our remaining two sightseeing that we were not able to due to rain, those are the Dragon Bridge and Love Bridge.
The dragon bridge was beautifully lit in multiple colors changing periodically and the 10-minute show where the dragon face of the bridge spews out fire and water at regular intervals.I am sure everyone wanted to spend more time in beautiful Danang, but our schedule constraints didn’t allow us. I would recommend that an additional day should be added here in future trips.
A late morning flight took us to the penultimate leg of our trip, the capital city of Hanoi. After departing from the airport, it was time for lunch at another chain restaurant Maazi, by the lakeside.
Post lunch we went on a short city tour starting with The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The City Centre has various official buildings such as the parliament building and other ministries, much like the Mao mausoleum at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but on a smaller scale. We could not go inside to see the embalmed body of the leader as that’s only open in the morning on certain days.
The next stop was one pillar pagoda built in 1049 AD a small beautiful structure near a lotus pond. After this short tour, we went to check in at our hotel Grand Vista. In the evening we left for dinner at a restaurant named Spices – Taste of India.
This was a pretty relaxed day after six days of hectic travel. Today our tour started after lunch. So we ventured out for some shopping at a nearby mall named Royal City –Vincom Mega Mall.
Vingroup is supposedly the largest corporate group in Vietnam with businesses like retail, Real estate, and other infra sectors. The owner Mr. Pham Nhat Vuong is the richest man in Vietnam and is in the top 200 on Forbes List.
After having lunch at a lakeside restaurant named Rasm, we started the next leg of the city tour. The first stop was Tran Quoc Pagoda, built around 580 AD under the guidance of an Indian Monk. According to the legend the Bodhi tree on the premises is planted from a branch of the original Bodhi Tree from Bodh Gaya. The tall structure on the pagoda is a later addition in the 18th century.
The second site was a temple, Quan Thanh. It is a Taoist temple built in the 11th century dedicated to Tran Vu, the Deity of the north in Taoism. It is one of the four most sacred temples in Hanoi. It is also a center for training in traditional martial arts, also called a temple of literature, as several students come here for blessings for their exams.
The next stop was what is called the Old Quarter. The basically old traditional market area of Hanoi has no great shakes as we have so many such areas in India. We did a one-hour Cyclo ride around the area, which is the Vietnamese version of a rickshaw. The only difference is this rickshaw is driven from behind and the passengers sit in the front.
Post Dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, we retired to our hotel. I felt Hanoi is not a touristy place except for a few landmarks. At the max, one day and night is enough for this place.
On the penultimate day of our trip – post breakfast, we checked out of our hotel to proceed to Halong Bay. En route, we went to a pearl museum, where we saw how pearls are extracted from the oysters, cleaning and quality appraisal, and various colors of pearls. This place was quite a draw for the ladies. After spending an hour here, we went to the Cruise terminal.
A boat took us to our cruise ship La Regina anchored at sea. I was pretty excited as it was my first experience on a cruise.
On board the cruise, we were first given the rules and safety instructions, followed by a Vietnamese vegetarian lunch, which in fact was a pretty nice spread. After lunch, we were given our cabin keys and the luggage was transferred to our cabins. We just brought enough luggage for our cruise stay, and the remainder was held in our coach to be delivered to us at the airport when it was time to depart. There were only 20 cabins on the ship, so our group was practically having the whole ship to ourselves.
After checking in, we went up to the top deck of the ship for amazing views of Halong Bay. We had amazing views of the sea’s glittering surface and the nearby little hills or rocks. After taking pictures, we received a call to meet on the lower deck for our excursions to different islands.
Hopping off to a smaller boat with life jackets, the first stop was at Surprise Caves. Getting into the cave was a trek of around 600 stairs. Half of the group opted for the trek, but I skipped it as I had seen a better one in Reed flute cave in Guilin(China) and did not want to tire myself.
So as the trekkers went inside the caves, our small boat ferried us to the other end of the cave and saw around the island while for the rest of the group to come back.
On the next leg, the boat took us to Tiptop Island, where a nice beach awaited us. The ones wanting to swim were swayed away due to extremely the cold water. We viewed a beautiful sunset from the beach and after some time headed back to our cruise ship.
After an hour or so, the cruise chef arranged a cooking class for the cruisers. The ladies were very enthusiastic and learned to make spring roll with rice paper. During the session – we were also offered Vietnamese rice wine.
Later – a dinner of vegetarian Vietnamese food was served. I was amazed to find so much vegetarian variety in Vietnamese food, wherein 90% of the junta is nonveg.
As it was our last night of the trip, some masti was obvious. And what can be better than Garba for a Gujju group? You can take a Gujju out of India, but Garba carries along. I have experienced trips to Turkey, China, and Vietnam – Garba cannot be away.
On the last day of our trip – after having a nice Veg Vietnamese breakfast, we had to check out of the cruise boat. Then we took to the road to reach the airport. On the way, we halted at some souvenir shops of local handicrafts and then had our lunch again at SPICES restaurant.
Due to traffic, we just managed to reach the airport on time. After completing the check-in, Immigration, and security formalities, we all ventured out for our last-minute duty-free shopping of booze, chocolates, and people like me Vietnamese Coffee.
And then we boarded the flight for Ahmedabad, and after a 4-hour layover to Mumbai, our Happy holiday came to a close.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *