Vietnam – Just before Travel turned to Tourism

The rate at which Vietnam has come up the tourism hot list is quite amazing. It doesn’t take much when you have one of the best cuisines in the World, a natural wonder of the world to boast of and a lot of history associated with the war with US to storytell. I would assume a lot of Americans don’t show up here but there is still the remaining 95% of the world’s population that has been queueing up and I am glad we went in 2016, before the pot spilled over.

Lake in the city centre of Hanoi

There wasn’t a direct flight from India then, and that actually helps keep the crowds down a bit, though there were good connections via Bangkok, to Hanoi and back from HCMC. The visa process is a little convoluted where we needed to get a pre-approval via a travel agent and then get the actual visa stamped on arrival – not terrible but could have been simpler.

Transport in Vietnam is quite simple with cheap cabs to take you around and very cheap domestic flights to go between cities. The airlines themselves are quite funky with some “Boss” seats instead of business class and VietJet offering some flights with the air hostesses in bikinis (though those flights cost a lot more and can be identified by the price).

Halong Bay on a cloudy day

Food is never a problem, there is such a rich variety of food and all of it is delicious. It was actually hard to stop eating at times and on many a days we had a second dinner or a second lunch. I can remember only two bad meals in a 11 day trip – one when we walked into an obvious tourist trap in the city centre and then other at an Indian restaurant in HCMC – which is something that I usually never try outside India. The Pho is delicious, the way they make it and long after I was back home I kept missing that fresh flavor at breakfast every morning. If you are a vegetarian, there will be options but don’t ask about what broth the rice were boiled in. The Vietnamese spring rolls and dimsum where the other memorable dish along with the egg coffee, which was absolutely off the charts good.

Beauty in simplicity

People in Vietnam are quite nice, warm and hospitable and are usually keen to practice their English on anyone who can speak it well. The receptionist at our hotel decided to join us as a guide for a nominal fee as he wanted to talk in English. He didn’t know much but was a good natured guy who helped around.

We spend 4 nights in Hanoi, luckily it was mostly over a weekend, which was nice because the downtown area turns into a walking zone with a lovely street festival. A few hours drive away is the majestic Halong bay and we spent a night there on a small luxurious boat. From there we went straight to the Hanoi airport and onwards to Hue, a a small town by a riverside known for its beautiful handmade lampshades, local massages and food. The last 4 nights were spent in HCMC which was more a hub to see the attractions around it – the city itself is just another modern city.

Mekong River Delta – near HCMC

Other than the cruise, which was luxurious, we chose 4-star boutique hotels that saved a lot of money but were still quite comfortable and happy. The focus was always on food…

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