After years of studying in med school, getting ragged by seniors, and slogging off those nights, the results of my exams were out… And finally I became a full-fledged PEDIATRICIAN!!!! Yes this was the best time to treat myself!!!! And what better than my first international trip….And a self- sponsored one….After going through Google, shortlisted the countries offering e-Visa to Indians citizens….Skimmed the list more to accommodate my budget…And that was the brainchild of this blog of “A to Z of planning a trip to Vietnam from India”.
For most middle-class Indians like myself, Bali or Thailand are the maiden offshore destinations. But neither was I on a honeymoon nor was this my bachelor trip….
I wanted the mountains and the beaches, the cities and the country, coffee and booze and modernization with ethnicity…… A place which is not very touristy but with a traveler’s vibe……
And then the only answer to all these questions in my budget was ………
Then the mammoth task of planning this trip started. My mind was flooded with so many “Wh type” of questions…Where is it…How should I go…When should I go…..What’s the visa requirement…And what not!!!!!!!
And this blog just tries to answer all these questions. Not being a fan of travel agencies I prefer planning my own trips and executing them eventually…
Where is Vietnam???
After the initial enthusiasm subsided, the first question to be answered was where is Vietnam and how to reach there….. Well, Vietnam is a South Asian country surrounded by Cambodia, Laos, China, and the Gulf of China and the Pacific Ocean.
Travelling to Vietnam
The commute on a non-stop flight is generally 4-6 hours from Kolkata. There are daily flights from India to both the capital Hanoi and the southern city of Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam has three international airports and numerous domestic airports.
The international airports are located in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.
- Hanoi : Noi Bai International Airport
- Ho Chi Minh City: Tan Son Nhat Airport
- Da Nang : Da Nang International Airport
There are various flights from India to Vietnam, depending on your budget.
Indigo has daily flights from Kolkata to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. Flights take 3-5 hours to reach, generally reaching in the wee hours of the morning.
The other option is taking a VietAir flight from Delhi which is a very cheap option but its a hand bag only flight so people mind your luggage.
There are many other flights like Thai Air, Malaysian Airlines, Vietnan Airlines which also fly to Vietnam.
The best flight for internal travel is Vietnam Airlines. Just fell in love with them. The other options are VietJet Air or JetStar which is a cheap alternative. Just check for the luggage allowance and ticket rates here before booking.
Vietnam offers e-Visa for Indians and NOT visa on arrival. You need to get a letter of approval which is easily available from a trusted travel agency online before you are traveling. For this you will have to send copies of passport and photographs. Generally the approval is gained in 2-3 days but can be obtained on an urgent basis by paying extra. On landing at any of the three international airports, after producing the letter of approval, a photograph and 25 USD in cash passport is stamped. They DO NOT accept cards.
The currency followed in Vietnam is Vietnam Dong. The conversion is
1000 VND= 3.25 INR= 0.04 USD.
The currency is note based and there are no coins in circulation. The notes are of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 500,000 dongs. Quite confusing at first, but remember the thumb rule: All paper notes are of lower denominations i.e. 1000, 2000, 5000 and plastic ones are the higher ones.
Also the Vietnamese generally prefer using 1000, 2000 etc without using “Dongs”, so dont get confused.
US dollars or Euros can be exchanged at airports, banks, hotels, goldsmiths, and tourism shops. I would recommend you exchange at the goldsmiths and banks followed by tourism shops as they offer the best exchange rates. Avoid the airports and hotels; they overcharge.
I would recommend buying a sim card in Vietnam rather than using your home network as there is just no connectivity to foreign networks in many places. Mobifone and Viettel are the best companies and I would recommend the latter. For 800 INR=10 USD= 2500,000 VND I got a card with 10 GB per month plan.
You can buy sim cards at the airport, hotels, the sim card shops in the tourist streets of the major cities.
Main cities of Vietnam
This S-shaped country is geographically divided into the Northern, Central, and Southern parts. All these parts are diverse and different in their own ways. Like most of the countries, the northern part is cold and dry, whereas the southern part is humid and hot
The northern part comprises the capital: Hanoi, the meadows of Sapa, the picturesque Halong Bay, the historical Hoa Lu; all a treat to the mind and senses…
Ha Long Bay
A UNESCO world heritage site it is criminal to miss the Ha Long Bay while in Vietnam. Be it for a day or a multi-night itinerary on the cruise… Admiring the limestone caves, kayaking on the blue waters or getting drunk and lost on one of party cruise…Ha Long Bay has it all.. Or just enjoy the Cat Ba Island which is one of the places you can stay while in the bay…
The capital city serves as an entry portal to many travelers. It has both the westernized city vibes as well as the authenticity of the country preserved. An academician can never miss The Temple of Literature, which was the first university of Vietnam. The Mausoleum where the embalmed body Ho Chi Minh is kept is adjacent to the city museum is another beautiful structure in Hanoi. If history is not your piece go spiritual at the One Pillar Pagoda or just get clicked at Train street. And after a tiring day grab a refreshing ice coffee and sit by the Hoan Kiem Lake or party at one of the pubs in the Old Quater.
This northwestern town is inhabited by native tribals. The area is extraordinarily peaceful and one of the famous place for trekking and hiking. Fan Si Pan Mountain situated 20 km from Sapa is the highest mountain range in the country which is located Hoang Lien National Park.
Situated in the Ninh Binh province Tam Coc literally translates to Three Caves. Also called the Halong Bay on land or Dry Halong Bay this postcard-perfect place is ideal to laze in a boat and enjoy the limestone ghettos or enjoy cycling in the hills hearing the birds chirping and the breeze touching your skin.
The first capital of Vietnam, the ancient town of Hoa Lu has temples dedicated to the initial rulers of the country depicting the rich history and culture of Vietnam.
The Central part of Vietnam is more contemporary and serene as compared to the other parts. If there is one place you do not want to miss is the city of Da Nang.
Another historical hub, the city is located on the banks of the Perfume River. Be it a walk on the river banks, visit the tombs of ancient emperors, or meditating in the pagodas, the choice is all yours…
The 2000-year-old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a melting pot of various cultures untouched by the waves of modernization.
The countries third largest city and a beach enthusiast’s paradise, Da Nang is home to The iconic Golden Bridge, The Dragon Bridge, The Bridge of Love. Those not interested in seeing just the bridges, the majestic beaches and the hidden lagoon’s are sure to be explored. Having an international airport makes this city easily accessible. The My Khe Beach with its pristine white sand is a paradise in itself…
As I moved more towards the southern end of the country, I noticed a drastic change both in the weather and the culture. The striking contrast between the upper and the lower halves of the country is visible when you visit Ho Chi Minh City. The skyscrapers, the bustling streets, and the nightlife are all mesmerizing!!!!!
Ho Chi Minh City
If I ever plan to leave Bombay and relocate somewhere else, it has to be Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. In contrast to the ethnic northern Vietnam, this city is vibrant, lively and surely does not sleep. The walking street aka Bui Vien street is a place where the sun does not set. Apart from the crazy nightlife, the city boasts the memories of the Vietnam War. The War Remnants Museum, The Independence Palace, the ever-crowded Ben Thanh Market or just sipping a coffee on the 61st floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower are a few not at all “miss-able” things here… And of course, have you ever heard of an entire apartment building dedicated to just coffee shops???
Cu Chi Tunnels
Those who have read about the Vietnamese War have definitely heard about these tunnels. The underground network of tunnels is located two hours from Saigon and is a must-do day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, where you can also try your hands on a AK-47.
The Mekong Delta is a network of floating markets and also backwaters best cruised on the traditional boats. The river bazar is located near the town of My Tho, two hours from Ho Chi Minh City.
Cao Dia Temple
A visit to this temple is an optional day trip. Located one and a half hours from Ho Chi Minh, the temple is the birthplace of the monolithic Caodaism.
Phu Quoc Island
This beautiful piece of land is a beach lovers paradise. A flight away from Saigon this island hosts numerous beach resorts and beautiful non-crowded beaches namely the Star beach or the Long beach.
To sum up, Vietnam is a diverse country and it has something for everyone. One cannot explore the entire a week or even a month…Truly a travelers heaven… The places I have mentioned are just a few which were my favorite, and the entire list is unexhaustive… Decide what do you want and plan accordingly… So why not chuck Thailand and plan Vietnam for your next solo trip or family trip??? And it is indeed a very very safe country for everyone be it a family, a group or even solo female travelers.