I recently went to Vietnam on a holiday along with my wife and another couple, and we had a great time.
It was a great holiday, and all of us felt that the experience was much better than what we had expected it to be when we planned the trip.
In this post I am going to talk about everything that we planned for, and it will hopefully be useful for any other Indians visiting Vietnam.
Indians need a tourist visa to go to Vietnam, and it is fairly simple to get one. Vietnam has appointed certain agents who can help you obtain this visa, and I used the Vietnam Discovery – Private Day Tours for getting our visa.
They were extremely helpful; in fact I don’t think I have received better service from a company ever. They answered all visa related queries very promptly, and then helped us book domestic flight and train tickets as well. I’d highly recommend going through this company to get your visa.
The process itself is fairly simple — you pay them and send them the information they ask for, and within a couple of days they email you what’s called a visa approval letter. This is a letter from the Vietnam embassy listing out all the people whose visas have been approved for this company on that day.
This looks a bit weird at first because your name will be amongst a longer list of ten or fifteen people whom you do not know, but then this is simply how they do it.
The visa itself is granted when you arrive at the airport; the company’s agent will meet you at the gate, take your documents, ask you to fill a form, take your passport to the counter and within ten minutes he will come back with your visa stamped. They charge extra for this service, and if you don’t take this option then you go to the counter yourself and have your visa stamped.
It seemed like a fairly simple thing to do but I’d recommend spending a little extra and just let them do everything.
The visa approval letter cost Rs. 2,600 per person, and the visa fee cost Rs. 1,650 per person.
We flew from Hyderabad to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) round trip on the international route, and flew from Ho Chi Minh city to Hanoi round trip on the domestic route. The idea was that you get a round trip much cheaper than a one way ticket, and Ho Chi Minh is much better connected than Hanoi so we went to Ho Chi Minh from Hyderabad, and then flew to Hanoi after a break of three hours or so which was more than enough to do the immigration, switch over from the international to domestic airport, do the check in at the domestic etc. This can be a little tiring, but nothing too daunting.
Here is the ticket cost per person:
- Hyderabad to Ho Chi Minh and back: Rs. 21,213 per person
- Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and back: Rs. 8,832 per person
So, roughly Rs. 30,000 to visit these two cities. Hanoi is the more touristy city in the north, and you can go to Sa Pa from where which is a very beautiful place, and if you had to just do two things then you need to go to these two places.
Ho Chi Minh is in the south and is less touristy, and the main attraction here is the shopping. If that is not of interest to you then you can skip Ho Chi Minh. I would definitely recommend going to all of these places though (Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Sa Pa) as each of them is a unique experience, and well worth a visit.
Here is what we did:
- March 25 2017: Hyderabad to Ho Chi Minh (Flight: AirAsia; Stopover: Kuala Lumpur)
- March 25 2017: Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi (Flight: Vietnam Airlines)
- March 27 2017: Hanoi to Ha Long Bay and back (Day Trip)
- March 28 2017: Hanoi to Sa Pa (Overnight Train)
- March 30 2017: Sa Pa to Hanoi (Overnight Train)
- March 31 2017: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (Flight: Vietnam Airlines)
- April 2 2017: Ho Chi Minh to Hyderabad (Flight: AirAsia; Stopover: Kuala Lumpur)
If I had to re-do this I would not go to Ha Long Bay, and spend another night in Sa Pa instead. Ha Long Bay is the most visited place in Vietnam, and as a result is quite crowded, and I didn’t like it that much. Sa Pa was really, really beautiful and the highlight of our trip for me. I’ll write a little bit more about each of these places below.
What to do in Hanoi?
Hanoi is great to eat street food, I tried octopus and various other fried foods in the street. There were musicians playing and the night was very alive.
This lady played the violin so well, it was incredibly beautiful.
A post shared by Manshu Verma (@manshuv) on
The lake of the restored sword, and the temple therein is well worth a visit. Go some time during dusk and the bridge will reflect beautifully off the lake.
Hanoi had lots of other things to offer, the French Area was quite nice, and so were all the restaurants we visited.
What to do in Sa Pa?
Sa Pa is incredibly beautiful and easily the highlight of the trip. We just stayed one night, but if I go again I will do two or three nights.
The place we stayed was very unique and beautiful and I highly recommend Eco Palms as the bungalows there are quite unique, and situated right at the rice terraces. The view you get from there is simply breathtaking.
A post shared by Manshu Verma (@manshuv) on
Eco Palms can get pretty fully booked so if you haven’t been able to reserve a place here be sure to book some place in Sa Pa that is away from the city, there is nothing to do in the city, and you don’t want to be amongst all the crowd.
A great thing to do while in Sa Pa is to go on a tour with Ethos Spirit. You can do a little hike for a few hours and have an experience of visiting the houses of one of the ethnic minorities that live there, and share a meal with them. You buy the ingredients before hand, and then sit and talk around the fire while they cook. This is a really unique experience, and I very highly recommend it.
These two Hmong ladies prepared our meal. Gang is on the left and she was our guide as well. Very witty and spoke perfect English. There were six of us in total and you can see six rice bowls and a number of other dishes. The way you eat is to take some veggies from the bowl directly using your chopsticks and eat it or mix it with the rice in your bowl and then eat it. You don’t worry about double or triple dipping. Everything was cooked very simply and it was very delicious and very fresh.
We took an overnight train from Hanoi to Sa Pa and back, and it was quite a comfortable and pleasant journey. I recommend you take the train as well.
What to do in Ho Chi Minh?
Ho Chi Minh or as it was known earlier Saigon is a busy city, and we quite enjoyed the shopping there. There are a lot of big brands that have their factories in Vietnam, and as such you can get a bargain on a lot of these big brands like Burberry, all the sports brands like Nike, Adidas etc. The restaurants and street life here were quite nice as well.
How to exchange currency?
Vietnam uses the Dong, and you can get about 22,000 Dongs for a US Dollar. What we did was converted INR into USD at home using Book My Forex who deliver the forex to your doorstep and give a good rate as well.
Thereafter we converted some USD to Dongs at the airport, and then at various banks within the city. Surprisingly, the rate at the airport was much better than anywhere else so you can change everything at the airport itself.
How to get a Phone SIM?
We got a local phone SIM at the airport itself, and there are fairly cheap plans geared towards tourists who can buy a SIM for 30 days, and the data and minutes you get are quite enough. I recommend doing this at the airport itself.
Where to stay?
This depends on individual preference to a large extent; we stayed in AirBnbs in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, and they were quite comfortable and fairly cost effective. The two houses for a total of 8 nights cost Rs. 40,000 and very fairly lavish in good parts of the cities. A good option for anyone.
How to go around in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi?
Uber works very well in both these cities, and that’s what we used everywhere. You can just pay in cash, and not have to worry about anything. In most cases the Uber drivers spoke very little English but it caused no problems at all.
Language and People
The language in Vietnam is called Viet, and it is difficult for Indians to learn even a few words in it. A large part of this is because it is a phonetic language so the way you pronounce a word can alter its meaning. Having said that, we faced no problem at all on the language front, people speak English at a survival level almost everywhere and all the menus everywhere were in English as well.
In general, the people were extremely nice to us, and we got a lot of help wherever we needed it. Everyone was friendly, some people were chatty, and wanted to talk about Bollywood which made for a fun conversation. Not many Indians travel to Vietnam as of now so I got a feeling they liked to meet Indians and talk to them, and ask them what they think of their city. I can’t emphasize enough on how nice the people were everywhere. It added so much to our holiday.
Vietnam is not on the radar of many Indians right now, but I am sure that will change in the years to come. The place is beautiful, people are very friendly, getting the visa is easy, and it is fairly economical as well.
This was the first time my wife and I traveled to another country with friends, and having Anurag and Sasmita with us made the fun ten times as much, and also simplified a lot of things as you had someone to rely on for everything.
We thoroughly enjoyed our holiday, and I look forward to visiting Vietnam again.