This article A trip seemingly long overdue, eventually getting confirmed at the drop of a hat. A colleague mentioned the idea, another colleague seconded it and I jumped on the bandwagon. Before we know it, the plan for the 3 of us to spend Christmas and New Year in Vietnam was official.
Nearly 2 months of anticipation for this journey began with 2 hours of a flight delay at Mumbai airport. Eating into almost the entire duration of our layover of the connecting flight at Kuala Lumpur, fatigue and frustration were evidently settling in and justifiably so. Granted, it did not warrant storming up to the flight transfer counter and banging our passport on the table demanding the next available flight. All that got my friend was an apparent lesson in how ‘respect breeds respect’ and a suggestion to step aside and let the other 2 of us do the talking.
With the next flight being in 5 hours and we been given 30 Malaysian Ringgits each (compensation to feed ourselves) we were on our way to explore the airport. Or shall I say to spend creatively the excessive time we had on our hands. Going counter to counter searching for vegetarian food, eventually attacking Burger King (we would do this a lot subsequently on the trip as well) and meeting a friendly diamond merchant from Surat along the way, finally it was time to board that flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
We were finally here! It was late evening by the time we eventually reached and after negotiating all the formalities, especially immigration (where our names would be pronounced in ways even we didn’t know were possible), we were ready to hit this city. Little did we know, the 45 minute cab ride to our hostel would be one in which we would speak more in Hindi than we probably do in an entire day back home. The driver was not a big fan of Indians (to put it mildly) and it felt like a really long ride with us hilariously reconsidering our safety at every turn.
At last, we arrive at Vitamin Smiles hostel (we booked via hostelworld.com). A bunch of happy souls enjoying barbeque and beer right at the doorstep and incredibly friendly hosts greeting us in. We reached our dorm with only one thing on our minds, crash!
Refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we were ready to genuinely begin this vacation. Breakfast didn’t exactly go as planned, some Vietnamese delicacies smelling too strongly for our liking, so the nearest grocery store was the next destination. Bread, butter and some cold cocoa yielded the utmost satisfaction. Covering the length of the market was not enough when it came to finding the traditional Vietnamese hat, we were never giving up though.
With an evening flight to catch, a little disappointment crept in when we realised we weren’t going to have the time to visit Cu Chi tunnels, the spot which had been on our itinerary since the very beginning. We decided to head to the nearest market square, and boy was that a good decision. Sandwiched between experiencing the most amazing cheese tarts from Bake and sipping on refreshing bubble tea, was our lunch at a delightfully enchanting place, Cafe Terrace. Discovering Desperados (a beer infused with tequila!) at a local bar and it was time to head back and catch our flight to Hoi An.
Another flight delay ensued. We were probably getting used to it by now.
Nonetheless, by midnight, we arrived in Da Nang airport and would soon head to Hoi An in what turned out to be the scariest cab ride of our lives!
Pitch dark, not a living creature on the streets and no other vehicles heading in the same direction either, we somehow managed to find our hostel. An almost invisible board bearing the name Golden Lantern home stay affirmed that we had reached the right destination.
Initially, it seemed like this hostel was not going to be a good experience. From fairly open slots in the door and windows to being berated in Hindi by so called neighbours for talking too loudly, not the best start. As it turned out, Hoi An would be the best place we visited on this trip.
The main market of Hoi An had everything. Drought beer for embarrassingly low prices, good food, a plethora of options to shop from and most of all, a vibe and scenic beauty about it which mesmerized us. The ‘Land of Lanterns’ was duly lit with innumerable lanterns of various shapes and sizes. As evening descended on Christmas eve, it was time to find a place for drinks and dinner to celebrate. We cane across an extremely amicable hostess with a smile that could melt hearts, and next thing we know we were sitting in her restaurant.
Cocktail buckets, interacting with other tourists and singing old Bollywood songs on the porch of the restaurant like there’s no tomorrow. On being reasonably drunk, video calling our friends in India who I’m sure could feel the love and notice the inebreation through our eyes.
The lure of the market was too strong for us to battle, we ended up going again the next day. It felt like a seige on the place as all the world’s shopping necessities were fulfilled. Checking off the touristy to-do list by visiting the Prison Museum in Hanoi and tripping from one side of the city to another, it was time to leave before we even knew it. A fearful welcome to Hoi An was culminating into a tearful goodbye, especially when the owner of the hostel wished us Merry Christmas by gifting us the most beautiful lanterns. Didn’t want to leave but had to, next on the agenda, Halong.
Next up on our itinerary was…wait for it in part 2. Hope you enjoyed reading this and do come back for the rest.
Note: This article has been shared by Prateik Sachdev, my dear friend who you can see in the pictures above. Prateik, Mishika Poddar and I (Zabeen) went to Vietnam together and had a ball! An exemplary writer, we are grateful for Prateik’s contribution to keep our blog updated.