This post is in continuation of the Siem Reap, Cambodia trip post shared by Subarna. (Read about Siem Reap here)
The journey continues to Hanoi
After Siem Reap in Cambodia, our next destination was Hanoi in North Vietnam. Hanoi greeted us with a beautiful weather and some fluffy clouds while we landed safely. We were Indian passport holders and had an invitation letter from Vietnam, which we had applied online. As per the immigration rules, we were supposed to get ‘visa on arrival’ by presenting the invitation letter and our passports. The visa application queue was exceedingly long and the immigration department understaffed. We had to wait for more than an hour to get our passports stamped before heading off to our hotel, “L’Heritage Hanoi.” As it was late and we were tired, soon we surrendered to the comfort of our beds.
Halong Bay, how can you be so picturesque!
Next morning, after having a sumptuous breakfast, we headed off to explore the exquisite beauty of the Halong Bay, in the company of our guide. ‘Halong’ (meaning ‘descending dragon’) is a UNESCO world heritage center and the most popular travel destination in Hanoi. The bay features thousands of limestone karts and isles in various shapes and sizes. Apparently, the limestone in this bay has gone through 500 million years of formation in different conditions and environments. You will only believe that limestone formations can be so beautiful, once you visit Halong Bay.
Our guide drove us to the main dock from where we boarded our cruise and slowly sailed deep into the bay. At every turn, we were awestruck and mesmerized. Words felt scarce to describe the beauty of the bay. The bay was like a fairy tale and the early morning mist made it more surreal! We were lost in the beauty, every limestone had its story to divulge, and the deeper we sailed, the further we felt from the real world.
The staff in our cruise not only treated us well and served us some fantastic Vietnamese food, but also played musical instruments and sang for us. Such great hospitality can only come from the heart.
We were overwhelmed, content and happy. At one point during our sailing, we were harbored at the ‘Dong Thien Cung’, where we walked a while to get inside a world of stalactites and stalagmites.
Nature can be like that mysterious lady who enfolds her charms slowly as you get to know her. The world of the stalactites and stalagmites had funny virtual images, and the tourist guides had a fun time explaining those imaginative structures to us, with their sheer creativity and knowledge. Worth mentioning one of the stones did look like Santa Clause and I wish I could ask him the gift of stopping time forever at that moment.
After viewing the bay more thoroughly in small boats rowed by the locals, we cruised back to the main dock, and by sunset, we reached the dock. A day spent so well and in such a luxurious way, where we were pampered with food and beauty, had to end with one of the most beautiful sunsets. Did the setting Sun bless us with that wonderful day or was it just my mind thinking that some days in your life are worth a lifetime!
Hanoi, the foodie haven!
The next day we decided to explore Hanoi city. I can describe the city in two words – Food and People! Wherever we went, we were beckoned by delicious food and kind-hearted souls. The city tells its story through the eyes of its people. The Vietnamese touched our hearts, and their food filled our tummies! Hanoi is also a shopper’s paradise, starting from street side shops to the big malls. Such contemporary magnificence this city has! We also went to watch the famous ‘Water Puppet show,’ however, I won’t put it in the ‘must-watch’ bucket. I would like to talk a bit more about Vietnamese people here, as to how beautiful they are from inside their souls.
They smiled with warmth and spoke as a friend would. They were not the richest in the world, in fact, they worked hard to earn their living but had no complaints with life. For them, life was good, and life was that very moment, when they were thankful, that they are alive. Kudos to such souls.
Figure 9: A beautiful Vietnamese lady selling hand woven bags on the streets
Hoan Kiem Lake is the focal point for the public, and the is the main attraction in the city. We spend some quality time by the lake, and it seemed that the entire town is circled this lake.
We also took a tour around the lake in a ‘rickshaw,’ which is a three-wheeled vehicle used as the main means of transport inside the city by the tourists.
Another interesting thing in Vietnam was the number of zeros in their currency Dong! At least for once in our life, we were millionaires! There were individual notes worth 50,000 and even 500,000! We had gone insane just paying millions of ‘Dongs’ for our shopping, and we shopped till we dropped almost literally.
To conclude, I’d say Hanoi is a city which is naturally beautiful, and the people make it even more worthwhile to visit. Halong Bay, the city, the food, the people and my best friend, together made my journey complete. Vietnam, you have touched our hearts in many ways and will see again someday. Until my next destination, signing off….keep traveling!
Some travel tips at hand
- The main currency used for transaction in Hanoi is Vietnamese dong where 1 USD = 22,000 Vietnamese dongs (approx.)
- There is an online e-visa letter facility for Indian passport holders – http://www.visa4vietnam.com/apply-now#/
- Some good hotels can be found in http://www.booking.com/
- The hotel we stayed and which was worth it with amazing breakfast (included) – http://www.hanoilegacyhotel.com/hanoi-l-heritage-hotel ; The hotel has a concierge, and they arranged all the day tours, just send them an email before you travel, and they will arrange all the trips. They have the friendliest staff I have ever experienced
- Must watch –
- Halong Bay
- The museum and city sight seeing
- Puppet show (optional)
- Rickshaw can be used as the means of conveyance within the City
- Food – Have the local food but avoid too much street food. Phó is one of the main dish to try, so don’t forget to taste Phó
- North Vietnam: Where Nature Beckons - April 4, 2017
- A Beautiful Cambodia Trip: Two Girls’ explore the People’s Place - February 14, 2017