Everyone’s a ‘traveler’. It’s starting to become a bit of cliché when you ask most Indians what’s their passion. Most Indians are still enamored by the prospect of exploring the west like North America or Europe, the Middle East – good old ‘gulf’. Few Indians have ventured further beyond Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. One such country that is waiting to be explored is Vietnam.
Vietnam, apart from being a global travelers haven, is also one among the few places where Indians get visas on arrival and the Rupee is stronger against the Vietnamese Dong (Have I got your attention on the subject?). Travel from India will involve an eight hour flight with a layover in either Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand.
A Little about Vietnam
Located in South East Asia bordering China in the North, Laos and Cambodia in the West, Vietnam has a lot to offer in the form of scenic beauty from its mountains, hills, rivers, beaches in its cities, towns and villages. The weather might be a bit of a spoilsport on account of its geographic location. It rains daily so a sturdy umbrella, rain shoes and a rain coat will go a long way in keeping you dry as you explore the country. Climate is temperate and may be warm during the day for those unaccustomed to coastal heat.
The Wonder called Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, is a bustling city. What strikes you first when you traverse through Ho Chi Minh City is how clean, green and well organized the city is. Communism, rather remnants of it, are around you as is the French and American influence. As a tourist, it’s important to go to check out places of interest like:
- The Reunification Palace – a prominent government center during the Vietnam War.
- The War Remnants Museum – a gut wrenching and realistic presentation of the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War.
- The architecture and beauty of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
- The Saigon Post Office which is close by.
Vietnamese Food is to Die For
Travel makes everybody hungry and Vietnamese cuisine has a lot to offer in the form of flavor, colors and texture. All meals are mostly served with rice noodles or nice and with dipping sauces that are sweet, sour and spicy at the same time. Non-vegetarians will find themselves choosing from choicest meats, including game like crocodile, pheasant, snake, during all the meals of the day (not that they ever complain). Vegetarians and vegans, fret not for Vietnamese food does have a lot for you too. Ask for Buddhist food, they’ll understand and you can eat in peace. Interestingly, there are a lot of Indian restaurants around so when you’re craving for dal–chaawal, it’ll most likely be around the street corner. Beverages and desserts worth trying out are dragon fruit wine, rice wine, egg coffee- think coffee with eggnog, coconut custard, and coconut ice-cream. Don’t skimp on eating locally available fruit like dragon fruit, rambutan, mangosteen, and star apples which are fresh, rich and available on all breakfast buffets and as dessert options.
Street food in Vietnam is a must. Wander around Ben Thanh Market and you will find a multitude of hawkers selling a myriad of street food that range from colorful sticky rice, waffles, cookies, okra to clams, cockles, escargot and finally offal like chicken feet. Be adventurous and try them out.
You cannot leave Ho Chi Minh City without eating Banh Mi. Banh Mi deserves a separate and worthy mention for it is a Vietnamese sandwich where fresh crunchy French baguette is slathered with butter and liver pate, filled with all kinds of cold cuts like ham, spam, along with fillings like shredded pickled carrots & daikon, fresh cilantro, jalapeño and crispy cucumber. It is quite a mouthful and full of fresh and meaty flavors. Extremely affordable and available in different combinations at different providers, Banh Mi is one of those staples that no seasoned traveler can leave without trying it.
The Coffee and the Cafes
Ho Chi Minh City streets have a very dominant coffee drinking culture so it’s not uncommon to see cafes at every street corner filled with locals downing their daily pick-me-ups. Coffee aficionados will love Vietnamese coffee served in various blends, both hot, cold and iced. My personal recommendation is the Ca phe sua da– strong sweet iced coffee mixed with condensed milk. The best part is that all local coffee concoctions are extremely affordable and is thus a coffee lover’s paradise.
Nightlife in Vietnam
Nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City is something different altogether. District One is the place to be where bars line the street for patrons to come in, sing karaoke, munch on grub and down beer. What’s interesting are the pavement bars where locals dressed in their finest garb sit on low stools and plastic tables and talk and drink the night away. Food and drink is cheaper in a pavement bar and the locals seem to enjoy the atmosphere far better there than being ‘cooped up’ inside.
Apart from the bars, restaurants and karaoke bars, a fun thing to do get done for the ladies is to go a salon and get your hair and nails done. Vietnamese salons are open until three in the morning and the service is extremely speedy, efficient and economical. Massages are also a viable option. Get your fix of every kind of massage- Thai, Swedish, Balinese, Indian, – you name it and they have it. All of them do require prior appointments and the experience is akin to being treated like royalty.
No Indian’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City is complete without a mention of where to shop. Ben Thanh Market is a shopper’s kingdom filled with little kiosks where sellers showcase their wares. You will be taken in by the beautiful fabrics, the lacquerware, the handmade books, quilling merchandise, purses and several souvenirs. Remember to bargain hard because most of it is priced higher than mark up and you can get the best deal if you’re a skilled negotiator.
Time spent in Ho Chi Minh City will have you fall in love with its effortless laidback yet vibrant culture. You will leave a part of your heart in Ho Chi Minh City and you will return again to relive and experience the va va voom of Vietnam.
About the Author –
Marsha Lewis is a hedonist and a lexophile. Being the first person to read the daily newspaper before anyone else, solving the daily crossword correctly while drinking a warm cup of masala chai is her daily accomplishment and Zen moment. If not for a financially fulfilling career in Learning and Development, Marsha would have been an English language teacher. Also, Marsha dislikes illeism i.e. referring to oneself in the third person instead of first person.