Backpacking Vietnam

Reminiscent of the old world, Vietnam exudes a charm that will easily make you feel warm and welcome. This is a country that has seen devastating wars but has since been able to lift itself up and in the true sense of the word, prosper. However, what makes the country special is its strong attachment to its past. While the rest of the world has moved on to being highly mechanized, Vietnam doesn’t just hold on to its good old ways, but also cares to showcase it to the world as its specialty. Be it the food they serve, the tours they offer, the art they present or the places they preserve.

In some ways, we didn’t feel much away from home. But it was certainly an exciting 15 days of my life, a change that I would be up for any day! Here’s where we have been backpacking across the country:

Noi Bai International Airport

Among the eleven international entry points to Vietnam (3 if you are trying to catch a direct flight from India) if you are flying into the country, Hanoi is certainly the best way to start your travel and highly recommended.

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Vietnam Visa Process

Vietnam offers a pretty straightforward e-visa facility. However, we opted for visa-on-arrival. Choosing where to apply from could be confusing. There are dozens of websites that offer you a visa-on-arrival application, and the price ranges from US$ 6 to US$20. We took our chances with and it worked! We paid $6 per head for a stay of 30 days. Once we got down at Noi Bai International Airport, we submitted our application at the visa stamping desk and a US$25 stamping fee and we were done!

Vietnam Currency Exchange

Another important thing before you get ready for your Vietnam Travel would be the currency. Thankfully, we had already collected some Dongs (Vietnamese Currency) even before we boarded from India. This was at zero-exchange rate, thanks to a friend who was coming back from Vietnam. However, we did pay a considerable sum for stacking up our estimated dollars. We had no idea that there was a zero-commission currency exchange counter just after you finish the immigration process and have picked up your baggage towards the exit gates. That was a loss for us but doesn’t have to be for you!

Getting into the City

It could take some time getting acquainted with the currency rates and how much you are paying hereon. Bargaining is a skill that would be very handy across Vietnam but you also need to do the quick calculations! It will take a day and a few dollars of losses but it would be a learning experience! Consequently, we took a cab from the airport to our Airbnb in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarters. It was fixed rate and took us US$22 for the ride but we did get to travel in a Camry!

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Nearly 6 months of research and consequent bookings ensured that we had a well-planned timeline and it was beginning to show the results. Gecko Homestay was the perfect welcome you could ask for! Located right at the center of the Old Quarter area, we were at walking distance from the best of Hanoi.

Well, firstly is getting dinner, and we were ready to be adventurous! We were at a meat-lovers paradise and if you are not open enough to try the platters, it will be a loss! Just about 10-minutes walk from our homestay; the Ta Hien Street was the perfect spot. For us, it was quail egg fries, pork sausages, seafood noodles and a glass of locally brewed Tiger Beer each! Scrumptious and so very filling. We were just easing into the extraordinary!

Food is among the top experiences in Vietnam and I have a separate blog dedicated to it. Consequently, I would be focusing on the places to see from now on.

Day 2 and we had reserved it to explore the city.

Hanoi Train Street - The first hunt was for the infamous Hanoi Train Street. The tracks passed through some very colorfully lit and decorated cafes but it was the adventure of a train passing by when you are sipping coffee just a couple of meters from a running train that had made this part of Hanoi famous. Sadly but thankfully, the Vietnamese Government had decided to close down the tracks recently as tourists got hurt in the excitement of taking selfies before oncoming trains! The cafes still exist along the tracks but it’s safer now and rightly so!

As my friend Asmit would say, one special thing about Vietnamese people is that they are good at spotting opportunities and making money out of it! It looks good in the pictures, especially with those incredible Instagram filters but why the hell would you build a café so close to a train track!

Ho Chi Minh Statue - Uncle Ho, the father of the country, gets a monumental space outside the city hall. It’s a 20 minute walk from the Old Quarter area but walking is also the best way to explore any city. While the statue itself is not the top attraction, you got to have some respect for the precious representation.

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Hoan Kiem Lake - Walked too much and need a breather? The HoanKiem Lake, again not too far away is an amazing spot to sit back and see the sunset. There’s also a temple (Turtle Temple) at the center of the lake and it is frequented by both tourists and locals.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral - Now, this is to be visited after the sunset. During day, it’s a plain architecture and has nothing too interesting about it. After the dark, however, changing color projections make this a good structure to see and photograph.

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Vietnam Museum of Ethnology - We had some time to kill and we took our chances with this. The museum, obvious to its purpose, showcases unique cultural exhibits, ranging from articles of ethnic significances to masks for séances. The outdoor complex too offers a couple of good spots to walk around and have an experience of Vietnamese tribal culture. However you got to take a cab to reach this place. We booked on Grab, a mandatory ride booking app for your city travels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Temple of Literature - Just a couple of kilometers from the Old Quarter area, the pagodas are incredible here. Sprawling across a huge area, it showcases the well preserved ruins of the Vietnamese Imperial Academy, the first National University for the country, dating back to 1070! It’s among my must see places in the city.

Everything else in Hanoi was about food! (This will be covered in a separate article).

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