Have you ever felt like the noose was tightening around your neck? You want to breathe, but you fear you can't! Well, if you ever did have this feeling, then just pack your damn bags and run towards the light! At least that's what I did ????
The criteria was simple:
* Not a rupee more than 70000. So, it obviously had to be a budget trip
* 6 days only (thanks to our amazing work- life balance) Do sense the sarcasm in my words!
* Experience over luxury
* Explore and learn and learn and learn!
The obvious choices for Indians when it comes to a budget trip are Bali, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam etc. I had already visited the first two countries, so the option was simpler. However, there was some major confusion between Cambodia and Vietnam. After a lot of research and deliberation, me and my group of friends narrowed it down to Vietnam. The usual recommendation is to cover Cambodia and Vietnam together, as they are neighbouring countries. But after further discussion with our wallets, we decided to settle for Vietnam!
Flights: The obvious choice was Thai airways. It fit our budget and none of us wanted to compromise on travel comfort, as this could make or break our entire travel experience. Plus, our itinerary required us to start exploring the minute we landed, so a well rested journey was of utmost importance. We booked the 1:00 am flight from Bangalore. We had a one and half an hour layover in Bangkok, and ultimately reached Vietnam at 9:30 am(Vietnam schedule).
So what do we do: Because we were a group, the initial idea was to opt for a packaged trip. I personally detest such trips, because I feel they are too scheduled and controlled. However, we were a group of mixed dynamics, so I figured that a packaged trip would meet all our requirements minus the clashes. As we took a dive through the packages, we figured that we would be able to plan a much better trip, for lesser the price. Some of the agencies were quoting INR 68000, and this was minus the visa expenses, dinner, lunch, conveyance within the city and Bangkok expenses! There was no way I was going for it! Hence began our journey of Tripoto, trip advisor, YouTube vlogs etc! Never ever plan a trip without researching on these mediums!
Some people prefer to cover North Vietnam in one trip and then return back for a second trip to South Vietnam. Unfortunately I belong to the group of travellers who aren't very sure of repeating countries. So, we hand picked the best out of south and north, and shortlisted the same as per our schedule. The result: Hanoi- Ha long bay- Saigon- Mekong delta- Cu chi tunnels.
For those wondering about Bangkok: Our return flight had a 10 and half an hour layover in Bangkok. Also, untill the 30th of April, visa for Thailand is free for Indians. Ka ching!
Visa: Although it is visa on arrival, you will have to apply for the approval letter at least a week or 2 before your trip. The website for the same is vietnamvisa.govt.vn/apply-online/. The fee for the same is 25 USD. You will get the approval via email within 3-4 business days. Apart from this you will have to pay an extra 25 USD for stamping fee at the airport. Please CARRY EXACT CHANGE!! They get grumpy if you don't. And pay only by CASH( dong or usd). They don't accept cards.
Money: The most important! Don't carry INR. Total waste. Carry USD and then convert it at the airport or at any of the travel agencies or gold stores in the streets. The general suggestion was to avoid a lot of currency exchange at the airport because of the bad rate, but we ended up getting a good rate at the airport in comparison! In March, the prevailing high rate was 23, 200 dong for 1 USD. Also, don't carry small denominations of USD. Most of the agents flatly refused to accept them for conversion. Always pay by dong. The vendors are sneaky and will confuse the crap out of you if you try to pay by USD. They round up values and you get too confused to figure out what's happening. It takes a day or 2 to figure out the currency game. Take utmost care while paying, because the notes for almost all the denominations are identical! You could accidentally give off a 1 million dong note instead of a 10000 dong note!
Conveyance: Please download Grab! It's an app for transport and is the best! It's like uber. Because of the language barrier, you even have the option to upload pictures of your pick up point. I can't stress on how useful this option was! Avoid airport cabs and regular cabs. They are a total rip!
People: The most amazing and polite people. They love Indians and they love "balika vadhu". They are so polite that I could have just hugged all of them for hours together.
Public restrooms: Never have I ever seen more cleaner restrooms than the ones in Vietnam. Very well maintained.