A new year with plans bigger than yesterday, it was decided we’ll fly to this little South-Asian country off the west coast of the South China Sea, Vietnam, in January 2020.
More than a couple of documentaries, journals, and websites later, I booked a round trip flight from New Delhi to Saigon and a return six weeks later from Hanoi back to Delhi. It’s amazing how you can get a Vietjet return ticket for as low as 12000 INR or roughly 160 USD. It’s not very comfortable but gives other carriers a run for their money!
Flying above the sea
The gorgeous country has amazing ways of life, and during this time of the year, the lunar new year locally called Tet happens to be celebrated across the country. Our flight was before dawn, so the first light hit our windows minutes before touchdown, we flew through the ocean, thick, dense clouds hinting different shades of blue and yellow before sunrise. We crossed the beautiful Mekong River Delta, and then when finally we were hovering above Saigon, bright city lights would become a spectacle we had not expected.
Arrival at Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
After five hours of flying, we were here in Saigon, at the Airport. A decently managed one, the traffic was really low, due to the Tet holidays. And also, because of the ongoing COVID pandemic, tourism had begun taking a toll on itself. So, for us, it was almost no queueing at the Airport, and everything was fast and easy. Since it was holiday time, the town felt deserted. We have been told by a friend about the Tet holidays that you won’t see the town in its full glory, but then it’s only in Tet holidays you can see Saigon’s deserted streets. In District 1, the atmosphere was different, the neighborhood was buzzing with Cafes and hostels, but the rest of the district’s streets were empty. An otherwise buzzing city is at a pause during these holidays, so it’s an unusual feeling.
For getting a VISA, you have two options to take, one is the VISA on arrival, that you can have at the Airport itself, except that it could lead to some delays but the other, easier option is to get an e-VISA, we got ours from a website in the name Vietnamvisapro.net, it took four days to approve, and we paid some 15 USD per person for 3-month VISA.
At the Airport, you’d have to shell out a stamp fee of about another 25 USD, but the entire immigration process was super smooth, with few to almost no rush, and we were asked some basic questions. The entire process took about 1 hour of time.
Communication in Saigon
At the Airport, we purchased a local sim for about 8$, it offered 4.5 GB data per day for 30 days, even though we usually avoid getting the airport sim (obviously because of the unrealistic charges and taxes it bears) this one felt like a fair deal, I mean how expensive could 8$ get? Only to realize later that in the downtown, at the official store, we would be getting the same deal for an unbelievable 3$ (a great shocker and realization of how things work here at airports). Would we ever gonna learn from our experiences!
Most locals don’t speak English nor understand, so you’d often find difficulty in interacting without a Google Translate, but it’s still very workable with smiles and hand gestures.
The one good thing about buying an expensive SIM card from the Airport was that we could book our Taxi and no haggling for a price with Taxi drivers outside the Airport. In Vietnam, Grab is the local Uber, we booked one, and the chat feature in the app makes it easy to communicate with the driver. We told him our Pillar number at arrival, and the cab arrived in three minutes. The Taxi was comfortable, and the city looked very familiar with a lot of motorcycle traffic on the road, we felt at home.
Get a maps.me app handy, for amazing recommendations and hidden roads across the country but also be wary of Google Maps. The cities usually have a swarm of motorbikes (almost every adult has one), so crossing roads can be a real bummer on some rush hours of the day.
Nevertheless, it’s an experience too!
The show-stealer is the grab cabs (download this app), which is a local version of Taxi on demand, really affordable rates and can get you literally anywhere.
The local drivers often ask for fares that shoot up the roof, and little haggling skills can blast the balloon down to the ground, so it’s your call! But the people are really welcoming and happy-go-lucky. The nightlife of District 1 gets as real as it is, and in some areas, you’d literally be feeling like you’re part of a party street.
Who knew it would feel so homely in a foreign land, streets smelling of delicious food, big beautiful families sharing the table meals and landscape so unreal, they’ll make you go weak in your knees.
Vietnam is magic!