Tuesday 18 June 2019

Vietnam... A Journey through Reunification Line.

When we visited Cambodia in 2014, our eyes were on neighboring Vietnam. This year we decided to travel through Vietnam from North to South. A country which was divided into North & South was reunified after a notorious war in which North Vietnam defeated USA and captured South Vietnam. Rail line connection Ha Noi in North to Saigon ( Ho Chi Minh City) in South is called Reunification Line!!!

13th May 2019, Ha Noi:
We departed from Kochi on the night of 12th May via Kuala Lampur and reached by noon on 13th May at Ha Noi, the capital of Vietnam. After our long flight we decided to rest in our hotel, which was located  right in the heart of Old district of Hanoi. Evening we walked to Long Bien Bridge
Long Bien Bridge
designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame). This bridge was the symbol of resilience of Hanoian people against Americans during the famous Vietnamese war.

14th May 2019, Ha Noi:
After breakfast we went for a walking tour of old city starting from Old city gate
Old City Gate
 then to Bach Ma Temple. From Bach Ma temple the city of Ha Noi started developing.

Bach Ma Temple exterior

Olivia, our daughter and self inside Bach Ma Temple.
 Then walked to Hoan Kiem Lake and onto St. Joseph’s Cathedral to name few.

Hoan Kiem Lake

St. Joseph Cathedral

15th May 2019, Ha Noi:
Today we went to see Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh (HCM), the father of Vietnam. Mausoleum opens at 0800Hrs on every day except Monday and Friday. Queue normally will be very long, so we reached  there by 0740hrs. This helped us to complete Mausoleum visit quickly, further we went to visit Ho Chi Minh’s house and office. 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Entry to Mausoleum is free, however there is entry fee of Vietnam Dong 40,000/ person to HCM’s house and office visit. 

way to mausoleum entry
Queue at Mausoleum.

Then we walked to visit Lenin memorial and on to Train street, where you can see the houses and the daily life of people along the railway lines. As and when the train comes they take everything inside like clockwork. 

House of HCM

Train Street

16th May 2019, Ha Noi:
Today we went to visit Bai Dinh Pagoda, which is the biggest Pagoda complex in Vietnam. It’s about 2 hour drive from Hanoi and worth a visit. 

Neema at Bai Dinh Pagoda

There are about 250 Buddhist statues at Bai Dinh Pagoda

After lunch we took a boat trip in Trang An. It was a beautiful ride and we  really enjoyed the nature. Being seafarer family we decided to avoid Halong Bay visit, instead opted for Trang An. 

17th May 2019, Ha Noi – Hue:
Today by noon we checked out of our hotel. Walked to Hoan Kiem Lake. Evening after having dinner we caught taxi to Ha Noi Train station (Ga Ha Noi).  of Ha Noi station.
Our train SE19 to Hue was at platform number 3. We had already booked a 4 Berth Coupe via internet. Train was on time and it was our first train experience in Vietnam. We decided to take a Train as it’s the best way to explore Vietnam, travelling with locals, experiencing landscape of the nation.

SE19 Train at Ha Noi station

Interior of our coupe.

18th May 2019, Hue:
Arrived at Hue railway station by 0940Hrs. This is the Heritage city and the ancient capital of Vietnam. We took a taxi from station to our hotel. Checked in by noon, rested and by evening we went for a walk. Here there are few streets which are kept as pedestrian only during weekend evenings, so we walked through, had some authentic Hue food called Banh Nam, Banh Loc, Bun Thit Nuong (Noodle with BBQ Pork)

Anyone looking for Authentic Hue food, I would highly recommend Quan Hanh  Packed with people and we had to stand in Queue!!!!

Quan Hanh Restuarent

19th May 2019, Hue:
Today was our daughter  Olivia’s birthday. During breakfast at our hotel they surprised her with a candle light Birthday cake !!!
Olivia's Birthday

After enjoying our breakfast we made our way to the Heritage citadel of Hue. When Hue was the old capital city, King’s palace and forbidden city was within the citadel. Though 90% of building were destroyed during American war, the remains itself is so majestic. This points out, how big the Citadel must had been. A must visit if you are in Hue. Photos will explain it much better than words.

Entrance to Hue Citadel

Inside Citadel
Inside Citadel

20th May 2019, Hue:
Day of relaxation, only by evening we ventured out for a walk to Big C mall,l then to have dinner at Quan Hanh. Today we had Hue speciality of Banh Beo ( steamed rice cake filled with fresh shrimps, dried fish etc) is taken with fish and chilli sauce. Second dinner item was Goi Cuon Tom Thit, it’s a Vietnamese fresh spring rolls filled with cooked shrimps, pork, rice noodles and herbs, and it was our last day at Hue.

Banh Beo

Goi Cuon Tom Thit

21st May 2019, Hue – Hoi An:
Today morning we checked out from our hotel in Hue, took a taxi to heritage town of Hoi AN. On  the way we stopped at the oyster farm then on to the most beautiful Hai Van Pass. Road passes through hill which kisses the sea. Lots of US – Vietnamese war took place here, US war bunkers can still be seen on Hai Van pass hills. After Hai Van Pass, we entered Da Nang city then on to the Marble Mountain.

Marble mountain is a natural mountain of marble with lots of caves with Buddha statues. By afternoon we reached our hotel in heritage town of Hoi An.

Oyster Farm

Hai Van Pass

US Bunkers at Hai Van Pass, reminders of US- Vietnam war

A cave inside Marble mountain.

Entrance to the cave on top of Marble Mountain.

Pagoda at Marble Mountain.

22nd – 24th May 2019, Hoi An:
Hoi An was the heritage port city of Vietnam where Japanese, Chinese and European etc had business interest, some settled and left their imprints here. Entry to old town is restricted by ticket, its VND 120,000/ pax. This ticket also gives entry to selected 5 heritage building of the old town. We selected Japanese bridge build by Japanese settlers to connect with Chinese settlers on other side. Chinese settled on basis of their Province of Origin. Each had their own assembly hall. We visited assembly hall of Fujian Chinese congregation. 

Third visit was to Tan Ky House, which was build by wealthy Vietnamese Tan Ky family. . Further Cantonese Chinese assembly hall and Pottery museum which was an original house in Hoi An. As we were staying near to the heritage town, it was nice to spent time walking.

Japanese Bridge

Tan Kay House

Fujian Chinese congregation Assembly hall

Pottery Museum.

Cantonese Assembly Hall entrance.

Night at Hoi An street

25th May 2019, Hoi An – Da Nang – Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City):
Today by noon we took taxi from Hoi An to Da Nang railway station to catch 1330 Hrs train to Saigon. Train was delayed, so it arrived by 1345Hrs and departed by 1400Hrs. 
Da Nang Railway station.
Here we took a 4 berth coupe and after 2 stations we had a Vietnamese lady passenger to Saigon. She was good in English, so we came to know more about Vietnamese culture & life. She was working & living in Saigon and even shared her dinner with us. I think this is the beauty of travelling by Train or bus in any nation rather than flying, you get a chance to interact with people. By 2000hrs we went to sleep, as our train will be reaching Saigon by 0600Hrs the next day.

26th May 2019, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City):
Morning by 0515 Hrs we all got up, in Vietnam Sun rises by around 0520Hrs. By 0600Hrs its really bright. Train reached Saigon Station by 0615Hrs. Train station is still called Ga Sai Gon. 
Sai Gon Railway station.

We got taxi to hotel. Relaxed in the afternoon, by evening walked around.

27th May 2019, Saigon:
Today we started our tour of visiting historical places in Ho Chi Minh City.
First place was Independence (Reunification) Palace: This palace stood in the place of Norodom Palace build by the French for their Governor General. When French departed and Vietnam was divided into North & South Vietnam, Norodom Palace became the house of  the South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. He was very notorious and his own troops bombed the palace to kill him. They were unsuccessful but President ordered to build a new Palace with bomb shelters and bunker. This New Palace was named as the Independence Palace and played a crucial role in American supported South & communist North Vietnamese war. On 30th Apr 1975 North Vietnamese communist tanks rolled into this palace and they hoisted North Vietnamese flag (what is now Vietnamese flag) and named it as Reunification palace. It was turned into a museum and time stood still as in 1975. 

Reunification (Independence) Palace

On the terrace of Reunification palace.

Next place was Norte Dame Cathedral. Build by French.  Then on to Central Post Office . Opera House . People’s committee Building .

Notre Dame Cathedral

Central Post office
Opera House

People's Committee office.

Statue of Ho Chi Minh in front of People's committee office.

28th May 2019, Saigon / Mekong Delta:
Today we went for Mekong Delta tour. Picked up from our hotel at 0800Hrs. We drove to Vinh Trang Pagoda, it stands out with a different architecture. There were status of sleeping, laughing and Lady Buddhas. 

Vinh Trang Pagoda

Sleeping Buddha at Vinh Trang Pagoda

Then on to Mekong delta for a Motor boat ride and a canal boat ride. We felt this was more of a tourist trap, we had to tip for each and everything. In short I can say that the Mekong delta tour done at Cambodia was much... much better.

Boats at Mekong River.

By 1600hrs we were back at our hotel. 

29th May 2019, Saigon / Cu Chi Tunnel:
Prasad on top of captured US tank.

With Viet Cong Lady warrior.
Today was our day to Cu Chi tunnels. These tunnels are ranging about 250Km and has an important role in defeating Americans during the Vietnam war. 
Entering Cu Chi Tunnel

With Viet Cong Soldiers

Listening to our guide!

After Cu Chi tunnels we went to visit the War Museum. It’s really worth visiting. I would highly recommend visiting War Museum after Cu Chi Tunnel visit.

Captured US war machines displayed at War Museum.

30th May 2019, Saigon:

We have kept this day for shopping. We went to Ben Thanah market and Saigon Square. Bargain as much as you can but with a smile. Close to Saigon Square there is high end shopping mall named Saigon Centre. 

Ben Thanah Market, interior

Saigon is having largest Motorbike concentration in the world.

31st May 2019 Saigon to Kochi:
It's time to say bye to Vietnam. We departed from Saigon by evening to Kochi via KL. Lord has protected us throughout our journey. Not even a drop of rain water has fallen on our body though it used to rain quite often.

Good bye to Saigon & Vietnam.

Tips for Vietnam travelling :

1. ATM: Best ATM to withdraw cash with minimum bank transaction charge is "Agri bank" ATMs.
2. Cash is King. In North & Central Vietnam Hotels add 3% surcharge if paid by card. While in South Vietnam there was no problem with card payment.
3. Normally all North & Central Vietnam hotels quote tariff in USD. It's better to Pay cash in USD, otherwise we will be loosing on currency exchange rate Quoted by hotels. South Vietnam rates are mostly quoted in Vietnam Dong (VND) hence there is not much an issue there.

4. To book train tickets in Vietnam, please use baolau.com Very reliable.