From breathtakingly beautiful mountain ranges to streets that are still nursing war wounds, Vietnam has lot to offer to visitors out to explore the southeast Asian country.
A land of wonders, the biggest cave in the world was discovered in Vietnam only 11 years ago.
You would need at least four days to explore and get a real taste of the country. Due to the north-east location, it would be ideal to board your flight from Kolkata and you would reach the Vietnam capital, Hanoi, in three hours. The two major international airports here are at Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. If you are making a short trip to Vietnam, you should plan your travel around Hanoi, a crowded city with several historical monuments, temples, and ponds.
Begin your Vietnamese trip with a visit to the Hạ Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site. You can take a local shuttle bus to the Hạ Long Bay.
The view from here is simply spectacular and it is unlikely that you would ever see a more beautiful sunset. Visitors will also get a chance to stay at the cruise ship overnight and enjoy some delicious seafood dishes made from freshly-caught fish. The chefs mostly follow Asian recipes.
Most visitors also seek to taste 'pho' – a popular food, native to this land. The pho is more like a soup or broth with rice noodles and meat. Along with pho, you can also bite into grilled fish on skewers.
Ho Chi Minh mausoleum
Next day, you can spend checking out the city of Hanoi. The first major site would be the mausoleum of Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. The mausoleum is located at Ba Dinh Square. Though popular among tourists, authorities have been able to maintain the mausoleum in all its sanctity.
The mausoleum stands on a sprawling space with flowering plants. The Ho Chi Minh complex includes the erstwhile presidential palace. A museum that houses vintage cars, and articles used by Ho Chi Minh such as his pens, and cot can also be seen here.
Another major attraction is the Tran Quoc Pagoda, a Buddhist temple. Situated in the centre of the city alongside a pond, the temple holds several intricate sculptures.
The remains of the colonial rule can be spotted at several spots in the city.
The Temple of Literature, situated right next to the Tran Quoc Pagoda, is testimonial of the modern thinking of this country's citizens.
This temple is dedicated to Chinese philosopher Confucius. This building complex built in 1070 is the first university in the Vietnam history. People from other provinces also pay obeisance at this temple before venturing out for higher studies.
A trip to the ceramic village in the Bat Trang would get you acquainted with the rural life of Vietnam. Traditional designs are inscribed into ceramic pottery. However, these artefacts are slightly expensive.
Motor bike for transportation
Public transportation in Vietnam is not just about buses and cars but also includes motorcycles. Motorcycle rides connecting different points in the city or between different cities are available in plenty.
Picturesque town of Sapa
You can take the train to Sapa garden city by 8 pm of day 2.
The jostling crowd at the railway station might remind you about the rush back home but the beautifully furnished compartments of the train offer a comfortable ride. As the metre-gauge train would traverse the distance slowly, you would get a good night's sleep. By morning, you would have reached the mountain ranges of north Vietnam. The landscape and the mountain ranges of Sapa might remind you about our own Simla hill station. Hoang Lien Son mountain range here is often referred to as the Asian Alps.
The tribes-people, who still wear their traditional attire, engage in terrace farming along the hilly areas and the blooming flowers and fresh vegetables are sure to woo you. Though scores of tourists visit this area for trekking, you would not find any garbage lying around.
The Sapa town has several posh hotels, offering the best of amenities. An amusement park is among the facilities set up for tourists at some distance from the rural land. Trekking and cable car ride are other attractions. But remember to carry your winter wear to Sapa, which is at a height of 4,921ft above the sea level.
Take back a car ride along the hairpin curves and you would better appreciate the previous night's train journey.
The biggest cave
The Son Doong Cave here is the biggest cave in the world. The cave, which was only discovered in 2009, has a deep jungle and even ponds. There are strict regulations on visitors entering the caves.
Several formalities and huge expenses are involved to go for this expedition.
While heading to Vietnam, do not expect the climatic conditions to be similar to that of neighbouring countries such as China, Thailand, or Taiwan. Cold conditions prevail in Vietnam normally. The cold would increase during the December-January months due to the slight drizzle.