I gifted myself a backing trip to South East Asia (Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) after taking the bold step of quitting my job as a software engineer. I chose budget destinations for my backpacking trip as I wanted to travel for 5 long weeks, without having any income in my account for almost a year since then. I was very excited about spending maximum time in Vietnam as I could relate the diversity of this country to India. From north to south, Vietnam has diverse landscapes ranging from mountains, deserts, heritage sites, dense forests, river delta, coastal stretches, islands and tropical lowlands. While exploring the rich diversity and culture, adventure was also on my top list. I flew to Ho Chi Minh City and traversed from south to north covering the following destinations:
1. Vinh Long - River Island in Mekong Delta
Mekong River Delta in the south was my first pick in Vietnam after I landed at Ho Chi Minh City. There are 3 provinces frequented by tourists on the Mekong Delta - Bến Tre, Vĩnh Long and Cần Thơ. I chose to explore Vinh Long, approachable by bus from Ho Chi Minh City. A short ferry ride took me to a river island named An Binh on Tien river, in Vinh Long province. An Binh is a beautiful green island, inhabited by the ethic Viet. I stayed with the locals in a homestay, walked around the island to observe the simple lifestyle of locals there and took a boat ride to floating market of Cai Be.
2. Scuba Diving in Nha Trang
The seaside town of Nha Trang was a must-visit for me as it is the Scuba Diving centre of Vietnam. Nha Trang is one of the cheapest destinations for Scuba Diving certification. Being of the prime fishing location, this part of the country is heavily fished, and doesn’t offer great marine life sightings while scuba diving. But since I am already an advanced open water diver, I would love to take a dive in different parts of the world to upgrade my diving skills and experience. I was already spoilt by diving in the islands of Indonesia, Andaman and Lakshadweep. I was very happy to explore the dive sites of Vietnam that enhanced my experience of diving in strong currents. Nha Trang town has a laid back vibe with a beautiful bay, white sand beaches, bars and boutiques.
3. Hoi An - UNESCO World Heritage Site
To explore some heritage side of Vietnam, I headed to Hoi An - a UNESCO World Heritage Site influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Dutch architecture. I had a “love at first sight” affair with this chic town decorated with creative Vietnamese lanterns. It had chic garden cafes serving the Vietnamese coffee, which I rate the best I’ve ever had. I stayed in a homestay on the banks of a beautiful river that runs through the town. A short walk from my homestay through the fields took me to scenic beach with pretty mountains in the backdrop. The boutiques in the central town sold tailor-made first copies of all high-end brands, I was spoilt for choice! The central part of the town has charming cafes overlooking the river where artists play live music under the lantern-lit streets. I someday wish to go back to this town to live there for a few months admiring the beauty!
4. Trekking through rice terraces in Sapa
Sapa highlands in the north was another adventure destination for me in Vietnam. Located in the mountain range close to the Chinese border, Sapa is a picturesque town inhabited by Hmong - the ethnic Vietnamese tribe. I trekked upto Taphin village in the mountains and stayed overnight at a homestay with the ethnic Vietnamese locals, who looked like Chinese as it is very close to Chinese border. The family cooked delicious local food. This is where I learnt using chopsticks as it was the only available option! I had been escaping using chopsticks on all my trips to South East Asia all this while! The family walked me around the village showing me cherry blossoms and beautiful view points in the mountain range. The lady walked me to the main trail from where I hiked down to the town of Lao Can to take my bus to Laos.
Backpacking in Vietnam gave me varied experiences of trekking, scuba diving, heritage, culture, food, homestays and picturesque locations. I haven’t done justice to the country as the country has a lot more to offer than the destinations I visited.
How to Travel to Vietnam:
I had taken the low-cost Air Asia flight from Mumbai to Ho Chi Minh City with a layover in Malaysia. I would also recommend to explore Kota Kinabalu if you wish to spend some time in Malaysia before heading to Vietnam. Budget Hotel in Kota Kinabalu can be booked through reliable hotel booking platform.
Visa requirements for Vietnam for Indians:
Vietnam has Visa on Arrival for Indian passport holders, with a visa approval letter which can be obtained through online application with any of the online agent platforms. Once you have the approval letter, the visa will be stamped on arrival. The agents have fixed application fee, however they can charge a surcharge if you need the approval letter during any of their holiday season (mainly during the Chinese year holiday season).