A Day in La Digue – Home to the Iconic “Seychelles Wallpaper”

You may have seen a place many times on TV, desktop wallpapers and screensavers. You might think that you won’t be awestruck, and it will seem familiar when you visit there. However, when you do see it in real life, it still takes your breath away! La Digue in Seychelles is one such place.

La Digue is a 10 min boat ride away from Praslin (read about how you can book tickets here). We woke up at 6:45am and took a bus to the Praslin jetty for our Cat Cocos boat which would leave at 8:45am. If you were feeling a bit sleepy when you got on the bus, you would be wide awake by the time you reached the jetty – it is crazy how fast these buses go on such narrow roads! We reached well ahead of time – thankfully, the water was very clear, and the fish kept us entertained.

The ride was surprisingly smooth (like the ones we had in Croatia). At the La Digue jetty, we picked up a couple of bicycles – the preferred mode of transport to explore the island.

We headed straight to the L’Union Estate – a colonial-era plantation and farm – also, home to some giant tortoises and the Anse Source d’Argent beach. We grabbed some breakfast at the Old Pier Café while enjoying the beach views.

Next stop, the tortoise farm. The tortoises here were huge – some were older than 100 years! People who say that tortoises are slow are not exaggerating – we tried feeding them some leaves, and it looked like they were moving in slow motion! One of them was nice enough to pose for a photo!

We then rode through vanilla plantations and reached the main attraction – Anse Source d’Argent.

Any amount of time here would feel like less – I’ll let the pictures do the talking now.

You can also go snorkeling here – if you’re lucky, a few fish may come all the way up to the shore to say hello! Here’s one of them who was consistently photobombing everyone. It kept coming really close to our feet as we walked in the water!

We left rather reluctantly as we didn’t want to miss our boat. We cycled around to the north of the island till the point where the road started going down a steep slope – we were in no mood to push the cycle back up that slope!

With just about an hour left, we grabbed some lunch from Mi Mum’s takeaway (the juice was so fresh and delicious that we converted more currency just to have more of it!) and some ice-cream from Glorious Bakery.

The boat picked us up at 2:15pm and we headed back to explore more of Praslin. If we would pick one beach out of all the ones we visited in Seychelles, it would no doubt be Anse Source d’Argent in La Digue!

For more details on how you can plan your trip to Seychelles, check out our blog here.

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Five Days in Paradise – Seychelles On A Budget!

Roughly a thousand kilometres off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean lies the island nation of Seychelles. With human occupation coming relatively late in the 16th century, Seychelles is a “young” country with a cultural mix of French, British, African and Indian influences. There are around 115 islands which consist Seychelles – these are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world as well as really diverse landscapes and ecosystems.

As we scoured the map for possible “5-day trip” destinations, we didn’t think beyond a domestic location initially. We happened to stumble upon Seychelles while looking for flights. It ticked all our criteria for a short trip – can be covered properly in a 5-day trip, cannot be clubbed with any other country nearby, Visa on arrival, a 4-hour flight – it was perfect!

Some quick research and bookings later, we were on our way. We were planning to visit three of the main islands – Mahe (which has the airport and capital – Victoria), Praslin (home to the Coco de Mer) and La Digue. So, let’s get started on how you can plan your perfect holiday in Seychelles!

Best Time to Visit

Being very close to the equator, Seychelles experiences warm climates throughout the year. Peak tourist seasons are December-January and July-August. The best months which are generally recommended are the shoulder months between the switching of the trade winds – April-May and October-November. The trade winds can also determine the amount of seaweed washing up on the beaches – keep an eye out for this if your hotel is on the beach.

We visited in early March and the weather was pleasant and perfect for a beach holiday!

Getting Around Seychelles

There is a direct flight of Air Seychelles operating from Mumbai – which is the one we took. You can also find direct flights from Dubai, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, South Africa and London (and some more locations).

Once you are in Seychelles, you can choose any of the following four modes of travel: flight, boat, bus and car.

Domestic Flight: You can fly from Mahe to Praslin (and back) on one of the tiny Twin Otter 19-seater planes operated by Air Seychelles. The flying time is hardly 20 mins and is definitely a ride worth experiencing! To reach other more remote islands, you can opt for charter planes as well.

The last time I sat on a plane this small, I jumped right out at 13,000 feet.

Boat: There are ferries operating between all the main islands – you can easily book them online here. It takes about 60 mins to travel between Mahe and Praslin. Praslin to La Digue is about 15 mins – the ride is so smooth that it gets over before you realize it!

Bus: There are buses running in Mahe and Praslin which you can climb on and buy tickets. Praslin is very simple – you either go around the island or take the route which cuts through the hill in the middle. Mahe is relatively bigger – grab a route map and get started. Buses are sparse and run on limited frequency during weekends – you can beat that by taking a car!

Car: One of the more preferred options to explore the islands is by renting a car. You can easily get one at the point of arrival – ferry jetty or airport (advance booking would be good as we found that most agencies run out of cars on the travel date). We went with Scenic Car Rental. It was a good decision as we discovered that our homestay was on the top of a steep hill and we would have struggled to walk all the way up! A car also gives you the flexibility to stop wherever you find a nice spot and explore the island better. We recommend this!

Visa and Currency

Indians have Visa on arrival at Seychelles along with 140+ more countries. So, you don’t have to worry about the hassle of applying for visas! The currency of Seychelles is the Rupee (SCR). 1 SCR = 3.5 INR as of Dec 2020 (it was 5.25 INR in March 2020 when we travelled).

How many days to spend in Seychelles?

The BIG question when it comes to any itinerary – how many days is good enough? For Seychelles, it depends on how many islands you’d like to cover. For Mahe, we would recommend atleast 2 days – you can spend upto 4 days for a relaxed vacation. Praslin is more laid back – you can spend 1-2 days here and add one more day for an excursion to La Digue. Our itinerary covered these 3 islands over 5 days. If you have more days in hand, you can visit the giant tortoises at Curieuse Island (day trip from Praslin), the Bird Island or the Cousin Island.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Mahe. We flew in from Mumbai. Fly to Praslin. Explore the beaches – details in our blog on the beaches and hills of Praslin and Mahe.

Day 2: Morning boat to La Digue. Explore the island on bicycles – this is a must-visit island and a one-of-a-kind experience. Say hi to the giant tortoises and the most photographed beach in Seychelles.

Back to Praslin and bus to Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve (home of the Coco de Mer). Explore more of Praslin (bus to Mt. Plaisir) and back.

Day 3: Boat to Mahe. Spend the evening exploring the Beau Vallon beach area.

Day 4: Explore Victoria and the local markets. Hike to the top of Morne Blanc. Enjoy a swim at Grand Anse. Have an authentic Creole lunch. Drive around the northern roads of the island.

Day 5: Explore the beaches in the south of Mahe island – Anse Intendance, Anse Royale. Complete the drive along the entire periphery of the island. Fly back at night.

You can pay a visit to the Takamaka Rum Distillery or visit some of the art galleries if time permits. There is also the Victoria Botanical Garden – you can check out the tortoises and Coco de Mer if you missed them on the other islands.

This should help start your planning for that long-awaited trip to Seychelles. You can read more about each of the islands and the must-visit places in our other posts – Mahe and Praslin, La Digue.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, please leave a comment below and we’d love to help! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Magnificent Angkor

The Angkor Wat temple is synonymous with the country of Cambodia itself. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat was constructed in the 12th century by Khmer King Suryavarman II. It is so iconic that the national flag of Cambodia has the temple depicted in its centre! Our primary objective of this trip to Cambodia was this.

Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire, and Angkor Wat is just one among many sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The park is spread across 400 square kilometres (including the forests)! You can easily spend an entire day exploring the park – if you are really into ancient temples and architecture, even 3 days can get by before you know it.

Entrance Fees and Ticket System

The ticket to the park – the Angkor Pass needs to be purchased at the official ticket counter. It is located about 4km away from the Siem Reap town. The counter opens at 4:30 am and you can buy tickets till 5:30 pm. You have the option of buying a 1-day, 3-day or 5-day pass. They accept USD, Riel and credit cards. If you buy a 1-day pass at 5:00 pm on a particular day, it remains valid for the next day as well – you can use this option if you want to avoid buying a ticket at 4:30 am!

We booked a tuk-tuk from our hotel and the driver, Nup, picked us up at 4:00 am.

The ticket counter was crowded even at that time – luckily, the lines moved fast, and we were quickly on our way to catch the sunrise! Also, we picked the 1-day pass and had made our plan for the day such that we covered all the main spots.

Angkor Wat

Our first stop was the main attraction – Angkor Wat. Our tuk-tuk rushed as fast as it could to one side of the moat (which outlines the temple) and we waited for the sunrise. It was very peaceful – even though we were accompanied by another 20-odd people who were also waiting for the sunrise, there was no sound as everyone was savouring the moment. A cool breeze was flowing – the temperature was at least a few degrees lower inside the park thanks to the dense forest cover. As the sky turned from dark purple to dark blue with shades of red and orange, we got our first glimpse of the silhouette of the temple. There were a lot of lotuses on the water. Oh yes, and the birds – with every minute, more birds of various kinds joined the morning chorus. It was a beautiful experience – worth waking up at 3:30 in the morning! We got some decent shots of the temple and once the sun was up, we proceeded to the temple.

Khmer King Suryavarman II dedicated this Hindu temple to Lord Vishnu and it depicts the mythical Mount Meru – the abode of the gods. There are 4 towers surrounding the central tower which are said to depict the peaks of the mountain.

You can find stories on bas reliefs throughout the temple – the battle of Kurukshetra and the churning of the Ocean of Milk (this one is truly epic!) are a few of them.

There are devatas and apsara motifs which still endure in their original splendor to this day.

We can only imagine the sense of wonder experienced by the French explorer, Henri Mouhot, who popularized this temple in the west. Think about it for a second – there you are, walking through dense forests, occasionally hacking through vines when – lo and behold – you come across this architectural wonder! Mind = Blown!

Pro Tip: there is a sunrise viewpoint inside the complex where you can see the temple in a reflecting pond. This place is insanely crowded, and you literally need to fight for space. Unless you are a professional photographer, we would recommend the view on the moat-side (where we went) instead so that you can enjoy the tranquil as well as the view.

What else to visit in Angkor / Planning your 1-day itinerary

There are many more spots which you can visit on the same day or split into multiple days. Some people prefer to leave once the sun gets too hot, chill at their hotel and get back for the evening. This totally depends on the amount of time you have. In our case, we had only 1 and we were on a 1-day pass. Here are some must-visits in the order that you should visit them:

Bayon Temple: As you leave the Angkor Wat area towards the Angkor Thom area, you will be greeted by a beautiful gate with enormous smiling faces and statues lining up the bridge over the moat. First stop – the Bayon temple. Located at the centre of this ancient city, the capital of King Jayavarman VII, this temple has 216 smiling faces of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (the king was Buddhist). Some people say that it is likened in an image of the king himself. Though it doesn’t look like much from afar, it is a splendid monument.

Baphuon: This temple is a three-tiered temple-mountain dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. It was almost entirely dismantled in the many years of religious upheavals (switching between Hinduism and Buddhism) and more recently the purge of the Khmer Rouge. Through the efforts and donations of multiple countries, sites like these are being restored to their original glory.

Terrace of the Elephants: This is a long terrace decorated with statues of elephants, lions and garudas.

Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda: Right outside the east gate, these temples are situated on opposite sides of the road. Worth taking a short stop to explore and take a few pics.

Ta Keo: Another temple-mountain depicting Mount Meru, it makes for a particularly steep climb up to the top tier.

Ta Prohm: This one is probably the most popular temple after Angkor Wat – the temple is completely overrun with trees. It made an appearance in the movie, Tomb Raider. The temple itself is in bad shape and is still in early stages of restoration.

Srah Srang: After a quick peek into Banteay Kdei, you can rest your tired feet at the Srah Srang lake. It is the prefect end to a long day of temple hopping and temple-mountain climbing.

Make sure you fix your itinerary with your tuk-tuk driver before you start the tour. Our driver skipped a few of these (we assumed we would cover it on the way back) but on reaching Srah Srang, he mentioned it was time to head back. But we insisted that it was part of the agreed tour plan and went back to cover the rest. And thanks to this, we got to redo our most favourite part of the trip – driving through the gates of Angkor Thom!

Time to head back to your hotel, have a nice hot shower and enjoy the nightlife at Siem Reap. For us, it was time to head back home to India after two amazing weeks spent in Vietnam and Cambodia.

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Cambodia – A Day in Siem Reap

The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated west of Vietnam in the Indochina peninsula of South-east Asia.

Our trip was a short and sweet one – we spent two days in the historical area of Siem Reap, home to the biggest temple complex in the world – Angkor Wat.

Getting There

You can fly into Siem Reap or come in by road from Phnom Penh. We took the Cambodia Angkor Air flight from HCMC, Vietnam (check out our Vietnam blogs here) – the airport was one-part resort, one-part temple and zero-parts airport.

Our tuk-tuk was waiting outside (the hotel had arranged a complimentary transfer for us as part of the stay).

Our plan was to spend the first day exploring the town and head out to the ancient city early morning on day 2.

Where to Stay

Cambodia is quite inexpensive, and you can easily find very good hotels for reasonable prices. With some bit of checking out websites and using coupon codes, you can get 5-star hotels for as low as US$ 85 per night. What this also means is that for US$ 35-50, you can get really good hotels as well. We stayed at Chheng Residence – it had nice rooms and was quite close to the Old French Quarter. Make sure you stay close enough to the Old Quarter so that it is easy to walk around and explore.

Weather

There are 2 broad seasons in Cambodia – dry (Oct-Apr) and wet (May-Sep). Oct-Dec is considered the best time to visit as the temperatures are moderate as compared to other times in the year. The moderate was not what we expected. After checking into our hotel, we stepped out to get some brunch. It was hot! After pleasant weather in Vietnam throughout, it felt like we had been dropped into a hot oven.

Most places were closed as it was past breakfast time and before lunch started. We found a cozy little place called Fresh Fruit Factory where we had smoothies and pancakes (a bit on the expensive side but very fresh and tasty stuff!). We also didn’t see many people around – this was the time of the day to enjoy the hotel and the pools and bathtubs. That’s exactly what we did – we headed back to the room and waited for the sun to go down.

Currency

Cambodian Riel is the local currency, but you can easily get by with USD. You will see price tags in supermarkets and menus in restaurants have USD mentioned and that’s what they prefer.

What to do in Siem Reap

The number one thing to do here is visit Angkor. But we’ll take that up in another post as it deserves one of its own. After sunset, we walked and explored the town. Here are some recommendations:

Walk/Jog along the bank of the Siem Reap river

Visit the night market (on the other side of the river – close to the Hard Rock Café) – really good place to pick up some souvenirs

Visit Pub Street – the place has a crazy party vibe

Get a massage – you could probably get one at your hotel too

Sample some Khmer cuisine – we ate at the Khmer Grill – the food was really good!

The insect eating frenzy is quite overhyped – try it out if you really want to, but not recommended.

Siem Reap is in many ways a signature “touristy” place and one day is enough to explore the city. You can make this a base location for a few day trips – the Angkor complex, Tonle Sap Lake and the Phnom Kulen National Park.

Check out our Angkor itinerary here.

If you have any questions on how to plan your trip, feel free to leave a comment! You can subscribe to our blog for all the updates and travel tips. For a lot more pics and stories about our latest travels, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Fantastic Vietnamese Food and Where to Find Them

If there is one and only one reason to go to Vietnam – it would be the FOOD! With a variety of dishes as you move from the north to the south, Vietnam is definitely a foodie’s paradise. You would have got an idea of how much we loved the food in Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City in our other blogs with our detailed city itineraries. If you only want to know what the best foods of Vietnam are and where you can find them, you are at the right place! Without further ado, let’s begin!

Pho: No Vietnamese food journey is complete without Pho! Rice noodles served with beef (sometimes chicken), herbs and delicious broth, it can be had as breakfast, lunch or (and) dinner. We had many versions of Pho – the ones we liked most were differentiated by the depth of flavour in the broth. The best bowl of Pho we had was in Hanoi at Pho Gia Truyen at 49, Bat Dan. This place is forever crowded, so make sure you reach there early in the morning (before 8am). We had to try twice before we got a seat!

We also had some really good Pho at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su.

We also had some really good Pho at Pho 10 Ly Quoc Su.

Bun Bo Nam Bo: Bun Bo Nam Bo is beef noodle salad. At first glance, it looks like a dry salad, but hidden below the delicious surface is an even yummier broth in the depths of the bowl. We had the one at 67 Hang Dieu – it was so delicious that we ordered an extra bowl and cleaned it up. The beef was tender and melt-in-the-mouth, the broth was delicious, and the herbs and noodles made it a nice round meal. We also tried one each of all the items on the menu (about 6 other items) – most of which were really good too. Highly recommend!

In HCMC, we had it at Bun Bo Nam Bo Ba Ba – it was really good, but once you have been to Hanoi, your standards are set really high! We also had a version of it at Vo Roof Garden in HCMC – we absolutely loved the ambiance, service and view from this restaurant – it is right next to the crazy building on Nguyen Hue Boulevard.

Banh Mi: Another iconic Vietnamese item, the Banh Mi is a baguette stuffed with meat, eggs, veggies or anything you like. While we had some amazing Banh Mis, we also had some really bad Banh Mi during our trip (one of which left me sweating and nauseous for half a day). Here are some options where you won’t go wrong with your Banh Mi:

Banh Mi 25, Han Ca, Hanoi: This is a café like setting serving up some tasty Banh Mi – try out the beef and cheese one.

Banh Mi Phuong, Hoi An: The one you will find in every travel blog and suggestion – it was good but not worth the hype. Time your visit before the day trip crowds reach Hoi An so that you don’t have to stand in a long line.

Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen, Hoi An: Yes, you read that right! Of the two famous Banh Mi places in Hoi An, we liked this one better. This one ranks slightly above the one we had in Hanoi.

Banh Mi Hong Hoa, 54 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, HCMC: The best out of the three Banh Mi places we tried in HCMC. This is slightly away from the city centre, so you can always order on Grab.

Xoi Xeo: Sticky rice with turmeric and a variety of toppings – we loved the ones with pork floss, chicken and fried shallots! This is a good option when you are on-the-go as it doesn’t have any broth or sauce (like most other dishes). We had some really good variety at Xoi Yen (35b Nguyen Huu Huan) in Hanoi. We also found a lady selling it on Hang Hom street in front of 44, Hang Hom. She sits in front of a shop early in the morning and sells out everything before it opens (be there before 8am). It was one of the simplest meals we had in the whole trip – turmeric rice topped with fried onions and pork floss – nothing fancy. We are not exaggerating when we say that it was one of the most satisfying comfort foods we had in the trip!

Egg Coffee: We had egg coffee at the famous Giang café on Nguyen Huu Huan (close to Xoi Yen). Now, we know there is a lot of debate around who serves the best egg coffee – without getting into that, we can assure you that the one served here is lip-smacking good! We ended up going here thrice in 2 days!

Bun Cha: It’s made of chargrilled pork balls served with spring rolls, vermicelli noodles and salad. The one of 74 Hang Quat, Hanoi is famous and that’s where we headed. It is more of a narrow alleyway than anything else, with people sitting all along both sides waiting for their bowl. It was good but we are not big fans of the extra char on the meat.

Mi Quang: A noodle dish with prawns, pork, quail eggs and rice crackers – this is simply a bowl of goodness! The best of this we had was at Mi Quang Ong Hai (6A, Truong Minh Luong, Hoi An). We were wandering about at night battered by heavy rain when we walked in here. The lady of the house was watching an Indian series dubbed in Vietnamese (Chanakya). She walked in and brought us piping hot bowls of Mi Quang and Cau Lau. It was tasty and homely and exactly what we needed!

Cau Lau: A noodle dish with pork, broth, crispy noodle squares and crackers. Try this out if you visit Mi Quang Ong Hai (6A, Truong Minh Luong, Hoi An). Rain + Cool Breeze + Hot bowl of Cau Lau = bliss!

Che: One thing that has been missed so far is dessert! The most popular one is different forms of Che – it typically has jellies, fruits, beans, coconut cream or milk, tapioca and some syrups. Sadly, it didn’t float our boat as it felt like a watered-down version of a kheer/payasam.

There are other foods which we liked but did not feature above in detail like the Banh Xeo (pancakes), Com Ga (chicken rice), Vietnamese coffee (black coffee with condensed milk) and spring rolls – do check them out if you have time and space in your stomach.

You will find many other hole-in-the-wall places with people sitting out on the road on tiny stools with bowls in hand. Some of these may not go easy on your stomach – so check out reviews before you go and take a seat (we had a few bad experiences, hence the warning).

We have visited about 20 countries together and this was the most food-crazy yet! One big reason why we want to go back to Vietnam. You can check out our other blogs on travelling around Vietnam and how to make the most of it.

Hope this helps you plan your trip better – do let us know in the comments below. If you like our blog, do share it on your social pages – the more the merrier! Follow us on Instagram for more pictures, videos and our latest travels at @fridgemagnet.tales

Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is an excellent base location for one-day trips in South Vietnam. We went for two such trips – Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta.

Day 1 – Cu Chi Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple

We booked this trip online through Get Your Guide. The pickup point was in HCMC District 1 like most day trips from HCMC.

The first stop was the Cao Dai temple where the religion of Caodaism was founded. This religion started in Vietnam as recently as 1926. It combines teachings from some of the major religions of the region – Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

You can also find Jesus and some Hindu Gods sculpted inside the temple halls.

We got to witness their prayer session in the afternoon where dozens of people congregated to chant the hymns. It was certainly a unique experience – it felt more like a cult than a religion – which got us thinking how every religion was a cult to start with!

The best part of the trip was our next stop at the Cu Chi tunnels. There are two sections of the tunnels which have been opened up to visitors – Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc. The first one is more touristy, and some parts of the tunnels have been widened for people to fit through easily. Ben Duoc would give you a better perspective on history as it is mostly preserved as is. We were lucky that our tour had the Ben Duoc section.

We spent almost 2 hours walking around the dense jungle and crawling through the tunnels. If you wish to understand how it was for the people here during the Vietnam war, this will give you a better sense than any museum. The entrances to the tunnels were concealed in the ground with mud and leaves. The tunnels were tiny and dark with spiders and bats lurking in the corners. It is a claustrophobic person’s nightmare. It is mind boggling to imagine how the Vietnamese fighters lived in these jungles and tunnels for years at a stretch – with imminent threat to life!

The tunnels are a must-visit if you are in Vietnam and especially HCMC. If you get a choice on which tunnels to visit, go for Ben Duoc without a doubt.

As we reached HCMC, our tour guide, Tram, suggested we should check out the football match screening at the Ho Chi Minh Square – it was totally worth it!

Day 2 – Mekong Delta

The next day, we went on a day trip to the might Mekong Delta. We booked it online again, this time on Klook. The tour agency((TNK Travel) was however the same – and we were more than happy as their service was really good and so were their tour guides. Our guide on this trip, Tam, was especially enthusiastic – he even sang many folk songs for the group!

The Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world and it originates in Tibet and runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and finally drains into the South China Sea through the extensive delta system in Vietnam.

The drive from HCMC to the town of My Tho in the delta takes about 2 hours. This trip is perfect if you want to explore the country-side of southern Vietnam. Our first stop was the Vinh Trang Pagoda where we met the giant statues of the laughing Buddha, Amitava and the reclining Buddha.

We were then taken on boats to an island for a simple Vietnamese lunch. We enjoyed some fresh Pomelo juice picked right from the gardens around us.

We then visited a coconut candy factory and had snake wine (it also had scorpions, lizards and spiders!). Not for the faint-hearted!

This was followed by the much-awaited boat ride through the narrow canals of the Mekong.

The final segment was a traditional song performance accompanied with honey tea and more fruits.

It was a day filled with culture, food and fun! If you have an extra day, you can visit the floating markets at Can Tho.

Read more about our trip through Vietnam in our blogs here. If you liked this one, do drop a comment below to share your thoughts. You can also catch all our latest stories on Instagram at @fridgemagment.tales.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, or popularly, Saigon, is the biggest metropolitan city and the financial centre of Vietnam. It was the capital of the erstwhile South Vietnam and was renamed after the unification with North Vietnam. Though things have changed over the last few decades, you can still see how the vastly different political ideologies have shaped the cultures of Vietnam as you move from North to South. We flew in from Da Nang for what would be the third and last part of our Vietnam trip.

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is like most other metropolitan cities and the area of interest for visitors is District 1 (this district is still referred to as Saigon). We had booked an Airbnb studio apartment in the same district (tips on booking places to stay and local travel) for proximity.

Here are some things you can do in HCMC:

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon: It is one of the most impressive structures left behind from the French colonial times. They actually imported bricks all the way from Marseille in the late 1800’s!

Saigon Central Post Office: This post office is situated right next to the cathedral and is also from the colonial period. It is an impressive building – what’s most amazing is that it is still a functioning post office!

Ben Thanh Market: Right in the middle of the city, in District 1, is the famous Ben Thanh market. You can find almost anything in here from fruits & vegetables to meat, souvenirs, clothes, dry fruits, handbags, ceramics, street food and much more! Once again, the key is to bargain, bargain, bargain. But we found the shopkeepers to be quite rude to window-shoppers – we were happy we finished all our shopping in Hanoi.

Ho Chi Minh Square: On the walking street of Nguyen Hue Boulevard is the Ho Chi Minh Square. It begins at the City Hall and stretches all the way to the Saigon river. This was our favourite place in HCMC!

We spent a lot of time here walking around and sitting next to the fountains – it was fun watching kids running around in the water. It is a perfect place to observe local life. It wasn’t on our plan initially – our guide from the day-trip to Cu Chi tunnels told us about the football match which was being aired there at night – so, we decided to give it a shot. What we saw was a huge screen right in the middle of the street with over a thousand people sitting on the road watching.

We moved forward to realise that there were 4 more screens which were equally crowded one after another! It seemed like the whole city was here for the match (it was Vietnam vs UAE in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers) – it felt like we were in a gigantic stadium which erupted every time Vietnam hit a shot at goal (Vietnam won 1-0)! We also found a really nice rooftop restaurant here which we ended up visiting twice!

Museums: HCMC has the War Remnants Museum which you can visit to learn more about the Vietnam war. You can also visit other museums and the Reunification Palace to learn about the culture and history of the land. We had it on our plan initially but decided to give it a skip and instead spend time walking around the city and doing what the locals did.

Another thing we must mention about HCMC is the scooter! The streets are flooded with two-wheelers – make sure you check multiple times before crossing a street if you don’t want to get hit. Despite being from India (where people don’t pay much heed to traffic rules), it took us some time to adjust – Vietnam is different animal altogether!

There are a lot of good places to eat in HCMC and you can read more about the places we recommend here.

We would also recommend not to spend too much time in the city as you only get to do more “city-stuff” which you could find in most other big cities in the world. The above-mentioned places can easily be covered in a day. We planned it in such a way that HCMC was our base location for a couple of day-trips. Over two days we went to Cu Chi Tunnels, Cao Dai temple and Mekong Delta and relaxed in the evenings in the city.

Hope this helps you plan your trip better – do let us know in the comments below. If you like our blog, do share it on your social pages – the more the merrier! Follow us on Instagram for more pictures, videos and our latest travels at @fridgemagnet.tales

The Magical Town of Hoi An

The second leg of our trip to Vietnam took us to the central part of the country. We had heard and read a lot about this quaint little town and many called it the best part of their trip! Though we were filled with the anticipation, we were also dreading the weather – Hoi An has storms and even floods in November and the previous year was exceptionally bad (Check out our guide to the best time visit each part of Vietnam here). Our evening flight from Hanoi had to navigate through some really turbulent weather to land us in Da Nang – the largest city of the region. We took a taxi to Hoi An – a 45 min drive – and reached our home-stay.

It had stopped raining by now, but it was quite windy. After a quick check-in, we borrowed an umbrella and headed out to the night market! As we walked around looking at the stalls selling food, souvenirs and lanterns, the rain picked up, leaving the hawkers scrambling. Luckily, we had our big umbrella. The river was swelling and almost starting to overflow – we quickly crossed the bridge into the Old Town heritage area and started looking for a place to eat. The entire town was beautifully decorated with lanterns of all colours – it felt like a dream!

The memory of this place still brings a smile to our faces!

We found a small home whose hall had been opened up into a tiny restaurant where we had some amazing Mi Quang and Cau Lau (both belonging to this region). The rain continued to batter down and we sat there happily eating the hot bowls of noodles.

Things turned better for us the next day with regards to the weather. It was a pleasant day with no rain which made it ideal to walk around and explore the town!

Here are the things which, according to us, make Hoi An a magical town and an experience worth remembering.

History and Heritage

Hoi An was a trading port from the 15th to 19th century. It was a hub in South-East Asia for trade routes connecting China, Japan, India, Portugal and the Dutch. There is a strong Japanese connection and you can still spot the Japanese covered bridge with a temple inside it.

The entire Old Town of Hoi An is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can buy a ticket to visit the sites to learn more about life here in the 18th century. One ticket (costing only 120,000 VND – relax, that’s $5!) enables you to visit 5 heritage sites. You can choose from a number of historic buildings, private homes, museums, temples and assembly halls. We picked one of each to get a flavour of the traditions of this ancient port town.

You can skip the ticket if you do not want to enter these sites and just walk around the roads.

Culture

You can get a taste of the traditional music and dance of the region at the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre. You can use one of your five tickets to gain entry here and there are usually 3 shows every day.

We enjoyed the music and performances and also got to know about the traditional game of “Bai Choi”. It is very similar to bingo but is played along with some folk songs. We learnt that there would be a few rounds of it being played on the riverbank later in the evening. You can guess what we did that evening! After observing one round, we took our seats on one of the stilt house-seats and were handed one paddle each which had three words. The organizers would sing a folk song and randomly select one of the words while incorporating it into the song!

It was super fun and we ended up playing two rounds!

Shopping

Hoi An is known for tailoring and you will find dozens of shops selling tailor-made suits, shirts and dresses. It costs much less than what a similar branded piece would cost you back home and it is also of very good quality. We aren’t very big on shopping during our trips, so we decided to give it a skip. But if you are, we would definitely recommend heading to one of these as soon as you arrive in Hoi An – you can avoid the stress of whether the suit will be ready in time for your departure.

The Central Market on the banks of the river is also worth a visit. Go there in the morning to see all the fresh produce. If you are just window shopping, just smile and keep moving.

You can also check out the night market which is on a small island connected to the Old Town (map here). You can get your own lanterns and souvenirs here as well as some tasty street food.

Food

Any Vietnamese story is incomplete without the food! The specialities of Hoi An and the Quang Nam Province that you must not miss are

  • Mi Quang – a noodle dish with prawns, pork, quail eggs and rice crackers
  • Cau Lau – a noodle dish with pork, broth, crispy noodle squares and crackers
  • Com Ga – chicken rice
  • Banh Mi – this is what Hoi An is really famous for – the legendary Vietnamese baguette stuffed with a bunch of delicious stuff you can choose from

More details on where to get these are part of our extensive blog on Fantastic Vietnamese Food and Where You Can Find Them!

Other Ideas and Tips

Start the day as early as you can, to wander around the beautiful streets without having to deal with crowds. There are a lot of day-tours which come in from Da Nang and you’ll be stuck with the extra tourists if you start late.

If you have an extra day, you can rent a cycle and head to the nearest beach. If you have 3-4 extra days, spend them in Da Nang and go on excursions to nearby places like the Ba Na Hills (the Golden Bridge) and Hue.

Hoi An is indeed a magical place and one that we would definitely recommend! After spending a day and a half here, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City. Check out our guide on how to travel around Vietnam for the best options.

Have you visited Hoi An and central Vietnam? Do let us know in the comments below. Check out our latest travels on Instagram at @fridgemagnet.tales

Excursion to Ha Long Bay

One of the most iconic images of Vietnam is one with a bunch of lush green limestone karst islands in the middle of the sea – this is none other than the Ha Long Bay. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies in the northern coast of Vietnam. It is roughly a 2-hour drive from Hanoi and is a must-visit when in Vietnam. We plugged in this visit as the first leg of our trip (check out the complete itinerary here).

Planning your trip to Ha Long

There are two ways in which you can plan this excursion:

  1. Approach a travel agency who will arrange the whole trip for you. This can be done online or even a day in advance in Hanoi – there are dozens of agencies in the Old Quarter who can link you up.
  2. Look up various cruise options online through sites like booking.com for a DIY solution. Keep your eye on the inclusions and exclusions so that you can plan your day and make transfer arrangements if needed.

How many days to spend at Ha Long Bay

The are 3 popular options – a day-cruise, 2D 1N or 3D 2N. Breaking it down into Pros and Cons so that you can make a simple choice:

One day cruise: This would be a super-hectic option if you add in the transfers from Hanoi. We feel 4 hours on the bay is too less time to take in the beauty. And you do not get to experience sunrise or sunset here. Another downside is that in this time, they can only take you to the crowded parts of the bay. You can opt for this only if you are super crunched for time.

2D 1N: This is an optimal amount of time to spend as you get to explore more of the bay and also indulge in some water activities like swimming and kayaking. We went for this option and had an amazing time. Our van picked us up from Hanoi Old Quarter early in the morning and dropped us at the jetty where we transferred to a smaller boat – this took us to our cruise.

After lunch on board, we spent time enjoying the scenery from our balcony. Around 4 in the evening, we anchored close to one of the islands where we were taken to a floating cabin and given kayaks to go around and explore the bay. This was one of the best parts of the experience as we got to paddle around the gentle water weaving in and out of the islands. After about an hour here, there was more time for a swim. We were then taken back and served dinner.

We welcomed the sun the next morning with a round of Tai Chi on the boat’s deck followed by breakfast.

We were then taken to one of the floating villages where we boarded a rowing boat and explored some caves.

After this little adventure, we headed back for a cooking class where we made traditional Vietnamese spring rolls and also had a heavy brunch (to fall in love with Vietnamese food, click right here).

Our van was waiting at the jetty which took us back to Hanoi by evening.

3D 2N: This is the option you go for if you have no time constraints. If you are going for this, make sure you choose a cruise which goes to the Bai Tu Long Bay and also has more excursions. It will include everything we’ve mentioned above in the 2D 1N option and some more, like bicycle tour in a nearby village, fishing trips, hike trails.

Which cruise to pick?

There are a few factors you need to consider while picking the perfect cruise.

Budget: There are quite a lot of luxury options available (most of them are pretty good). We went for the mid-range as it suited our overall budget. Try to avoid the absolute low range as the quality of the boats will not be great.

Inclusions/Exclusions: Most cruises have the above-mentioned activities and food included in the price – but do check out the fine print to make sure there are no last-minute hiccups/surprises.

Transfers: It is always convenient to have transfers included along with the cruise. They will ensure that you are always on time and don’t end up missing your boat. Public transport is an option – but we feel it is best to spend a few extra VND and forget about the hassle. They provide an option of hotel pick up too if you are staying in the Old Quarter.

Reviews: The more the reviews, the more reliable and predictable the service. It always helps to look at the most recent reviews – so keep your eye for those!

We chose to go for the Halong Sapphire Cruise which combined everything we were looking for.

The Vietnam experience is incomplete without a trip to the beautiful Ha Long Bay. We headed back to Hanoi after our cruise – check out how you can make the most of your days in Hanoi here!

Hope this helps you plan your trip better – do let us know in the comments below. For all our other blogs on Vietnam, click right here! Check out our latest travels on Instagram at @fridgemagnet.tales

Weekend At Hanoi

The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi lies in the Red River Delta in the north of the country. Hanoi would typically be the starting point (or end, if you do it in reverse) of your itinerary. The city went by the names Long Biên (which is also the name of a famous bridge in the city) and Thăng Long (another bridge now), till it was called Hà Nội in 1831. The city is the second largest in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City. Where we are headed is a specific part of this city – the Old Quarter.

We spent a weekend in Hanoi (check out our complete itinerary here). Weekends are the best time to be here for an unforgettable experience. In the evening, roads around Hoan Kiem Lake are closed for traffic and you can see people come out, walking, jogging, kids playing, drawing, painting, street performers in action and some people just sitting on benches and looking at the brightly lit Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) in the middle of the lake.

There was an entire road dedicated to remote controlled cars with kids driving them around!

We walked around the lake atleast 3-4 times and kept finding new stuff on each round. We were lucky to be there on the weekend when a South Korea-Vietnam cultural festival was ongoing – there were concerts, food stalls and a lot more. It was a bonus on our food list!

Weekend or not, here is a list of must-dos when you are in Hanoi:

Walk around Hoàn Kiếm Lake: The Hoan Kiem Lake is a beautiful lake right in the middle of the Old Quarter of Hanoi. Visit the Ngoc Son Temple which is on a tiny island in the northern part of the lake (try going early in the morning).

Explore the Old Quarter: The Old Quarter is a bustling centre of activity and most of the nightlife revolves around it. Make sure you get your hotel/Airbnb close enough so that you can save on the commute while making the most of your time in Hanoi.

Each street is dedicated to a certain type of shops (a street full of kitchen utensils, one for mechanical parts etc) and you get a real taste of the life and culture of Hanoi while you are walking around. There are certain places-to-see like temples which you can visit. You can also find amazing eateries with some of the best Vietnamese food here.

Ta Hien Street: This is the beer street of the Old Quarter – the place to head to for the nightlife! You will find dozens of bars on both sides along with the many signature street-side vendors. Grab a tiny table and a couple of tiny stools and get started!

Water Puppet Show: The water puppet show is an experience which you should definitely add to your list. Complete with traditional Vietnamese instruments, the show takes you through a set of stories set in the countryside.

We visited the famous Thang Long Puppet Show which is on the northern bank of Hoan Kiem Lake. For tickets, you can head to the ticket counter a few hours before the show and collect them in advance. It’s best to get seats in the front for a clear view!

Temple of Literature: Now, we take you away from the Old Quarter towards the Temple of Literature. We walked about 2.5 kms to get here from the Old Quarter (the amazing bowl of Bun Bo Nam Bo fuelled us!). Along the way, you can spot the infamous Hanoi Train Street which you would have seen in pics. The street was closed to visitors due to the risk it posed while trains crossed.

The Temple of Literature (featured behind the 100,000 VND note) is dedicated to Confucius and housed Vietnam’s first university, the Imperial Academy.

There are five courtyards with beautiful gardens. Even today, students visit this academy and temple as it signifies a milestone in the Vietnamese education system. So, don’t be alarmed if you see kids roaming around in graduation robes!

One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: A short walk from the Temple of Literature will take you to the historical place where Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France – the Ba Dinh Square. There is an entire complex here which contain a museum, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda and Ho Chi Minh’s Stilt house.

We would recommend this only for people who love history – others can do a quick walk-through.

Tran Quoc Pagoda: This is the oldest pagoda in the city, and it sits on a small islet in the West Lake. You can spot a lot of Buddhist symbols in and around the pagoda. We spent some time sitting along the banks of the lake enjoying the breeze and watching people fish.

We would recommend taking a bus or Grab taxi as the walk back to the Old Quarter can be really long and tiring.

Weekend Night Market: The weekend night market is an amazing place for shopping as well as picking up souvenirs. It is basically a street which is closed and stalls come up right in the middle.

It stretches along Hang Dao street starting at the square near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The one key to shopping in Vietnam is “Bargain-bargain-bargain” – this comes rather easily if you are Indian. Oh, and by the way, the street is unrecognizable during the day with all the scooters zipping past!

Food: No story about Hanoi is even remotely complete without mentioning the food! Pho (Beef Noodle Soup), Bun Bo Nam Bo (Beef Noodle Salad), Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich), Bun Cha (meatballs with noodles), Xoi Xeo (turmeric rice), Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake), Egg coffee – makes our mouths water just by thinking about them!

So, we decided to write an entire blog on the Fantastic Vietnamese Food and Where You Can Find Them!

While these places give you a real taste of north Vietnamese culture, there are other places you can visit if time permits. Our recommendation is to use the extra time to go on some short trips as Hanoi is a good base location. You can head north to Sapa or go south to Halong Bay (read about it here). After Hanoi, our itinerary took us to the magical town of Hoi An in Central Vietnam.

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot them in the comments below. To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Creating memories – One Fridge Magnet at a time!