Tag Archives: itinerary

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.

Getting Around Vietnam – Travel and Where to Stay

Getting to Vietnam

Vietnam is well connected through its international airports at Hanoi (Noi Bai Airport), Ho Chi Minh City (Tan Son Nhat Airport) and Da Nang acting as major hubs. You can explore Vietnam by plane, train or bus. Renting a car is not a recommended option here with a left-hand drive and the not-so-good roads with sign boards in Vietnamese.

Travelling in Vietnam – Plane

Flights are a very good option as it saves you time and if you plan in advance, you can get some really cheap deals – we got Vietjet Air tickets from Hanoi to Da Nang for $30 (INR 2200)! The flight connectivity is superb, and you can easily find a lot of flight options to suit your schedule.

Pro Tip: We always make sure we travel light with 2 small backpacks as cabin luggage and 1 suitcase for check-in. In such cases, we book separate tickets – one at the lowest fare (like the $30 ticket mentioned above which doesn’t include check-in luggage) and the other with the luggage add-on. This helps you save quite a bit if you have flights on multiple legs of your journey.

Travelling in Vietnam – Train

Trains are a good option if time is not a constraint in your itinerary. To give you some context, the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City takes almost 40 hours vs a 2.5 hr flight journey! That said, it is the best way to see the countryside and have a leisurely trip. You will most certainly take a train if you are planning to visit Sapa in the north. Make sure you book your tickets in advance especially if you are travelling on weekends. These are a couple of recommended websites for booking train tickets in Vietnam 12Go and Baolau.

Travelling in Vietnam – Bus

Buses can be found connecting all towns and cities. Be warned – the roads are not great and the buses not very comfortable. The journeys are long which means it will definitely add on to your days in the itinerary (Check out our itinerary here) – both in terms of travel time as well as recovery time. You can find bus tickets on the websites mentioned above for the trains.

Travelling within the city

The cities we went to were the 3 most tourist friendly cities and have a good public transport system which you can rely on.

In Hanoi, for airport transfers, we used the city-airport bus line – look for bus number 7 or 17 and you can get from the airport to the city centre for less than 1 USD per person. You can find out the routes and timings here. Once you reach the Old Quarter, most tourist spots are accessible by foot.

Ho Chi Minh City also has buses, but we didn’t use them as the routes were longer and prone to traffic jams. We went for “Grab” taxis – convenient and easy on the pocket.

Grab taxis are available in all the major cities – make sure you have the app downloaded. It comes in really handy – don’t worry if you don’t know Vietnamese – the app has a chat translate feature where you can type in English and the driver gets it in Vietnamese (mind=blown!). They also have food delivery on the same app – so if you are feeling too tired to step out, they can “Grab” you a quick meal!

Where to Stay

Hanoi: As close as possible to Hoan Kiem Lake. This is where you will be spending most of your time – whether it is exploring the town or hopping into eateries. We stayed near Ta Hien street which was close enough to the bus stop where you get buses to the airport.

Hoi An: Close to the Old Town as this is the centre of activity. We stayed in an Airbnb on the island which has the night market. It was an amazing homestay with super nice hosts who helped us out with our transfers from Da Nang.

Ho Chi Minh City: District 1 – this is where all the day-tours start. You can also find a lot of good restaurants in this district.

Airbnb’s are very popular in Vietnam and with the right set of filters and locations, you can find some really good places. We booked all our accommodation through Airbnb.

Check out our other blogs on Vietnam here. 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

Vietnam Voyage

If you have the option to visit only 1 country in South-East Asia, it must be Vietnam! A diverse country with landscapes ranging from tea plantations to dense forests to lush mountains to bustling cities and amazing beaches, Vietnam has something for everyone.

Vietnam is quite large in terms of area (4th biggest in South-east Asia) and forms a significant part of the historical region of Indochina (consisting of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). The erstwhile French colony was named Indochina because of the strong influence of Indian and Chinese cultures in the region – Vietnam takes more from the Chinese culture while the Indian cultural heritage can be seen at large in Cambodia (which is a story for another blog). Modern culture is also shaped by political ideology which varies as you move from north Vietnam to the south. What does all this mean? Well, for one, it makes Vietnam an amazing place to visit with a lot of history. And don’t even get us started on the food! Vietnam is cheap, safe and great to visit at any time of the year – you can plan your itinerary based on which month you are planning to visit.

Best Time to Visit

Vietnam can be divided into 3 regions – North, Central and South and the weather in each region varies largely in different times of the year.

North Vietnam (Hanoi, Sapa): This part of Vietnam has 4 distinct seasons and the winters can get cold. October-November is a very good time to visit as the weather is cool and dry. You get clear blue skies and you can really enjoy your cruise on the Ha Long Bay. Another period which is good is March-May (Spring). The mid months of May-September have scorching summers as well as monsoon rains which can dampen your plans – most of the Vietnam experience is outdoors.

Central Vietnam (Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue): This is a narrow region squeezed between the sea on one side and mountains on the other. January-June is the best time to visit. June-August has hot summers with plenty of humidity while November-December typically sees a lot of rain and typhoons.

South Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta): This region experiences a tropical climate which means the best time visit is November-April. There are options for a lot of day tours from Ho Chi Minh City and having pleasant weather really helps!

Given these windows, the best option to cover Vietnam from North to South would be in the Spring window of March-May. As it was impossible for us to get long leaves from work in those months, we decided to go in November (keeping fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get bad weather in Central Vietnam).

Getting around Vietnam, Visa and Currency

To plan your travel in detail, check out our blog on Travelling in Vietnam made easy. Here is a snapshot to get you started.

You can enter the country from one of the international airports – usually the points of entry are Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. All the major cities are very well connected by flights, train and bus. The flights are quite cheap and make it a viable option even if you are travelling on a budget! We managed to get a flight from Hanoi to Da Nang for $30 (more on that here).

To get the Visa, you can go for one of these three methods:

  1. The old-fashioned way of getting it done through the embassy – this is also the most expensive option.
  2. Get a Visa Approval Letter – this is the cheapest option. There are many websites which offer you an approval letter for as low as $6. Do check online reviews to verify the legitimacy of these portals to avoid getting into a scam! We used Vietnam E-Visa which charged us $12 per person for a single-entry visa. Just make sure your name matches exactly on the approval letter as your passport so that you are not denied entry. On arrival at Vietnam, you need to pay the stamping fees of $25 (cash) per person.
  3. E-Visa – This option is available for a selected list of countries where you can apply online and get your e-visa for $25.

Currency: Vietnamese Dong (VND) is the currency here and 1 USD can get you ~23,000 VND. So, make sure you convert in parts or risk carrying around huge bundles of currency! Currency exchanges are available everywhere and you won’t face any problems in getting a good rate. As always, convert a small amount at the airport where you are entering which can get you to the city centre (you will get better exchange rates here).

How many days to spend in Vietnam?

This depends on which parts of the country you would like to explore. You can easily budget 5-6 days for each of North, Central and South Vietnam. We spent 10 days in Vietnam and feel this is a good enough time to explore the highlights of the country. You can easily extend this by another 5-6 days without feeling too stretched.

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Hanoi by flight. Check-in and relax for the day.

Day 2: Morning bus to Ha Long Bay. 2D/1N cruise package – enjoy kayaking, swimming in the bay and enjoy the beautiful karst landscape.

Day 3: Morning Tai Chi class at sunrise on the boat. Transfer back to Hanoi and explore the city around Hoan Kiem lake.

Day 4: Local sightseeing at Hanoi. Hanoi is one of the best cities we’ve been to in terms of the culture, food and overall vibe – here is how we spent our weekend at Hanoi and our guide on how to make the most of it.

Day 5: Spend the morning exploring more of Hanoi and its foods. Bus to airport for our flight to Da Nang. Cab from Da Nang airport to Hoi An – explore Hoi An at night.

Day 6: Spend the day exploring the UNESCO Heritage Town of Hoi An experiencing the culture and amazing food! Read more about the magical town of Hoi An here.

Day 7: Early morning cab to Da Nang and flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Spend the day relaxing and exploring the Ben Thanh Market.

Day 8: Day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels and Cao Dai temple. In the evening, explore the area near the Skydeck in Ho Chi Minh City. The city itself does not have too much to see but is a great base location for many day trips – here’s our guide on day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.

Day 9: Day trip to the Mekong Delta – exploring the delta and some snake wine! Explore more of Ho Chi Minh City in the evening.

Day 10: Flight to Cambodia.

The “Time-is-not-a-constraint” adventurer: as mentioned before, you can spend up to 5-6 days in each region. While in Hanoi, you can add a couple of days to visit the plantations in Sapa valley in the north. You can visit Tam Coc, which is also called the “Ha Long Bay on land”. You can also add a couple of days in Da Nang exploring the city and go on an excursion to the Ba Na hills where you can spot the Golden Bridge.

History Buffs: You can add Hue to your itinerary – this town used to be the capital of the Nguyen Dynasty empire.

Foodies: Vietnam is a heaven for foodies and is the main reason why we would go back in the blink of an eye. Here is our Vietnam food guide.

Hope this post helped you kick-start your plan to visit Vietnam. We have detailed our experience at each of the places in our blogs which you can find here.

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

Getting Around Croatia – Travel and Where to Stay

Getting to Croatia

We start with how to get to Croatia from the neighbouring countries. The easiest and expensive option is by flight – through Zagreb or Split or Dubrovnik and use flights for the rest of the journey. You can use any booking website to look at available options. In this blog we will cover how to use trains and buses and make the most of them to get around Croatia.

From Budapest, Hungary: Our itinerary of Eastern Europe led us from Budapest to Zagreb. We had the option of taking a bus which would take about 5 hours (excluding the time for immigration at the border) or the train which was a similar duration but was more comfortable. We chose the train for two reasons: first, to enjoy the countryside and second, the train would stop at the border and we would have to switch to a Croatian train for the rest of the journey to Zagreb – this was something we wanted to experience.

The train from Budapest

For booking all your train tickets anywhere in Europe, we would always advise you to go to the official website of the railways as they will always give you the best and cheapest options. In this case, head to www.mavcsoport.hu (the Hungarian railways website). To guide you through how to book tickets here, check out this detailed account by The Man in Seat 61 – the go to place if you want guidance on train travel anywhere in Europe. Do note that you will not get an e-ticket for this train. You need to keep the code you will get by email and collect the tickets at automated machines at the train station in Hungary. We recommend booking the tickets in advance so that you don’t have to figure out travel options at the last minute. You also get cheaper tickets on advance booking. Budapest has multiple railway stations – you can catch the train to Zagreb at Budapest Keleti (Keleti Palyaudvar) railway station.

From Austria or Italy: The best option would be to travel to Zagreb via bus. The journey would take you through beautiful Slovenia and if you are lucky, you would get a long enough break to explore the beautiful lake town of Bled.

Now that you’ve reached Croatia, buses and ferries are your lifeline to get around.

Travelling in Croatia – Buses

Croatia has a good network of buses which are convenient to get from one place to another. Two very good websites for booking buses are Flixbus and GetbyBus. These guys are basically aggregators which will show you options from various companies. Do check out the ratings and reviews of the operator to make sure you pick the right bus for your travel. They can charge you for heavy luggage, so keep change handy.

Pro Tip – Split to Dubrovnik

You can choose to take a bus from Split to Dubrovnik and back. However, the road route crosses a tiny patch of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What does this mean? You are exiting Croatia and need to re-enter to continue the journey which means two rounds of immigration checks. This also means that if there is a hold-up for a single person in the bus, the entire bus needs to wait. The travel time from Split to Dubrovnik is 4.5 hours excluding the wait at the checkpoints. We wanted to avoid this bit and planned it in a way that we used boats both ways. Check out our complete itinerary here.

Travelling in Croatia – Ferries/Catamarans

We took catamarans from Split to Hvar and onwards to Dubrovnik. There are two major operators – Jadrolinija and Kapetan Luka. We used both for different legs of our journey and would recommend both equally. Both connect the mainland to all major islands along the coast and you can plan all the legs of your journey accordingly.

Other Tips

Make sure you keep enough buffer between transfers in your journey so that you don’t miss out on a bus/boat. It is always better to reach a place early than deal with the frustration of missing a connection.

We always recommend making your bookings atleast a week or two in advance to ensure that you get a seat (preferably, a reserved seat). Also, advance bookings can get you some good deals! Keep your eye out for these.

Where to Stay

The sweet spot for us while booking a place to stay is to have it close to the main attractions with access to the transit systems. The access part is kept at higher priority as it is convenient when you’re moving in/out with your luggage. In Europe, it becomes much easier than most other places as the cities have been designed with great connectivity.

Zagreb: We picked an Airbnb at a walkable distance from the bus station (which is also close to the railway station). We had an early morning flight out of Zagreb and chose to stay near the origin point of the bus.

Plitviče National Park: The park itself does not have any options for stay but there are a couple of villages right outside the main gates. We picked Rastovača which is a 10-15 min walk along the highway from “Entrance 1” of the park. The buses from Zagreb stop at Entrance 1. Make sure you reach when there is still daylight as the highway goes through a dense forest and you don’t want to be stranded here in the dark! Rastovača is a beautiful village with some nice cottages where you can find rooms on Airbnb. We stayed at a lovely little cottage called House Spehar (where we had some amazing breakfast the next day!). You can also choose to stay in some of the hotels near Entrance 2 – we didn’t go for these as most of the crowd enters the park from here and the best way to explore it would be start at Entrance 1 in the opposite direction of the crowd. For more on how to make the most of your day at Plitviče, click here.

Split: When in Split, try to stay as close to the Old Town as possible. Split has an active nightlife which is concentrated in this area. As the public transportation dies down quite early, having your room close to the Old Town is a major plus. On one of our stays, we couldn’t find a place close enough and we had to walk back almost 4 kms (couldn’t even find cabs!).

Hvar: The island of Hvar is quite big – however, the preferred places to stay are near the port for ease of movement. With some effort, you can find some beautiful Airbnb’s with amazing views. Be wary of the stairs as there are many in the area! Hvar also has some amazing seafood places, but more on that here.

This should get you going on your tickets and accommodation in Croatia. For more on the itinerary, the places you should visit and the food you shouldn’t miss, check out our other blogs on Croatia here.

Do leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Feel free to shoot your queries as well! To catch all our latest travel stories, follow us on Instagram @fridgemagnet.tales

Croatian Chronicles

When you are planning your itinerary through Eastern Europe, Croatia is a country you just cannot skip. With its beautiful beaches, quaint little towns and pristine national parks, Croatia has something for everyone and is perfect for a relaxed holiday and not to mention light on your pockets!

Croatia (or Hrvatska in Croatian) shares borders with Slovenia and Hungary in the north, Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina in the east and Montenegro in the south. In the west the Adriatic Sea with over a thousand Croatian islands – is the ultimate island-hopping dream! The idyllic Dalmatian coast in the south offers everything from crazy nightlife and parties to spots where you can sit back, sip on a cocktail and enjoy the slow and quiet life.

Best time to visit

June to August is the peak tourist season as the weather is warm at this time of the year as in most other parts of Europe. If you want to avoid the crowds, plan your trip in late May, early June or September – the prices will be lower and you will also get good weather.

What’s the best way to get around Croatia? Oh, and what about the visa?

To plan your travel in detail, check out our blog on Travelling in Croatia made easy, but here’s a quick snapshot to get you started.

In most itineraries, you would enter Croatia from one of the two countries in the north (Slovenia or Hungary) and reach the capital, Zagreb.

Zagreb is well-connected to all neighboring capitals by land, air and rail. From there on, you can get buses to anywhere in the country. The roads are quite good and buses comfortable, making the commute easy. This is also the cheapest option available. The coastal cities and islands can be navigated using catamarans. Book in advance to get a good deal. You can also choose to fly to your destination – there are airports in all major cities.

Indians will need a visa to enter Croatia. Though Croatia doesn’t come under the Schengen Zone yet (as of Jan 2020 – they’re still trying!), you can visit Croatia with a valid multi-entry Schengen Visa. Which means, they will stamp your passport as you enter and leave Croatia. (Good news for those who get excited by immigration stamps like us!)  Get more details about the Visa requirements based on your country here.

What is the ideal number of days to spend in Croatia?

There is a never a correct answer to this question. You can spend months exploring the place! It totally depends on your budget (both in terms of number of days and money). We usually have a strict limit on our number of days as we have to get back to our jobs in India – so we try to optimize our number of places in order to get a true essence of the place (sights, culture and food!) while not being “too” rushed. Here’s our itinerary along with some of the options to help you decide!

Our Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive at Zagreb from Budapest by train. Explore the city and leave for Plitvice by the evening bus. Spend the night at Plitvice.

Day 2: Explore Plitvice National Park – read all about how to make the most out of your day at Plitvice, what routes to take etc right here. Leave for Split by the evening bus. Enjoy the Split nightlife.

Day 3: Morning catamaran to Hvar island. Spend the day relaxing and exploring the island. Eat some amazing seafood! Night in Hvar.

Day 4: Catamaran to Dubrovnik. Explore the walled city and take the evening catamaran back to Split. Don’t miss out the best the Dalmatian coast has to offer and check out our detailed account here.

Day 5: Explore Split old town. Evening bus to Zagreb.

Day 6: Fly out of Zagreb.

Here are some suggested changes based on the type of person you are / group you are travelling with:

The Slow and Steady Tortoise: you can add more days at each place if you have the luxury of time. Or if you have only 6-7 days, you could skip Dubrovnik and spend more time at Hvar/Split.

History Buffs: add more time at Zagreb to check out the museums and learn more about the history of the region. Croatia has had a troubled history witnessing unrest and wars till as recently as the 1990’s. The people here have done an amazing job to get the country to where it is today.

Terrestrial humans: you can head to Pula, Umag and the Istrian peninsula. This cannot be combined with the above itinerary as it will be completely off the route and you would need many more days. You can follow the itinerary upto Plitvice and turn towards Pula.

Water-loving humans: Add the coastal city of Zadar and more islands like Brač, Vis and Korčula.

Foodies: Check out our Croatia Food Guide to follow our food trail.

This should get you started on your Croatia itinerary. Check out our other blogs on how to make the most of your Croatia trip here. Croatia holds a special place in our hearts. You could get lost all day in the beautiful streets and discover new things on every corner. Among all the countries we’ve visited so far, we would not think twice before packing our bags for Croatia again!

Do leave a comment below if you liked this post! 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

 

How to Make an Itinerary

The Plan

The summer of 2017 – Nam and I were planning our first long vacation together. We were looking at 13 days in the first half of June. After working out multiple itineraries, we settled on Eastern Europe. We wanted to experience the best of what each place had to offer. This meant staying with the locals, having the best of the local cuisine, exploring the small lanes by foot and travelling light by public transport across cities – in other words, backpacking! The way I see it, there are two types of backpackers – ones who go where the roads take them and others who research and plan well ahead. It is difficult to be the first type when you are a working Indian and have less than 15 days of vacation (sigh!). Also, I prefer to be second type – it ensures that you do not miss out on the top experiences. In fact, I enjoy planning trips almost as much as the travelling. Continue reading How to Make an Itinerary

Let the B Begin!

B-schools mean business! What better lesson can one learn on the first day at IIMK! I hadn’t even joined college and here I was submitting assignments and following deadlines. And the very first day – the registration day – was a clear indicator of how things worked here. The day had a proper itinerary from morning to night. Talk about an organized and systematic life! Continue reading Let the B Begin!