Known for its beautiful beaches, verdant hills, heritage-rich cities and increasingly popular cuisine, Vietnam is one of the most popular holiday destinations. And it remained so during the Covid-19 pandemic as it saw one of the lowest case-loads in the world. Here’s what to expect.
Right through 2020, several east Asian countries stood out for their success in keeping the Covid-19 case count low. While some were dismissed as too small or less densely populated, Vietnam is neither. With over 100 million residents, it is about the 13th most populated country in the world and densely populated to boot.
There were months when Vietnam reported no cases at all, although in May 2021, it is reporting a rise. However, the total cases since the beginning of the pandemic are less than 4,500 and deaths stand at 37, which seems remarkable. Notably, Vietnam is also a tourism hotspot. In 2019, tourism contributed 9.2 per cent of Vietnam’s GDP, which amounts to about $36 billion. The number of inbound tourists to Vietnam that year was 18 million, which is a y-o-y growth of 16.2 per cent and 2.3 times higher than 2015.
Currently not open to foreign tourists, Vietnam is expected to allow the arrival of inbound travellers from some countries around July, according to its National Administration of Tourism. “There will be pilot programs to test various aspects such as suitable markets, inbound passenger procedures and safety protocols and destinations,” says Pham Sanh Chau, Ambassador of Vietnam to India. “Thanks to good performance in the pandemic control, the government of Vietnam has employed various means to boost inbound tourism since May 2020,” Pham points out.
He admits that the tourism industry in Vietnam has been severely impacted by the pandemic. “2020 witnessed an unprecedented loss of nearly $23 billion compared to 2019. The number of international tourists to Vietnam fell 80 per cent year-on-year. Many hotels and international travel agencies have closed. However, the good side is that domestic travel has picked up again thanks to effective measures to control the pandemic.”
India and Vietnam had been growing tourism links rapidly in recent years. Between 2015 and 2019, the average growth of Indian tourists to Vietnam was 26.7 per cent, with net travellers growing from 65,600 to 169,000. Leisure travellers accounted for nearly 60 per cent of all Indian visitors, while business travel accounted for nearly a quarter of the total.
Before the lockdown, there were 21 return flights per week between the two nations, operated by Indigo and VietJet, connecting Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai to Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. Since 2015, Vietnamese tourists visiting Bodh Gaya have been able to fly with Thai VietJet, VietJet’s joint venture airline from Bangkok to Bodh Gaya. “I strongly believe that there will be more flights and destinations as both IndiGo and Vietjet Air have seen the growth potential of the routes between our two countries,” says Pham.
For whenever Vietnam opens up for Indians, be prepared with your to-do list. There is a lot to explore.
Top Destinations In Vietnam
If sailing by stunning limestone islands set in turquoise waters is your thing, the karst seascape of Halong Bay is tailormade for you.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it consists of thousands of limestone islands that sit within this bay in the Gulf of Tonkin and is prime cruising territory for millions of visitors.
Must-try: Halong Bay’s beauty is best enjoyed on a seaplane tour offered by Hai Au Aviation. Tours leave from Hanoi every day, and there are 25-minute aerial sightseeing trips. This is how world leaders, celebrities and superstars explore Halong Bay.
HO CHI MINH CITY
Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city, a teeming metropolis where every cliché about southeast Asian cities seems true – densely populated, bikes outnumbering cars, fantastic street food, a mix of indigenous and colonial European (French, in this case) architecture and culture, local traditions and crafts – in the best possible way. The most visited sites are the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum, but there’s a lot more to see and experience such as the old colonial district of Da Kao, the Notre Dame Cathedral – yes, a replica of its Parisian counterpart, and Dong Khoi, the heart of the city, home to many of its leading attractions.
Must-try: The Mekong Delta is at the edge of Ho Chi Minh City. The drive takes a few hours from District 1. From Mekong Delta, take a boat down the interconnecting canals of the river. There are floating markets selling everything, from fruit and vegetables to conical hats.
A magnet for history buffs, Huế is where 19th-century Nguyen emperors held court in magnificent palaces. While a lot of these monuments are within the sprawling Imperial Enclosure, there are noteworthy ones outside of it too.
A great way to take in the sites is to sail down the strikingly named Perfume River.
Must-try: Huong River, also known as the Perfume River, runs across 80 kilometres, flowing through many beautiful forests before reaching Huế. The two sides of the river are edged with graceful rowing willows. The homes in Bao Vinh’s Old Town are ancient. The boat on which you cruise down the river is equally poetic, shaped as it is in the form of a dragon.
To experience Vietnam at its atmospheric best, Hoi An is the perfect getaway. Dilapidated yet oh-so-elegant structures – merchant houses, temples, pagodas, bridges, museums – it’s a town seemingly frozen in a charming time warp. Easily the top thing to do is to walk around the town and take pictures. You just might need multiple devices as every nook and cranny entices you.
Must-try: Hoi An has a clutch of great bars and restaurants, and its nightlife is said to be one of the best in Vietnam. It is at night that Hoi An comes alive as bars offer happy hours, bucket drinks, free tequila shots, and even entire bottles of vodka.
Vietnam’s capital city, situated nearly 1,500 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City, offers a very different prospect. The constant hum of motorbikes and street vendors is absorbed by the hundreds of lakes that dot the city, bestowing on it a very unique character. An array of museums and temples are de rigueur stops for visitors, though unusual sights such as paper replicas for the dead might take you out of your comfort zone and make the trip more memorable.
Must-try: Water puppetry is an ancient art practiced by the local people. Puppet shows are hosted in a flooded rice paddy field, complete with fireworks, singing, and a fair number of mythical animal puppets. Stop over at the Hanoi Opera House, an elegant French colonial building with an ornate façade. For a spot of history: In 1945, it was from one of the Opera House balconies that Viet Minh, a national independence coalition, declared they had taken over Hanoi.