There is something truly enchanting about soaring through the magnificent skies to a new destination. The magic and lure of local culture, food and people, opens the mind to possibilities that shift from a worm’s eye view to a bird’s eye view. Aboard Vietjet Air’s newly launched direct flight route between New Delhi and Hanoi, we experience the leisure and charm of the in-flight experience, after a 12-hour workday. And as we succumb to slumber, the Captain announces our arrival in Vietnam – the land of beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities.
Locals in vibrant helmets incessantly zipping on the busy roads, pavements chock-a-block with people, tourists and street food vendors – all this and more in the backdrop of a city with a concoction of culturally rich and politically tumultuous history. A bus ride from the Noi Bai International Airport to our hotel was all it took to prepare us for our four-day sojourn at the ‘land of the ascending dragon’.
Strains of chatter, local guides holding vivid flags, tourists waiting in a snaking queue to get their pictures clicked and armed honour guards in crisp whites – as we walked past a myriad of absorbing sights, a massive grey granite structure loomed into our view. The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which houses the embalmed remains of President Ho Chi Minh, the founding father of Vietnam’s nationalist movement. Overlooking a majestic Ba Dinh Square – the historic venue where Ho read the Proclamation of Independence – the massive mausoleum, with the words ‘Chu tich Ho Chi Minh’ chiselled above the portico, stood in all its glory.
A few metres away, an extensive yellow building, reminiscent of Vietnam’s then French Colony status, caught our attention. As streams of sunlight scattered through the trees that skirted the grand Presidential Palace, the former residence of the Governor-General of French Indo-China gleamed in the afternoon sun.
Soon, we were amid a garden, an elegantly fashioned pond and a numinous 11th-Century structure. The Temple of Literature – the country’s first national university built under the Ly Thanh Tong dynasty to honour philosopher Confucious. Here, the altars dedicated to Confucious and his disciples, and the famous heads of the Stelae of Doctors (turtle statues) in bluestone were the highlights. We were told that students rubbed the turtle heads before their exams to bring good grades. Now, conservation has taken precedence over faith, and the act is forbidden.
The city had already served us with dollops of memorable moments – from a cyclo ride around the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake and the bustling streets of the 2,000-year-old Old Quarter to a breathtaking Vietnamese Bamboo Circus performance of Lang Toi (My Village) at the Tuong Theatre. So it was only understandable when our two-hour journey to UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay via a scenic highway was bedewed with nothing but anticipation and excitement.