Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau rides a Tibetan cow (Yak) at Tsomgo Lake, which freezes year-round at the height of 3,753 meters of the Himalayas, to promote the image of Vietnam. Photo credit: Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau.

Predestined relationship with Vietnam

Referring to Kolkata - the third largest city of India (and former capital of British India) - is referred to as a place which seems to have a predestined relationship with Vietnam. Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau said that the image of President Ho Chi Minh has remained in the memories of the people in Kolkata who have always admired and respected him. In 1911, he came there during his journey to salvage the nation. In 1946, he visited the city as the Leader of a fledgling independent nation. In 1958, he revisited Kolkata as the President of the young Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the process of overcoming consequences of the war, building and fighting to reunify the country. Especially, in 1947, the people of Kolkata chose January 19 as the Vietnam Day and two days later (January 21), thousands of students took to the streets to protest and support the Vietnamese government. The slogan chanted by demonstrators at that time was “My name, your name, Vietnam, Vietnam.” Many anti-war songs and poems have been born since then, associated with this familiar slogan. Many Kolkata youths even laid down their lives to claim independence for Vietnam. During the war against the US imperialists, articles supporting Vietnam and demanding peace and reunification for Vietnam were always hot on the Indian newspapers.

In Kolkata, the love for Vietnam and President Ho Chi Minh was so great that the people themselves renamed a road to Ho Chi Minh Road. Ten years later, in response to the people’s wholehearted aspirations, the government officially recognized this road. In 1990, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birthday, the City Council and the India-Vietnam Solidarity Committee of West Bengal inaugurated a road named President Ho Chi Minh - “Ho Chi Minh Sarani.” This road meets Jawaharlal Nehru Boulevard. It is the symbol of the friendship between the two great leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Ho Chi Minh and the friendship of India and Vietnam. On that occasion, the West Bengal state government erected a bronze statue of Uncle Ho in the city park (located right at the intersection between Ho Chi Minh Boulevard and Jawaharlal Nehru Boulevard). Kolkata becomes the first foreign city in the world to build Uncle Ho monument.

Currently, at The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel where Uncle Ho used to stay when he visited Kolkata for the first time on June 1, 1946, there is a sign placed in a dignified position saying, “Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969), Founder of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam) was staying at The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel on June 1, 1946.”

In 2016, at the Jadavpur University and the National Library in Kolkata, the “Vietnam Book Corner” was opened. It was a practical action contributing to the promotion of the Vietnamese studies among Indian youths and students, thereby strengthening the cooperation between the two countries, especially in the context that the Indian Government is promoting the implementation of the “Act East Policy.” Executive Director of National Library, Dr. Arun Kumar Chakraborty said that the “Vietnam Book Corner” is a vivid symbol of people-to-people exchange, making an important contribution to promoting cooperation between the two countries, especially in the fields of culture and education.

Direct flights to Kolkata

“India, a country with the world's second largest population, is now considered as a promising tourist market. Each year about 25 million Indians travel abroad and the number has been on the rapid rise in recent years. However, the number of Indian visitors to Vietnam remains modest (over 130,000 Indian visitors to Vietnam, while the number of Indian tourists to Thailand reached about 1.5 million in 2018),” Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau expressed his concern.

In March 2019, the Vietnamese Embassy in India contributed to convincing an Indian billionaire couple to hold their wedding at the J. W. Marriott Emerald Bay Hotel in Phu Quoc. Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau said, “The tourists all said that they were surprised because they had not thtought Vietnam had such an impressive wedding venue. Vietnam tourism is diverse and attractive with a variety of tourism products in different regions.”

Lumbini - the birthplace of the Buddha, attracts many Vietnamese tourists. Photo credit: Bui Dung.

One of the reasons for the tourism potential between the two countries to have yet to be fully tapped is that the flights from and to Vietnam and India had to be transited at other airports which cost time and money. This problem will be fixed when IndiGo, an Indian Airline, opens direct flights from Kolkata to Hanoi (on October 3) and to Ho Chi Minh City (from October 18). Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau said, “I believe that active tourism promotion and the opening of direct flights between India and Vietnam will turn Vietnam into an attractive destination for Indian tourists.”

The Vietnamese ambassador shared that India is also promoting tourism in Vietnam. Indian Ambassador to Vietnam Pranay Verma often talks about India's strengths like natural and cultural heritages and religious diversity. Temples, palaces and fortresses hold a lot of cultural and architectural values. In addition, Indian tourism resources, especially Buddhist spiritual tourism, are unique. Coming to India, visitors can experience Buddhist tourism, boating on the legendary Ganges river or climbing and skiing on the Himalayas. Besides, healthcare tourism and retreats, yoga programs are also of great potential of India. Many tour operators have launched attractive tours, such as “Four Holy Places,”, including four Buddhist sacred places, marking four important events in the life and teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. This tour with the support of Gotadi and Huong Giang Aviation, the representative of an Indian Airline IndiGo in Vietnam, currently cost only VND 25 million for Vietnamese tourists.

As for Vietnam's tourism market, Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau said, “I believe that from the view of an enterprise, the Indian tourist market with one of the largest population in the world is really very attractive. The middle class of this billion-people-nation alone amounts to 200-300 million people, with annual increase in demand for shopping, recreation and travel. From that point of view, if being exploited successfully, this will be the ‘chicken laying golden eggs’ for the tourism sector of Vietnam.”