Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City
The alarm goes off.
But things are always loud at 4.30am.
My early morning, fuzzy brain, slowly begins to kick in.
First realisation; I feel like crap.
I feel like absolute crap!
My wish from the night before has not come true.
I now feel worse. Significantly worse, too.
Second thought enters my head;
Oh well, at least we go home today.
I’ve had enough and I can’t do this anymore. And while I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to stay any longer; not feeling like this.
Then, the second realisation kicks in.
Aaaargh……we’re not going home today! We still have one more night to go!
We’re flying down to HCMC and we’re catching up with Stefan and Mark (from Sydney), tonight.
It’s something that I’d been so looking forward to, and now, I’m not sure I want to do it.
I’m not sure I actually can, do it.
I’ve been trying so hard to not let this beat me. But I think it has.
And the thought of having to now fight it for another 24 hours, just……, well, it just fills me with dread.
I can’t believe I feel this way, and you really have no idea how much this pisses me off.
I struggle out of bed, and we get ourselves organised.
All packed up, we head down the lift for the final time.
Once again, we wake Sophia and the doorman who are sleeping on the couch.
And once again, I feel guilty about that.
We bid our farewells, thanking them, and apologising, and head outside to our car; which is already there.
Hang Hanh street is dark, and it’s empty. And very, very quiet.
It’s comforting, but slightly sad looking. Maybe even a little eerie….
4.50am, and we’re on our way.
Eighteen months ago, I hated the drive to the airport.
Eighteen months later, it’s worse.
Driving past the lake, and Hanoi is already starting to wake up.
People riding bikes, people walking and jogging, female street sellers wheeling their, fully laden, bikes.
It’s different; strange even. Maybe even surreal.
And it makes me feel sad.
Not sure why.
Partly because of the way I feel? Partly because we’re leaving? Partly because I feel sorry for all these people who are having to start their working day at this hour? (yep, learnt something from the Women’s Museum)
Probably all of those things.
The CD that our driver is playing isn’t helping either.
It’s some sad love song, that while it’s making it worse, seems kind of apt for the situation.
We’re finally out of the Old Quarter; which doesn’t make it better; and I realise something about the car we’re in. While this is a day of ‘final’ things, this car is actually a first.
It’s an automatic!
After a total of six weeks in Vietnam, I don’t think we’ve ever been in an automatic.
No rapid fire changing through the gears from first to fourth, before you’ve hit 35 kilometres per hour.
Yep, on of all days, a first.
We continue on, the Old Quarter now behind us.
Past a flower market that is a hive of activity; the two guys jogging over the very large bridge (no, not dangerous at all…..); as well as the couple doing stretching exercises on the side of the freeway. (no, not dangerous either….)
Before too long, we pull up at the airport, and our driver jumps out and grabs our bag from the boot.
He doesn’t speak English, but he seems like a really nice guy. I do something I don’t normally do. And I’m still not sure why I did it.
I give him a tip. Not much; 20 or 30 000 Dong; but yes, I tip him.
Yep, I’m still not sure why.
Maybe because I feel so crap? Maybe because we’ve dragged him out of bed so early, away from his wife and family, to get us to the airport?
He’s surprised by it. But very appreciative.
I give him a smile, and shake his hand. He reciprocates.
Yes, I paid for that little ‘moment’, but it was still a ‘moment’.
Into the airport by 5.25am, and we actually have to wait a few minutes before we can check in.
Bag dropped, we head off to security.
The fun begins….
Yep, that queuing thing.
They just don’t do it well, at all.
And it’s probably impacting me more today. My tolerance level is significantly lower than it normally is.
Finally through to the departure lounge, and because she’s awake, and because she hasn’t eaten since last night, Lisa needs something to eat.
The thought of eating repulses me.
Instead, I go off to spend some quality time in the toilets. Yep, the day is just going swimmingly…..
Eventually, the boarding call is made. And as usual, the masses jump up to queue.
And as usual, we don’t.
If I’m going to feel like crap, then I’d rather sit in the terminal for as long as I can.
The queue finally begins to shorten, so we make a move.
In hindsight, I would have been much better off sitting there for a bit longer.
Let’s just say that the ‘boarding’ thing, didn’t go terribly well.
Again, the way I was feeling, was not helping my tolerance levels. Little things, as well as bigger things, were really annoying me.
So much so, that I sat there and began writing a trip report on my phone, for this part of the journey.
I wanted to write it then, so I wouldn’t forget any of it. I also did it because I wanted to look back on it when the dust had settled on our trip, to recall how I truly felt at the time.
Looking at it now, it’s not that pretty, and in fact, it may actually be a little harsh. But it’s how I felt back then.
I won’t put it in this report, but I will post it somewhere separately. Either here on TA, or just on the blog.
So, anyway, while everyone else was getting themselves organised, we sat there in our emergency row seats. Yep, got the extra legroom again.
But I missed out on the window seat. Damn it; forgot to ask when checking in……
Just not thinking straight.
Finally, finally, finally……, up in the air, and we’re on our way to HCMC. As we begin our descent, we get talking to the English businessman sitting next to Lisa.
Yep, amazingly, we found someone like us that was happy for a chat. Nice bloke, too.
The plane eventually pulls up at the gate, and yep, you guessed it, everyone jumps up to get off.
Apart from us, and our English mate. We just looked at each other and conversed without saying a word.
Out of the plane, and bag retrieved, we headed out of the terminal.
No hotel organised transfer this time, it was either going to be a taxi, or the relatively new, yellow number 109 bus.
As we exited, sure enough, there’s the bus over to the right, just past the taxi rank.
Yep, feel like crap, but let’s forgo the comfort of a car, and go with the bus.
Need to add another new experience to the trip, anyway.
Two 20 000 dong tickets purchased from the woman standing outside the bus, and we’re on our way.
There’s not that many on it, but I choose to stand in the middle section with our bag. Bit sick of sitting down, anyway.
The traffic on the way into the city is bedlam. Seriously, even with the occasional stop, I don’t think a car would have been any quicker.
The ride in, goes well, even though the emergency button sounds at one point.
I really need to be aware of what I’m leaning on.
So much for blending in, and trying to remain invisible……
Half an hour later we pull up at the Ben Thanh market bus station, and head off on foot towards our hotel.
We’re back in District 1, and we certainly know it. The heat, the noise, the hustle and bustle, and the smell. Yep, parts of it have a particular smell.
A 10 minute walk later, and we find our hotel; the Thien Hai.
As we make our way up the stairs to the front door, the doorman; who we find out later does a little bit more than just open and close doors; comes out to help us.
He seems very keen to please, and really goes the extra mile.
We check in with the girl behind the desk; she too comes across as incredibly friendly; and as we expected, our room is not yet ready. It’s still only around 10.00am.
She tells us it will be about an hour.
That’s fine we say, we’ll just sit on the big comfortable couches in the reception area and cool down. I’m exhausted, and anyway, I’m not sure I’m capable of using my legs anymore, at the moment.
Twenty minutes later, she announces that our room is ready.
I was impressed the moment we walked in, but they just went up another notch or two.
“Thank you. Thank you, very much!”
We head up to our room, switch the air conditioner on, and collapse on the bed.
I’m knackered, and I just feel like absolute……. You know……
We have a bit of a rest, and then force ourselves to go outside. Have to try and get something out of the day……
We head off, with a slight plan. To go and see the area around Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao. But it’s mainly about Bui Vien, because that’s where we spent the very first two nights in Vietnam, on our last trip.
The first two nights we’d ever spent overseas.
And those first couple of days and nights left an indelible mark on my memory, and perhaps even my life.
It was sheer culture shock, and in all honesty, it actually scared me. But I now needed to go back for another look.
We’re on our way, and it doesn’t take long before it begins.
“Cyclo ride?”, comes the call.
“No thank you”, I call back, with a smile that was more of a grimace.
“Motorbike taxi?”, comes the next one.
Yep, we’re back……
We eventually find Bui Vien.
It looks different, which I kind of thought it would.
Eighteen months, coupled with, now around 40 day old Vietnam eyes, will do that.
So, how does it look different?
It looks bigger; brighter even. It also seems less intense. Less intimidating. It actually seems friendlier.
So, is it different? Has it changed?
Nup, it’s me that’s changed.
Having said all that, I’m still not a rap for it. It just doesn’t do it for me.
We grab a couple of Cokes; it’s hot, real hot; and continue down the street. We find ‘our’ hotel from last time, and are a little surprised to see that it’s now known as another name.
Turning down a side street, we head up to Pham Ngu Lao and find a shop selling those aeroplane head / neck pillows. It’s something that we’d planned to buy at the end of our holiday; so we didn’t have to carry them around the whole time; as our flight back is through the night.
I ask the shopkeeper how much.
“100 000 dong’, she says.
“How much for two?”, I ask, going down the ‘buying in bulk’ path for a better price.
“200 000 dong”, she comes back with.
Well, this is going well….
“150 000?”, I counter offer.
“No. 180 000”, she says.
“Ummm, I’ll think about it”, I say, as we make to walk away.
This’ll get her, she won’t let us walk.
She lets us walk.
Well, that didn’t go as planned…..
We head off……, pillow-less.
Back up Pham Ngu Lao, in the general direction of our hotel, and I almost trip over a street vendor selling bottles of water.
This is extremely fortuitous, as it reminds me that we need more water. And not only are they cheap; 6000 dong for a large one; but they’re also in ice!
And just to top off the experience, she’s incredibly friendly! Which, for some reason, surprises me.
A smile, as well as a ‘cam on’, and we head off.
Time to tick off another thing from our list.
Ben Thanh market.
Yep, never got there last time.
I’m not really expecting much, and to be honest, my desire to see it isn’t exactly huge, but it is something that I think I need to see. Kind of for research purposes, if you like.
As we get close, I notice how quiet it is outside it. And no cyclos, which surprises me.
We get to one of the entrances and notice a guy standing there, who looks like a police officer. But something doesn’t look quite right. He’s a bit scruffy looking, and it just looks a bit wrong.
I think back to TripAdvisor, and the reports of the fake cop tormenting tourists. Hmmm, could it be…..?????
We walk past him, and I can now see what is embroidered on his shirt. ‘Tourist security’.
Ahhhh!, that’s a good sign!
We enter the market.
The pressure from the vendors to buy something is instant. And it’s intense.
They’re like seagulls on a chip.
It’s aggressive, and it’s full on.
We walk around the outside perimeter, before venturing in towards the middle sections.
It doesn’t get any better.
I actually find it ugly. There is just nothing appealing about the place, as far as I’m concerned.
And apart from all of that, it’s ridiculously expensive. The prices of some of the things in there are three times the price of things elsewhere.
So yep, most definitely not a fan.
I look over at Lisa. She has the same look on her face as when we were in the cloth market in Hanoi, the other day. She’s gone downhill a little; probably a combination of the heat, the early start, as well as the madness of this market; and wants to head back to the hotel.
That’s fine, I’ve seen as much as I want to, and I’m heading down the same hill, she is.
Back to the hotel, air conditioner on, collapse on the bed. It’s going to have to be a fairly short recovery session, though. We’re meeting up with Stefan and Mark in less than two hours.
And I’m really not sure how I’m going to do it.
I’m so pissed off.
Bit of a nap; which doesn’t really work; a shower to help freshen up; which works better than the nap; and we head off on foot to the Opera House.
We get there with no problem at all; this map thing is easy….; and wait for the boys.
We were here two weeks ago to the day, almost to the hour, actually, while we were waiting to meet up with XO tours.
Where did all that time go….???
Geez, I hate it when holidays are coming to an end…..
A few minutes later, Stefan pulls up in a taxi. It really is great to see him again.
But he’s alone. Apparently Mark is not well and won’t be able to make it tonight.
Must be awful when you get sick on holidays……
We head off behind the Opera House in search of our bia hoi place from the week before last, and have no problem finding it.
And once again, there ain’t anyone else in there that looks like us.
Good, just the way I like it.
We settle in, and order what you order when you’re in a bia hoi place.
And surprisingly, the first one goes down alright!
As does the second one. And the third. And the……..
Well, you get the picture.
Apart from Mark not being there, the afternoon was perfect. Drinking beer, chatting, about anything and everything, and just enjoying each other’s company.
Yep, with all things considered, it went far better than I could have imagined.
My second HAG (Hanoi Appreciation Group) meeting was most definitely a success.
As with all things that go into your body, at some point it needs to come out. No problem, as Stefan pointed me in the direction of the establishment’s toilet.
And while the toilet was certainly an experience in it’s own right, it was what greeted me on my return that will live with me for a very long time.
When I got back, there was a local sitting at our table with Stefan and Lisa.
He was getting on a little in age, and looked like he’d seen a fair bit in his lifetime. And there wasn’t much of him. ‘Little’, is a word that comes to mind.
And his English was as fluent as my Vietnamese.
While I would have loved to have been able to talk with him, to hear about his life, the fact that he came over to spend time with us was just priceless.
He seemed so genuinely pleased to be sitting with us, sharing a beer.
This wasn’t just another one of those little ‘moments’.
This was an incredibly ‘special’ one.
Several photos were taken; which he seemed as happy about, as we were; before he disappeared off into the night.
Yep, just such a memorable encounter.
Not long after, we also headed off, in search of dinner.
It’s this bit that gets a little hazy. Someone, who shall remain nameless, (Stefan) will say that it was I, who chose the restaurant.
If I did, then it was only because someone (Stefan), couldn’t make up his mind.
Anyway, regardless of who is to blame, (happy to pin it on Lisa to avoid any awkwardness….) we ended up at some overpriced restaurant, somewhere between the bia hoi place and the main part of District One.
And to make matters worse, the food wasn’t even that good.
Not that food and I were getting along that well, anyway.
Dinner done, we headed back towards the backpacker area. Stefan and Lisa were after fruit smoothies; I was not yet done with beer.
While they did the fruit thing, I headed off in search of a Circle K convenience store.
Both parties successful in their endeavours, we returned to the 23/9 park on the Le Lai side, where we found a park bench.
Beer good, as too were the fruit smoothies, apparently, and it was nice to just sit and relax and watch the world go by.
As well as the rats.
Yep, there was the odd rat, or two.
But don’t worry, they’re not terribly big. There’s no way they’d be able to carry away a child over the age of ten.
Under ten, on the other hand……
But yeah, fascinating little creatures.
It was starting to get a little late, and I was now finding it more difficult to keep ‘going’. Well, I was still ‘going’, but it was now all downhill. Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye.
And that, was very, very difficult.
I hate ‘em at the best of times, but this was just that little bit harder.
I don’t care what others say about you, Stefan; as far as I’m concerned, you are a good bloke.
Anyway, the ‘goodbye’ thing done, we headed back to the hotel.
Twenty four hours earlier, I had a wish that I wouldn’t wake up the next day feeling worse than I already was.
Well, that wish ended up being a waste of time.
No more wishes tonight; just didn’t see the point; but did have reasonable concerns about how I was going to get through tomorrow.
Sitting on planes, and in airports, for over 12 hours.
Actually, it was probably a little more than just, a concern.
It was more a fear…..