These reports are from our very first trip to Vietnam in September 2014, so therefore prior to the previous trip reports! Originally posted on TripAdvisor, this is trip report #11…
16 October 2014
That dreaded day.
That dreaded day, that seemed so far away 4 weeks ago, was here.
That day that I was not looking forward to.
Up early…ish, downstairs and into next door for our final breakfast.
One last opportunity to watch the world go by from ‘our’ balcony.
And once again, it didn’t disappoint.
I don’t think it ever would.
Breakfast done and it was back to the hotel to check that the kids were getting themselves organised.
They ‘kind of’ were……
“We’re going for one last walk around. Want to come?”
“But it’s our last……”
“This is the……”
“Fine”. Eyes doing plenty of rolling……
Not really sure why I bothered. I knew what the answer was going to be…..
So it was just Lisa and I…….for a change….
Back downstairs and out the front.
Up to the corner…….and there he is.
He sees me.
“Aaaahh, hello!” With a huge smile on his face.
“Good morning”. I say with as big a smile on my face.
He is eating something. Might have been a banh mi. I didn’t really take much notice. I was too busy looking at his face and noticing how happy he seemed to be.
I wondered if me buying that book last night had anything to do with how he appeared this morning. I hadn’t seen him like this before.
It may have had nothing to do with it at all. But it did make me think.
He comes straight up to me and shakes my hand.
Again, one of those little things. Insignificant even.
But it means an awful lot to me.
He goes his way, we go ours.
We walk. Wherever.
Again, doesn’t matter.
I have in the back of my mind that I might like to buy a bottle or two of scotch or similar to take home. I’ve seen it cheaper than at the duty free shops at the airports.
In the end I lose interest in that idea. I just want to walk around and soak it all up one last time.
Back up to ‘beer corner’ for a final look and then we make our way back towards the hotel.
Around the corner, and yep, there he is. My mate.
Exchange of pleasantries again and we say good bye for the last time.
I’m actually going to miss him. And I do!
And here is my one regret for the whole trip. Apart from taking the kids….
I didn’t ask him if I could have a photo taken with him.
Not bad for four weeks. But I still think about that moment.
Oh well, I’ll just have to try and find him next time….
Lisa goes on ahead and I stop out the front to take a couple of photos of the hotel.
The doorman sees me doing this from across the street.
He moves out of the way.
I wish he hadn’t.
I walk into the foyer and he and his mate say they want to take some photos of me, with them and Angela the receptionist.
“Ok, no problem”.
Two cameras, four phones and 5 minutes later I make my way upstairs to pack for the final time.
Another one of those little things.
I love them, but they’re making it very difficult to leave…..
Packing done; that moment has arrived; we make our way downstairs for the last time to fix up our bill.
We actually have a small issue with this. It was more a bit of a misunderstanding, or miscommunication, than anything.
I was of the understanding that our private car transfer to the airport was included in our package. They were of the opposite understanding.
I let it go very quickly. There was no way I was going to make an issue out of it. The time we’d had, the things we’d done, the things we’d seen. For the sake of twenty dollars it really wasn’t worth the potential uneasiness it could have caused.
Hugs, handshakes, and maybe a tear, done, we were now on our way to Noi Bai airport.
Nose pressed up against the car window. Camera at the ready.
Not going to waste one last opportunity to see these beautiful people go about their lives.
All too soon we were there and our holiday was, essentially, over.
Queued up for what seemed like ages; probably because it was; to check in our baggage and then it was off to the happy, smiling faces that Customs officials wear so well.
HCMC, Hanoi. Arriving, departing. Doesn’t seem to matter. They all have that demeanour.
To be fair, it was the same in Melbourne too.
Are they born like that? Or is it something that happens after they get their uniform?
Anyway, manage to make it through that process, and then make our way to the ‘bubble’ that is the departure lounge.
The ‘bubble’ that is multinational brands, crap ‘authentic’ souvenirs, and highly inflated prices.
Sterile, characterless. Made even worse when you’re on your way home…..
Upstairs, and it begins.
“Should have had more for breakfast then!”
It’s a lost cause. Lisa, the boy, and the girl, are off.
Aaaarrgh…….I will not be a party to this.
I’ll take my chances with looking at crap souvenirs while being followed, ridiculously closely, I might add, by the store assistant.
I’m sure they think they are just being helpful, but it just makes me uncomfortable. Personal space and all that, along with ‘trust me, I’m not going to steal anything’.
I return to Burger King. They’re enjoying their burgers and fries.
Enjoying them a little too much for my liking. It annoys me.
They also have smiles on their faces. That annoys me more.
I need to remove myself.
Oooh, there’s a place that sells Vietnamese iced coffee. Bit of a McDonalds looking one, and more expensive than anywhere outside the ‘bubble’, but at least it’s not American hamburgers and fries.
I want to feel like I’m still in Vietnam for as long as I can.
Finally the boarding call comes through.
Fortunately I hear it. The burgers and fries have obviously affected their hearing.
“Get on the plane!”
“We didn’t hear the call”.
“That’s because you weren’t listening”.
“Get on the plane!”
So, as the happy family we are, we’re off.
Next stop, Kuala Lumpur for a three hour layover.
Three or so hours later and we’re in a different airport. Same ‘bubble’, but different airport.
Lisa and the kids want coffees and hot chocolates, or something.
No prizes for guessing what I want.
How much for a beer!?
Bloody hell, back to the real world…..:-(
A big Malaysian electrical storm, this could be fun…., a few beers, and we’re boarding our plane for our final journey.
One final ‘experience’ with a Customs official and we’re waiting to be pushed back ready for take off.
And here was my final ‘Wow’ moment.
It wasn’t anything that I saw or heard.
This was about me.
For the first time since we’d left Melbourne, I found myself thinking about what we’d done over the previous four weeks.
Sitting on that plane, gazing out the window into the Malaysian night, I was able to recall each day of our trip. Right back to day one.
Things that we’d seen, things that we’d done, places that we’d travelled to.
The highs, the ‘moments’, the experiences.
But it wasn’t just about what we’d done.
It was how we had done it.
With the help of TripAdvisor, and the amazing people that frequent it, we had done it ourselves.
Yep, a couple, and their kids……, who had never been overseas before, managed to organise a four week holiday to a non-English speaking Asian country.
Had ridden on the back of motorbikes through the crazy streets of HCMC on day one, caught a public bus down to the Mekong on day three, negotiated various taxi scrums, organised a non-standard Halong Bay cruise, spent another two days on motorbikes exploring Ninh Binh, saw the most amazing scenery in the country town that is Mai Chau, and then finished it off totally immersing ourselves in what I consider one amazing city, Hanoi.
And that was just some of what we did.
Something that seemed so foreign, so daunting, and so scary, less than six months earlier, had now been done.
And not just done, but embraced.
I look back to that very first day when we arrived in HCMC. What we knew, or more to the point, what we didn’t know. We must have looked like startled deer in the headlights.
And we were. It was just unbelievable and I really did wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.
But, as time went on, it became easier. We started to feel more comfortable.
And then we reached the stage of actually feeling confident.
The fear of the language barrier; of not being able to communicate; was no longer a concern.
In fact, I actually enjoyed being in that type of situation more than communicating with someone with very good English skills.
It was fun. And you really knew you were in someone else’s country.
Yep, it was fun.
So, what would I do differently if I knew then, what I know now?
Not a thing.
Apart from the missed photo opportunity, there is absolutely nothing I would change.
Would I return?
Absolutely! And that is the plan. Hopefully next year. Minus the kids…. :-)
I suppose a quick summation of the places we stayed to finish it off.
HCMC – At the time we probably didn’t appreciate it enough. The culture shock was huge. Would love to see it again through more experienced eyes.
Mekong Delta – Would definitely return. And quite possibly stay at Green Village again. It’s not just the place, it’s the people.
Nha Trang – Been there, done that. Happy to have seen it but once is enough.
Hoi An – Loved it. Touristy, busy; all that. But has so much character. Yep, loved it.
Hue – Hmmmm, yeah…. Probably didn’t get as much out of it as we could have. Again, glad we saw it, and did get the train experience along with it, but not sure about returning. Perhaps…..
Halong Bay via Cat Ba Island – Great experience! Now that I’ve seen the Bay I probably wouldn’t bother going back, but, if I did, I would go through Cat Ba again.
Ninh Binh – Loved it. And loved the way we did it. Toan really is fantastic.
Mai Chau – Yep, loved Mai Chau too. Great little town with scenery that is spectacular.
Would re-visit both Ninh Binh and Mai Chau but would perhaps do it a little differently next time. Probably incorporate a couple of homestays and would get a little further out of Mai Chau to see the surrounding villages.
Hanoi – Ahhhh…….., Hanoi. What a place. Suspected I’d like it before we’d even arrived. It lived up to it, and more. Would return in an instant and would spend more time there.
Yep, loved it!
So there you go, final installment done and dusted.
Again, thank you to everyone on TA who gives up their time to help others with their questions.
Without you all, there is no way we would have been able to achieve what we did.
To have the adventure we were able to have.
And to anyone thinking about a trip to Vietnam and not sure if they can organise it on their own…..
Give it a crack.
Yes it’s daunting at the beginning.
Yes it’s a lot of work.
But it is oh, so rewarding.
And finally, The Artisan Boutique.
Would I stay there again?
Yes! And more than likely will.
Great location, great rooms, great people.
Just happens to have a nice little balcony next door as well……