3 October 2017 – Kuala Lumpur – Ho Chi Minh City
Ended up being the best kind of flight; an uneventful one.
Did actually manage to get some sleep, but please note the word ‘some’. And in this case, ‘some’ means a little.
Oh well, don’t ever really expect to get any, so any that I do get I sort of consider a bonus.
Into KL on time and then begin the rather long walk to roughly where I need to be to get my next flight.
I don’t really know where that is, partly because I don’t really know where I am, so I follow the crowd around me.
Surely they can’t all be wrong….
I also try to follow the airport direction signs, with varying degrees of success.
I don’t really like airports. I used to, but now they just kind of annoy me.
I find them soulless and confusing.
The confusing bit probably has more to do with my lack of awareness. Not to mention my lack of intelligence.
I also find them expensive, but that probably goes without saying.
Eventually I believe I’m where I need to be. I still don’t know exactly, but I’m in the right area.
Through a security checkpoint, and I have two options; left or right.
It’s a decision I’m not going to make on my own, given my success over the years when betting on two horse races.
Yes, it’s that bad that people ask me for my opinion, and then back the other horse….
I find the information desk and I put all my trust in the very friendly and helpful girl.
I now know where I need to go later, but not just yet.
Still having four and a half hours to wait, I decide to hang around the main area for a while, rather than heading off down to the gates. They’re doing a lot of renovation and refurbishment at the moment so the options for food and shopping, not that I’ll be doing any shopping, are a bit limited.
Café / bar / restaurant found, coffee and a donut purchased.
I’m actually not really hungry, but seeing as I haven’t eaten for 12 hours I force myself.
Last Western coffee done, average donut dispatched, I head off to find my gate.
Through another security checkpoint, which I don’t really understand why, and I begin what turns out to be a rather long walk.
And that walk confirms that the renovations are also taking place down towards the gates.
There’s even less to do here, well, other than to sit and wait.
Shoulda stayed where I was….
Oh well, what to do….
Seeing as it’s too early for a beer, as well as not being hungry, a little Trip Advisor stuff sounds like it could be a good idea, as well as a phone call or two.
I find a quiet spot, and the first problem is solved. I now have wifi.
Second problem not so easily fixed. No call or text ability.
Three years ago when we were here it automatically connected. This time…., nuthin’.
Again, it’s more than likely me.
Did I mention I don’t really like airports….?
Anyway, did the Trip Advisor thing, and then managed to work out the phone thing. Not sure how, but it’s working.
Ahhhh, all good now.
Except my battery is now running low….
Geez, these four hours are dragging. Not helped by the fact that I actually feel pretty ordinary. The lack of sleep is catching up and it’s making me feel like I’m hungover. Which surprisingly, I’m not.
Finally, we get called up.
Getting close now….
Boarding pass checked and we move to another area to sit down.
Then the announcement that I was kind of expecting. Partly because there was no plane where I thought there should be a plane.
The flight has been delayed by 15 minutes.
Phew, can live with that!
For the two girls opposite, however, 15 minutes seemed to be a major issue.
A 15 minute delay is going to cause major headaches to your schedule?
Schedule may have been a little tight in the first place, if that’s the case….
Anyway, we’re soon boarding. Well the ones that jump up as soon as it’s called, are.
Quick, quick, gotta be first on……!!!!
Eventually get on, and once again, no window.
But, I do have a spare seat next to me.
Finally in the air, and with nothing to look at, I try the sleep thing again.
And shock horror, it actually works!
Managed to get a good hour in, and even better, I now feel so much better.
It’s not long before we’re on the ground, and it’s a nice feeling being back.
Off the plane and I head quickly to the VOA (visa on arrival) counter.
Well, bugger me, I’m first there!
Get called up, give him a ‘xin chao’; receive nothing in return; and hand over my documents.
I then get told off.
For the question of ‘Where are you staying?’, I’ve put ‘various’.
Partly because that’s true, and partly because I couldn’t remember what I put last time.
What you’re supposed to put is the name of the first place you are staying at.
So as the first beads of a cold sweat form on my forehead, I frantically try and recall the name of my hotel, and then in a slightly quivering voice, I tell him.
My ‘entry and exit’ form is thrust back at me, along with a pen, and I’m told, quite forcefully, that I have to write it down!
I apologise profusely, but he’s not terribly interested in my groveling.
With a shaking hand, I somehow scrawl out the hotel’s name. I’m not sure it was legible, but it was the best I could do with a hand that I had no control over.
Tail between my legs, I went and sat down to wait for my name to be called.
By now a few people had turned up, so to ease my shattered nerves I sat and watched the happenings around me.
Was all rather ‘same same’, apart from one reasonably well dressed European guy.
The VOA fee is supposed to be paid in USD.
Yes, it is Vietnam, but this fee is the ONLY thing, and trust me here, regardless of what anyone tells you, or quotes you, it is the ONLY thing that needs to be paid in USD. Right? Got it? Good!
So anyway, this guy asks the young girl, and she would have only been early twenties, behind the counter, why is it that he has to pay in USD.
He wants to know how much in Dong.
He then goes on and continually asks why this is the case.
Like she’d passed that particular legislation. Like she’d know, anyway. She’s just doing her job, and this big man has decided to pick on the ‘weakest’.
He finishes by saying ‘enjoy the coffee money’, as he walks off feeling pretty good about himself.
Yep, big hero….
My name is then called out and I make my way back up to the counter, being careful not to make eye contact with my tormentor.
The young girl hands me my passport, and I give her a ‘cam on’, as well as my $25.
This surprises her, the ‘cam on’, not the $25, and she gives me a smile.
Hmmmph, eighteen months on, I still got it.
I head off to immigration, and there’s no one there!
My ‘xin chaos’ and ‘cam ons’ are more or less ignored, as they usually are with these happy people, and I’m off downstairs and out the doors before I know it.
Ahhhh, the sights, the smells, the heat, the crowds, and the noise, of HCMC hit me.
But it hits me in a good way. Unlike our first trip, where it was full on culture shock.
Ignoring all the taxi touts, I head towards the ‘109 yellow bus’, over to the right.
They see me coming and as I get there, he’s handing me a ticket, and I hand him a 20 000 dong note.
Twenty minutes after the plane pulled up at the gate, I’m sitting on the bus.
I kid you not!
We’re soon on our way and into the thick of it with the traffic. It feels a little like coming home.
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprising, for the first half of the journey into District One the bus stays neck and neck with a car that I noticed left the airport at the same time as us.
Maybe sometimes. But not by much.
Get off at the Ben Thanh market stop; well, the one that’s close to Ben Thanh seeing as the original is no longer there due to road and rail works; and make my way towards the hotel.
Well, in the direction of where I remember the hotel to be. It’s the Thien Hai, in Ly Tu Trong street, and we stayed there on our last night when we were here in May last year.
Partly because I have to actually walk past it, partly because I need to get a power point adaptor, and partly just for the hell of it, I decide to walk through Ben Thanh market.
By the time I get 10 steps in, I’m already sick of it. Feeling like a hot chip thrown into a flock of seagulls on the beach, I head for the nearest exit.
And I just didn’t have the guts to ask someone where the power adaptors were. I just knew how that would end, and I wasn’t up to it.
Finally into the street that the hotel is in, and I walk past it without realising. A quick look at the number I’m after, and there it is back where I was a few minutes earlier.
I’d like to blame jetlag, but I’m not sure a four hour time difference constitutes jetlag. We’ll have to agree to blame tiredness, otherwise it’s me again….
Into the cool of the hotel, and then up into my room a few minutes later.
Surprisingly, or not, the phone issues return. Now being an expert on how to solve that issue, I manage to somehow solve the issue. My problem is I’m still not sure how I did that.
Still a touch early for a beer, I head off in search of my next favourite Vietnamese drink. A caphe sua da.
On the way out I asked the receptionist where I could find a banh mi. She circled it on a map, and it was at that point that I already knew where that one was. It’s all well and good to do that research beforehand, but if you then neglect to return to your ‘notes’, well that research is all kind of done for nothing.
It apparently doesn’t open till mid afternoon, which my earlier research had also told me, but that was ok, the caphe sua da was more important at this point.
Out the hotel and up around the corner, and into Tao Dan Park. Yep, the bird park. No birds there at this time of day, but the café is still open.
So, relaxing in the peace and tranquility of the park, with the sounds of car and bike horns in the background, with a caphe sua da in front of me, it was nice to sit back and take it all in.
I had to pinch myself as I couldn’t believe that I was actually here again.
Caphe sua da done, and it was back to the hotel to do husbandry / family things, now that I’d worked out the phone.
By the time that was done, it was close to the banh mi place opening, so I set off again.
Down the road and through the big scary roundabout, and there up ahead I can see the place. Well, not so much the place itself, but all the people lined up out the front.
And the best part was that there was no one else that looked like me. Which was confirmation that the place indeed does have a very good reputation.
This was confirmed again by the girl behind me telling me that it’s ‘very famous’. This was good for two reasons; one, that the food was in fact good, and two, she spoke English and could give me a hand if I got stuck ordering my banh mi.
She quickly put my mind at rest when she told me they only do one banh mi.
Even better!, as decision making is not always a strength of mine.
I did have to navigate the ‘chilli?’, or ‘no chilli?’ question, but I managed to get through that one without too much of a problem.
And was the banh mi any good?
Yep! Various cold meats, pate and chilli, along with a crunchy, but soft, roll. Yeah, doesn’t get much better than that.
Back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. I’m absolutely stuffed, and it’s all starting to catch up on me. But I’m not prepared to give in just yet.
Short rest and it’s back out on the street. The plan is just a bit of a walk to see what’s around, (remember, we’ve actually spent very little time in the ‘main’ area of District one over our previous two trips) before then ending up in Bui Vien Street somewhere for a few beers.
Kind of re-living one of our two nights way back in 2014.
Eventually I find a little place, not one of those ‘bars’ that everyone flocks to, but a little family run drinks and food place. Yep, sitting on the footpath is always my preference.
So three years after I first did that, and realising that I loved doing that, here I was sitting just a few doors down from our original hotel, doing exactly the same thing.
I loved it!
And it all looked completely different to the last time that I’d done it here.
But I was under no illusions; it wasn’t any different to three years ago, it was most definitely me who was looking at it through vastly different eyes.
Three years ago it was all a bit intimidating; scary, even. Now, well, it was kind of just normal. Still very much ‘in your face’, but now with a bit of experience, easy to handle.
A few beers, some people watching, and just generally watching the world go by, it was a nice way to relax after what had been a pretty long day.
Final beer done, and feeling like I hadn’t returned to the hotel enough times already today, I headed back as it was getting dark.
As I walk back into the hotel, a girl behind the reception desk greets me with, “Hello sir, welcome back!”
She looks familiar, and then I realise that she was here last year.
“You remember me?”, I ask, more than a little surprised.
“Yes, you were here with your wife last time”, she says.
“Wow”, I think.
We have a bit of a chat, and I find out her name is Anh. Damn it, now I need to remember it, and being worse than shocking with names, I’m expecting to embarrass myself at some point.
Knowing that that is more than likely, I apologise in advance.
I also explain that I don’t feel comfortable with the title ‘Sir’, and to please call me Scott.
I hate formalities, and she seems happy with that.
Suitably chuffed; yes, I’m quite easily chuffed at times; I head up for a quick shower to freshen up.
And oh my, was that shower good!
Now a little more awake, it’s back out in search of food.
Back up past the banh mi place, down a dark laneway, across and through 23/9 Park (still too early for the rats from last time, it seems) and then out onto Pham Ngu Lao Street.
And there, on the corner, is a pho place. What else do you have on your first day back in Vietnam?
Decision made, and all of a sudden I’m back on a small plastic chair, sitting out the front.
Steaming hot bowl of pho, and a couple of beers – 95 000 Dong. I could get used to this….
Suitably full, I head off around the block.
The place is now humming. People, noise, traffic, touts touting for business. It was constant.
By the time I had walked up Pham Ngu Lao, turned right into De Tham Street, and then walked down to Bui Vien Street, I had been asked if I wanted marijuana, amongst other drugs, probably twelve times, as well as being asked if I wanted a massage, which I suspect wasn’t ‘just’ a massage, more times than the drug dealers had asked if I wanted drugs.
I even had my nipple tweaked by one rather persistent ‘massage seller’.
Or perhaps she just genuinely liked me…..
Anyway, I just found it all rather sad. Being the wrong side of 45 may have something to do with that, but seriously, I just find that whole area a pretty ordinary and seedy place.
But hey, each to their own….
With the realisation that I’m now too old, along with the fact that I’m knackered, (perhaps because I am too old) I make my way back to the hotel for an early-ish night.
But not before dropping in to a convenience store for a few beers.
Into the hotel, and Anh is behind the desk. I say hello, using her name.
She is quite shocked after what I’d told her earlier. But probably not as shocked as me, at actually remembering.
Very proud of myself, I am…..
Into the lift and there’s another guest already in there. We exchange pleasantries and I ask her what she’s been doing.
She’s just returned from the XO Foodie Tour.
Hmmm, I think….
“What did you think of it?”, I ask, pretty sure knowing what the answer will be.
“Absolutely loved it”, is the reply, which was what I was expecting to hear.
“That’s great”, I say, and go on to tell her we’ve done the tour as well.
“Yep, it was a great night. I had it recommended to me on Trip Advisor”, she explains.
“Oh, really, well that’s good then”, I reply, wondering if we had already ‘met’ at some point over the whole internetty thing.
To save any awkwardness, I leave it there and bid her goodnight.
Hmmm, who knows….
Into the room and onto the bed for the beers, a bit of Trip Advisor, as well as some note taking.
Being away for a full month, I want to do trip reports for the whole thing, people expect me to do trip reports for the whole thing, and because I’m worried about my memory, the note taking thing is probably going to be an imperative part of the whole thing.
It’s not long before body and mind finally give up, and for once I do the right thing by them.
I have another early start tomorrow, and another plane to catch.
As well as ticking off something that didn’t happen last time.