13 October – Hanoi – HCMC
Up early again; seems to be a recurring theme here…. Yet another pack up, and then it’s downstairs to sort out the hotel bill.
That done, I take a seat and wait for my car. While sitting there, one of the staff asks me why I’m not having any breakfast. I tell her that I’m not hungry, and I don’t really eat much in the morning, anyway.
She seems a bit hurt that I’m not going to try her food, and I really do feel bad about that. I feel like I’m insulting her.
To try and placate her, I have a glass of juice. While it’s not the plate of food she’d like me to have, she looks slightly happier with me now.
A couple of minutes later the guy at the desk tells me the car is here. Well, seeing as the hotel is in a narrow laneway that’s inaccessible to cars, it is actually in a nearby street that the laneway runs off.
While I know where it is, he insists on walking me out to it. Which is nice.
Just after 6.45am, and we’re on our way. It’s already fairly busy, but the traffic is at least moving. Out past the old water tower, and in the nearby park there are plenty of locals exercising and playing badminton.
We pull up at a set of traffic lights and a guy on a motorbike taps on the driver’s side window.
Apparently, the boot is open.
Not sure if my driver’s rear vision mirror has been getting much of a workout in the last few minutes….
Apart from a possible aversion to mirrors, he’s actually a very good driver. And one thing that was very noticeable, was his reluctance to use his horn. In fact, he never used it once.
His English is also pretty good, which, having used quite a few drivers over our trips, is a little unusual.
We have a bit of a conversation and when I tell him I’m from Melbourne, he tells me he has a friend who also lives there. He’s seen some photos of shops in Melbourne that have Vietnamese writing on them, and that really surprised him.
I explain to him that, in certain areas, there are very large Vietnamese communities living in Melbourne.
As we get closer to the airport, he asks me which airline I’m flying with today.
“Vietjet”, I respond.
“Ohhhh, ‘delay’ airline”, he says.
Yeah, thanks for that, I think, now just that little bit more nervous about catching my first ever Vietjet flight.
Arriving at the airport at 7.30am, I take a seat for a few minutes waiting for check-in to open. Ten minutes later I walk up and get directed straight to a guy who is sitting there twiddling his thumbs.
Bored, disinterested, having a bad day, would just prefer to be somewhere else, or just annoyed that his twiddling thumbs were interrupted, he gives me my boarding pass.
Not a great start, but at least it was quick.
Off to security, which was also relatively painless, and then in to find my gate and begin the waiting game.
Fortunately, like HCMC airport, there’s a café that does caphe sua da’s.
So, first port of call is to purchase my first ‘real’ caphe sua da, since before the disastrous powdered episode at Ba Ba Lake.
Oh, how I missed thee….
While reacquainting myself with Vietnamese coffee, I find out that a typhoon could hit Vietnam in the next few days. Typhoon Khanun, as it’s known, could greatly impact Northern Vietnam, and depending on it’s track, could even affect Hoi An, which is where we will be in a week or so.
Again, it’s just one of those things you need to be aware of, when travelling in Vietnam at certain times of the year.
I also discover that the rains and flooding over the last few days have now resulted in over fifty deaths. Very, very sad, and another storm is the last thing the Vietnamese need.
Knowing Lisa will be sitting at Kuala Lumpur airport, I try and send her a text. And like yesterday, as well as most days over the last week, it fails to send.
This could make things interesting when we try and meet up at the airport in HCMC…..
Finally, it’s time for boarding, and as per usual, everyone, well almost everyone, jumps up to be first on. The ones that aren’t part of the ‘everyone’, sit back and wait.
Queue finally diminishing, I make my move.
Finding my seat, I discover it’s next to the emergency exit. Unfortunately, it’s the one in front of the door, so I don’t get the extra legroom. And I don’t even get a window to look out of. I do however get to sit next to one of the flight attendants, but as it turns out, it’s a male flight attendant, so that’s not that good.
As I make myself comfortable, I notice that music is being played throughout the plane.
I wouldn’t normally take too much notice of that, but because of the song that is playing, this time I do.
It’s a song that I’d heard just after our first trip, and since then I’d only heard it a few more times.
But each time I had heard it, it really got to me.
And now, sitting on a plane here in Hanoi, it was getting to me again. But this time, far more so.
Yep, choking up as discreetly as I can, while also trying to wipe away an escaping tear without anyone noticing. It was tough.
But not as tough as if I was actually leaving Vietnam on this flight. If that had have been the case, then I would have been an absolute blubbering mess.
And the song?
It’s ‘Hello Vietnam’ – https://vimeo.com/9611332
I’m not sure why it does it, but it just does. And it still does.
Song done, composure regained, we taxi out and take off pretty much on time.
As we’re climbing, the flight attendant seated next to me starts doing something with the emergency exit door. It remained in the position you want that door to always remain in, but you don’t reckon that got my attention!?
A few minutes later, while still climbing, and with the ‘fasten seat belts’ light still on, two female passengers get up and begin making their way towards the back of the plane. A female flight attendant heading towards the front of the plane gets in their way and says something to them.
They reluctantly turn around to head back to their seats, and just to reinforce her point, the flight attendant gives one a slight push in the back.
I was a bit surprised when she did that, but I suspect patience levels are often pushed to the limit for flight attendants.
Anyway, I found it quite funny.
Two hours later, my very first Vietjet flight came to an end when we landed in HCMC. On time, and uneventful. Pretty happy with that, and would definitely use them again.
As we taxied towards the terminal, they started playing ‘Hello Vietnam’, again.
And, bloody hell, it got me again. But this time I wasn’t quite quick enough to grab a stray tear.
Seriously, I don’t know what it is….
A little red-eyed, I make my way through the terminal, before heading outside and turning left towards the international terminal.
Accidently photobombing a group of locals’ photo along the way; which made them laugh; and made my way over to the standard hustle and bustle of the crowd that always seems to be outside the international terminal.
And then it began…..
“Would you like a like a taxi?”
“No thanks”, I say.
“Still no”, I reply.
I make my way towards the arrivals screen and find Lisa’s flight listed.
Scheduled for 12.10pm, but now estimated to arrive at 1.10pm.
My flight had arrived on time at 11.45am; 25 minutes before Lisa’s was scheduled; and while it all looked good on paper, I always suspected that the stars wouldn’t align perfectly.
However, I sort of thought that it would be my flight that would muck things up….
I send Lisa a text to let her know I’m here, and surprise, surprise, it goes through. At least that now seems to be fixed.
So, what to do for the next hour or so….
Since it’s now been over two hours since my last caphe sua da, and seeing as there’s a Highlands Coffee place over near the domestic terminal, I head over there.
Large caphe sua da purchased, and while the airconditioned comfort of being inside is appealing, it’s just not as much fun as sitting outside.
So, back out into the heat to sit under an umbrella and sweat.
Taking advantage of being able to text again, I let a few people at home know that I’m still alive. Not sure that they were that interested, but I thought I better do the right thing on the off chance….
Texting and coffee done, I head back to the international terminal to wait. As well as continually say ‘no thank you’ to the constant offers of a taxi.
It really is relentless, and I can understand why people get intimidated when they finally get outside here after a long flight. I still vividly remember when we first arrived three years ago, how full on I found the whole thing. It was the noise, the heat, and the crowds. I actually found it a little scary.
But now, three years later, and on our third trip, it’s far easier to deal with.
Finally, an hour and a half after the scheduled arrival time, the screen tells me that the plane has landed. Now it’s just a matter of getting through the visa process and immigration.
And then, just after 2.00pm, I see a familiar face. Geez it felt like a long wait.
A quick hello, and we head off in the direction of the Vinasun and Mai Linh taxi marshals.
The first one we see is the Mai Linh one, so we go with them. We’re staying with a friend in District three so I hand the driver the address which I have written down. He takes a minute to read it and then we’re on our way. He seems to know where it is, and I really hope he knows where it is, as I have absolutely no idea.
Back out into the madness that is HCMC, and we catch up on things in the back of the car. It’s good to see her again, and I have kind of missed her.
But I’d never tell her that….
I didn’t really take any notice of where we were going, and I didn’t even bother to keep an eye on the meter. And when I finally did remember to look, it was ticking over at the right speed.
Not long after, we turned right into a fairly narrow street. That street then runs into narrow lanes, and seriously, if I got out now, I’m not sure I’d find my way back to the main road.
But I like it.
Finally, and now totally confused, we pull up outside Tung’s house. It’s obviously much easier for a local, but I’m blown away that the taxi driver was able to find it without using a map.
And at 140 000 Dong, plus the 10 000 airport fee, all was good.
Tung comes out to meet us, and then he takes us inside to show us around. He’s just had major renovations done, and while there’s a couple of minor things still being finished off, the house looks fantastic. He also introduces us to his girlfriend, Vy, who seems lovely.
We get settled in our room and take a few minutes to re-charge. It’s already been a long day, and while I’m a little tired, Lisa is worse.
But, being the caring and sympathetic person that I am, I make her get up so we can go out and explore the neighbourhood.
Back downstairs and out into the street. As we start to walk, the thought goes through my mind that I perhaps should be dropping rice behind me so we know how to get back. It feels a little maze like, and while I feel some trepidation, I think I like it.
Very local, and very non-touristy. Yeah, I think I’m going to enjoy this.
There’s lots of food and coffee places around, and it’s the food places that make me realise that I haven’t really eaten all day. In fact, it’s only been the two caphe sua da’s that have been keeping me going.
We come across a girl doing assorted seafood and fried spring rolls from her food cart. As it’s already 4.30pm, we don’t really want to eat too much this close to dinner, so, with pointing and hand gestures, we order four spring rolls for the princely sum of 10 000 Dong.
She seems pretty happy that we’ve come to her, and while we stand there waiting for her to cook them, another woman comes across from a shop over the road and gets us to sit down outside her place.
I don’t know if she was the girl’s mother or whether she was just being friendly, but once she has us seated, she quickly ducks back inside before returning with some iced tea for us.
Yep, I’m liking this place.
Spring rolls done, it’s time to put Lisa out of her misery. This will also put me out of mine.
She’s gone downhill with regards to being able to keep up one end of a conversation. The lights are sort of on, but yeah, she’s not really home.
I might as well be patting a cat….
We walk back to Tung’s, surprisingly finding it rather easily, and I drop her off to have a nap.
But a nap is the last thing that I want; I can hear the beer calling. But I’m just not sure where it’s calling from, at this point.
Back out into the street, and around a couple of corners. Ahhh, a Tiger beer sign is spotted. Not ideal as I would prefer a Vietnamese beer, but as it’s 5.00pm, I’m running out of time.
I head over towards it and the woman, as well as her young son, are a little surprised to see me.
Managing to get my point across, I’m soon seated on a small plastic chair on the footpath. A beer mug, with a large chunk of ‘unsafe’ ice in it, along with a warm can of Tiger beer, quickly appears.
I love it!
Yep, back in my really happy place of beer on the footpath, while watching the world go by.
The husband and wife setting up their food cart on the other side of the narrow street. The constant stream of people calling past, picking up food from the place next door, as well as several others down the street, on their way home.
Yep, it really is one of my favourite things to do in Vietnam.
All of a sudden, an older guy from next door appears next to me. He has a rather large stainless steel mug in his hand, which is more ‘bucket like’ than ‘mug like’.
“Beer, beer”, he says.
It takes me a second to work out what he’s doing, and then I realise he has beer in his mug and he wants to ‘cheers’ me.
I oblige, as I always would, and he returns several times over the next hour to do it again.
It was only a small thing, but I loved it. It meant a lot.
Two beers done, and it was time to head back. With the use of fingers, we work out the bill; 35 000 Dong for two Tiger beers.
Bit of an unusual amount, I think, and not sure if I’ve been overcharged 5000, or given a 5000 Dong discount.
It doesn’t matter, it’s not important.
Before I head off, I go and find my mate from next door. I shake his hand, and want to say ‘hope to see you tomorrow’, but that’s not an option with my Vietnamese vocabulary.
I’m left with my usual meagre ‘cam on’, but I really do mean it. I really hope we’ll see each other again.
I head off in the direction of Tung’s but am also looking for a place that sells cold beer to take back. I sort of take the long way around the block, and there, around another corner, is a small shop.
There’s a few older guys sitting out the front enjoying a beer, and an older lady in the shop. And, importantly, I can see beer in the fridge.
I head in, and as I do, I get some hellos from the old guys. I don’t think they expected to see someone like me.
I ask for four beers, and because it’s not a tourist area, I don’t bother confirming the price beforehand.
And the non-asked for price? 44 000 Dong. Yep, 11 000 each.
I love this neighbourhood just that little bit more….
With a slightly bigger smile on my face, as well as a bit of a spring in my step, I head back to Tung’s to get cleaned up before going out for dinner.
Suitably refreshed, and with Lisa now slightly more ‘alert’, for want of a better word…., we head downstairs to see Tung, as well as finally meet Khoi, who has organised our tour of the Mekong which is starting on Monday.
I’d spoken to Khoi a couple of times on the phone before leaving Australia, as well as a couple of days ago when I was up at Ba Be Lake, but this was our first meeting.
It was great to finally put a face to the name, and he really is as friendly and genuine in person, as he seemed to be in those phone calls.
Tung organises an Uber, or it could have been a Grab, – don’t know if there’s any difference; haven’t been in either in Vietnam – and we head off.
In which direction, I have no idea. It’s dark, it’s pouring with rain, and apart from knowing we’re staying in District three, I don’t really know where we are.
A few minutes later we pull up and make a run for it through the rain to the restaurant.
And this restaurant was like no other restaurant we’d been to in Vietnam. Yep, it was right up there in quality and sophistication.
Perhaps even a little too sophisticated for me….
While it was a place we wouldn’t ordinarily seek out, it was nice to experience something a bit different. And you could never fault the quality of the food.
Always trying hard to stick to authentic Vietnamese food while in Vietnam, Lisa had a middle eastern style chicken dish, while I had the sea bass.
And both were delicious.
But really, it was less about the food, and more about spending time with friends.
It was good to catch up with Tung again, as well as talk to Khoi about what we could expect on our Mekong tour.
But, eventually, all good things must come to an end, as we had to say goodbye to Khoi.
And that was tough, as even though we’d only just met, I felt like I’d known him for quite some time. Hopefully it’s more a ‘see you next time’, rather than a goodbye.
The three of us then headed back to Tung’s.
A few beers on the bed to finish off the day, along with a bit of talking to myself as Lisa’s long day once again caught up with her.
Hopefully she’ll be a little more ‘up and about’ tomorrow.