10-11 October – Hanoi – Kuala Lumpur – Melbourne
It’s a few minutes before 6.00am, and for some reason, my eyes are open. But getting up now just isn’t an option, so sleep is again attempted.
I’m mostly unsuccessful, with just interrupted dozing achieved.
And again, it’s mainly because of everything that’s going through my head.
The eleventh of October, a day that, way back on the fifth of September, seemed so far away, has arrived.
The day we begin our journey home.
I really don’t want to go, but I do know, albeit deep down, it is time.
After all, you can’t come back if you don’t leave.
And coming back is something that I’m desperate to do. I’m still not done with the place, and I can’t actually imagine a time when I could be.
Interestingly, though, this trip has made me think about how we’d go about future trips; as in what we want to see, as well as how we’d split our time. We’ve learnt heaps over the journey since the very first, incredibly nervous and tentative steps, were taken on those first two days in Saigon, way back in 2014, but now, after completing this fourth one, I feel like I have a new understanding.
Perhaps not just about Vietnam, but maybe also more about myself.
We both absolutely love Hanoi; and always have; but as I suspected when Thanh Hoa was cancelled, I thought ten nights might be a couple too many.
And now, after having had those ten nights, my initial concerns have been realised.
I’m certainly not disappointed about spending all that time here, but if I had my time again, I would have allocated a couple of those nights, elsewhere.
Ninh Binh reminded me about how beautiful both the countryside, as well as the people, are, and as such, we need to go back and experience a bit more of it.
The Mekong was the same, and the eight nights spread across three locations has increased my desire to, not only return, but to actually see even more areas.
Again, while the countryside is reason enough for a visit, it’s the people that are the real attraction.
Said it before, nicer people you will not find.
And, after our first Can Gio experience a couple of weeks ago, well that was just more confirmation of the appeal of more nature inspired destinations.
Don’t worry, Hanoi will always feature, as too will Saigon. And now, since that lightbulb moment I finally had about Saigon, I’m looking forward to seeing more of it, and not just using it as a ‘pass through’ destination.
With far too much thinking now done, and very little sleep achieved because of it, we head over to the balcony for the final time, just before 9.00am.
Actually feeling pretty good, but only when it comes to my health, I manage to enjoy a hot breakfast, of sorts. Little sausage things, some bacon, and small garlic breads, as well as my usual fruit.
Down below, the usual sights are unfolding before me, including the Grab bike rider who is about to enjoy a bowl of pho from our laneway ladies.
Grabbing a napkin to wipe his face, and then his nose, he then uses the same napkin to wipe down his chopsticks.
All a little off-putting, but also very funny at the same time.
Interestingly, while looking at the pho ladies and their customers, and considering how I actually feel, I reckon I could quite possibly be sitting down there enjoying a hot bowl, as well.
Funny how stuff like that happens on your final day…..
Oh well, hopefully that desire is still there the next time I find myself in Hanoi.
Really not wanting to walk down those stairs for the last time, but realising the inevitability of it all, it becomes time to make a move.
The other problem with that, of course, is that it involves a ‘goodbye’.
Courage worked up, we find Sophia. And yep, it wasn’t easy.
Hugs, along with heartfelt thank you’s for what she had done for us, we made sure it was more a, ‘see you next time’.
Back to the room to try and work out the packing thing, which I’ve been dreading doing. Managed to get 90% of it sorted, and then it’s time for another ‘last’; that final caphe sua da.
Back downstairs, out the front door, and up to our café.
They’re busy, and with no seats outside, it will have to be an inside one. Doesn’t matter, an inside one is better than not having one.
We sit and watch the goings on, while hoping the whole thing won’t end, but of course, it always does.
All too soon the final walk back to the Artisan begins, and then it’s upstairs for a shower, and to complete that packing thing.
And oh, how I just love packing. Especially when you think you’re done, and then you realise you left something out.
Yep, love it…..
Chores done, it’s time, and the stairs from the first floor, after being scaled and descended more times than I’d care to count over the last week and a half, are traversed one final time.
Down into the foyer a bit after 11.30am, to await our car that is going to take us to the airport.
Lisa takes a seat and starts reading the paper, while I’m not yet done with seeing the last of my Hanoi. Even if it is just standing outside the doors of the hotel and watching the usual.
Thuy, the young girl from the Artisan’s restaurant / bar, is over the road, so I head over to chat, as well as do one of those ‘goodbyes’….
She really is lovely, and she’s looked after us so well the whole time we’ve been here.
Eventually, and unfortunately, the clock ticks over 12.00pm, and right on time, our car arrives.
Bags thrown in, one last look at our surroundings, and we’re quickly on our way. The journey to end our journey, has begun.
Out of Hang Hanh for the final time, around the corner into Bao Khanh; recycling woman working hard sorting scrap metal up on the corner; and then down to the Southern end of the lake.
Lisa then points out all the Grab bike riders lined up outside at the McDonalds, waiting for their food. While that looked all rather interesting, that wasn’t the thing that intrigued me.
It was the fact that I never knew that there was actually a McDonalds there!
How many times have we walked past here!?
Up past the Opera House, and onto the busy wide road, with the traffic now much worse.
That’s alright, we have plenty of time, and with it being busy, I can get a good look at the tiled mural wall beside the road.
Well, I can, when it’s not obscured by other vehicles.
We then turn right onto the bridge we drove across to get to Sophia’s the other day – the very same bridge we walked under yesterday – and all of a sudden, my interest is piqued.
But only because we have never been taken to the airport this way.
Is our driver of the belief that Hanoi has two international airports?
Or perhaps worse, did we get into the wrong car back at the hotel?
Could we in fact be going on some sort of day trip?
I give it a minute, while wracking my brain, and then ask, rather nervously, “Airport?”.
“Yes, airport”, is the response, which is reassuring enough for my needs.
Off the bridge, and we start heading up towards Long Bien bridge, which is good, as I know the airport is, very roughly, in that direction.
Past the ‘twin towers’ at the end of Long Bien, that we walked around two years ago, and then past the park that had the little bird café in it. Interestingly, or perhaps more sadly, the café where we had a caphe sua da, seems to have gone.
On we continue, past all the usual sights of bikes carrying anything and everything, as well as all the quintessential contrasts of Vietnam. Huge modern buildings being built next to tiny old houses, along with partially completed new modern houses, with bamboo being used for scaffolding.
The traffic has now become significantly lighter, and we soon end up on some sort of freeway or highway, which means we’re making much better time.
However, while our driver’s earlier driving through the congested streets of Hanoi had been very good, his driving at a far higher speed is not.
Aggressive overtaking, on both sides, tailgating; it’s downright dangerous.
We’ve experienced it before, and it’s the reason I never recommend long distance road travel in Vietnam.
It just makes for an incredibly stressful experience, and not to mention one that is also potentially harmful to your health.
I look at Lisa, and yep, she’s struggling with it. Struggling so much in fact, that there’s the occasional need to wipe away a tear or two.
Fortunately, I start to notice planes that have just taken off, as well as airport signs on the side of the road. Both are comforting, as it means that we are in fact heading in the right direction, and also that we’ll soon be out of this car.
We arrive at the airport around 12.45pm, and get out to retrieve our bags from the boot. Our driver seems eager to help, but I’m not really interested in him doing so. As we’re standing at the back of his car, another car, with hotel signage on it, pulls up very close behind.
This takes both my, and our driver’s, attention away from the job at hand. The car is so close that it will not be possible for it to pull out to the left to move on, however that doesn’t stop this particular driver from trying, as I pick up the bags.
He proceeds to move out of his parking space, and as he does, his front bumper pushes into the leg of our driver.
Our driver glares at him, but Mr close parker, seemingly oblivious to what is happening, continues to proceed.
Our driver then kicks the other car, as we move away towards the terminal doors. The second car finally gets past, possibly now with a scratched bumper, as we head inside shaking our heads.
Seriously, sometimes the driving attitude, along with the standard of driving here, can only be described as appalling….
Inside the terminal, trying to put the whole thing out of our minds, and the job now is to work out where we need to be. The Air Asia desk is soon found, and even though we haven’t printed out our boarding passes, the whole check in thing is extremely quick.
With one less bag to carry, we head off to find the happy guys who work in immigration. Amazingly, it’s all very quiet there, and with no queues, we’re called up straight away.
Passport handed over, e-visa* at the ready, but he’s not at all interested in checking that.
*Note – it is a requirement that you should be able to show your e-visa upon exiting the country, should they ask to see it.
All very straightforward, and surprisingly, my immigration guy was actually quite friendly.
He did, however, become a little grumpy with Lisa, as, just like in 2017, she stood in the wrong spot.
She’s a slow learner…..
Through to security, and while this time there is a bit of a queue, it only takes a few minutes and is all rather painless.
Now on the other side, and we’re into that sterile bubble of multinational brand names and expensive shops, selling stuff that you don’t really need.
And all just made worse when you’re on your way home…..
We find our gate, and because it’s lunchtime, we check out the food options.
Burger King is one, but unfortunately, I only get as far as the prices.
First, they’re in USD, and second, pretty much every product is the wrong side of $10.
And with our exchange rate at the moment, that ain’t going to happen…..
We find a little ‘hole in the wall’ type place – Fresh Garden – and end up getting a meat and salad roll, which being slightly banh mi–ish, keeps me in Vietnam a little longer.
And at $2.50USD, which when converted to Dong becomes 60 000, is far better than the Burger King thieves.
Although, the rate they happened to use was 24 000, which is very much at the higher end.
As it usually is…..
It actually ends up being okay, apart from the roll being, as is the Vietnamese way, a little sweet.
The sitting and waiting begins, along with some note writing, a bit of Trip Advisor-ing, the occasional walk, as well as trying to take that perfect photo of a plane about to either land, or take off.
Well, as perfect as can be done, when you’re a long way from it, you have a very large window in front of you, and you only have a cheap camera.
Oh well, no harm in trying, and it gives me something to do…..
Clock ticks over to 2.30pm; our flight is at 3.30pm; and the first Air Asia plane that I’ve seen since we’ve been here, lands and taxis towards the terminal.
A few other people obviously also noticed it, and even though no announcement has been made, quite a few jump up and form a queue.
The thought crosses my mind that I’ve perhaps missed something?
But I haven’t, as the plane taxis past our gate and off to another one much further down.
The premature queuers return to their seats.
Seriously, people in airports….
Eventually, and with only 15 minutes till our scheduled departure, our plane pulls up at our gate. I doubt we’ll be taking off on time….
A few of the ‘in a hurry’ types jump up, and then most of the rest also do as the announcement is made.
We, on the other hand, do as we normally do, and sit and wait a bit longer.
Queue now shorter, the moment to leave Vietnam has arrived.
Onto the plane, and because it’s far from full, a guy sharing our group of three seats decides to give us some more room by moving.
While the interior of the plane looks very new, with smart looking black vinyl seats, the view of the exterior, through my window, is the opposite.
The paintwork is scratched and chipped, and unfortunately, that makes me think back to an ‘Air Crash Investigations’ episode that I saw not long before the trip, that involved a well-worn plane that didn’t quite make it safely back to the ground.
Really need to stop watching those shows…..
We eventually get pushed back, and end up taking off at 4.05pm. The sun is shining, but it is very smoggy and hazy, as I try to keep my eyes on Hanoi below us, for as long as I can.
Just another one of those ‘goodbyes’, that I really don’t want to do, I suppose.
Made worse by the fact that it’s not just a goodbye to Hanoi, but also a goodbye to Vietnam.
It hurts, and with the ‘Hello Vietnam’ song playing in my head, it isn’t helping the situation one little bit.
With Hanoi no longer visible, and still with almost three hours of flying ahead of us, I set about trying to find things to help while away the time.
Taking advantage of still having some Ringgit left over from our 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, we have a cup of 3 minute noodles each, for the grand total of 6 Ringgit each.
That’s then followed by a short nap, along with plenty of looking out the window at nothing in particular.
While also trying hard not to look at the pretty average condition of the plane’s exterior paintwork.
Apart from a bit of fairly significant turbulence as we’re approaching Kuala Lumpur, of which the Captain seemed quite adamant about everyone putting their seatbelts on, it’s a pretty uneventful flight.
Which is always a good thing.
A little before 8.00pm, which is really 7.00pm Vietnam time, we were back on the ground, where we then proceeded to taxi around the airport for the next 10 – 15 minutes.
I’m not sure what part of the airport we landed in, but it clearly was a long way from the gate we ultimately needed to get to.
On the positive side, we were off the plane in no more than three minutes after pulling up, which is indeed a rarity.
We follow the masses, eventually reaching the first of the security checks, and with only a few about, we’re quickly through.
We find the Living Room restaurant / bar, and once again, we find ourselves sitting in the same place as when we were last making our way home from Vietnam. It’s not too many days short of exactly two years ago, but in some ways, it feels like only yesterday.
I’m also struggling to work out where the last five weeks have gone, since we last walked past this spot.
A couple of Tiger beers ordered, which hopefully will help with the pain of having left Vietnam.
And while it kind of does, the price however, does not, and at 28 Ringgit each, we are indeed a long way away from Vietnam.
And just to add to the whole finality feeling, we have our first Western meal since we were last transiting this airport, over a month ago.
Potato wedges is the choice, and while it’s a million miles away from what we’ve been having, I did kind of enjoy it more than I thought I would.
Which annoys me, somewhat.
A second beer had; just cause I like giving money away; as well as trying to put off the inevitable.
With our flight being at 10.20pm, and knowing we still have another security check to do, as well as, no doubt, a significant walk, we make a move about 9.30pm.
Quickly downstairs, and unlike the first security check an hour and a half ago, there’s quite a few more around this time.
The fact that they only have one line open, may be contributing to that….
Fortunately, common sense prevails, and a second line is opened, which helps to move the backlog.
Well it does, until the guy in front of me sets of the metal detector. Suspected item removed; he tries again. Same result.
A second item removed; third attempt made.
Yep, again, unsuccessful.
Another couple of attempts, and finally he seems to have run out of metal objects in his possession.
Unfortunately, that common sense that the security guys had used in opening the second line, had been in short supply with this bloke.
Anyway, it was nice that he’d finally got there. For all concerned…..
Now on the ‘other side’, we fill our water bottles and begin, what turns out to be, a very long walk towards our gate.
We eventually get there, and it seems the majority are already through to the holding area, so we don’t have too long to wait. It could, however, have been quicker, with the immigration officials being extremely thorough in their checking of passports.
Almost interrogation-like of some people, it made me think that perhaps they knew something about someone on the flight, that the rest of us did not.
Managing to avoid a cavity search, we’re finally into the holding area, and boarding begins soon after.
But the boarding, as is usually the case, is not quick, and I seriously wonder how some of these people get through life.
We eventually reach our seats, and while the plane is pretty full, the woman in front of us in the exit row has all three seats to herself. I don’t even know her, but I think I hate her….
We get pushed back about 10.30pm, and then proceed to drive around the airport for the next 25 minutes.
Finding the end of the runway, or is it the beginning?, we’re back in the air by 11.00pm.
Seat belts sign is switched off not long after, and you’d think that most of us haven’t had access to a toilet for the last three hours.
Yep, my holiday is over, I’m tired, and I’m getting grumpier the older I get…..
We all get handed immigration / arrival cards to fill out, which are rather difficult to complete in the dark.
I do, however, manage it, and just as I finish mine, Lisa turns the overhead light on.
Hmmm, never thought of doing that….
Now with eye strain, the realisation hits me that that 11.00pm take off, is actually 2.00am Melbourne time.
And knowing that as it gets light in Australia, the plane’s lights will be turned back on, it doesn’t take me too long to work out I don’t have a lot of sleep conducive hours to play with.
I give it a go, but not surprisingly for me, I’m not very successful. While I’m lucky enough to actually have two usable windows for when it’s light enough to see out of them, that particular scenario is now conspiring against me, as it doesn’t give me a wall to rest my head.
Uncomfortable, and now with a sore neck, I just sit with my eyes closed and hope for the best.
So I sit, now feeling somewhat more awake after the fight to get comfortable, and think about what we’ve done over the last five weeks.
Of which, I haven’t really done. I never do, apart from always having a general overview of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. Each day seems to come and go, and while living the moment; apart from my usual annoying urge to overthink those final days as they get closer; there just never seems time to really sit and think about the journey in any great detail.
But now, having that time, along with being in a reflective mood for obvious reasons, it’s given me something else to worry about, as I struggle to do the sleep thing.
I’m concerned I won’t be able to remember everything we’ve done. And yes, while I’ve taken lots of notes; a diary, if you like; I really want to be able to remember it all without having to look back on them.
I don’t know, it’s just important to me, for some reason.
So, sitting there, I now have something to keep me occupied, while I wait for sleep to happen.
Fortunately, and happily, I’m able to remember all the main things we did on each day, over the whole journey.
From the day we first arrived in Siem Reap, to then seeing some of the temples, including the amazing Bayon that blew me away, over the following two days. And then on day three, our visit to the Landmine Museum, that, while it was never supposed to happen, I’m extremely glad it did.
But of all our time in Siem Reap, the bike ride to APOPO, and then back into the Angkor Archaeological Park, was as big a highlight as anything we did. And again, not planned.
Then on to Phnom Penh, with the sobering Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, before then heading down the river to Chau Doc to do our first ever land, even though it was really water, crossing between countries. People who don’t live in Australia, or any other ‘island’ nation, might not understand the significance of that.
Well, it was significant for me….
Time in the Mekong with friends, including doing stuff that very few get to do, and then the ‘light bulb’ moment where I was finally able to have more of an understanding about Saigon.
And then of course, Hanoi. And while Hanoi never disappoints, it was perhaps what we did outside of Hanoi; first our return to Ninh Binh, followed by one of the most amazing, and surreal, days we’ve ever had in Vietnam. And that particular day was all thanks to a guy I ‘met’ on the internet.
Incredible how stuff pans out…..
So yeah, it seems I can remember most of it, including some of the stuff that didn’t go exactly to plan, as well as a few of those health issues, which, while they’re never much fun, can just be part of it all, sometimes.
I’m happy, and there is very much a sense of relief there. So much so, it seems, as it actually helps me with getting a little sleep. Not a lot, but short periods here and there.
The ‘sleep’, interrupted by neck pain, Lisa wriggling in her seat the whole night, and the endless procession of people going to the toilet; which is just something else that a certain number of people struggle with…..; comes to an end when the lights are switched on at 7.00am.
Which is really 4.00am, or even 3.00am, if we’re going all the way back to Vietnam time.
Which, unfortunately, it feels like….
However, in the haze of actually waking up, or perhaps just dealing with a lack of, and significantly interrupted, sleep, I kind of feel okay. Not great, but good enough to start thinking about what we’ll be doing tonight.
That, unfortunately, once again reminds me that we’re done. Yep, it’s finished, and a return to the real world is imminent.
Which includes seeing what sort of condition the house is in.
Hmmm, looking forward to that…..
Now that the sun is well and truly up, I can start making use of my two windows. But apart from noticing that it’s a bright and sunny day, there’s not really a great deal to see. It’s still, however, better than watching that endless stream of toilet users.
Eventually I can see ocean, and then also down below, a reasonably big, but certainly not huge looking, city.
I try to think of large coastal towns that it could be, and the best I can come up with is Warrnambool. But it doesn’t really look like Warrnambool.
The penny finally drops when I realise it’s Adelaide, and I’m quite surprised that the flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne involves, or can involve, flying straight over the top of it.
I wouldn’t have picked that, but then, what do I know???
Leaving Adelaide behind, which is always a good thing – can’t mention Adelaide without at least a small playful dig – and we continue towards Avalon.
That last hour just seems to drag, and with an expected top temperature of just 19°C today, as well as that return to ‘normal’ life, there really doesn’t feel like there’s a great deal to look forward to.
And while that forecast of 19°C could be far worse, it’s far from ideal after what we’ve been enjoying.
Although, the other day Lisa said that she was looking forward to those types of temperatures.
We’ll see how long that belief lasts….
Just before 9.30am we land at Avalon, to an announcement by the Captain that’s it’s currently a balmy 12°C.
Off the plane, into immigration, and by the time we get there, 90% of the people seem to be lined up in the overseas passport queues. It’s a pleasant surprise.
Quickly through with nothing to declare, and then it’s in to wait for our bag, which takes much longer than immigration did.
Bag retrieved, we head outside about 10.15am to find our Skybus, which, due to its prominent position, as well as its distinctive colour, is actually harder to not find.
Onto the bus, and we’re on the move by 10.30am. The traffic is good, until we hit the outskirts of the city, and we end up getting to the bus exchange at Spencer Street / Southern Cross station, where the whole journey began five weeks ago, around 11.30am.
Final leg about to begin, we head upstairs to check Lisa’s Myki card – the one that didn’t work the last time she tried it – and surprise, surprise, it does now.
We walk outside and head up around the corner to catch our last bus. And yep, while it’s cold, I was actually expecting worse.
Onto the bus just before 12.00pm, and while Lisa’s struggling somewhat with the lack of sleep; as she always does; she is coping.
As am I, coping with her.
But I know, at some point, the time will come. For both of us….
Off the bus at 12.45pm, short walk to the house completed, and, 21 hours after walking out of the Artisan Lakeview, we walk through the front door at 1.00pm.
And the house?
Certainly not a disaster zone, but also not that great, and nothing an hour can’t fix.
Although really, it shouldn’t have been an hour that we should have had to put in.
Anyway, the adventure is now officially done, and we’re once again very much back in the real world.
The researching, the planning, the organising, the actual doing, all complete, and all that remains are the memories and lots of photographs.
It’s not a great feeling, but I guess if you start something, it usually has to come to an end at some point.
I’ve said before that I’m still not yet done with Vietnam, but at the moment, apart from the slight possibility of another trip in two years’ time, there’s nothing planned.
However, there is the likelihood of a trip to Thailand in June or July 2020. I’m not overly keen; just can’t see it being my type of place; but Lisa has sort of promised the girl we’ll take her.
So yeah, it seems like I might have to ‘deal with’ a trip to Thailand, before I get another opportunity to return to Vietnam.
Unless of course, some obscure virus appears, and halts all international travel.
But seriously, what are the chances of that happening…..???
Anyway, in the meantime, and I’m really not complaining, all I have left of this now completed fourth Vietnam trip, and of course that first fleeting visit to Cambodia, are those memories and lots of photographs.
While that’s a bit of a sombre thought, I do have the writing of the Trip Reports to look forward to. Although, ‘look forward to’, probably isn’t the most accurate phrase.
They are most definitely a labour of love.
Oh well, if nothing else, writing them will help with the whole re-living of the adventure.
As well as give me something to do, should that unlikely virus come along and change the world as we know it…..