It’s finally happening again!
2022 arrived, and while Covid lockdowns appeared, hopefully, to be a thing of the past, the new year didn’t feel that much different to the previous two.
Overseas travel not only still seemed an impossibility, but it also felt like it would be that way for significant time to come.
Vietnam Mark 5 was supposed to have happened in September 2021, but that was shelved before 2020 had even finished. 2022 was the next hope, but now that that had arrived, it seemed less likely than….., well, something that wasn’t likely at all.
Vietnam then re-opened in mid March, but, with an arm’s length list of Covid restrictions and protocols, it was never once even remotely considered.
Australia’s restrictions, both on leaving and re-entering, also made the whole thing far too difficult to contemplate.
2022, for Mark 5, was once again written off.
Over the next couple of months, those restrictive restrictions (there’s probably a reason why you don’t often see those two words together) were dropped one by one, and rather quickly I might add, by the Vietnamese Government.
It was, to me at least, a little surprising. It did not, however, give me any real hope of 2022 being the year.
But then, by mid year, pretty much every one of those initial restrictions, with the exception of one, had disappeared.
And with that last remaining one being $10 000 Covid insurance, well, we always travel with travel insurance anyway, so that wasn’t really a restriction at all for us.
Australia, finally, had also made leaving and coming home, much more user friendly. So even though we were still ‘dealing with’ Covid, most of the speedbumps had been removed, and life had become far more familiar with how it used to be.
That was good, but we were still just sitting back and doing what we’d been doing for the last two and a half years, and that was waiting.
Waiting for what, I’m not really sure. It was a rut that we were well and truly entrenched in.
But then, a little thought, finally….., managed to find a way into my often slow thinking mind.
“There’s no real restrictions anymore”.
“Could we possibly make 2022 the year to tick off what was supposed to happen 12 months ago?”
It was a bit of a scary thought, and I’m not really sure why that was.
I suspect it was because it had just never been on the radar, and as such, hadn’t really been in the background as something to look forward to.
But it was also exciting.
An opportunity to not only see Vietnam again, but to also possibly see it with significantly fewer people who look like us.
I attempted to justify it in my own mind, partly for self reassurance, and partly so I had something to convince that other person I would be travelling with.
For my mind, it actually wasn’t too difficult to do, and I really couldn’t come up with a reason why we wouldn’t.
The fact that our passports expired in a little over 18 months, meaning our next opportunity to go would bring that dreaded 6 months remaining thing on said passports, helped with the reasoning.
Could we be about to break free of these damn Covid shackles?!
Without saying much to Lisa, I headed off to Skyscanner to sus things out.
Hmmm, no Air Asia.
But there was Scoot, who I’m pretty sure wasn’t an option for us last time.
Jetstar was there, so too Vietnam Airlines, as well as another new one, well, new internationally, with Bamboo Airways.
Prices weren’t great, but also not prohibitive.
Ok, time to now talk, in my best convincing salesman’s voice, to the intrepid explorer.
Question posed, probably more statement like than question like, and, well, she’s keen. Sort of… Probably a little apprehensive, which is okay, as there’s still a bit of that in me, but it’s not long before she can see the advantages of doing this sooner, rather than later.
It was discussed, on and off, over the next few days, and the decision was eventually made. If we could work out flights, it was going to happen!
The following week, I – yes me, seeing as it tends to be my job, set about looking at flight options.
It’s something that I’ve never really found difficult, well, since that first trip was out of the way, but now in these ‘post Covid’ times, it was so much harder.
Previous options no longer there, but also a couple of new possibilities.
Disregarding actual carriers, there seemed to be no shortage of flights, but at the same time, there weren’t options every day with certain airlines.
Flight times, as in the actual time they leave, were also not terribly conducive to what I really wanted. And what it was that I really wanted, was a night time flight which had us arriving early morning, which meant we were not wasting day time hours trapped in a plane.
Then there was the working around of Lisa’s work days, which was more difficult than it should have been, to enable us to use as much of our 30 day visa; which is the only option at the moment; as we possibly could.
Incidentally, here is the only place you can currently get a visa for Vietnam, from.
There was also the issue of being back in time for cricket season, but that, on a scale of one to five, probably came in at six.
Oh, did I mention the price of airline tickets now?
Yeah, not as wallet friendly as they once were.
Again, not prohibitive, but yeah, not like it’s 2019 anymore. About 50% more than the last time we did this.
Eventually, and finally, flight friendly dates and times were found, and the submit / payment button, slightly painfully, was clicked.
Scoot out, with a ‘short-ish’ stopover in quaint little Changi airport, and then arrival in HCMC.
And then Jetstar back home, from HCMC, but with a direct flight, which we’ve never had the privilege of doing.
Yes, in and out of the same city, which isn’t really ever my preference, but I just couldn’t make the most of our time with a flight from Hanoi.
But, both flying at night, which is a win. It does, however, due to both our inabilities to sleep on planes, mean we will be delivered to our destinations absolutely wrecked.
One of us will deal with that far better than the other, so I will just keep my distance when that time comes.
The countdown had begun, and as is my childish way, I added numerous numbers to our household calendar, to assist with my inability to ‘wait patiently’ for any momentous occasion, that requires a waiting period to enjoy said momentous occasion.
The girl was the first to notice the calendar, and with a roll of her eyes, a condescending snigger, and a smart arse comment, it confirmed my childish tendencies.
So, to what this is supposed to be about; the planning.
It should have been relatively easy, when you consider how much time my brain had spent thinking up itineraries over the last two years, mainly while out on those countless lockdown walks. But now that push had come to shove, you’d think that I hadn’t thought of Vietnam at all since 2019.
Anyway, we had two dates. The arrival and the departure, and a bit like you’d find on a tombstone, it was just the dash that needed filling in.
The easy bit was we would, obviously, start in HCMC, as well as finish there. But what else?
Green Village Mekong, near Can Tho, was a definite, and will likely always be, whenever we visit Vietnam.
Hanoi, probably really goes without saying, would also have a reasonable amount of time allocated to it.
There were also two other main possibilities, and they were things that had been on a list in my head, pretty much since the last trip. Mu Cang Chai, on the back of motorbikes, with Toan, and the train from Danang to Hanoi, stopping off several times along the way.
It soon became apparent that doing both on one trip was not really feasible. It’s amazing how quickly four weeks of nights disappears when you start allocating those nights to destinations.
So, after lots of umming and ahhing, the train idea was scrapped. It will have to wait till next time.
Which is okay, as you always need to leave something for next time.
Toan was contacted, and Toan was then duly booked. We just didn’t have exact dates for it, but there was a rough belief on when it would happen.
We now had some days to fill in before that particular component of the trip, and looking to see a new place, we fell upon Dalat.
But, and this is part of the reason we’re still yet to see it, flight times, and frequency, just proved more problematic than I was comfortable with.
Dalat, a little reluctantly, was then also scrapped.
Phu Quoc island then came into the equation. It would easily slot into the itinerary, and Lisa was really keen. Like really keen! But we had two problems.
Time of year, from a weather perspective, was one issue. Think rain, and potentially lots of it.
And the second issue was me.
I’ve said before, we don’t go to Vietnam for its beaches. We do alright in that department right here in Australia.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to jump in if there’s one near where we’re staying, but I ain’t travelling specifically to a place just for its beach.
My other issue were the many reports of what Phu Quoc had become. Again, I understand nothing stays the same forever, but reading those reports and reviews, I really think we’re several years too late.
Large hotels and resorts, offering the very thing I really struggle with in Vietnam, along with mentions of it being a large building site, again, building the things I really struggle with.
Oh, and then there were the mentions of copious amounts of rubbish strewn around the place.
Lisa, to a certain extent, was still keen to see it, and seemed to be prepared to look past the visual stuff.
It looked like something needed to give, and I was worried that something was going to be me.
In desperation, I Googled Phu Quoc’s weather; specifically its rainfall. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint, and Lisa, rather reluctantly, gave up the island.
That was fortuitous, but we still needed another destination before Hanoi and Mu Cang Chai.
We considered places within reach by road of HCMC, like Vung Tau, along with possible extra time in the Mekong, and even went as far as looking at a place we only really drove through, back on our first trip, which was Haiphong.
Ultimately, they were all crossed off the list, when an idea that I had occasionally thought about over the last couple of years, re-entered my head.
It was Hue, which again, we had spent a few nights in on that first trip in 2014, and is quite possibly best remembered for a certain bike ride that took place there.
Hue was a city that never really grabbed us, but looking back, that probably had more to do with us, than the place itself.
The thinking over the last few years was that we should, at some stage, go back for another look. That would either confirm our initial beliefs, or prove to us how wrong we were back then.
So, decision was made! Hue would be seen again, and in doing so, so too would the Hai Van Pass.
And again, it would be by train.
Now having destinations, as well as pretty much all our dates with lengths of stays in each, it was accommodation booking time.
While the Mekong bit was as easy as it gets, the HCMC, Hanoi, and Hue decisions took more researching than I think I have ever done.
It’s certainly not from lack of options, with all places having more than enough, but it’s now what we are looking for, that’s changed.
Well, it’s probably been changing for a while, but what appeals now, and that’s pretty much everywhere, is quite a bit different.
Smaller places, ideally family run, have always been the preference, but now it’s even more so.
And those, particularly in the bigger cities, can take some time to find. Perhaps even more so, in these early post-Covid days.
And yes, even our usual street / hotel in Hanoi, which we’ve stayed at on every trip, will be changed. Not because we are unhappy with it, but just that it’s time to make some new memories, in a slightly different, although not too far away, area.
HCMC was the first booked, followed by Hue. Hanoi was then narrowed down, before an email was sent to our preferred choice. Unfortunately, no reply was forthcoming.
I tried a Face Book page, but again, no response.
It was a real problem, as after all that map trawling and review reading, I was more than a little attached to this particular hotel.
A couple of days went by, still no reply, and then one Saturday afternoon, I received a message. Not from the hotel, but from a friend we met in Hanoi on our last trip. It was Mike, the very guy we just happened to have shared one of our most memorable days we’ve ever had in Vietnam, telling me he was back in Hanoi.
Mike on the left, with just one of the many new friends we met that day.
With Lisa, and the incense sticks we set out to find!
I mentioned my predicament, and asked if he was up in that area in the next few days, would he mind dropping past to see if they were actually open.
Several hours later, early on a Saturday night Melbourne time, I received a message saying he was standing in their lobby.
I almost spilt my beer!
A quick check of the email address, and sure enough, the one I had was wrong.
Email hastily re-sent to the correct one, and two minutes later another Face Book message came in from Mike, saying they had it.
Service and friendship above and beyond, the hotel was booked.
I really do owe Mike a beer or three.
So, essentially, it’s all pretty much done now. Just the tying up of the few loose ends that remain, and preparing what we need for the trip.
I can’t wait to see, and experience, Vietnam again, but probably more importantly, it’ll just be great to finally catch up again with the friends that we’ve met along the journey.
It’s been a very long three years….
P.S – Oh, and yes, there will be trip reports. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for them.