7-8 September – Melbourne – Singapore – hcmc
Wednesday 7 September –
It’s here! The day we begin something that, right up until May became June, we were never going to do this year.
But by mid June, that all changed, when the realisation hit that we could actually do this.
Off to work to do half a day. Partly because I have stuff that really needs to be done before we go, and partly because I don’t really want to be sitting around the house looking for things that need to be done, as well as doing things that don’t really need to be done.
Up before 6.00am, and a quick check of my phone.
And relief! There is the Facebook message that I was desperately hoping would be there. It’s from LeBlanc Saigon, who I messaged early last night, asking if they had accommodation available for our first two nights in Saigon.
Yep, doesn’t sound like me at all, leaving minor little details like accommodation, till the last minute.
Well, it doesn’t sound like me at all, because that’s exactly what I didn’t do.
You see yesterday afternoon, around 5.00pm to be exact, I messaged April Saigon Homestay, who we had booked back on 29 June, to remind them that we would be arriving Thursday morning.
They replied 25 minutes later, saying that they had major bathroom issues, and therefore they would have to cancel our booking.
They said they were very sorry.
Huh!? What!? If I hadn’t messaged, when the hell were you actually going to tell us about this!? When we arrived on your doorstep?
I was stunned. And just a little annoyed. I had spent a lot of time looking for a place that had certain characteristics that we like, and I was really looking forward to staying with them. Not least of all due to the fact that it was in the same area that we stayed in last time.
Fortunately, I had made a note of a couple of other places that I had considered, but then decided against. LeBlanc Saigon had been the second choice; hence the message being sent, and now I was looking at their reply which said they had rooms available.
Message quickly sent back saying please book us in, and they replied a few hours later; still very early Vietnam time; confirming it.
So, paid work done, and back home around 12.00pm to tick off things from the list. Lawns mowed, final tidy up, and the last of the packing done.
It seemed to take forever, and was far more stressful than it should have been. All not helped by an overwhelming feeling of nervousness.
Yep, it’s happened on previous trips, and I really don’t understand why I feel like this. It’s both surprising, and annoying.
Lisa finally gets home a bit before 4.00pm, which is probably 20 minutes later than I would have preferred, as I would really like to get on the 4.10pm bus.
She manages to get organised reasonably quickly, while I battle with a ridiculously fiddly battery clamp, while trying to remove the battery from her car.
The battery is getting on a bit and is unlikely to survive four weeks without being driven, and this way I can charge it while we’re away.
Battle finally won, it’s time to go. The boy drives Lisa and the bags, while I walk / jog to the bus stop, as the boy’s car is a ute, and as such only has room for one passenger.
Doesn’t matter, as it’s only a five minute walk. Although it would be longer than that, if I did it with company.
Just after 4.00pm, we’re reunited at the bus stop. That very same one we sat at, exactly 3 years and 2 days ago, when we last did the overseas holiday thing.
Last time sitting here was 1098 days ago, when you take into account the Leap Year!
It’s been a very long 3 years, but at the same time, there’s stuff from that last trip that feels like it was yesterday.
Perhaps because we’ve done very little over the last 3 years???
Anyway, the bus arrives on time, and we’re officially on our way. Apart from the amount of traffic, as well as the tendency for buses to keep picking up people, as well as drop them off, it’s all rather painless, and we reach our stop in the city, which just happens to be the final stop, just after 5.00pm.
A quick walk to Southern Cross station, and underneath to where the Skybus buses, as well as all the country and interstate buses, congregate.
Our Skybus that will take us to Tullamarine, waiting patiently.
We’re quickly on our Skybus, and on the move by 5.15pm. Back into the peak hour traffic, but it’s all moving along quite well, and we get to Tullamarine around 5.40pm. Little more than 1.5 hours from the time we left home, and it’s probably only 30 minutes longer than had we driven.
Check in not yet open, so we set about doing something for dinner. And yeah, because it’s easy, and because I don’t really care, it’s McDonalds. And it’s quite possibly the first time I’ve had McDonalds in the last 3 years and 1 day, which was when we arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport, for our stopover on the way to Siem Reap.
Food done, but not really enjoyed, we head off to check in. And it seems a lot of other people had the same idea before we did.
It’s rather slow going, as the majority of our fellow passengers seem to be of a nationality that like to take multiple bags and boxes, to wherever they are travelling to.
Then throw in the ones who didn’t weigh their bags before they left home, and are now transferring certain items from bag to bag, to avoid excess baggage charges.
If it wasn’t so frustrating, it would actually be quite amusing.
Then there’s the ones who end up with rather panicked looks on their faces, when the check in person points out that there’s an issue with either passport or visa, and they’re marched off to see if someone can help them get it rectified.
Which happened to what looked to be an Australian father and son, as well as an Indian couple with their young family.
The father and son didn’t look overly concerned, but the Indian family looked like they may have wasted a trip to the airport.
Finally it’s our turn, and fortunately our prior planning, as well as only having one very underweight bag to check in, pays off.
Off to security, and then through the now very automated immigration, and we’re airside by 7.00pm. Past all those stupidly expensive shops, that will never see me inside them, a quick look for our gate, so we know where we’ll soon need to be, and then it’s finally time for that long awaited pre-flight beer. Sorry, beers, as one will never be enough.
Next step about to be undertaken…..
Bar found, and we begin the unwinding thing. It’s a nice feeling, and not for the first time today, I’m struggling to believe what we’re about to do.
Does it ever taste as good?
Beers, last minute texts, a little Trip Advisoring, watching Lisa play silly games on her phone, while trying to make sure she doesn’t misplace her passport.
It can be hard work at times, dealing with her mother’s daughter….
Final beer had, and it’s time to go to the gate, where we find all our friends from the check in queue. Including the Australian father and son, who seem to have worked out whatever their passport / visa issue was.
We stand, and wait, and a few minutes before our flight time, which is 9.45pm, the door is still closed. Hmmmm…..
Finally, things start to move, and we’re through reasonably quickly. Onto what is quite possibly the longest aerobridge I’ve ever been on, and several minutes later we reach our Scoot branded plane.
Two years and however many months of Covid enforced non flying, hasn’t helped with the whole boarding thing. I just don’t understand how shoving a bag in a specially designed ‘cupboard’, admittedly one above your head, can be so difficult. And then the actual sitting down in your seat, so everyone else can do their thing, seems to also be beyond most.
We eventually get to where we need to be, which is a very long way from the guys up the front with the keys to this thing, and we’re in two of the three seats in the middle, while the third is being occupied by a young girl.
No problem with no window, as it’s going to be very dark for the duration of the flight.
Eventually pushed back at 10.30pm, and the plane is doing what it does best at 10.45pm. So much for the advertised flight time of 9.45pm…..
It’s at this point – we were probably too engrossed with the goings on of the overhead locker struggles – that we realise that the third person of our little threesome, is no longer in her seat.
Well, if she wasn’t here for the important, and rather dangerous, bit, then she must have a seat elsewhere.
Lisa is quickly shunted across, in case someone else takes a liking to an aisle seat.
Life just got significantly better! And far more comfortable.
Things eventually settle down, and I give the sleep thing a crack. While it wasn’t a complete success – it never is – little bits and pieces were achieved.
Which was kind of surprising, seeing as how much noise was still going on. The what seemed like incessant coughing, which caused me to think often about a certain respiratory condition, resulted in me leaving the mask I was wearing – which was always going to be removed once dark, on.
And why was I wearing a mask?
Because it was a requirement. And that requirement was because Vietnam had a mask requirement, which meant we were expected to wear one on the plane.
Even though half the other passengers were not.
And then there was the young kid who continually whinged and carried on. The desire to inflict harm was strong, and with Mum and Dad seemingly unconcerned by this behaviour, they could have been in trouble, too.
Sleep is drifted into and out of, until I notice lights are switched on in the centre half of the plane. This is followed by an announcement requesting any doctors or nurses on board, to please come forward.
Flight attendants are also walking up and down the aisles, requesting the same thing, and with each request, the level of urgency seems to rise.
My first thought is one of sympathy and concern. There’s never a great time and place to require medical care, but on a plane has got to be right up there with one of the worst.
My second thought is one of dismay that it’s not the kid. As he’s still carrying on.
There don’t seem to be too many ‘doctors’ or ‘nurses’ jumping up to assist, which brings up my next thought of how many, probably mainly doctors, would be on a low cost airline flight?
With far too many thoughts racing through my brain, I check the time. It’s 3.15am, Melbourne time. This results in some calculations, which will give me an idea of where we actually are, right now.
We’ve been in the air 4.5 hours, which means we are likely somewhere near the far northwest coast of Australia. A long way from any major Australian city, but also close enough that if it was deemed necessary, any detour would likely be to one of them.
All while my head is doing far more thinking at this time of the night than it’s ever done, I’m also watching half a dozen car crash watchers, from our darkened section of the plane, standing at the toilets, trying to get a better view of the patient, to see what’s going on. One is even trying to discreetly take photos.
At about 4.00am, the lights are finally switched off. Fortunately, no sudden deviation in the aircraft was noticed, and no sheet covered trollies were wheeled past.
With around two hours left till our brief stopover in Singapore, I give the sleep thing a go again. Minutes here, minutes there, but that’s about it. A little later another announcement; breakfast is about to be served.
But then a stroke of luck!
As preparations for the really unneeded food begin, we hit turbulence. And enough of it for the captain to make an announcement.
Breakfast is quickly cancelled, and I’m not sure I’ve ever enjoyed a bumpy flight as much as this. It’s saved me much annoyance, but it’s short-lived, as once the announcement comes that we’re preparing to land, the overhead locker lovers start doing their thing. Seriously, one guy must have opened and closed his 15 times.
Even his wife started to get the shits with him.
He seems to finally get it sorted, and we’re on the final approach. Tray tables have been stowed, seats in the upright position, seatbelts fastened, cabin crew strapped in. And then, an older guy a couple of rows in front, and over to the right, decides he needs the toilet. Honestly, he still would have been doing his thing as the plane hit the ground.
As he moves from his seat, he is told in no uncertain terms by the flight attendant what he needs to do. He seems a little surprised, as well as annoyed, just like me, but surrenders quickly.
Soon back on the ground at 6.00am, which is 4.00am Singapore time, and an announcement is made that we will taxi for 10 minutes to the terminal.
A second announcement is made that a medical team will meet us at the gate, so please remain seated, and leave bags in the overhead lockers.
Twenty minutes later, that ten minute taxiing comes to an end, as we pull up to the gate at 4.20am.
And what do you reckon happened next!?
Yep, a number, as in a lot, jumped up out their seats to retrieve their bags!
I’m not sure human behaviour on planes will ever cease to amaze, or appall, me.
Medical team does their job, well, I assume they did, as I couldn’t see anything through the throng of people standing up in front of me, and we’re finally off the plane a bit before 5.00am.
Into the terminal of quaint little Changi airport, and I notice our connecting flight is leaving from gate C19, which would appear very fortuitous, as we’ve just come out of C20.
Head up to where the food places are, and it looks vaguely familiar after our two very brief visits here, way back in 2016. The food places are essentially a food place, when you take out Burger King, which is perhaps understandable at 5.00am.
Lisa jumps on the end of the rather long line at the café, while I muck around with my phone on the airport wifi.
She eventually returns, and we have a coffee each, as well as some sort of cheesy toasted sandwich thing, that is kind of okay, in a kind of not that good at all, way.
We head back towards where we came from, and quickly reach C20. My assumption that C19 would be close by, is actually very wrong.
It could not possibly be further away from C20!
In search of C19, which was nowhere near where I thought it would be….
More walking done than I have done in days, we reach where we need to be, and do the sitting and waiting thing.
Which gets me thinking.
Why is it, that after being stuck in a seat on a plane for over seven hours, the first thing you want to do when you get off, is to sit down?
It’s always puzzled me, and still does.
I battle the wifi, which seems to have now deserted me, along with that cheesy thing. Incidentally, I find out later that those two toasted cheese things, along with the coffees, cost us around $43 AUD!
I really should have tried to enjoy them more….
A bit after 6.00am, we head off to be a little closer to C19, and then realise we need to do the security thing again.
I’ve never really understood why….
C19 finally found, and second leg about to begin!
A little more sitting and waiting, and then onto the plane. We’re pushed back on time at 7.00am, and that three-hour stopover seems to have gone really quick.
Perhaps because it was really only two hours, after not getting off the plane until 5.00am???
The plane is back doing what it does best at 7.15am, with this pilot seemingly knowing a shortcut between runway and terminal, that our previous one didn’t know about?
Up in the air, and now looking down upon from where we came.
Yeah, Changi is rather large!
She’s kind of cute, in a cartoony sort of way.
Turning away from the window, the realisation dawns on me that I’m absolutely knackered. Drained, washed out, with a kind of feel drunk / hungover feeling. I need more sleep, so I make an attempt.
It actually works, and I wake again at 8.15am, with just 45 minutes to go.
I can soon see Vietnam below, and the excitement is building. The obvious signs of the Mekong, with its many rivers, and I’m pretty sure I can see the area where we were in 2017, when we did one of the floating market tours.
Yep, excited, can’t wait to be down there, and still struggling a little to believe it’s all happening.
We’re back down on the ground at Tan Son Nhat airport right on 8.00am, as, kind of, promised.
The tarmac of Tan Son Nhat. It’s great to be back!
Soon off the plane, and it’s off to find the happy and smiling people who work in immigration. Quick toilet stop along the way, and then into the large-ish open space, to queue, and wait.
It’s busy, but not crazy busy, but isn’t going to be done in just a handful of minutes.
We wait a bit, watching the goings on, while contemplating getting a sim card right here, from the sim card place we’re standing next to.
Probably should have, but have the thought that if something goes wrong with it at some point, it may be easier dealing with a place in the city I’m planning to find.
Stand around a little more, and then finally, they open a couple of extra booths. Both new guys look rapt to have been dragged out, but not as rapt as the fifteen or so queueing, who take the opportunity to make up some ground.
We remain where we are, as a fair chunk of them were actually in front of us.
Thinking we’re close enough to feel comfortable handing over Lisa’s passport and e-visa to her, I do so. But still with some trepidation.
She then mentions our boarding passes.
“What do we need the boarding passes for?”, I ask.
“They ask to see them”, is the response.
Pffft, I don’t remember that ever happening, but I give her hers anyway, just on the off chance, but also mainly because I can’t be bothered arguing.
Finally, it’s my turn, and I approach the man who wields the stamp. Hand over my passport, purposely holding onto the e-visa to see if he needs to see it, or if his computer screen is enough.
What his computer is telling him isn’t going to be adequate, and the gruff sounding noise that comes from his direction, is enough for me to quickly hand him my visa.
Another similar noise follows, and seeing as I have nothing left in my hands other than my boarding pass, I give him that, too.
I’m sure I would have received a ‘see, I told you so!’ look, but I didn’t turn around to find out.
Anyway, he now seems happy, well, as happy as he’s ever likely to appear here, but there is one final request. And that is to pull my mask down, so he can compare me to my passport photo.
He accepts it, does his thing with his stamp, and hands everything back with nothing much more than a halfhearted smile, that could well have just been wind, or the result of stomach cramp.
Regardless, I give him a cam on, which he seemed to appreciate, and it’s now time to watch Lisa go through the process.
She’s quickly through, after watching my predicament, and I’m reunited with all her important documents.
Downstairs to retrieve our bag, through customs, which if you blinked, you’d miss, and then over towards the exit doors. Noticed a Citibank ATM nearby, and considered using it to top up our Dong, but couldn’t be bothered wasting any more time, as I just wanted to get out of there.
We’ll worry about money later.
Out the doors, and we’re here!
And boy, doesn’t it feel different!
Nowhere near as busy as five years ago (entered Vietnam by boat three years ago), and nowhere near as intimidating, either.
With no sign of the 109 bus, it’s going to be a taxi. In all seriousness, it was probably always going to be a taxi, with the bus and then a walk to our accommodation, perhaps just a little too much for someone to handle.
Past the few remaining touts and ‘taxi driver’ scammers, and with a purposeful look on my face, no one even approaches us.
Off to the left after exiting the terminal, and over towards the chrome bollards and rails. There has always been a Mai Linh and Vinasun taxi marshal there, and all these years later, they are still there.
The first one I see is a girl in a Mai Linh uniform, and I approach her. She acknowledges, and I hand her the address of our accommodation, printed on a piece of paper.
She nods, and indicates to wait a minute, while using her radio. There’s no Mai Linh taxis there at the moment; it really does seem very quiet; but one turns up in less than a minute.
The driver gets out to help with our bags, and we’re soon in the car. I hand him the piece of paper, he has a slightly puzzled look on his face, but we’re quickly off and on our way.
It’s begun, I can’t wait, and I’m still struggling to believe we’re actually here.