Monday 3 October – Hanoi – Saigon
The usual routine of eyes open at 7.00am, give or take, is altered, with today being not quite 6.00am.
Anticipation of the flight?
The angst associated with leaving my beloved Hanoi?
Not sure, but maybe both.
The good news is I’ve still got a bit over an hour, so eyes are forced shut to continue the sleeping thing.
But it doesn’t really work, and it’s just light dozing.
The alarm brings it all to an end at 7.10am, and it’s here. The beginning of the final leg, and a reminder that the whole thing is just about done.
I’ve been dreading this day, but it would be a whole lot worse if we were actually going home. Leaving Hanoi is far from good, but leaving Vietnam would be a whole lot worse.
Thankfully, that can be put off for a few more days.
The pack up begins; geez I hate pack ups; after not having to live out of a bag for eight days, and it just seems to take far longer than it should.
We finally get there, and just after 8.00am, the final descending of the stairs begins.
I can think of little else, other than really hoping that Jenny is downstairs at the desk. While I’m absolutely dreading the goodbye, I really, like really, would hate to leave without seeing her.
Out the door at the bottom of the stairs, and thankfully, she’s there.
It’s a relief.
The bill is fixed up, and our very small token of appreciation; a few Australian dollar coins for her young kids; are handed over, along with a hug.
“You will come back to Hanoi?”, she asks.
“Definitely”, I reply, along with telling her that she must also be here when we return.
She lets us know that our complimentary airport transfer car is already here, and that it is all paid for, and not to pay any more, in the unlikely event that the driver asks for more.
Goodbye is done, but really in the ‘see you later’ mode, and we’re on our way by 8.15am.
The streets, as they usually are, are busy, but the traffic is at least moving, as the usual sights of Hanoi are watched through the window.
It always feels different on the leaving day. ‘Trapped’ in this car, the sounds are muffled through the glass, but my senses are somehow heightened to what I’m looking at.
I don’t know, I think it’s just a case of not wanting them to come to an end. Just soaking it all up for as long as I can.
It’s been that way since the first trip, and every subsequent trip since then.
I hate it.
Out past the old water tower, and that just takes me back to 2017, which I think is the last time I actually saw it, which seems strange.
That airport transfer five years ago, was a far happier one than this. It too was to catch a plane to Saigon, but it was to meet up with Lisa, and we still had something like three weeks ahead of us.
Today, we only have three nights, which, while not great, could be far worse.
Anyway, it won’t be another five years before I see the water tower again, as I’ve now decided I’m going to walk to it, next time we’re here.
Water tower behind us, we eventually reach the busy road, then the freeway, and then up and over the big bridge.
Well on our way.
That big bridge, that will forever be remembered for the time that Toan and I got caught in the rain, at the very top of it, after returning from the far North trip.
Again, way back in 2017.
We continue on, and with the airport almost in sight, we now have cows on the side of the road.
I love this place.
A few minutes later, just after 8.50am, we pull up outside the domestic terminal. Bags retrieved, no money, as expected, asked for, and I give our friendly driver a heartfelt cảm ơn, for his driving efforts.
Inside, we find the Vietjet check in area, and after a quick and painless wait, we begin the check in process.
But rather than just handing over our passports, they want to see our flight details. Fortunately, I’d actually printed that out, all those weeks ago, but never really expected I’d be needing it.
“Can you sit in an exit row?”, is the next question.
My answer is no problem, however I suspect it will be a problem, as I presume that this will mean I miss out on having a window to look out of.
Seat row sorted, the questions continue. “Do you have a Vietnamese sim?”
“Ummm, yes”, I respond.
“Can I have the number please?, is the follow up.
Fortunately it’s written down, so I hand it over. But I’m worried, as I have never been asked that before. We’re here at the airport, and we’re now checked in, which means they expect the plane to leave somewhere around its scheduled time.
If something were to happen, they can just make an announcement, rather than phone me.
Therefore, the only other reason I can think of that they might need to phone me for, would be a baggage issue.
As in, our bag goes on an alternative trip to the Saigon one that we are about to undertake.
A bit like the boarding procedure at Hue a couple of weeks ago, some of these questions make me more than a little nervous.
The questions come to an end, and we finally have our boarding passes.
Off to security, and the line, while fairly long, moves pretty quick.
Two guys nearby, each with a rather large plastic bag bulging with fruit, are arguing. Well, one is arguing, as he’s frustrated at how slow his mate is moving along the queue.
While the actual act of carrying a large fruit filled plastic bag as carry-on ‘luggage’ in the first place, was of more interest to me than it probably should have been, the bickering just made it more entertaining.
End of the line reached, shoes off, and through the metal detector. Lisa beeps, and is told to remove her watch, which should never have been left on in the first place.
Watch-less, she tries again. Beep!
I leave her to it.
Eventually reunited, we find our gate. Lisa wants food, I want a caphe sua da. Knowing airport prices, the opportunity to break a 500 000 Dong note is taken, and Lisa is put in charge of that exact thing.
She returns a few minutes later, and her newly acquired banh mi, along with two caphe sua da’s, has turned my 500 000 Dong note into 265 000 Dong.
Yep, we ain’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
But surprisingly, the banh mi is actually pretty good, and as too are the coffees, which results in the rather rare phenomenon where the words, ‘pricey and good’, can be used in an airport setting.
We sit, wait, write a few notes to fill in time, and wait some more.
Not ours, but same flavour.
Boarding is eventually called, and as is our way, we wait.
Eventually a move is made, and we soon find ourselves downstairs looking at a very full bus on the tarmac.
That’s okay, I’m happy to wait for the next one.
A few minutes later, a second bus turns up, and we hop on. More waiting ensues.
Followed by more waiting….
Finally, the bus moves off, but I have no idea where we are going, as the nearby Vietjet plane, which I’d incorrectly assumed was ours, is no longer there.
We proceed to drive the airport, ultimately ending up outside the international terminal.
Onto the plane, still wondering if our bag is below us, as well as now wondering if we’re going to end up in another country, and we find our seats.
Sure enough, they’re in an exit row, and surprisingly, we do have a window.
But having seats 14B and 14C, along with the fact that someone else is already sitting in 14A, means the window will be of little use to me.
Seats taken, and our mate in 14A is really friendly. He lives in Saigon, and he’s just been here in Hanoi visiting his parents.
His English is excellent, and he’s up for a chat, which would ordinarily be a good thing.
But right now, we have a bit of a problem.
I’ve gone downhill, and I know Lisa isn’t feeling the best either. The combination of a long trip, too many late nights, lots of beer, and the heat and humidity, has caught up with me.
I also feel like I might be coming down with something.
Probably not, and don’t really care, anyway.
The plane, which is yet to move, is now starting to really warm up, and that is not helping at all with how I’m feeling.
The mask, which we are supposed to be wearing, also isn’t helping, and I can feel beads of sweat accumulating on my upper lip.
It is becoming seriously uncomfortable.
Lisa does most of the chatting, while I occasionally contribute, and I feel really bad that I can’t say more.
But right now, everything is conspiring against me, as this plane just sits.
Finally, a couple of minutes before 11.00am, even though it was scheduled for 10.45am, we begin taxiing to the far end of the runway, along some of the bumpiest airport concrete I’ve ever felt.
Either that, or there’s something seriously wrong with one of the plane’s wheels.
Eventually onto the runway, and the taking off process begins. Speed increases, but it doesn’t actually feel like we’re going that quickly, to the point that I wonder if that’s going to be a problem.
The front end begins to tilt up, and it’s not until that point it feels like he puts the foot down. Was a strange feeling.
Into the air, through some cloud, and it’s slightly more bumpy than when we were on the ground. I can’t see anything, I feel like crap, and I’ve pretty much lost interest in the whole thing.
Eyes are closed, and it actually kind of works. Not great sleep, but there is some, and next thing I know, we’re an hour into the flight.
Doze a bit more, and then some two hours after taking off, we’re coming in to land at Tan Son Nhat airport.
While it felt like we were lacking in speed the last time we were in contact with the ground, this time I’m wondering if the runway is going to be long enough.
We do manage to pull up in time, and we make our way towards the terminal.
Music is played, but it’s not my Vietnam song, which is probably a good thing, as I’m not sure I’d be able to hold it all together in my current fragile state.
Two songs are played, and then they’re repeated, while we just sit and wait.
A third rendition then begins, and still we sit.
The plane begins to warm up, as I begin to feel worse, and after our good fortune this morning with the rather good run we had with our trip to the airport, every thing since then has just been slow and painful.
Finally, the door is opened, and as a nice little surprise, we actually have a sky bridge.
Off the plane, and into the terminal, but not really.
We get stopped in a section that isn’t really the terminal, and just for a change, we do some more waiting.
Our plane that did its job.
Eventually on the move again, into the terminal proper, we find our luggage carousel, and then do a little more waiting, in the hope that our bag enjoyed the same plane that we did.
There’s nothing on it yet, but through the nearby window I can see baggage handlers about to do their thing.
And do their thing they did.
Transferring the bags from the transporter thing that delivered them from the plane, each bag is placed on the conveyor belt that will deliver the bags to the people who own them, who are waiting patiently.
But ‘placed’, perhaps, isn’t the most accurate way to describe the movement of the bags, as it was more ‘thrown’.
And not just kind of dropped, but actually thrown from a good metre or two away. All done while laughing and smiling at each other, oblivious, or maybe they just didn’t care, to me watching them.
Several bags missed the belt, and ended up on the ground.
They didn’t care, and that, apparently, was even funnier.
Our bag finally makes an appearance, and it too is dealt with the same way, landing on its side.
Apart from the disgust at their utter disrespect for people’s property, all I can think about is my precious bia hoi glass souvenir, inside our now thrown bag.
Abused bag eventually reaches me, and fortunately, there’s no sound of glass tinkling from within.
But we shall see when we get to our accommodation.
Out the front doors, and there’s no shortage of people. But I can’t see much in the way of taxis. Nor the yellow 109 bus, which I can only assume is either no more since Covid, or perhaps now is no longer yellow, and looks different.
It’s probably not a bad thing, as a bus trip, followed by a walk, may have been just a little too much for the Intrepid one to undertake.
But, to deal with the lack of taxis, or more to the point, lack of preferred Vinasun and Mai Linh ones, a short walk will be undertaken.
Along the covered walkway, back in the direction of the International terminal, photo bombing, by accident, some locals doing some photos.
To the terminal, same old, same old out the front, and we ignore everyone who approaches us under the guise of ‘helping’ us out.
They won’t, and it will just cost us money I’m not prepared to share with thieves.
Across to the far end of the terminal concourse, and we find our female Mai Linh taxi marshal from three and a half weeks ago, along with a male Vinasun one.
There’s a few Vinasun taxis, but no Mai Linh, and our Mai Linh marshal motions to us to head on and take a Vinasun car.
Seriously, it just couldn’t be any easier, and I really appreciated her honesty and preparedness to help.
A Vinasun quickly turns up, and we’re on our way around 1.30pm, after showing him the typed out address, on the exact same piece of paper I used when we first arrived almost four weeks ago.
Again, hard to make it any simpler.
Out of the airport, 10 000 Dong toll paid, and into the hustle and bustle of Saigon traffic. A small insect is buzzing around the car, and all three of us, at different times, make several attempts to try and stop it.
The end result was insect – 1, the three of us – 0. But we did all get a bit of a laugh out of our endeavours.
We pull up out the front of LeBlanc Saigon around 2.00pm, with the meter reading 147 000 Dong, and as I go to pay him, he points at the 10 000 Dong airport toll fee.
Yes, yes, I’m including that, as 160 000 Dong is handed over.
Bag retrieved, we walk into the little lane our accommodation is in. It’s good to see it again, and even though we’re well and truly on the home stretch, it is actually nice to be back.
We check in, and this time we’re actually staying on the other side of the lane. We head across, try the fingerprint recognition programming thing, and like lots of electronic stuff, it doesn’t work for me.
We’ll try again later.
Up to the room, and while it’s perhaps a little dated, it’s more than adequate.
A quick unpack, bia hoi glass, fortunately, looking the same as when it went in, and we head out in search of lunch. Lisa is wrecked, as she usually is after a flight, and I’m not a great deal better, but that has nothing to with the flight.
Back outside, over the busy-ish road, and onto diagonal street. Past our Bun Bo Hue place, which is closed, and then up to, and then on, to the next main-ish road, which takes me to my beer place.
Up on the right, we find a banh mi guy, who does them with cured cold meats, and two are promptly ordered. Simple banh mi, with a little fish sauce (20 000 Dong each), not toasted, as tends to happen up North, and it is beautiful. We will come back!
We walk the length of the street while eating them, and at the end, my beer place is where I last left it. But being only 2.30pm, we’re not going down that path just yet.
Banh mi’s done, the thinking is a caphe sua da at our café from the day we arrived. But on the way back down the street, we come across a juice place.
They’re more than a little surprised to see us, as well as a little worried, but we soon get our point across with ordering two pineapple juices.
The drinks arrive, and in with the juice, they come with little purple jelly pieces, that really add nothing to the drink, along with a piece of pear or lychee like fruit, which again, probably isn’t needed.
I mean really, it’s pineapple juice! You can’t improve on perfection.
Was nice, but I really don’t understand the jelly pieces.
Regardless, it was still good, and the people there, in the end, were really friendly. Bill of 56 000 Dong for the two of them fixed up, and we head back to the room.
Try the fingerprint thing again, and seeing as every failed attempt, which is every attempt, has been with my right hand, I decide to give the left one a go.
And yep, it works!
Up to the room, and the Intrepid one has hit the proverbial brick wall. I’d sensed it wasn’t far off while walking back, with a hint of the melting signs evident, but now we’re back, remaining vertical is no longer on her must do list.
It has been a long day, with that two hour flight, which isn’t really just two hours, seeing as it was just shy of six hours door to door, taking its toll.
I’m not yet done, and decide to push through, by catching up on a bit of Trip Advisor, as well as some notes, while Lisa sleeps.
Soon enough, 4.00pm arrives, and it’s time to do my thing. Lisa declines to take part, even though she wasn’t asked, and I head out, pretty much retracing our steps from just an hour or so ago.
I reach the really busy road, and noticing a local trying to attempt what I need to do, I decide that I’ll walk with him, with the belief being that we will be a bigger object, and therefore easier to see.
Or perhaps just easier to hit?
I don’t know, but in the end, we both make it.
Into the beer place, and while they remember me, they do have that slightly nervous, wary look on their faces, just like the last time I was here. It’s something that I’m determined to alter, as I really want to win them over, and I want them to relax around me.
It’s not that they don’t like me, I mean really, how could anyone not like me!?, said in a way while channelling Jerry’s mother in Seinfeld.
They’re just nervous, because they know, like me, that we have a language barrier. But that’s okay, as I’ve been doing this a while, and I’m more than happy to deal with whatever comes up.
And anyway, to me, that’s all part of the fun.
As I walk in, the main guy grabs me a table, along with a couple of small plastic stools that have been cable tied together, to make them stronger.
Which is nice, but I am slightly insulted.
I quickly have my first Saigon beer, once again declining the offered straw, and it’s good to be back. Although, in one way, it’s actually not that good to be back, seeing as this is the beginning of the end.
Nice to be back.
The world is watched, while using WhatsApp to let a few people know I’m still alive, as well as confirming our dinner date for tonight, and while there’s not too many here, there are a handful of locals doing what I’m doing.
Most of them, unlike me, making use of the offered straw.
And then, it happens! The answer to what this straw thing is all about.
The beers here are really cold. Like really cold! Cold enough to have frost on the outside of the bottles. Admittedly, that frost doesn’t last long in this heat, but it is nice that they start out that way.
Anyway, I notice a couple of Tiger beer stubbies being delivered to another table, and while they too looked all icy, they’re actually colder than my beer, as they are partly frozen.
Not solid, obviously, but frozen into a slushy type consistency.
And that, is the reason for the straw!
And there’s the answer!
Gee, it’s nice to finally be able to get an answer to one of the world’s great questions…..
Happy to no longer be having to think, I return to my beers and the world watching, before making a move after having four.
A very important job! Note the Vietnamese road safety witches hat.
I head up to the counter to pay, where I find, who I think, is likely the Grandfather. He’s holding a young boy, who I suspect is possibly his Grandson. These are, of course, all assumptions, but I’m happy to run with what could be my very misguided beliefs.
As I hand over a 500 000 Dong note, I hear the Grandfather, trying to prompt his Grandson into talking to me, say “What your name?”
He’s too shy, but I tell him anyway, then reach across and shake his hand.
The Grandfather now has a huge smile on his face, and I can also tell that the bar girls standing nearby, loved the little interaction.
I said I was going to try and win them over, and this just could end up being the first step in that process.
My 500 000 Dong note is replaced with 408 000 Dong, which means the beers are 23 000 Dong each.
Cảm ơn given, and I head off feeling just a bit happier than I thought I was going to.
Back across the busy street, down towards the LeBlanc, and seeing a small family run convenience store on the left, that clearly sells beer, I head across.
The guy sees me coming, and as I reach him, I say, “Saigon bia; năm”, holding up five fingers as I do.
He’s surprised, and as he goes to get the beers, he tries a little Vietnamese on me. I laugh, and say sorry, which makes him also laugh.
Beers handed over, 60 000 Dong paid, which makes them 12 000 Dong each, and I love both the brief interaction, as well as the fact that we’re in a such a non-touristy part of Saigon, price questions really don’t need to be asked.
Back to the hotel, first fingerprint attempt unsuccessful, but second attempt delivers the required result, and it’s up to the room for a very much needed shower.
Feet now the proper colour, and with Lisa much better after her sleep, it’s time for a quick beer, while also trying to work out where tonight’s restaurant is, which has been booked by Stefan and Thuy.
I really hope it’s easier to find than the last restaurant they booked, three and a half weeks ago….
Out around 6.30pm, into the now very darkened, and ridiculously busy, streets, and we begin our walk. It’s in much the same direction as last time, and while Google maps indicates it’s not too far away, the numbers I’m seeing on the buildings are giving me next to no confidence it’s going to be a short walk.
I’m not overly fussed about that, but I do have a walking companion who will likely, at some point, begin to make noises.
It’s always busy. But sometimes it’s busier.
A message is sent to Stefan, and our position is explained as best we can.
“Keep walking”, is the response, so we do.
Further up, and several minutes later, which felt like far more than several, another text is sent to Stefan.
“Keep walking”, is again the response.
Eventually, and finally, we get there just before 7.15pm.
Lisa, while not having said / complained too much during the walk, says next time we’re getting a taxi.
“No problem”, is my reply, but then rather foolishly adding, “Once we’ve walked back tonight after dinner”, which, as pretty much expected, didn’t go down that well.
Anyway, marriage disharmony pushed aside, it’s just great to see Thuy and Stefan again, and I can’t believe it was way back on night two of the trip, that we last did this. That also makes me think about the fact that we now only have two nights left after this one, which perhaps is even harder to believe.
Really need to stop thinking about it….
We sit and chat, catching up on what’s been going on while enjoying a beer or two, as well as the food, which happens to be bun cha, and is also really nice.
It’s funny, up until this trip, I’ve never really understood the fascination, or hype, around bun cha. But this time my eyes have been opened to the fact that there are actually some really good ones out there.
Dinner done, and the bill arrives, and before Stefan has a chance, and seeing as he cheekily paid for the last meal, I snatch it from the waiter and race downstairs to pay it.
He’s not very happy, but he’ll get over it, and says he’ll pay for the beers outside, seeing as it’s still early, and, well, that’s what you do after dinner.
No protestations from me!
Outside, and Stefan knows of a nearby bia hoi place. A short walk later, and yep, it’s gone, which brings memories of Moc Chau flooding back.
Never fear, with another beer place option not far away, we walk a little further. But this one is a little different, as it’s actually a craft beer bar, which, at home, I would have very little problem with.
But here, yeah, it’s never been a place that I covet.
However, in the interests of open minds, we give it a go, and I end up with a pale ale, which is the first ale I have ever had in Vietnam.
It’s good, as I was expecting it to be, but I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right. Stefan reads me well, or maybe he just noticed the prices when he ordered the beer, considering he was paying, and suggests we find a more local place to satisfy my desire.
Excellent idea! But not before making use of the bar’s toilet, which incidentally, was pretty impressive in both design, and signage.
Could be considered sacrilege, but is rather clever.
Men’s toilet door.
Ladies toilet door.
Beer attempt number three begins, and we’re back out on the street. A bit further down the road, and we come across what looks to be a bia hoi place. There’s a few sitting inside, but when we make moves to enter, a short conversation is had. It appears they either don’t have any beer left, or they’re about to close, or they just simply don’t want us in there. I’m not sure, and this is just not going well at all.
We move on, and as we approach a reasonably main intersection, I believe we have found what we are looking for. A couple of female vendors, along with several people sitting on small plastic stools, while using polystyrene boxes as tables, for the beer that they are drinking.
This is like a rainbow shining on a pot of gold to me, and I’m sure I looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
Thuy is a little concerned that it’s too ‘rustic’, but I explain that this is exactly what I love and crave, with it being my absolute favourite thing to do in Vietnam! I’m not sure she totally understands, but she gives in, and we’re soon seated on our own plastic stools, around our own polystyrene ‘table’.
We quickly have some Saigon ‘Reds’, which reminds me it’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those, along with some little rice cake snack things, and I’m well and truly back in my happy place.
We sit and chat, and again, it’s just great to be able to spend some time with them.
With Stefan and Thuy.
But like it always does, the time flies, and before we know it, it’s the wrong side of 11.00pm. Thuy insists we get a taxi, and partly because she’s right, partly because I couldn’t stand to put up with Lisa’s whinging if we don’t, and partly because I really can’t actually be bothered walking anyway, we get a taxi.
We bid them farewell, with the next likely catch up being a very long two years away, which is still far better than the last even longer three years, and manage to pick up a Vinasun taxi within two minutes.
Just over five minutes later, we pull up outside LeBlanc, and the 44 000 Dong fare is paid with a little rounding up.
Into our hem (lane), and breath held as I push my finger onto the fingerprint reader thing.
Second attempt; success!, and we head up to our room for the usual, which of course, includes another couple of beers.
It’s been a long day, as all ‘moving days’ are, but it’s been a good day, even though we said goodbye to Hanoi.
Down to just two more full days, and while we don’t have any specific plans, I’m really looking forward to just simply getting back into this little community, with all its authenticness, and friendly locals, that we’ve found ourselves in amongst.
The other good thing about today, is that we both now feel much better. So much better in fact, that it’s now the next day.
Another after midnight one, but at least it’s still closer to 12.00am, than 1.00am, like last night.
Still not great, though….