Thursday 6 / Friday 7 October – Saigon to Melbourne
Sleep slowly becomes awakeness, of sorts, and through the haze of tiredness, too many late nights, and maybe too many beers, the realisation hits me.
We’ve arrived at that day that seemed so far away, when this whole thing began.
I’m really struggling to understand where it all went.
Clock says it’s just after 7.00am, which is fine, as I’m not ready to face it just yet.
Eventually, it needs to happen, as I can waste no more of it, and we’re up by 8.00am.
Half a pack up done; how I hate them; and then out around 9.00am.
I can’t help but think about leaving. In fact, that is probably the only thing I have been thinking about since I became aware of what today actually was.
It annoys me, and I’m annoyed at myself. We still have, okay, not a full day, but the best part of a full day ahead of us. And enough of a day that will enable us to still do pretty much everything we’ve been doing.
Duly admonished, I make a promise to myself to try and enjoy the moment, while also setting about ticking off a few things that need to be done.
Including some goodbyes, that while I really don’t want to do them, not doing them just isn’t an option.
Down to Diagonal street, then onto our café, and like yesterday, he walks out as we get there.
We’re greeted with a big smile, and acknowledging nods to both question and answer, ensue, before he disappears to organise them.
He returns a few minutes later, and once again, we have our caphe sua da’s, along of course with our tra da’s, and we’re sitting in the same spot we were, one day short of exactly four weeks ago.
Last caphe sua da.
We try and explain to him that it’s our last, and that we leave tonight, but I’m not sure his English is as good as we thought it was, so I use Google to make sure he understands.
A look comes over his face, and I now know he understands.
And that’s important to me.
I want him to know that we won’t be here tomorrow, not because we’re going to greatly impact his business in any way, but just out of courtesy.
This isn’t just about coffee in exchange for money, this is about, at least in my eyes, a bit of a relationship that’s formed over the few days we’ve come to his café.
Whether he thinks the same way, and whether it’s important to him, I don’t know. I kind of suspect it is, but…..
Regardless, it’s just something I need to do.
Coffees savoured, as always, as too the world watching. And there’s a bit going on this morning, with some kind of celebration, or maybe a promotional thing for a business, in the main-ish street the café is on the corner of, with lots of people, and lots of noise.
It’s a bit hard to work out what’s happening, but the people there certainly appear to be enjoying themselves.
While sitting there, an older guy walks past, and it takes me a second to realise who it is. It’s my barber from yesterday, and when he sees me, he gives me a smile and a wave.
I love it, and it just reinforces the whole community thing, which I feel like I’ve become a small part of.
Coffees eventually done, but only because we didn’t want it to end, we begin to make a move. But as we do, our guy comes out with more tra da, which yep, just makes it all so much harder to walk away.
We politely decline, as there’s things that need to be done, and an abundance of time is something we no longer have.
Bill is fixed up, and we bid him farewell, but really hoping that one day we will see him again.
We head off in the general direction of Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao streets, sticking to the hems as much as possible, with the view of having a look around the area we stayed in, in 2019.
Just for old time’s sake, but also to see if it’s changed much, or at all, since Covid.
I also want to see if I can find Saigon April Homestay, our initial accommodation preference, who cancelled on us the day before we were due to fly out, thus, ultimately, forcing us to look elsewhere.
A predicament and scenario, now that we’ve stayed where we have, that I’m far from disappointed about.
Through the hems, no map utilised, but only because I want to see if I can do it off memory. And if I can’t, well that means we kind of get lost, which can be a really good thing, as you tend to find interesting stuff when you don’t know where you are.
We reach sign street, which means we’re going the right way, and then turn right at the bottom of it.
Big roundabout up ahead; not sure I remember that; and the market over to the left; I definitely remember that.
The intrepid one?
She thinks she does, which means she probably doesn’t.
Past the roundabout, still going straight, and we reach the pho place, opposite the hem we always walked down, to ultimately get us to Little Saigon Homestay.
The pho place we had dinner at one night. The same place with the sticker on the door, that said ‘no dogs’, which I could never work out if that meant you couldn’t bring your dog inside, or if it meant dogs were never on the menu.
And no, I’m really not sure.
Then there’s the Circle K convenience store, just a few metres further on from the pho restaurant.
Nope, no recollection….
We head into our hem, and yep, pretty much looks the same as I remember. Reaching the end, we continue on into a much narrower lane which is where I believe the April is.
Lisa’s phone rings, it’s the girl back home calling via Facebook, and apparently, she has a chocolate slice cooking question.
I leave them with it, and continue looking for the April.
And there it is, a bit further down, there’s a Saigon April sign on the wall.
I wait until the cooking lesson is complete, and once she’s off the phone, I point at the sign, and the locked yellow bars protecting the building.
“There you go!”, I say, while feeling rather chuffed with myself, having found it purely from the memory of looking at a map over a month ago.
“What do you mean?”, is the, rather disappointing, response.
“This is where we were going to stay”, said in a slightly exasperated tone.
“Oh, I wondered why you’d walked down here!”
To be fair, I may, or may not, have mentioned my desire to try and find it this morning, but I’m pretty sure it was talked about last night.
Overwhelming disappointment felt by both parties, but for different reasons, we head back out to check the other hems, as well as find where Little Saigon used to be.
Down the main hem that takes you into the block, and then off to the right. Pretty quickly, I know this isn’t the right way, but less quickly, I notice it’s a dead end.
Our steps are retraced back to the main hem, and we turn right. It all kind of looks the same, but obviously not ‘same enough’, as I soon realise we’ve missed the turn we wanted.
Doesn’t matter, I’m pretty sure there’s a second option to get there, and that is sort of around the back way.
We walk, and then walk some more, with my memory being that it wasn’t this far.
Funny the way memories remember things….
A few hellos and smiles along the way, but it feels a bit different to where we’ve been.
Eventually things start to look a little more familiar, and a few minutes later, it opens up into the square I was expecting it to.
It’s where I sat most afternoons, outside the little family run café / shop, having a beer or two, doing my world watching thing.
It wasn’t my ideal beer place, but it was a lot of fun, and by the end of it, I head a bit of a relationship with both the husband and the wife, who used to look after me.
Out into the square proper, and yep, the café is still there. And while I think I can see the wife from a distance, there’s no sign of the husband.
I consider going over, but I’m worried it might be awkward. I also worry about what might have happened to the husband, which annoys me that I’m thinking that.
Around the corner, and the huge seafood restaurant, where I sat a couple of afternoons until I found my café, has gone. Not only gone, but there is nothing there, apart from a handful of cars using the area as a carpark.
It surprises me greatly, as it looked that big and that busy, I would have backed it in that it would still be here.
We get to the lane that the Little Saigon was in, and head down to have a look. The artwork ‘graffiti’ on the wall is still there, and I’m actually really pleased that it is.
Good to see it again!
Down to the end, the pho business that was opposite is still going, but there is nothing left to indicate the homestay was ever here.
It’s sad, as it was a place that we really enjoyed, as it really helped to confirm our feelings towards this city, after having our eyes opened to it in 2017.
And then there was Eleanor and Markus, our hosts, who were incredibly friendly and made us feel so welcome.
I hope they’re both okay, with them now making new memories together, elsewhere.
We head back out to walk more hems, finding the tennis courts around the corner, as well as the little market.
It’s all kind of the same, but does have a bit of a different feel to it. It also seems quieter.
While it may be different, it may also be more our memories, than any significant change.
I still like it, and it’s great to see it again, but at the same time, I’m actually pretty pleased that we got mucked around, and in the process, ended up where we did.
It makes me think back to my thoughts on Hang Hanh street, in Hanoi, when we walked it a few times while up there. Like here, it’s still a great street / area, but three years ago we had decided to move on, whereas here, we were more forced to move.
I don’t know, maybe it all happened for a reason, and it was all just meant to be.
Regardless, unhappy I am not, with the way things panned out.
Back out of the hems, and then around to the market. The juice girl is still there, so the opportunity is taken to partake in the juice of the greatest fruit ever invented, by each having one of the pineapple variety (30 000 Dong each).
We then go for a look around the market, while enjoying the, as expected, really good pineapple juices, and yeah, like last time, it’s a great little market.
And one I would return to a hundred times, before I set foot in Ben Thanh market again.
We walk through the meat section, and I turn to say something to Lisa. She’s not there. And she’s nowhere to be seen. I retrace my steps, and eventually find her crouching down, scraping something rather awful, off her shoes.
She can work it out….
Back out into the streets, and the first thing I notice is how many people there are around, that look like us. I mean, there’s not heaps, but there’s far more than we’ve seen the last couple of days.
And I haven’t missed that.
It then becomes apparent why, as we’re reminded of just how close we are to the Bui Vien / Pham Ngu Lao street area. Although, I would have been made aware of that quicker, had Lisa thought to mention the Pham Ngu Lao street sign she saw, as we walked out of the market.
Yes, the market is actually on Pham Ngu Lao street, and yes, I am quite embarrassed that I didn’t realise that.
Anyway, being so close to ‘that’ area, we take the opportunity to have one last look. If for no other reason, than to be reminded of why I dislike it so much.
Around a block we didn’t have to walk, and then down, and over, Pham Ngu Lao street, where our pho place from last time is on the corner.
Down towards Bui Vien, but seeing the little lanes that run off to the left, we decide to have a look. I’d been a very short way down them before, and I was surprised at the time how much quieter they are, even though the bars, and their incredibly loud music at night, are really only just around the corner.
This time we venture in further, and I’m blown away at how long, and also how rabbit warren-ish, they are.
Honestly, you could just about live your whole life in here, without ever knowing about the seediness that is just the next block over.
We eventually come out on Pham Ngu Lao, just up from De Tham street, and head off in that direction. Reaching Bui Vien, deep breath taken, and we head in. It’s day time, so it’s obviously very different to night, but all the bars, and the signs, and the everything else, gives you a hint to what the place is like after dark.
Halfway down, and having already seen enough, I step over a small puddle between some pavers. As my extended foot returns to meet the ground, I immediately know that this is not going to end well.
And yep, foot hits loose paver, water under said paver is expelled all over my foot, as well as part way up my leg.
Just lucky they’re not my clean Keen’s.
We turn right out of Bui Vien, thankfully, and back up the initial street we walked down. It’s not much better, with clear evidence of drug use, in one or two that we pass.
Finally out of the area, and we make our way back in the direction of LeBlanc, stopping briefly to help a recycling woman with her fully laden bike.
Back to the hotel, quick toilet stop and a cool down, and then back out by 12.00pm, to do something about lunch, with the strong desire being to return to our banh mi guy the other day.
Down Diagonal street, and then right up the more main road, and that celebration / promotional thing is still going. I still don’t know what it’s for, but they’re all really up and about, and our appearance seems to heighten that excitement, for some reason.
They have food there, and while it was a bit difficult to work it out, I think they were keen for us to partake in some of that food.
We probably should have, but I would have felt a bit awkward, and anyway, we pretty much had our minds set on the cold meat banh mi.
Reaching our guy’s banh mi cart, and not only is he nowhere to be seen, but his cart is empty.
Hmmm, this wasn’t part of the plan…..
Heading up a bit further, and on the other side of the road, a woman who appears to be doing similar, is found.
Plan B put into place, and yep, we quickly have similar to the other day, with them being just as good (18 000 Dong each).
We walk the hems while eating them, before making our way back to the LeBlanc for a short break, along with a little more packing.
I’d managed to work out which Jetstar flight was due to collect us tonight, and had even worked out where it had flown from, to get into Melbourne, prior to coming to get us.
It was already running late, and was now due to depart Melbourne at 4.30pm, which was pretty much right now at 12.30pm, Vietnam time.
A bit more mucking around in the room getting ready for the inevitable tonight, followed by a quick check on our flight, which fortunately, is now in the air, and ‘only’ ~40 minutes late.
Back out for a quick walk, a drink, as well as do a small job in the interests of both research, and to ensure that we have to come back to Vietnam.
Out onto the main road, and up to the left to our dragon fruit lady. Time for a last, with this one being a nuoc mia da.
She recognises us straight away, and I think she’s pretty happy to see us again. Two nuoc mia da’s ordered, and not terribly unexpected, just 20 000 Dong handed over for both.
Last nuoc mia da.
The process of becoming suitably refreshed begins, as we head back the way we came, and beyond, in order to make sure we ‘have to’ return at some stage.
Oh, and also to try something we arranged before the trip, but are yet to use.
Nothing like waiting till the end….
Down to the ATM we used on day one, and our almost brand new, and never used, UP* cards, are pushed into the ATM. 45 000 Dong ATM fee, which isn’t great, but not completely terrible, is quoted, and we soon have another 3 million Dong to take home, which will ensure we have to come back.
Well, in my eyes it does.
*UP is a subsidiary of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, and does not charge foreign transaction fees.
Refreshing drink, research, and requirement to return all complete, and now fast running out of time, we head back to the LeBlanc.
Lisa dropped off, I head back outside to begin the final walk up to my beer place, just before 3.00pm. But just to change it up, instead of turning left, I turn right, to walk a lane that I’ve not walked before.
This particular lane pretty much runs directly between the two main roads, with one hem running off it to the right. And it’s upon reaching that point, that something I should have realised days ago, finally hits me.
Our hems, aren’t ‘our’ hems at all. ‘Our’ hems are actually the hems we ‘discovered’ yesterday, where Lisa had her banh mi op la.
Talk about lightbulb moment; of first working out where we actually are, and second of how dumb I actually am!
That’s twice today, now….
I reach the busy road, walk a bit, and then take the leap by stepping out. My guy has already seen me, and as I make my way across, he’s already setting up a table.
The beginning of the last, and he’s just making it that much harder.
I head inside, and it’s crowded and noisy, with some kind of party, or work function, going on.
I love it, both because it’s real life, and also because I stand out like a dog’s proverbial.
A beer quickly arrives, and I’m back doing my thing, while struggling to comprehend that it is four weeks tomorrow, since I first did this exact same thing, in this exact same spot.
It feels like yesterday.
‘First’, of the last beers.
The world is watched, only interrupted, but in a good way, when two guys at the next table reach across to ‘cheers’ me occasionally.
It’s something that happens now and then when I’m doing this, and again, I love it when a local takes the time to interact and make me feel welcome.
The usual sights are going on outside, with the young brothers having just returned from school, now waiting for their dad to walk across from his restaurant, to help them back across the road.
Then there’s the guy on the opposite corner, sitting on his bike with his maybe two year old son? The young boy is wearing sunglasses, and looking incredibly cute in the process, while drinking from one of those fruit juice box things. He finishes it, and then throws it on the ground.
Dad looks down at the discarded box, then looks at his son, and frowns.
The box stays where it is, and they then both go back to doing whatever it is they’re doing.
I’d always hoped it was going to be the younger generation that would drag their parents into a better and far more sustainable waste situation, but obviously not in this case.
Another beer, another ‘cheers’ with my mates on the next table, and I notice a young mother standing at the side of the road with her young son, who is probably 4 years old.
She stays in the one spot for a few minutes, with my assumption being that she’s waiting for someone.
She then walks over to a fellow bar customer and starts talking to him. He nods, gets up, and then escorts her across the road, before returning to take his seat.
I’m blown away, as I had absolutely no idea that it was simply a case of her being too scared to cross it on her own.
If I’d known, I would have helped her myself.
A couple more beers, and part way through what I know will be my second last one, due to my impeccable ability to time everything down to the minute, when it comes to beer drinking and having to leave to catch a plane, I get up to make use of the bar’s facilities.
Not wanting it to end….
I return a minute later to find my beer no longer where I left it, due to the fact that my table is being put away.
My main guy turns to see me, and now has this shocked, but also very apologetic look, on his face.
“Sorry, sorry!”, he says, as he retrieves my beer.
No problem at all, but I was a little disappointed that he thought I would just get up and leave without saying goodbye.
Beer returned, he asks me if I’d like to now sit outside.
He must know me better than I thought he did, and I’m quickly seated out on the footpath, with my happy place just that little bit happier.
Second last beer done, and the final one arrives, which will easily be the beer that is most difficult to finish.
A few minutes later, my shoe cleaner guy turns up. I know he’s here around this time each night, but it kind of feels like he knew.
He nods in my direction when he sees me, comes over, and once again, shakes my hand. He then manages to pick up a customer, and proceeds to do his best work on their shoes, while crouching down on the footpath in front of me.
While doing that, he gets chatting to one of the young guys who works here, and by the way they keep looking at me, I know I’m the topic of conversation.
And that’s fine, as I know by the looks that I’m getting, whatever it is that they’re saying, it’s genuine and not at all derogatory.
I take the opportunity to do something I should have done the other night, and that is to get a photo with my shoe guy, so I ask the young guy if he can take it, while also asking my shoe guy if that’s okay.
There’s no problem with either request, and I get my photo.
Better late than never!
I then use Google translate to let my shoe guy know that I’m leaving tonight, and I’ll be doing so in my clean shoes.
He smiles, and shakes my hand again.
It’s a goodbye I wasn’t really expecting, and while I hate them, I’m glad I got the opportunity to do it.
A bit more watching of the world, before the inevitable happens, and that final beer becomes the last one.
I walk inside to pay, and look over at my guy who is standing over to the side. He’s looking at me, and while I really want a photo with him, I just can’t do it.
I’m struggling big time, and it’s taking a ridiculous amount of effort to just hold it all together.
I can do little more than pump my heart with my fist, to try and tell him how much I’ve loved being here, and I think he understands what I’m trying to say.
Bill is paid, lots of cảm ơn’s given, along with one final acknowledging look at my beer guy, and still struggling big time, I can nothing else but just walk out, as I can feel myself about to lose it.
Over the road one last time, vision slightly impacted, and then down towards my convenience store beer guy. Again, he sees me coming, smiles, and says, “Five?”
I smile, as I’m not really capable of a laugh at the moment, and say, “No, ba”. (three)
Google translate is once again used to explain, and he actually looks a bit sad when he reads it. While it was nice that he seemed to care, it doesn’t really make me feel any better.
Down a bit further, and over to the right, I can see my barber out the front. I head across to say goodbye, and he immediately grabs a chair for me to sit on. He wants to chat, which is just making this whole thing worse.
Unfortunately I just don’t have the time, and even if I did, my ability to speak at the moment is somewhat hindered.
A quick Google to tell him, along with a couple of cảm ơn’s, and I continue on.
Down into Diagonal street, and of course, my bun bo Hue guy, and his son, are there. I am pleased about that, because I do want to say goodbye, but this is all just becoming so difficult.
While all the goodbyes have been hard, this one is particularly so, due to the fact that we made a real connection with them way back on day one.
Fortunately Google translate isn’t needed, and I’m pretty sure, with the limited amount I am actually able to say, they know how I feel about them and their community.
Eventually back to the room, and I try and tell Lisa all about it. I just can’t, so I grab another beer, and have a quick shower.
Suitably refreshed, and a little more composed, it’s time to do something about dinner.
Lisa, for some reason, has already decided what we should be having, and that is cơm tấm, which is broken rice.
Not only that, but she’s been Googling cơm tấm restaurants, which is strange, as I’m not sure she’s ever done that in all the time we’ve spent here.
And why cơm tấm?
Well, apparently we need to have rice because we are about to catch a plane.
I don’t understand. First off, the Googling, and then the fact that we would go somewhere where we’ve never been before, in the lead up to being ‘trapped’ on a plane for something like nine hours?
Not to mention being stuck in an airport for three?
“What’s wrong with just going back to last night’s restaurant?”, I say.
No, she wants cơm tấm, as it’s ‘safer’ than soup.
That comment annoys me greatly, and just proves to me she’s now being irrational. I just have no idea where this is coming from.
“Fine, we’ll go to some place new, then!”, I snap back.
She’s now angry, and I’m so pissed off.
We head back out, mainly in silence, around 5.30pm. Onto the main street, and I ask the question of where are we going?
The answer is to try up the more main road to the right, with my response being that we tried that last night, and were unsuccessful, seeing as we couldn’t find a place that had much in the way of seating out on the street.
“They seem to be more ‘take away’ type places”, I explain, to which her response is that we could get take away and eat it in the room.
Fortunately, I choose not to respond to that little suggestion.
The other side of our busy road is put forward as a possibility, so I decide to humour her, and let her find out for herself.
We head over, and down the hem opposite. While there’s a couple of options, they’re not what she’s looking for.
Down the end, and onto the next main road. Still nothing.
We walk the block, and by the time we fight our way through the peak hour traffic, it’s getting close to 6.00pm.
I’ve had enough, and I’m just not playing this game anymore. We don’t have time to do it anyway, as the plan is to be in a taxi by 7.30pm.
Back to our main road, and then across it.
Down Diagonal street, and then up the road towards my beer place.
“Where are we going?”, I’m asked.
“Same place as last night”, I spit back.
She’s angry to the point of crying. As I am too.
We get there, and they’re happy to see us again. I’m happy to see them too, even if I’m far from happy.
Our dinner quickly arrives, along with a couple of Heinekens, and just like last night, it’s all really good.
Well, apart from the atmosphere on our table.
It’s funny, after what happened yesterday afternoon, I was worried that today could be a bit of a letdown. Well, maybe not so much a letdown, but more that it could never live up to what happened yesterday.
And that maybe, at some point, I would come crashing back to earth, with some great disappointment.
But, it didn’t happen, and this afternoon’s interactions, even though I struggled so much with them, lived up to yesterday’s, and by the time I got back to the room, despite being emotional, I was more than a little pleased with how it had finished off.
Now, however, is a completely different story, and the whole thing now feels wrecked.
Extremely quiet dinner done, bill of 140 000 Dong, just like last night, is fixed up, and we head back to the room for the final time.
Upstairs, pack up, in silence, is completed, and we’re back downstairs by 7.30pm.
The young girl who is normally at the desk isn’t there, but her mother is, so we ask her about the taxi we’d discussed earlier.
She makes a phone call, and while doing that, I start kicking a soccer ball with a young boy, who has been kicking it around the lane on his own, bouncing it off the walls.
He was a great little kid, and his soccer skills were far better than mine.
The mother comes out, and indicates to follow her out to the main road to wait. I shake the boy’s hand, and we head out.
Out on the street we wait. And wait. And wait some more.
I’m starting to get nervous, and I think next time I’ll just try and flag one down on my own, despite that scenario never having really worked that well on previous attempts.
Finally, just after 7.45pm, a car pulls up. It’s a plain looking car, driven by a woman, and my assumption is that it’s a Grab car.
Bags in the boot, goodbye and cảm ơn to Mum, and we’re on our way.
If I’m right about it being a Grab car, that’s fine, I’m okay with that. My problem, however, is that I don’t know how much it’s going to be, as no price was mentioned, and obviously, not being a taxi, I have no meter to look at.
Oh, but wait, I do have a meter to look at!
It’s our driver’s phone, which is now mounted in a phone holder, attached to the dash, with a ‘meter’ displayed on the screen. And it’s now ticking over just like a taxi meter would.
Now we haven’t been in too many Grab cars, but I don’t remember ever seeing this type of set up before.
On the move, and we’re heading in the opposite direction to the airport, which takes me a minute to work out why. Our street, the very one we have walked across countless times, is actually a one way street, and I realise I’ve never stopped to think about that.
Yep, can be a little slow….
We eventually turn right, then right again, coming out on the road my beer place is on, and we’re now heading in the right direction.
Past my bar, I can see my guy inside, and I miss it already.
On we go, and while there’s plenty of traffic around, it’s all moving reasonably well. As too is our ‘meter’, which seems to ticking over rather quickly.
The two times we’ve caught regular taxis from the airport to the LeBlanc in the last four weeks, it’s cost us around 150 000 Dong.
Having to drive a block or two so we could ‘turn around’, will add a little to that, but the way this meter is going, it’s going to be significantly more than 150 000 Dong.
I’m already annoyed with what’s happened tonight, and this is just another thing to add to my disappointment.
The drive continues, and like dinner, it’s very quiet. We eventually reach the canal, and with it, a few familiar sights, which all came about during our 2016 trip.
Not too far from the airport, and the meter ticks over the 200 000 mark.
I shake my head, and continue my silence.
We eventually pull up outside the international terminal, and the meter reads 233 000. I hand her 240 000 Dong, even though I know she’ll likely have a 10 000 Dong toll to pay, but that’s all she’s getting.
Bags retrieved, we head inside to do the check-in thing. We find where we need to be, and if things aren’t already completely and utterly stuffed up and broken beyond repair, it’s now just got a whole lot worse.
The good news is that people are being checked in, the bad news is that the end of the queue is around the corner, and not even visible from where we will finally drop off our bag.
I didn’t think it was possible to be more annoyed than I am, but I’m wrong.
The queueing begins, the silence continues, and a bit over an hour after we arrived, we have boarding passes, as well as one less bag.
We’re then told to stand over to our left. Something about making sure our bag doesn’t get flagged, or something, when it passes through the x-ray.
There’s a few people standing there, peering into this room, as bags move past. We stop for a couple of minutes, nothing really happens, no one gives any instructions, so I just walk off.
If they have a problem, they can come and find me.
Off to the happy people at immigration, and while there’s a few there, it’s actually not too bad.
My turn arrives, and passport is handed over with a smile and a xin chào, in an attempt to try and get him to smile.
Passport stamped, and then handed back, and I give him a cảm ơn, along with another smile.
It works, and he gives me a smile, which is the first happy little interaction I’ve had for a while.
Off to security, and while immigration was relatively painless, security is just nuts.
Two hundred people, and only five or six stations open, my annoyance levels are back up to where they were while queueing to check-in.
We stand there for a few minutes, while not moving at all, and over to the left, I notice some guys preparing to open up some more screening stations.
“Come on, we’re going over there”, I bark at the person I hold responsible for all of this, even though she isn’t.
We end up getting through security pretty quickly, and then we head down to see where we need to be. Finding our gate, and finding the closest bar to our gate, I give Lisa orders to buy me the biggest beer she can, while I head off to make room for that, hopefully, very large beer.
Relief attained, I head back to see just how ‘large’ a beer I’m getting, and for the first time in the last four hours, she’s actually made me happy.
The beer is huge, with the vessel being more ‘bucket like’, than glass like.
The photo doesn’t quite capture how big it actually is.
My mood improves slightly. But only slightly.
I get talking to an Aussie guy, who is rather impressed with my beer, and we chat about various things, including Jetstar’s recent performances, as well as if this particular flight, of which we are both catching, will take off sometime close to when it was actually scheduled.
He gets a bit nervous about potentially missing boarding, so heads off to see how they’re going. An English guy then sits down next to us, and he too is rather impressed with my beer. We chat for a bit, and with the combination of the beer, as well as a couple of friendly fellow travellers, my mood, along with Lisa’s, is finally heading in the right direction.
Beer almost done, the English guy heads off to get his flight, but not before giving Lisa an unopened bottle of water, that he has somehow come by, and now no longer needs or wants.
The beer ‘bucket’ now empty, we head off to the gate just before 11.00pm, for our 10.30pm flight. The reason for the delay, apparently, was a catering issue. I’m just not sure if that was here, or in Melbourne before it came here, considering it left Melbourne late.
Regardless, we’ve timed it reasonably well, as most have already boarded, but we now have a problem. And that problem is Lisa’s newly acquired water bottle, which apparently, is not allowed to be taken on the plane, for some reason, even though it was clearly purchased airside.
I don’t understand why, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter, as if that’s the rules, then that’s the rules. But Lisa wants to argue with the messenger, even though the messenger, as usual, didn’t write the rules.
I walk away, taking the opportunity for a quick toilet break, before returning to find Lisa in one of the two boarding queues.
I choose the other queue.
Eventually onto the plane, and then way down the far end, I find row 47, along with our seats A and B.
There’s a Vietnamese guy in seat C, and he’s a little disappointed when he sees me arrive.
That’s okay, I get that.
A few minutes later, Lisa turns up, and yeah, we’re well and truly back to where we were prior to that big beer.
A touch after 11.15pm, we start to get pushed back, and ten minutes later, we’ve left the ground of Vietnam. I can do nothing else but stare out the window of a dark, but pretty well lit up, Saigon.
I so badly want to be back down there, and I’m absolutely shattered.
I’m shattered because it’s over, and I’m just devastated at how it all ended.
After the high of yesterday afternoon, as well as, even though they were hard, today’s interactions and goodbyes, to the low that this has now become.
It was never meant to be this way.
I always struggle when we leave Vietnam, but the previous ones have nothing on this one.
Saigon soon disappears, and there’s nothing but blackness down below.
I check out the seat back screen to try and take my mind off things, and I end up watching a really, really crap fishing show.
I soon give up, and decide to track the plane’s flight path.
That just makes things worse.
My big beer is held on to for as long as possible, until I have no alternative but to annoy my mate in seat C.
He’s a really nice guy, and he doesn’t seem to mind at all.
Toilet made use of, and I eventually return to my seat.
Lisa’s worried about me as I took so long, which I did, but that’s just because I wanted some alone time.
I try the fishing show again, but then give up in favour of attempting the sleep thing.
It kind of works, and I end up getting two to three hours, which is pretty good for me.
But it hasn’t really made me feel any better.
I turn to the view out the window, and I can’t work out what I’m looking at. There’s a really strange light, that is kind of light, but also a little dark. And up quite high in the sky, a very bright light that is a little hard to look at.
It’s just not making sense at the moment.
But at least I know where I am. Roughly….
While I know we’re now above Australia, in my sleep deprived state, I’m struggling to work out what time it actually is.
And that’s a problem, because I can’t work out what this bright light is. I’m convinced I’m looking at the brightest moon I’ve ever seen, and it just can’t be the sun because it all still looks too dark.
Nothing makes sense, and it’s all too hard, so I give up trying to work it out, and just sit there and daydream.
But it’s far from dreaming, with it being far more nightmare-ish, as I just can’t believe we are on our flight home.
I sit there a bit longer, still confused, until it hits me.
We’re on a Boeing Dreamliner, and the last time we were on a Dreamliner, I learnt about their electronically controlled shaded windows.
Could that be the reason?
I push the little button below the window, and it all becomes clear.
Finally worked it out!
Clear blue sky, bright burning sun, and no more confusion.
It floods our area of the cabin with natural light, and while I feel a little guilty about that, I’m just sick of looking at something that is so artificial, it makes me feel uneasy.
The flight tracker soon tells us we’re in Northern Victoria, and while I don’t really want to be home, I now just have this huge urge for this to all be over.
The bright sunshine looks promising, but that is soon replaced by clouds, before the Captain announces that it’s raining in Melbourne.
Not long to go, and we begin making our way through the cloud. It’s bumpy, as it usually is, and once we get through, I’m surprised at how dark it is.
That darkness from the overcast conditions, then gets even darker, the closer we get to Melbourne.
It actually suits my mood very well.
Coming from the North, we pass the airport, and approach from the South, and as we get lower, I’m amazed at how much water is laying around. I’d heard it had been wet, and cold, but had no idea how bad it had been.
So much for returning home in mid Spring, as the weather warms up….
We finally hit the runway a few minutes after 11.00am, and I’m absolutely blown away by how much water gets sprayed up from the tarmac, when reverse thrust is used.
But yeah, while it was impressive, it didn’t fill me with great excitement at having to head out into it.
We pull up at the gate, and eventually get into the terminal.
I guess we’re here….
Quick toilet stop, and then the walk begins.
We reach a bank of the self service ‘remove yourself from the country / re-enter the country’, passport checking things, which have done away with some of those uniformed grumpy people.
Passport inserted, stand and look silly, and it works as it should.
Past a duty-free store, which, according to the tout out the front, is the last we’ll see before we enter the real world.
I happily keep walking.
We reach another bank of the self service passport things, and Lisa goes to do it again.
“We’ve already done that”, I mutter.
“Oh, right….”, is the response.
We reach customs, landing declaration card handed over, and the guy sends us on our way, without even looking at my Keen’s.
Probably could have saved 50 000 Dong, but then again, had I not spent the 50 000, maybe I would have had an issue.
Now free, we wait a few minutes for our bag to appear, and then head out to try and find the girl, who is picking us up.
We get to the exit doors, and that’s as far as I’m going. It is absolutely bucketing down, and it’s cold!
So good to be back….
Text message is sent, text message is returned, and we still don’t know where each other is.
I give up, and call.
We play the game of “What do you see?”, “What do I see?”, and then, eventually, after she does one final lap of the drop off / pick up area, I see her over the road.
Out into the cold, and the wet, and it’s just so good to be back…..
We get to the car around 11.30am, and at my insistence, Lisa sits in the front.
I’m still struggling to communicate, and I just want to sit in the back and sulk.
An hour later, and it’s done. We’re home, and I just can’t believe it’s all over.
My life, as I knew it a month ago, has returned, and I hate that. I also hate that I don’t really have anything to look forward to, well, not coming up, seeing as the next trip will likely be two years away.
About the only thing I do have to look forward to is Summer, but looking out the window, that’s not instilling great confidence in me of arriving anytime soon.
Anyway, we’re done, and so as to try and alleviate some of the pain of the self pity I find myself wallowing in, I sit down with a coffee; the very coffee I need and enjoy so much every morning, that now just tastes awful, after all those Vietnamese caphe sua da’s; and think about what we did.
It was truly an amazing trip, and I absolutely loved it!
Did it have its moments?
Oh yeah! They always do.
Just like that first night in Hue. I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but once it happened, it was a pretty easy decision on what needed to be done. It just involved a bit of mucking around to get it sorted.
But once it was, we couldn’t have been happier, and by the time we left Hue, well, I think we’ve found a friend with whom we will likely catch up with whenever we are in the area.
The motorbike trip?
Yep, had its moments too. The weather, a couple of long days, and a certain someone’s tendency to fight things, on one or two occasions, as opposed to just dealing with it.
But, I probably have to take the blame a little on some of that, seeing as I was the one who pushed her into doing six days.
I’ll know better next time.
So yes, while there were a couple of ‘moments’ during it, they were interspersed with some amazing sights and experiences, that I will remember for a very long time.
The food. But more specifically, what, and where, we ate.
Over the journey, I’ve always tried, or perhaps more wanted, to be adventurous. I haven’t always been able to do that, and when I have, it’s taken a fair bit of will power to push myself out of my comfort zone.
But, it has become a little easier over the years, with this trip kind of becoming a game changer.
We didn’t quite eat street food exclusively, but when we were in charge of our destiny, be it at breakfast, lunch or dinner, we invariably sat on the street at a ‘restaurant’, that didn’t have a front door.
And having loved everything about the way that we did it, it’s easily become my preference.
Even the Intrepid one, who struggles with her comfort zone far more than I do, did well.
Well, she did, until we got to the last night….
So yep, it’s done, and now it’s all been reduced to memories.
Along with a few ‘souvenirs’.
A couple of Saigon beer cans, commemorating Tet (Lunar New Year) by listing the names of certain towns and cities of Vietnam, with one of these ones having Ninh Binh on it.
That will live in the bar.
A handful of bottle caps, due to my bottle cap fetish, which will also live in the bar.
A beer glass, that fortunately, made it home in one piece. What it means to me is huge, and it is right up there with one or two other pieces I’ve managed to come back with over the journey, that still bring back memories, whenever I look at them.
Oh, and then there’s the tattoo.
When we left four weeks ago, getting a tattoo over there had never entered my mind.
Who would have thought?!
Oh, and yes, I still love it.
Absolutely no ragrets!
2 thoughts on “Vietnam 2022 – Trip Report 30”
Thank you Scott for the blog- I love the planning of a trip and spent a lot of time reading about your past trips. Not only do they give a nice sense of being there, but it is your passion for it (now immortalised in tattoo form), that shines through. I am now in Hanoi, and experience it partly through a Scott influenced lens – we drink cafe sua da on the side of the road, or fresh beer from a blue tinted glass, walk past Nam Bittet, or St Joseph’s, caught the 86 bus, change money at the jewellers, walk anti clockwise around Hoan Kiem and even though we make the trip our own and full of new discoveries, it carries a familiarity, since you have so effectively bought us along for the ride. If we are ever in doubt I only need to think WWSD? Looking forward to the rest of our journey.
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Oh wow, Reins, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my name in an acronym before! I love it!
But seriously, it means a lot to know that people like you not only get something out of it, but also that you enjoy it.
I’ve said so many times before that it’s essentially a diary, and while it takes far more time than I’d like, it does give me an opportunity to re-live it.
And if others can get something from that, well that’s just win – win, as far as I’m concerned.
Very envious that you’re in ‘my’ Hanoi, and hope you have a brilliant time on the rest of the trip!