Vietnam 2016 – Trip Report 1

Melbourne – Ho Chi Minh City

 

So, that day has finally arrived.

That day, that seemed so far away back on the 25th October last year when the flights were booked, was here.

Where, oh where, did that time go…..?

And the last two weeks?

The mad rush of tying up all those loose ends, the last minute confirmations, the printing out of addresses, flight times, various tickets and other bits and pieces.

All those things you need to do before the big day.

Added to, this time, by the fact we’re leaving the kids at home.

Yep, bad parents….

Sorting out all their commitments over the next two and a bit weeks. Working out how they’re going to get to the various places they need to be at, on particular days.

Relatives and friends; thank…..you know what……, for them!

But still, will it all work out?

Of course it will.  But still…..  That nagging thing (no, not Lisa…. for a change….) in the back of your mind.

Yep, bad parents…..

So, early start.  Alarm goes off at something like 5.15am.

Apart from the 20 minutes I slept leading up to the alarm; isn’t that always the way…..; I don’t think I really slept.

Oh well, that’ll make it easier to sleep on the plane.

Yeah, right…..

Kids actually get up to see us off.

Not really sure why.

Guilt?

Love?

Or just to make sure we actually leave?

Maybe a combination…..

“Be good!  And be good to each other!”

“See you in a couple of weeks.  Love you………..”, as they disappear back into their rooms.

No doubt Facegramming, or Instabooking, the last of the invitations out for the party they have planned…..

Oh well, what I don’t know can’t hurt me.  Can it……?

Finally, we’re on our way.  Drop the car off at one of the many off site airport carparks, which is actually cheaper than getting a taxi each way.

But not as cheap as actually getting a lift out there.  Which we did actually have several offers of.

But because we needed to be out at Melbourne airport by 8.00am, and because our return flight arrives back in Melbourne just after 6.00am, we decided that would be incredibly unfair, and selfish, to do that to someone.

Lisa’s parents, on the other hand, wouldn’t hesitate to inconvenience someone.

So yep, bad parents, but good people.

Car parked, and I make my way down to ground level in the lift.

“Come on, we’re waiting for you”, says the mini-van driver who will drive us to the airport.

“I know, that’s what you do.  You wait for people to park their cars, which I’ve done, and then you drive them to the airport.  Which is why I’m now here.  It’s the way the system works”, was what I wanted to say.

But didn’t.

Our driver then begins the next phase of his job.  The transporting bit.

It’s not as simple as you would think.  There’s been an accident and all the roads around the airport are a mess.  He proceeds to tell us of the likely consequences if he takes road B, rather than the usual road A.  But also mentions that road A might be the best option as it’s more direct.

This goes on for five minutes until he finally convinces himself of his decision.

Good.  Mountain produced.  Mole hill nowhere to be seen.  Problem solved.

Next phase of the adventure begins.

The waiting.

Eventually, check in opens.

Decent size queue quickly forms.  Oh well, waiting here, or waiting somewhere else, we’ll still be waiting.

Hang on, there’s a queue for people who have used ‘web’ check in.  Which I’m pretty sure is what we’ve done.

It is!  And there’s only one person in that queue.

So long, suckers!

That done, it’s off to meet the happy people at immigration.  Followed by that waiting thing.

And wait we did.

Mainly by sitting.  Sometimes by walking.  And occasionally by looking at supposedly cheap expensive stuff that really wasn’t that cheap.

But apparently, because it’s ‘Duty Free’, it is cheap.

But it’s not.

And then, finally – the call!  It was now ready for boarding.

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And because of that, we all jumped up.

As we always do.

Because standing up waiting is always much more fun than sitting down waiting.

And by getting on the plane first, means you take off earlier.

Oh, wait……..

That’s right, getting on the plane first, means you get to choose the best seat.

Oh, wait……..

So yeah, I’m not really sure why we all jump up so quickly when the flight first gets called.

Oh, and when I say ‘we’, I don’t mean ‘us’.

We find the ‘sitting waiting’ much more fun.

It also seems to make us feel more intelligent…..

So after several minutes, feeling sufficiently smarter, we made our way to our ‘home’ for the next 7 ½ hours.

And a pretty good ‘home’ it was, too.

A nice new looking, and feeling, Boeing 787.  Yep, a Dreamliner.

It even had that ‘new plane smell’.

Anyway, the next 7 ½ hours consisted of watching our progress on the screen in front of me, watching movies, watching our progress, looking out the window, watching our progress, trying to sleep at one point, watching our progress, playing with the electric window shade and looking out the window.

The window, for a fair chunk of it, won.  I’d never seen Australia’s outback so I found it incredibly interesting.  And incredibly big.  Huge, in fact.

Which I always knew, but never fully appreciated.

From Melbourne, travelling North west across the continent, it took four hours to leave the mainland.

Four hours of a 7 ½ hour trip to Singapore.

Yep, it’s a reasonably big country.

Eventually, we arrived in Singapore.  Speaking of big, what a quaint little airport Changi is….

Once we’d found out where we needed to be for the next leg, a couple of beers were in order.

An outdoor beer garden on the roof of the terminal was found.  The beer, coupled with the smell of jet fuel in the air, as well as the sounds of revving, and reversing, aeroplane engines; yep, could have spent hours there.

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Before too long, it was time to complete our journey.

Unfortunately, no shiny Dreamliner this time.  Instead, an old rundown Airbus A320.

Quite possibly older than aviation itself.

Fortunately, it was only a two hour flight.  And fortunately, I was too tired to care.

But feeling the way I felt, did concern me.

Was I ready for the chaos of HCMC that awaited me?

I wasn’t sure I was.

Yep, I was worried.

Damn it!

A bit of a flick through the inflight magazine proved to be a waste of time. Writing, or characters, not from where I’m from, made reading problematic.  Eventually managed a little bit of a snooze (minutes, probably countable on not many more than two hands…….., but yes, did manage something; told you I was tired) and it wasn’t too long before we were on the ground in HCMC.

Finally!

No time to think about dealing with HCMC itself, more immediate concerns awaited.

Yep, the dreaded VOA.

It was an Embassy issued Visa last time, but this time we were going to be all ‘grown up like’, and do VOA!

Yep, the bane of TripAdvisor’s Vietnam forum, the topic of choice for countless first time posters – who have either never heard of the word ‘search’, or have heard of it but do not understand it’s meaning; which probably explains why they are constantly asking their Mother, or their wife, where their socks are.

So yes, time to tackle Vietnam’s biggest scam.  Apparently……

Off the plane, into the terminal, (some recollections returning from 18 months ago. Brain most definitely switched on now and doing the work of two people; Lisa, well Lisa just has that look like she’s been on the go for the last 12 or so hours…..) and heading towards immigration.

It’s on the left before immigration.  It’s on the left, I keep telling myself.

Ahhhh!  There it is!

I was right.  Or someone else was right.  It is on the left, just before you reach the smiling, happy immigration people.

I walk up to the counter, passport, VOA form already filled out, one photo, all clasped in my clammy, shaking hand.

I think I have that look on my face.  The one I used to have when I had to change the kid’s nappies where you didn’t really know what to expect, but you knew you weren’t really looking forward to it.

The man ‘greets’ me, as those type of people do.

What do I do, what do I do……..?

Was there a secret handshake that I was supposed to do?  Was I supposed to wink a certain way?

Damn it!  Damn it!  Think!

I can’t.

I just hand over the things in my hand.  I consider giving him a ‘Xin chao’, but I’m worried I’ll get it wrong and inadvertently call his Mother something rude.

I smile, meekly, and give him a ‘Hello’.  Yep, very proud of my efforts…..

He does what he does, and then motions for us to sit down and wait.

I then come good.  Even surprising myself.

“Cam on”, I say.

He stops, briefly, and smiles.  Only slightly, but damn it, it was definitely a smile.

Yep, I’ve come good.  Finally!

We take a seat.  And assess our surroundings.  Well I do.  Lisa is still practicing her ‘vague’ look.

Very successfully, I might add…..

There’s the tourists, like us, who are sitting and waiting patiently, then there’s the tourists, also waiting, but refusing to sit. (apparently you get your Visa quicker if you don’t sit…..)

Then there’s the ‘pusher inner guy’, who does just that for you, if you’ve previously paid for that particular ‘service’.

He’s the well dressed guy with the lanyard around his neck, who seems to know what he’s doing.

It appears to be a nice little gig.  Getting paid to be inconsiderate to others…..

He helps one of his clients push through the process and then walks up to an Aussie bloke sitting behind us, who was on our plane.

“Do you have the money for the Visa fee?”

“What money”, says our obviously well researched compatriot.

“The $25.00 you need to pay for the Visa.”

“Uhhh????, I didn’t know anything about any money…….”

What!?, I think to myself, using every ounce of mental strength not to go and punch him in the head purely because he’s an idiot.

I am flabbergasted.  I still am.  How can that even be possible…….?

Even ‘pusher inner guy’ seems a little surprised.  Possibly shocked.  Probably appalled.

“Follow me and we’ll sort it out”, he says.

Idiot then follows ‘pusher’ guy and they disappear to ‘sort’ the issue out.  Probably at a really, really bad exchange rate.

Which he deserves.

No doubt, once sorted, he jumped in a ‘My Lyn’, or ‘Venusum’, badged taxi to take him to Ben Thanh market, where he then, no doubt,  jumped in a Cyclo so he could see the sites of HCMC……

I still shake my head……

Anyway, back to us.

After a ridiculously long wait of 10 minutes, while the immigration queues behind us remained just as ridiculously short, our name was called.

Passports handed back, duly checked for correct Visa dates, and correct US money handed over, it was off to Immigration for the next step.

As luck would have it, in the time it took us to walk up to the VOA window and pay, another plane had arrived.

Those short immigration queues were now, no longer that short.

Oh well, good things come to those who wait…..

Finally, through to the ‘happy’ bloke with the stamp; wasting a ‘Cam on’ along the way – a seriously pointless exercise….; it was then off to collect our bag and make our way, effortlessly, through Customs.

Only two things left to do.

One, deal with the shock of the heat and humidity as we exited the terminal, and

Two, find Dirty Pierre who had kindly offered to pick us up from the airport.

But that will have to come in the next one.

Cheers,

Scott

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