Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Vietnam 2010

And onwards to Vietnam

I woke up just prior to my alarm going off at 0615, feeling thoroughly refreshed after eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. In due course, I made my way up to the Executive Lounge and enjoyed an excellent breakfast, beautifully complemented by early-morning views of the city coming to life for another day. The breakfast offering was impressive and came complete with an egg station manned by one of the chefs. I had a delicious omelette cooked to order.

It was then a matter of returning to my room and packing, this regrettably short stay already coming to an end. I checked out in the lobby in good time for my ridiculously early pick-up at 0800 which, frankly, I should not have accepted when it was recommended the previous day. Once again, it was a rapid transfer - too fast, actually, as I would have liked to see a safer distance being maintained from the car in front. In any event, our progress was in stark contrast to the horrendous jams for city-bound traffic on the other side of the highway.

Once at the airport, I quickly found the Vietnam Airlines check-in zone and took a seat to write some notes for this diary and to await the arrival of my good friend Bruce. While my own journey up to this point had been taking place, Bruce had in turn set out from San Diego on a trans-Pacific voyage designed so that our paths could converge at this very spot. After a late arrival the previous day, he'd been due to spend the night at one of the airport hotels and was now within walking distance of the terminal. I was becoming a little mesmerised watching a seated worker going back and forth on an electric floor-cleaning machine, when I noticed a familiar face appearing in the background.

It was an easy check-in and passage through to airside, where we immediately had to re-think our duty-free plans on seeing the price of Champagne.   After a fair bit of walking we eventually found the designated lounge, which was on the small side but reasonably well stocked. We made our way to the gate shortly after 1100 and were surprised to find that boarding was already underway.

(Link to flight log in side panel)

Baggage was delivered quickly and we were soon landside, where we had no trouble at all in spotting the Renaissance driver who was waiting for us. In no time at all, we were aboard a nice car and bound for Saigon, with cold towels, chilled water and - intriguingly - a mobile phone on a little tray between the two rear seats. (Incidentally, I have no qualms about referring to our destination as Saigon: despite the renaming and re-drawing of municipal boundaries in 1975, most locals continue to refer to downtown Ho Chi Minh City as Saigon.) We made our way through what struck me as absolutely crazy traffic, the journey punctuated by intermittent rain. It was interesting to see the majority of motorbike riders pulling over to don their rain gear. At one stage, the mobile phone started to ring and our driver said: "Excuse me, Sir, phone call for you". It was the hotel, confirming details of our reservation prior to our arrival - that was a first! We soon reached the hotel, approached the front desk and were ushered up to our room to complete the check-in process there. It was a nice standard twin room with good river views.

We took a little while to get settled in and then decided to go out for an introductory stroll. Conditions seemed OK when stepping out of the hotel's air-conditioned lobby at first, but soon the heat and humidity felt intense. We didn't have to go far to encounter some chaotic streets: the pavements were frequently impassable as a result of parked motorbikes, and many people were just sitting around, some even preparing and eating food, right there in the street! Crossing the road was a nightmare at first and really took a bit of getting used to. The technique is to choose your spot sensibly, wait until the traffic is reasonably light and there are no large vehicles bearing down on you, then launch yourself into it and walk across slowly and smoothly. The locals drive around you and, miraculously, you make it to the other side! Sudden changes of direction or speed are to be avoided at all costs, as the drivers are predicting your progress across the street and, consciously or otherwise, factoring this into their own moves. It sounds straightforward, but can be unnerving in the extreme when you try it for the first time!   Although it was only a brief introduction, the walk provided no shortage of interest and gave my camera a chance to limber up in preparation for the next couple of days.

Back at the hotel, we both had a massage at the in-house spa as it was incredibly good value by international standards, and this brought us nicely up to time for Happy Hour at the Executive Lounge. This was nicely done, but the difficulty came in trying to secure a decent seat as the lounge was very busy. Adhering to the first night rule, we then had a room service dinner of duck soup, a selection of fresh and deep-fried spring rolls, and Pad Thai noodles. It was a thoroughly satisfying end to a most interesting and varied day.