10th to 11th December 2018 ~ my last days in Vietnam and South East Asia

While I have no motivation to document what’s happened to me in the past week (it’s been one of those weeks), I feel there is a need to because I faced a few challenging events, which have turned into learning experiences more stories to tell 😊

It’s not the most interesting, but my story eventually unravels to explaining how I almost missed my flight to Switzerland…

I am able to look back and laugh at the situation…but only because luck was on my side…

If you haven’t read my previous blogs ~ my story goes something like this:

I did a visa run to Cambodia so I could get cheaper flights from Saigon to Spain ~ after I got my new visa, I was literally waiting around in Vietnam for my flight. I felt like I was in limbo and lost all motivation to site-see and travel around Vietnam.

If I missed my flight ~ it would have been so frustrating for me but because all of that effort of running away and waiting around would have gone to waste. I don’t even know how I managed to make my flight in the time I was given.

 

11 December 2018 – 11.00AM

Currently, I’m sitting on my first Edelweiss/Swiss Air flight from Saigon to Zurich listening to my favourite Latino tunes and enjoying the benefits of a good quality economy class airline. We’re about three hours into a 13 hours flight (only 10 hours to go! Which seems like nothing compared to the bus rides I used in South East Asia)

Whenever I’m on a flight with clean and comfortable chairs with good service, food, entertainment and nice leg room, I always feel like I’m on first class because I’m so used to catching budget airlines so I tend to forget how good a normal economy class feels like. I mean, these planes even have USB charging points ~ another luxury I’m not used having to after traveling through Vietnam for 6 weeks (especially on those gruelling 8-24 hour bus rides with no electricity port to charge your phone).

I’ve also been blessed with a spare seat next to me ~ I practically have a bed (must be my good karma after all the shit I’ve dealt with in the last 2 weeks ~ I will explain a below and in another blog post).

All I can say after being on this plane for about three hours –  I highly rate Edelweiss

They are VERY good! I’d be happy catching even a 40 hour flight with these guys.

I was so comfortable that I passed out during take off and missed breakfast.

But when they brought me breakfast, I devoured every single little piece because it was SO delicious! (Not to mention the unlimited delicious bread refills they give you too!)

 

My journey from Vietnam to Switzerland (as a stopover for Spain)

Now it’s time to tell you the long (and somewhat uneventful) story of how I got from Da Nang (south central Vietnam) to my flight to Zurich. During my journey, I faced a lot of anxiety, stress, frustration, lethargy and pain – so please get comfortable, grab a blanket, some tea and popcorn.

I definitely have regrets from this journey…but they can only turn into learning experiences. I just hope I don’t make the same mistakes again.

 

Da Nang to Saigon

I booked my flight from HCM to Spain a while ago (on the 11th December 2018) so after hanging around in Da Nang and occasionally working at Tipi Café (a NFP English Speaking Centre in Da Nang) for about 9 days (I got very lazy on the last part of my trip), I had to make my way down to Saigon (HCM) on the 9th December.

I needed to allow for one extra day for travel because the bus ride was estimated to take 20 hours from Da Nang to Saigon.

Many people suggested for me to catch the train or a flight to save time but the price difference was more than enough for me to stick to my original decision. To give you an idea of the price-difference:

  • Bus: 370k Dong / AUD$22 / USD $16
  • Train: 750k Dong / AUD$44.70 / USD$32.26
  • Flight: 1,162,400 Dong / AUD$69.29 / USD$50

The convenience of a train or plane didn’t appeal to me at all, especially because it was so much more expensive and because I had time (I’m the type of person who is happy walking around for an hour or two to find the cheapest price ~ ah the joys of having time).

 

My uneventful time in Da Nang

I’ve already made a blog about going to Hoi An and deciding to hangout in Da Nang instead but for those who haven’t read my previous blogs ~ after doing a visa run to Cambodia, I planned to stay in Hoi An for the remainder of my time (9-10 days) but left as soon as I could because after staying there for one day, I realised I didn’t like the vibe….leaving me to end up in Da Nang where I did a whole bunch of nothing and stupidly signed up for a Workaway when I really should have just been enjoying myself and visiting/exploring other cities like I initially planned.

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I feel like all Da Nang do was make me feel unmotivated and lazy. I only managed to site see twice in the 9 days I was there. On all the other days, the weather was either horrible, I was too lazy to do anything or I used all my energy trying to sort out a bed bug problem (I’m pretty sure I caught bed bugs in Hoi An and spent three or more days trying to sort them out. When you have bed bugs, it’s really hard to do anything else without worrying about them).

My time in Da Nang can be summed up with:

  • Sorting out bed bugs (there was a lot of quarantining my things with garbage bags and I spent SO much money getting my stuff cleaned, sometimes three times)
  • Finding last minute accommodation when I got paranoid of seeing bed bug signs at my Workaway residence as well (how unlucky could I be…really!?)
  • Working at an English Speaking Centre (chatting to locals to help them practice English)
  • Chilling out at the hostel
  • Eating amazing local food (for dirt cheap)
  • Living like a local
  • Watching and celebrating the football when Vietnam won
  • Drinking with fellow travellers
  • Shopping for necessities
  • Deciding whether or not I enjoyed living in Da Nang
  • Writing my blog
  • Site-seeing on very rare occasions (three times to be exact)
  • Walking in a thunderstorm for an hour to collect my boots from one of the Tipi Cafes

Chilling out in different hostels in Da Nang

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My attempts at sorting out bed bugs ~ taking all my clothes and luggage to the laundromat

Eating local foods and living like a local…

Working/Volunteering at Tipi Cafe, Da Nang

Enjoying Vietnam’s celebrations for winning against Philippines in the Asia Football Cup and making it into the finals

Site-seeing in Da Nang

I guess the most exciting thing I managed to end up doing was to have the courage to ride a scooter on my own (and bless the lovely staff at Tipi Café for letting my use the scooter for free!)

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Building the courage to ride a scooter

Back to my story…

I knew I had to catch a bus on the 9th December 2018 so I would have enough time to catch my morning flight on the 11th December (at 8.00AM).

I was determined to catch FUTA Bus Lines because that bus line was by far been the most comfortable bus I caught in Vietnam. I always slept like a baby every time I used FUTA so after being sleep deprived for the whole 9 days in Da Nang, I was determined to stick to a FUTA because I knew it would guarantee me a good night’s rest.

The beautiful staff at Annam Hostel (the last hostel I stayed at in Da Nang) offered to book a bus for me with pickup for the same price as the ticket for a FUTA Bus, but unfortunately, it was a different company (Sinh Tours). I had absolutely no idea whether Sinh Tours were good or not.

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The lovely staff at AnNam Hostel (the guy on the right is the owner and he’s only 25!)

Although the online reviews seemed ok, I was skeptical because of I had a few bad experiences with getting lured into booking things from fake online reviews and I just wasn’t 100% sure if the online reviews for Sinh Tours were genuine.

Even though I would have saved paying for a Grab ride to the bus station if I organised a bus through the hostel, I decided to pay the extra for the Grab ride and stick to Futa because I knew I would get a good rest for my very last sleeper bus ride in Vietnam.

 

9 December 2018 ~ my last day in Da Nang

6.00AM

I remember waking up to the beautiful sound of footsteps on a metal roof – it couldn’t get any louder (and there was 0 sound-proofing in the hostel). Half dazed, I looked outside to see where the noise was coming from ~ it was raining heavily and there were two guys working hard to put a large cloth on the top of the roof (probably to prevent the rain from coming into the building). The rain sounded heavy.

Then I remembered that I left my small backpack and underwear on the balcony to dry because it was so hot the day before ~ sh*t

I ran outside and hoped the roof protected my things but when I put my hand on my bag…all my things were drenched including my undies – f@&*%!!!

Oh well, there was nothing I could really do but get on with life and sort out my things before catching that 20 hour bus ride to Saigon. I planned to buy my last-minute necessities before in Da Nang because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it in Saigon (turns out I was right, but mainly because of my laziness actually). I also needed to pick up my shoes from “Tipi 2 Café” ~ a resident area and café where I was supposed to stay in Da Nang (I left because I was paranoid that I saw bed bugs – Paranoia much?)

*Sigh*

Why was everything annoying happening on this day? And on the day mother nature decided to give Da Nang a huge storm!?!?

Why was I being punished?

I also had to work ~ it was my last shift at the café at 8AM (to 11AM)

6.30AM

I decided to get up and start my day because I was already stressed from my drenched backpack ~ I ventured to some nearby cafés to enjoy a cup of coffee and oats for breakfast ~ they were flooded. I was the only customer.

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Breakfast

7.30AM

It was getting close to my starting time and the rain started pouring…even more heavily.

*Sigh*

When I tried ordering a Grab, the fee was about double the price due to the storm ~ (there were less drivers available on the road)

*Sigh*

 

7.45AM

I didn’t really know what to do. All I knew was that I didn’t want to pay double the price for a Grab. I decided to try my luck with the café and asked if they could organise someone to pick me up last minute for my shift (they previously gave me lifts to and from the café for free).

No response.

By this point I was getting worried because I was going to be late ~ I asked one of the staff to let me use their phone to call my manager. Once I got through to her, she told me not to worry because they decided to close the café for the day because of the storm. This was excellent news but also bad news for me because I couldn’t be bothered working but I had to somehow find a way to pick up my shoes in the storm and nobody was going to give me a lift ☹

11.30AM

After waiting for the rain to stop for about two hours, I finally built the motivation to go on that long, dreaded walk to get my shoes.  Google Maps told me it was a 40 minute walk ~ I knew it was going to take longer and wasn’t going to be a fun walk by any means…but at least I had a solid raincoat (I guess).

I’m not going to bore you with the details of my long walk but let’s just say that it took forever and unlike what the weather forecast app told me, the rain kept on getting heavier…and heavier.

I made a couple of pitstops to get cash out, a Vietnamese sweet (a coconut tart to be exact ~ god I love South East Asian pastries) and to buy some garbage bags (to deal with my bed bug problem). Even though I had a thick raincoat, my shorts and the top of my shirt ended up getting very soaked.

Fun Fact – if you come across a VBB Bank ATM, use them – they do not charge any fees!

By the time I got to the café, it was pouring down so heavily with rain that it felt like I was in the Saigon Typhoon all over again. The guy I’d been in contact was waiting downstairs with my boots, ready for me to take them.

I was busting to pee by this point.

Me: “Can I please use your toilet?”

Guy: “Yeah sure.”

I bolted to the toilet and decided to hang around the café for a little bit in the hopes of the rain getting lighter but unfortunately, my wishes weren’t fulfilled – the rain only kept getting heavier and heavier, and Grab prices seemed to remain high ☹ I waited around for a little bit longer to see if the prices would go down but unfortunately…they stayed the same. I had no choice but to give up and order a Grab to get back to the hostel because I just couldn’t bear with walking in the rain for any longer.

 

Arriving back at the hostel

By this point, I realised that I should have actually left Da Nang as soon as possible rather than waiting around because I thought (at the time) I would arrive at around 1AM if I caught the last bus at 7pm like I originally planned.

I quickly ate and slowly started packing all my things in the garbage bags…one by one (to get organised and to quarantine any bed bugs that I may have still had). I wanted to catch the bus at 3PM but because I was so slow in packing my things, I missed it and had to wait for the next bus which was at 6PM.

While I was waiting, I sat and chat to three Finnish travelers.

Once 4.30PM came, I decided that it was time for me to go ~ I went to order a Grab…until I saw the inflated prices again (it was almost double the price).

*Sigh*

I didn’t want to pay a high price (again)…

I waited and kept on checking to see if the prices would go down but just like my luck had been all day ~ the prices kept on staying the same…and the rain wasn’t getting any lighter.

When I eventually succumbed to paying the higher prices and tried ordering a Grab bike… there were no drivers available…(great…just my luck…again!)

I tried and tried again and again for about 20 minutes with the same result

*Sigh*

I was so close to giving in to catching the last bus at 7 but then….success! I finally found myself a driver.

I went out the front of the hostel and waited for probably about 20-30 minutes ~ my driver almost cancelled on my because the streets were flooded from where he was and he couldn’t get to my hostel but he eventually found a way somehow. I made him wait out the front of the hostel before we left to go to the bus station because I left my cardigan behind.

 

The water drive to the bus station in Da Nang

I had absolutely no idea that getting to the station would be such a challenge. Even though I was annoyed at the cost of the Grab ride being almost double, these feelings quickly subsided when I saw how much work my driver had to do to get me to the bus station.

At first everything seemed normal – we were driving with our rain coats on and the rain wasn’t too heavy but maybe about 10 minutes from when we left the hotel, there was a huge flood. Some cars and bikes were stuck in the water and not working. Most of the bike or scooter drivers were going on the pathway, but the water was still quite high….we got through after slowly riding forward.

The main road was wet but not flooded…until we reached the next intersection.

*Sigh*

This road was flooded even more than the one before. When I looked at all the other drivers struggling in the river-flood, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to make it across. Everybody’s exhaust was in the water.

I remember thinking to myself: “surely that isn’t good for the engine and will cause the engine to stop working”

I started getting worried I wasn’t going to make the bus at all….and then I was going to miss my flight.

My driver used the pathway as much as possible but then he had no choice but to get into the water. I’ve never experienced this before but when he went back onto the road, the water was literally up to my knees while I was on the scooter.

The bike was still working and my driver kept driving forward

*phew*

He made it past the flood and we both cheered the little victory!

I was so impressed and happy that he persisted and was getting me to my destination but my happiness quickly got overtaken by concern because I realised that my backpack at a lower position at the front of the bike near the foot rest and that my laptop was inside. I thought:

The water was up to my knees when we went through that flood – there is no way that my laptop is still dry.

F@*&^!!!

There was nothing I could do. I had to wait until we got to the bus station before I was able to check the damage to my laptop. The only reason that I had faith was because my laptop also had some form of plastic protection inside the garbage bag and I also I wrapped everything in garbage bags when I packed my things (due to my bed-bug paranoia).

We encountered another flood but made it through fine and eventually made it to the bus station! WOOHOO!

I tipped my driver a little bit more for his efforts and ran undercover as quickly as possible so I could check if my stuff was water damaged ~ even though the bottom of my backpack was soaked, my laptop was safe – everything was dry!

*PHEW*

I could not express how relieved I was when I felt that my laptop was dry. I could not believe how much of a blessing it was that I was paranoid I had bed bugs

Tip – If it’s raining, completely water-protect all your things especially if you are traveling by bike (I’ve had to waste an extensive amount of time and money because I don’t have a bag protector. If you don’t have one, at least use a large plastic bag or something).

I bought my ticket, had dinner and waited for my bus.

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Dinner while I wait for the bus

Turns out I could only catch the 7PM bus anyway by the time I arrived to the station.

When the bus arrived and told us to board, the staff wouldn’t let me bring my rain coat on ☹ ~ we couldn’t really communicate with each other but based on his body language, I get the feeling he was telling me to throw my coat away or to speak to one of the other staff. I kept trying to tell him I’d put it in a plastic bag but I don’t think he understood me and kept refusing my entry. It was EXTREMELY frustrating because I wasn’t going to throw away my coat (especially when I just bought it and spent a bit more money on it as well) and when I sought help from another staff member, they practically told me to go away and ignored me.

Long story short – I ended up sneaking my coat on in between my chest and backpack. Luckily the guy didn’t notice.

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Back on a sleeper bus again

Returning to Saigon

After 18.5 hours, we finally arrived to Saigon. The sun was shining, the air was humid ~ it was nice to finally feel the heat again even though there was so much pollution in the air.

As soon as I stepped out, there were about 10 guys at the bus entrance on the prowl to find a customer. I ignored them and went straight to get my bag from the hold compartment. My bag was already on the floor – when I went to pick it up I noticed the straps were a little bit dirty and completely soaked (argh…WTF, this was not what I needed). I pointed it out to the staff but they couldn’t care less. Even if I complained, I still don’t think they would have done anything so I gave up on that idea and got on with life.

First thing was first – I was busting to pee so made that a priority and then I decided to grab a coffee because I couldn’t be bothered moving towards my hostel just yet. I was also still deciding between catching the public bus or catching a Grab bike. Just as I was about to order a Grab, I realised that I didn’t have my cardigan on me ~ F@&^! I left it on the bus!

I was so close to giving up on the idea of losing my cardigan and buying a new one but for some reason I decided to actually put in the effort of looking it. I walked around for a bit (after convincing security to let me through an area which was off limits to the public) but couldn’t find any other FUTA bus – there were so many bus companies other than FUTA.

I was so close to accepting my fate again but then I ended up in the ticket-purchasing area ~ the place where I bought my ticket from Saigon to Da Nang. I decided to try my luck and went to the Futa ticket office and asked if the staff could help me.

Just as I was putting my bag down, it managed to get caught onto my headphones and break them.

*Sigh*

(seriously….what luck I had)

Staff: “do you have your ticket?”

Me: “No. But the bus just came from Da Nang, it left there at 7PM”

Staff: “just wait one moment”

She did some things on the computer and made a couple of phone calls

Staff: “please go to the waiting area and wait there for 30 minutes”

I couldn’t believe that there was a possibility of getting my cardigan back

Me: “thank you! Cam On!!!!” (thank you in Vietnamese).

I sat and waited ~ eventually one of the staff from the bus had my jacket, came up to me and gave it – hurray!!! By this point, I couldn’t be bothered catching a public bus which would take me an hour to get to the hostel in comparison to a 30 minute Grab ride. Plus, I didn’t want to carry my wet bag around. When I checked the App, the price of the ride had gone down even more than when I first checked it (woo! Luck was finally working in my favour).

We drove around for what seemed like forever, but we eventually got to the hostel 😊 I almost forgot how crazy Saigon was after spending over a week in Da Nang.

Arriving at DaBlend Hostel

I picked DaBlend Hostel because it was recommended by a few on Facebook (and also highly rated on all the booking Apps). I kind of wanted to invest in a better hostel because all the hostels I previously stayed in for perhaps the past two weeks were not that great and I guess it took away A LOT from my experience. I can safely say that the place lived up to my expectations and was 100% my type of hostel. From the moment I walked in until the time I left, I was warmly welcomed by the staff there. I loved the place because it felt more like a home than a hostel and they had a massage chair and many amazing chillout areas (especially the rooftop). I truly wish I stayed there the whole time when I was in Saigon.

DaBlend Hostel (go there!)

I met a small group of lovely people on the rooftop which I spent the night with.

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The lovely crew I met at DaBlend Hostel

We drank together while some others smoked. At one point in the night, one of the guys pulled out a bunch of Valium and Zanex out of his bag.

Me: “Can I have one?”

I wanted to make sure that I got a good nights rest and wasn’t sure I would because I slept so much on the bus.

Guy: “yeah sure, but I would recommend having three”

I took his advice and went to bed as soon as I started feeling the effects…

It was around maybe 11pm at the time.

My flight was scheduled for 8.00AM so I planned to wake up at 4.00AM and get to the airport by 5.00AM (with my luck, it’s better to get to the airport by about 3-4 hours earlier for me).

 

11th December 2018 – the day of the flight

I woke up and looked at my phone:

6.10AM

My flight was at 8….

I remember exactly what went on through my mind at the time –

“WTF!?!? Shit! I was supposed to be up at 4!!! My flight is at 8.10AM! I’m going to miss my flight!”

I quickly put my shorts on and packed my things, and attempted to run to reception…but as I was rushing to get down from the top “bunk”, I didn’t pay attention to where I put my feet and before I knew it, I fell perhaps 1-1.5 meters down onto my right hip.

*Ouch*

I remember someone woke up because of the noise I made from my fall. They whispered:

“Are you ok?”

Me: “yeah I’m fine.”

It was so painful but all I cared about was getting to the airport as quickly as possible.

I got up and went straight to the lockers which were just outside the hostel room. I couldn’t stop trying to figure out how I managed to forget to sleep in so much while I was rushing to pack my things.

It must have been those darn sleeping pills – I completely slept and forget to set my alarm.

How stupid of me!

By this point, I was verbally abusing myself in my head a lot for making such a stupid decision. When I got to reception, I quickly handed them back the keys, got my passport back and tried to order a Grab.

Hmmm…my phone didn’t charge at all last night either even though it was plugged in….and I had no more credit to order a Grab

*Sigh*

Just my luck…again!

For some reason, one of the French guys I drank with the night before was already up and in the reception area as well. He was trying to calm me down and gave me moral support (bless him!)

Me (to the staff): “Can you please order me a Grab to the Airport?”

Receptionist: “Ok”

Me (to the other guy): “I’m going to miss my flight. I didn’t even set my alarm. They completely knocked me out. I probably shouldn’t have taken those sleeping pills.”

French guy: “Yeah they completely knocked me out too, that’s why I’m here. I passed out on the couch downstairs. You will get your flight. If not, you can just stay here for an extra night and pay to change your ticket. It happened to me and I cancelled and changed my flight for about $70.”

Me: “That’s pretty expensive”

French Guy: “yeah but it’s better than losing a flight”

Me: “True”

While we were talking, a Grab driver came – it wasn’t the one that the guy ordered but he agreed to take me anyway for 38k.

Before I hopped on (and while we were adjusting the helmet so it could fit). I asked the staff if they could tell the driver to go as fast as possible to the airport. Both the receptionist and French guy talked to the driver in Vietnamese. The driver nodded his head.

While he was driving me – I kept thinking to myself: “there’s no way I’m going to make this flight. It’s almost 7am”

There was also a lot of traffic so my driver couldn’t drive that fast.

Once we got to the airport, I ran to the closest entrance (I had absolutely no idea where I was going). All I knew was that I needed to find the check-in desk. I saw a sign which said Departure and started going up in the direction the sign was pointing…but then I started doubting whether it was in the right direction and went back down to the entrance….to the arrival gate.

Me: surely this can’t be the area…. I don’t really have a choice and there’s nobody to ask. I am just going to have to wing it and go to the departure area.

I ran up and saw an information desk.

Me: “Where is the check in for Swiss Air”

Staff: “Desk F”

Thankfully it was close by….and still open. There was no line (thank god!)

They checked me in, gave me my boarding pass and told me to go straight to the immigration area because there is a long line.

I waited in line for about 10-15 minutes…time was ticking…

7.30AM

I looked at my boarding pass: “Boarding at 7.40AM”

How was I going to make it? There was still such a big line in front of me.

I asked the people in front of me what time their flight was

Couple in front of me: “9am”

Me: “my flight is boarding in 10 minutes…I don’t know what to do.”

Couple: “just push in – you’re going to have to”

I walked up to the front and spoke to the person first in the queue.

Me: “Hi, is it ok if I go first? I have to board my flight in 10 minutes.”

The lovely lady nodded her head and let me push in front (bless her!)

I ran to my gate and got there just as everybody was boarding!

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When I made my flight 😊

Up until now, I still don’t know how I managed to catch my flight but I went through a really long journey and made it! It was definitely not fun but definitely taught me many valuable lessons 😊 Now I’m sitting in a beautiful hostel in the middle of Barcelona, enjoying its beauty and unique culture.

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