In September, thoughts of traveling entered my mind again as it had been a longtime since I had flown overseas and broke away from this concrete reality. Again I was in a great need of a break. Work was too much, life was too much and this dunya was too much. Ultimately a break away was needed.
I was originally going to fly to Mauritius [home] for two weeks as I had never been there in summer but I realised I had already visited a year and a half ago. I felt like it was too soon to return. My friend said to me: “Why don’t we go somewhere crazy like China or Vietnam?”.
I always wanted to go to China but I felt like I wasn’t ready yet for such an adventure, so Vietnam kind of appealed to me. I knew about Vietnam for its tragic history and that it was an amazing destination but I never pictured myself going there nor to South-East Asia for that matter, due to my health condition, so it felt like a far fetched idea. My friend motivated me and I began to do some serious research. I began to fall in love with the place the more I was researching and I started enjoying what I was seeing.
So weeks were flying by and my annual leave was approaching quite fast. I was still dubious about the SE Asia “thing” and anxious to even think about going there. In the end I bought my ticket and jumped right into it.
I began booking the hotels and everything needed for the trip. Now that the tickets were bought, all I had to do was wait. The preparation for the trip was quite intense and to my surprise although a lot of people blog about Vietnam, it felt like there wasn’t a lot of information on some of the places I wanted to go to. Thankfully my friend Tayne, living in Ho Chi Minh City, coached me all the way through my planning. If you read this sir, a million thank yous from the heart.
I had to buy a lot of things at the last minutes and a few trips to the doctor were needed in order to get some jabs. Al hamdulillah, having already travelled to Makkah [Saudi Arabia], Mauritius and having a few fortunate work-related injections, I was totally covered except for Polio. The nurse asked me to take some Malaria tablets even though Vietnam is considered to be a low risk destination on most of its surface. The tablets for Malaria cost about £50. I took the prescription and I said to the nurse that I would think about it. I put my trust in Allah and decided to go without.
Hotels booked! I was ready to map out my journeys from places to places.
Saturday 26th November 2016:
After a shift at work, I ran to the shops to get the last minute stuff like DEET sprays and traveling size gels and whatnot for the plane journey. I ran back home and updated my bag for last minute changes. My auntie came to pick me up as she insisted that she wanted to take me to the airport. I was truly blessed of her gesture.
We left just before Maghrib which was around 15:50 and reached London Heathrow Terminal 3 at about 17:15. I was very early but they do advise to be there for at least 2-3 hours before boarding time. I said my salaam to my auntie and uncle and that’s where things got real because I was just by myself. I checked-in the day before so all I had to do was to drop my baggage at the desk.
The airline I used was Cathay Pacific and it was my first time with them. I used my new passport for the first time since Brexit and successfully checked-in. I went through security with no difficulties. I changed my money to Vietnamese dong at the airport.
Here I was,
….in London Heathrow waiting for my flight to Hanoi.
In the lobby, it’s the rat race, people were walking with a purpose, all going to their respective destination’s gates. I was rather full up and money goes quite quick at the airport but these were the things I needed.
I looked around and everyone was quiet and silent, on their phones waiting for the announcement. It was surreal. I could almost hear or see their inner thoughts. I nervously looked at the time and I saw that prayer time was approaching so I got up from my sit and followed the signs to the multi-faith room. I completed my salah and made plenty of dua.
Sunday 27th November 2016:
We boarded but we were late to leave London but it didn’t matter. The flight was rather smooth but very uncomfortable. I slept probably 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there. After a while I went for a little walk to stretch my legs and on my return I found the passenger sitting next to me with the blanket on her face, sleeping, looking like a ghost. I laughed to myself but it wasn’t long after that I followed her ways. After all, it was not a bad idea.
I already completely lost sense of time due to travelling through the different time zones. My mind and body was at Fajr time but it was actually close to Asr time.
We reached Hong Kong. What an airport!
I saw the Kanji signs on the escalators and felt like this dream was coming realer and realer the more I was walking towards the gate. I had an hour transit in Hong Kong and by looking outside, I started daydreaming about Hong Kong, this place really speaks to me for some reason and I hope In sha Allah that I get to visit it at least once in my lifetime. I was exhausted already but I needed to go to gate 509, I was at gate 29.
I arrived just 10 minutes before the boarding time at the first gate. A member of the cabin crew came and asked us to show her; passports and boarding passes. We were guided to take a shuttle from the airport to another building to board the flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi.
A guy stopped me on the shuttle as I was loading my first roll of film in my Olympus XA and said: “Wow you are so young and you shoot film? are they hard to get hold of?”, he was happy to know that film was still available.
I was feeling dizzy standing outside the boarding gate. I was trying to compose a shot and a guy came to me and said: “oh that’s Oldschool”. It is strange how film photography always attracts people and is a great conversation starter. We started chatting. A lovely couple (Geraldine and David) from London, we spoke about everything from travelling to photography to religion.
We arrived in Hanoi after an hour and twenty minutes flight, we went through the passport/visa checks which was very slow but eventually Geraldine and David and I managed to go through. The passport control guard asked me where my Visa was, I replied: “No Visa under 15 days for UK passports”, he laughed and allowed me entry.
A few days ago, I paid online for a taxi to pick me up at the airport (Hanoi) to take me to my hotel. I read that there were so many scams these days and one should be careful when booking taxis, so to avoid all this drama I decided to go for a taxi reservation. The taxi driver came to pick me up as expected with my name on a paper. Just before going into my cab, I saw David from afar so I ran to him and asked to exchange emails.
The taxi man spoke very little english and was very quiet but it was okay as I was so exhausted from the travels that I simply looked at the window and tried to absorb everything. It was already very dark outside. I fell asleep a few times but woke up as we got to the Old Quarter, where my hotel was located. I could already see the famous motorbikes with wardrobes at the back, a family of 4 people etc… it was surreal.
I was daydreaming (nightdreaming?) looking at the world through the car’s window. Feeling tensed that I was about to delve into this crazy, overwhelming, overstimulating, world. I touched down at my Hotel – Cosiana at 21:00.
I went to the room, I was unsure about tipping. I prayed and got down to the D’Lions Restaurant (Malaysian, Singaporean Halal Restaurant) to eat some fresh spring rolls (not the fried ones) made with rice paper. I only ordered a small meal because of the long travels, all I wanted was something light. I got back to my room after getting the bill. I took a shower and went to bed.