Vietnam: Day One

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

HANOI:

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.