Vietnam: Hanoi To Ho Chi Minh City [Day Ten]

Tuesday 6th December 2016:

I had to sleep lightly in fear that I may miss my flight. I promptly got ready and went downstairs to check out. I found the staff sleeping, I didn’t want to wake them up but I had to get my taxi. The taxi came on time at 6:00 am as requested. I left the hotel after paying for my stay.

The receptionist asked where to drop me and I asked for the Hanoi domestic airport for Ho Chi Minh City, he replied: “Let’s go”. He kindly helped me to carry my bag out to the boot of the taxi located in front of the hotel.

I stepped out of the hotel and the whole city was sleeping. The smell of the morning hit me and it felt like time stopped again. I stopped and looked at the early sun rays kissing the edges of the buildings in the horizon as we departed. Once again the driver was very quiet and I didn’t want to insist on making conversation for the muted feeling of the waking city was more hypnotic. There was hardly anyone on the road. The motion of the car gently transported me into a light healing sleep.

We arrived at the airport quite quickly, I asked the driver how much the price was (as the hotel quoted me 335 000 VD). He said to my surprise: “It’s ok, the hotel paid for it”. I tried to explain that I didn’t pay for it but he was having none of it and quickly got back into his car and even refused a tip. He left quite promptly and I stayed puzzled not understanding what just had happened.

I had no choice but to walk away. I entered the domestic airport and got to the VietJet desk to check in which was very easy, it was then 6:45am and boarding was at 8:15am.

I had a lot of time to kill during which I met a guy called David from Australia, a young fella who was travelling to Da Lang. We spoke and he left quite shortly after due to his boarding time.

I was then by myself and I caught up with some emails and other stuff then it was time for boarding. The flight was very quick (2 hours). I felt like it was a crazy time to leave and there were a little bit of turbulences. The domestic flight was insane. I hate flying!

الحمد لله we arrived safe and sound, everyone made their way to exit the plane and as I came off the plane the heat difference hit me. It was so strong. I got so happy for I knew my Vitamin D levels would peak up straight away. I entered the airport after being dropped by a small shuttle bus. Picked up my luggage. There were so many more people than in Hanoï. I presented my passport and went through the small security gate.

As soon as I entered I tried to locate the taxi desk which was on my right hand side and the lady asked me where I wanted to be dropped, I gave my hotel reservation paper and she wrote a receipt that she asked to present to the taxi person upon pick up. I was happy as I had read so much about the scams with taxis in Ho Chi Minh City. I paid and made my way outside, the heat again was very strong. I was already sweating. I was asked to wait for my taxi inside in the meantime.

A lady came and prompted me that my taxi had arrived. I had never seen so many taxis in my entire life. One after an another.

Surprisingly the journey to my hotel was rather easy and very little amount of traffic was noticeable but it was then 10.45am so it was understandable.

The difference of temperature was so dramatic from North to South. The air con was lovely. The driver was also very talkative and the difference in interaction was also evident.

I was looking at the world go by from the window seat and felt like time was slowing down. A feeling of intense rest took over me and excitement too.

The taxi all of a sudden stopped. I was puzzled and he said: “hotel is here”. I was shocked of how quick it was. I asked him to confirm that we had the right street and hotel. He confirmed by showing me the street name. He helped me to unload my stuff from the boot and I thanked him. He left quite promptly too.

The ride from the airport to the Dragon Hotel was a little lengthy due to the traffic. I entered the hotel to check in but it was 12:00pm and check-in was only from 14:00. I couldn’t check-in as the guy occupying the room had just left 20 mins before I turned up.

I asked the guys if I could leave my backpack behind so I could kill some time and be back in time for a check-in. They agreed. I took opportunity to walk around and realised there is a bakery just on the doorstep of the hotel. (should the breakfast be rubbish). I bought an apple pain au chocolat which was awesome.

Before leaving the hotel, I grabbed a map of the city so I could navigate through Ho Chi Minh City. The time was approaching Dhuhr and I knew I could reach the mosque just in time for the salah. After 30 minutes of intense walk, I finally found the mosque. I felt so happy and the sun was so good. Ho Chi Minh City really reminded of some of the streets of Tokyo.

I prayed at the mosque and replenished on energy. I bought a bottle of water from the corner K Shop and made my way back to the hotel using my memory to return back to the district.

Arriving at the hotel, overfilled with joy from the discoveries of the last hour, I paid for the accommodation and asked to put a wash in after checking-in.

Tayne sent an email with a lovely plan for the evening dinner to be, Sushi!!! He advised me to get a moped taxi to get there. I was quite nervous about it and I opted to walk there. Tayne was shocked but I really wanted to do it. He also asked me to get a sim card but I was quite uneasy about it due to the fact that I was only going to be there for a little while. I fell asleep for a power nap and showered to regain energy. I went downstairs and spotted my washing bag in the corridor. I asked them why it wasn’t done, they said I had put it late so they couldn’t process the request on the same day.

I couldn’t be bothered to argue after all this travelling. I decided to go to Ben Tranh Market to get a new t-shirt as I had no clothes to wear for the next day. I bargained for a t-shirt for 120 000 VD. Ben Tranh Market is known for their thirst of bargaining. Before leaving the hotel, I booked my trip to the Mekong Delta for the next day.

I made my way into the madness of the traffic night. The rain was so abundant and I was sweating evening more making me doubly wet. Despite the intense heat and night struggle to get to the other side of the city via the river, I struggled through and enjoyed the difficulties. I, before leaving the hotel, I took screenshots of the directions from the market to the restaurant.

I nearly got ran over multiple times already, I spotted another mosque on the way and stopped in multiple places such as pharmacies, restaurants, to ask about Vinh Khank Street and other streets alike. The locals kindly pointed me to the right place. Whilst walking in the busy streets and open terraces restaurants, I stepped into several water holes. My socks were so wet.

I walked up and down the street and finally found Sushi KO and was happy to know that I had made it. As expected, I messaged Tayne to say I was there. What is surreal in Saigon is the ability to have Wi-Fi in many places even when on the streets. I couldn’t see anyone but I spotted a couple that was standing next to the entrance. The restaurant was open-air only and the tables were typical of Vietnam (small tables and small chairs). I am usually incredibly shy with my introvert self but I took my courage in hands and asked the couple if they were waiting for someone called Tayne and puzzled, they said:”yes”. I introduced myself and we went to sit down at a table where two other guys were sitting waiting for Tayne too. Tayne is the man, his popularity was so evident haha. The guys were from Russia and New Orleans. I was amazed of how far people came from. What a small world.

We discussed many things and all of a sudden the conversation got deep onto religion. Then Tayne arrived!!!!

Tayne came and wanted to sit next to me which I was really touched. We ordered our food and I ordered my ever evident green tea. We all took different platters of sushi, sashimi and maki.

We enjoyed the amazing food and incredible conversations with awesome company, hours went by so quickly and the rain had stopped.

It was getting late as it was the middle of the week and everyone was working early the next day we paid and planned the next few days with Tayne, I insisted on walking back to the hotel by myself and I got lost on my way there. It was fun but I was also exhausted.

I popped into K-Mart to get some oreos, lychee juice (the best I ever had), and some pains au chocolats. I got home, took my fourth shower of the day and went to pray and bed straight away. I had to send some emails and terminated the day.

 

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.