Sunday 17 Dec
Vietnam is seven hours ahead of the UK. This was one reason that it's not on the list of places the family really want to visit for such a short time. You need a while to get over the jet lag. Having been "practicing" early mornings for around a week or so, I got up at just after 3:30. We'd had our family Christmas the night before, and Chloe and Lewis's friend Ben had joined us for a meal, drinks, and Lewis’s annual Christmas game. I'd had to go to bed shortly after 21:00 in order to be up on time! Once awake, knowing that I’d be sitting on my bum for around 14 hours afterwards (what with the journey to Heathrow, waiting around, and then the 12 hour flight itself)... I went for a 10km walk at around 04:00. It was a very mild December morning, with a slight cloud cover, but many stars were still visible and there was only a cool breeze blowing.
Cam picked my up promptly at 07:00. Having missed my previous two flights, both to and from Berlin, I was paranoid about missing this flight. If I did, for whatever reason, I’m not sure I’d have been able to afford a replacement. Repaying the cost of a short-haul trip to Germany was one thing…. Doing the same thing for a long-haul flight almost half-way round the world was another! In the end the traffic was clear, and as the skies began to lighten in the dark winter month of December, we were treated to the sights of red-tail kites hovering and hunting in the early morning thermals. There were no incidents on the motorways, and Cam dropped me off at Heathrow T4 well before 09:00 for my 11:00 flight.
I’d been less than impressed with my experience of Vietnam Airlines up to this point. I’d been unable to check in on line, as an error kept occurring telling me there was an issue with my ticket. However, once at Heathrow I checked in at the counter without any problems, so I still have no idea what the issue was. I cleared security in minutes and from this point, knowing there should now be nothing more I could do, the excitement really began to build – the adventure was genuinely under way, and I was not going to miss my flight!
To be fair, there is a genuine reason for this behaviour- or at least one that I use to justify my own semi-irrational need to get into that spherical-flying device so early: we all want our luggage directly overhead. We don’t want to walk a few steps left or right to get it. So by barging our way to the front of a queue for our already-allocated seat, we may have quicker access to our overhead luggage during the flight. I guess I certainly fall into that category of manic passengers myself.
Once onboard, I removed my sandals. I was travelling light, my electronics (power bank, cables, adaptor) probably weighed as much as my few clothes, and I put on a pair of warm socks. I thought I was being prepared for the flight - the young passenger next to me (very young, she looked around 14?) had a quilt and pillow with her.
I never used the in-flight entertainment system, but instead listened to Ishiguro (surely one of the greatest masters of the modern written word) and watched Star Wars on my iPad. The seat was ok and I woke up (after a few glasses of wine) just in time for breakfast, around 03:00 local time. From this point, I stopped using UK time.
I was quite surprised that even when we told we were landing, with the obligatory message about tray tables, seatbelts and seats being in the upright position - that it was all still pitch-dark outside. There was as yet no sign of any cities or civilisation.
Immigration and customs were and absolute breeze, and as planned, I went straight to a counter to buy a Vietnamese sim for my phone. This had been advised on various travel sites, as the sims need to be formally registered, and it’s just much easier if you get someone experienced to help you. At these counters they do thousands of them, and by the time I’d bent down to get the cash out of my bag, the lady had sellotape my old sim to the inside of my phone case, inserted the new one, and with a quick snap on her work phone she took my picture and the job was done.
The driver was not there when I got to the pickup point - column 10. Maybe the flight was early. Maybe he was late. I was tired by this point, but I was in a brand new country, so I was excited. Less than 10 minutes later a guy arrived with a sign bearing my name, and we were in the car and off.
I completely lost track of time on the way to the hotel. I think it was around a 30, maybe even 40 minute drive, but I was too busy looking around. Check in was painless, as I’d been in contact in advance to tell them I needed to check in from the night before. It was 07:00. I dropped my bag in my room, and went out immediately for a quick beer in a cafe almost directly opposite. It was still dark, few people were about, so I drank up and then went back to lay my head down for a few hours.