After my final night in my surprisingly comfy bed, I woke up with only a slight hangover!!
My colleague and friend had decided to buy my bike from me for her son, so I cycled it over to the other side of town fairly early in the morning and had a breakfast of eel noodle soup with them before taking the bike to their house.
I’d never been to her house before, it was small and humble but well presented and clean. Her son was excited to show me the collection of English books I had passed to his mum to give to him. He had made me a thank-you card and apparently had been telling all of his friends at school that he has 7 english books. How sweet.
His mum took me back to school and we said our goodbyes.
When I got back to my room I checked my phone. Whilst on the back of the bike heading back to school my phone I’d missed a couple of calls. Neither of the numbers I recognised so didn’t call them back. I also had a couple of texts, one from Vietnam Airlines, but the whole thing was in Vietnamese so I had no idea, though it had some times in the message, so I put it into Google Translate to see what was what.
Google Translate is inaccurate at the best of times. This text wasn’t even in proper Vietnamese, more like text language, so Google couldn’t help really, except translated one word: apologise.
Being the detective that I am (not) I put the two pieces of information together: apologise and 1250-1830. What, exactly, was going on?
Luckily at that moment, my phone rang, and it was Vietnam Airlines telling me that my flight was indeed delayed, by five hours and forty minutes. I panicked, and here’s why.
My flight was due to leave Hanoi (the Vietnamese capital) at 1645, so if the domestic flight was to leave Vinh at 1830, my international flight would have long left Hanoi.
I called the son of the principal, not knowing what to do. How on earth would I manage to get my flight from Hanoi?! He promised that he’d ring back as quick as he could after talking to his mum and other staff (they were all preparing for an ex-staff member’s wedding and couldn’t take me to the airport) to find out the best way for me to get to Hanoi in time for my flight to Doha.
It turned out bus and train wouldn’t be fast enough options, but taking a taxi to Hanoi WAS an option. That’s right. Not the plane. A taxi.
So as fast as humanly possible I shoved as much as I could in the top of my backpack, and headed downstairs to wait for the taxi. I didn’t have time to say goodbye to people I wanted to, and didn’t even have time to feel sad that i was leaving the school where I had lived and worked for the past six months.
The taxi didn’t arrive immediately, so I was clearly getting more and more stressed out. As soon as it arrived I jumped in with my bags and we headed off to Hanoi Airport. I indicated through hand gestures and regular use of google translate that we had to get to Hanoi as quickly as he possibly could.
So when he said we were at the airport 15 minutes later I went crazy. No, we weren’t at Hanoi Airport, we were at Vinh Airport wasting time!! He called my contact from school who shouted at him down the phone and then his boss-man or someone and eventually we hit the road, with less time than we had before.
The next hurdle in the road was getting pulled over by the police. Now, I’ve mentioned before that the police in Vietnam are corrupt. They can pull people over just because they know they can charge them to be released again. They chose the wrong day to pull us over! The taxi driver was taken away for maybe ten minutes, so I was sat in a taxi at the side of AH1 waiting to either be rescued or for my driver to be released and get a move on up the road to Hanoi. It turned out he didn’t have enough money to pay the police so wanted my money, queue shouting match in different languages. Once again he called my contact back at school who told me that I’d get the cost of the fine discounted from my final fare.
Once again, we hit the road. Initially, the driver had guessed we’d get to Hanoi around 2.30-2.45pm, but now it was looking like well after 3, and the flight was to start boarding at quarter to 4. It didn’t look good.
I slept quite a lot in the taxi on the way. I have no idea how but it was probably something to do with yet another late night, an early morning and the most stressful day of my life (probably not an exaggeration).
As we neared Hanoi I realised that I had zero chance of making the plane. It was coming up to three and we were still the other side of the city. We crept through traffic for well over an hour, and eventually arrived at Hanoi Noi Bai airport at half past four. I spoke to my contact at school who made sure the driver took the fine from the police off the cost of my trip, which came to £100 for 7 and a half hours.
I rushed into the airport and the boards said my flight was boarding. I knew it. I found a desk for Qatar and they said that my flight had already taken off – not what the board said, but I’m sure there are numb nuts out there who think they can get through departure and onto the plane in ten minutes. I asked what I should do and was told that the night Hanoi-Bangkok-Doha flight was two days later. F**k.
The other option was to fly with Thai Airlines to Bangkok, then fly with Qatar from Bangkok to Doha, to catch up with my original Doha-Edinburgh flight. Both options would cost me, and I just wanted to get home, so rather than waiting in a Hanoian hotel for two days I would take the Thai flight to Bangkok, so was to go and get my ticket from check-in for that flight when it opened. In the meantime I went to complain to Vietnam Airlines and look into refunds/compensation etc.
One thing I didn’t do before going through security was find a bureau de change. I had my six months of savings with me and the money from my bike (minus the cost of the taxi) and wanted to change it all to pounds before flying out of Vietnam as I hear you can’t change it once outside the country. Once I was checked in on the Bangkok flight and through security I couldn’t find a bureau de change anywhere. One more thing to add to the day that just keeps going wrong! I asked at duty free and she said that there wasn’t one that side of security. She asked what I wanted to buy and I said nothing – just change money. I’m sure she went against the rules but she sold me dollars for probably a terrible exchange rate, but otherwise I’d have been stuck with the money.
Fast forward to arrival at Bangkok. I had that lovely feeling when stepping into a hot country from a plane where the heat hits you as you leave the aircraft. That was probably the only good point of my my few hours in Bangkok.
Firstly, I couldn’t find the transfer desk anywhere and almost ended up going through immigration into actual Thailand before I asked a kind member of staff who directed me away from immigration and to somewhere upstairs. Bangkok is a pretty cool airport and the staff are really happy and helpful – have you seen BBC3’s documentary series about Bangkok Airport? You can watch it here.
Secondly, arriving at the front of the queue at Qatar’s transfer desk, I was told by the man behind the desk that my onward ticket wasn’t open or valid (or something) and so I would have to pay to validate it. First of all I refused, but he explained that I wouldn’t be able to fly anywhere without paying this extra whatever it was. So I had no choice. I asked if I could pay with USA dollars (which pretty much every airport on this planet accepts) but he said I could only pay with Thai Baht or credit card. I don’t have a credit card and I wasn’t going to convert my newly converted US dollars into Thai Baht to change them back to dollars to then change to pounds – there would be nothing left. My Dad had told me just to call if anything else went wrong, but I couldn’t for the life of me get hold of him however many times I tried. Time was running out because the charge was going to go up after 11pm. Eventually he answered the phone and would help me when we agreed to sort the cost out when I got home. Of course, it wasn’t so simple. He couldn’t pay over the phone, so the guy asked him to go to the nearest Qatar office and pay over the counter (we now know that the nearest Qatar office is in Manchester – a very long way from the hills of Perthshire!) – not really practical at 6pm on Sunday evening in the UK. Eventually I gave in and used an emergency card which my Mum had given me that I hate using, but if this wasn’t an emergency, then I’m not sure what counts! When I decided to use it the guy said that it could take 20 minutes for them to get the credit card machine brought to the transfer desk, and by that point the charge would have increased. I told him that it was their fault for not having one at the desk so I shouldn’t be charged for their mistake. Luckily, the person bringing the card machine got there quickly and the boarding cards were printed off and off I went to find my flight at the other end of the airport.
I quite fancied a glass of wine after what was probably my fifth or sixth emotional meltdown of the day, but unfortunately I didn’t find anywhere on the way to the gate. I had to make sure I got a receipt this time!! So far for the 2 large expenses neither of them (Thai nor the taxi) had given me a receipt. The ground staff brought me the receipt once I was sat down on the plane, next to a small Russian boy whole wriggled like a worm the whole way to Doha.
Now, would you believe it – after all of those disruptions I made it to Doha in time to get my original flight to Edinburgh. I had all sorts of plans for my eight and a half hours wait there (including a shower – I had everything I needed for a shower in my hand luggage, turned out I didn’t have time for that!), but after the two new flights and nightmare of a journey I only had an hour and a half. Enough time to brush my teeth, wash my face, find a cup of tea, buy some dates (why not? It’s not everyday you pass through the middle east) and find my gate.
I got to my gate in time, sat down, read my book, tried to ignore the screaming twins sitting in a row near me while I was burning my tongue on my tea and waited for my flight to be called. I’m not going to lie, I had some feeling that something else was going to go wrong, I mean, so far, every single step of my journey had gone wrong – what was next?
The plane boarded, myself included. I had a window seat, lovely. There was no one else on my row, PERFECT! The only down side about that flight was the fact that those twins (I’d say they were about 2 years old) screamed so much the whole way through the flight that even the cabin crew got annoyed. The twins screamed so much they set other small children off. BUT I had the row to myself and stretched right out for the majority of the flight. That definitely made up for the horrendous journey to begin with!
I genuinely thought I was never going to get home (I did actually ask the man at the transfer desk what would happen if I didn’t pay the fee “So what? I have to stay here forever?!!”– I thought I’d be stuck in transit for the rest of my life, living off airport fast food and sleeping on the benches.
I met my Dad at the original time planned, and he drove me back to his new house in the hills. Everything seemed so clean and calm after the dirt and mayhem of everything Vietnam!