November 26th, 2016 - 9:36am PST – Vancouver International Airport
Waking up at 4:30am to catch a flight is, for most, an undesirable prospect. But when adventure is your alarm, the few hours of sleep from the night before can feel like a full charge blasting you into an otherwise sombre morning. We’re on our way to Vietnam and couldn’t be more excited.
The day ahead is daunting yet welcomed. Over 17 hours in the air across three different flights, 7+ hours of layovers and a 15-hour time difference once we’re on the ground. With no clue what to expect other than the mixed reviews and stories passed along by friends, our arrival draws nearer by the minute. One flight down – two to go.
Our attempts to find some ‘adult beverages’ in the airport to pass the time and soften the punch of the upcoming flight to Guangzhou, China have fallen short; so we lounge, making the best of the last hours of cell service and familiar space.
Update – 10:12am PST
Food court wine has been discovered. Hopefully this helps us sleep on the plane.
November 27th, 2016 - 18:58 Beijing Time – Guangzhou International Airport
We’ve arrived in China.
The minute we began boarding our second flight to it became obvious that things were about to start changing quickly. Our names are called over the PA system for a final a boarding call at the time we were scheduled to start boarding.. From the language to the cultural misalignments, it was certainly an interesting experience to be sealed in a winged cylinder for nearly 13 hours under such circumstances.
That being said, once you look past the communication barriers it was comparable to most flights – long, uncomfortable, and plagued by the never-ending shrieks of children.
Touched down, there is an evident tone of difference. And although some recognizable elements are present, we are foreigners amongst our surroundings. Walked across the tarmac to a shuttle bus, we get carted to the main hangar for a quick security check (thankfully passing by the monolithic lineup of those entering the country) before making our way to our gate.
Vending machines pressing fresh orange juice, a dozen men crammed into an unsealed 4x8ft room hammering cigarettes in the airport, personal luggage carriers with built in touch-screens and a seemingly inconsistent approach to payment methods are a few of the contributors to the ‘fish-out-of-water’ feeling.
Once again, we pass the time with some drinks – Tsingtao beer this time around – and wait for our few hour layover to step aside and let us board our final flight to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) City.
Time for a quick nap before boarding.
November 28th, 2016 – 1:10am Saigon Time – Saigon Zoom Hotel
After 28 hours of travel, we've finally made it.
First impressions of Ho Chi Minh are broad and eccentric. Everything from the layout, drive-by sightings, to the smells and the people, are completely unhinged in comparison to our Westernized order of things. Right out the gate we were met by a horde of hired drivers holding signs with multitudes of different names, awaiting their passengers, before embarking into ours’ vehicle and bearing witness to the scooter and motorcycle frenzy that is commuting in the city.
Driving here is nearly full-contact, with cars and scooters alike casually brushing within inches of one another without a care in the world – this is their normal. Horns are used for awareness and ‘heads-up’ rather than out of frustration like we’ve come to be so accustomed to. The sidewalks and streets are home to many unfamiliar sights; rampant graffiti, shanty housing, curbs and roads either destroyed and under repair, neon signage of every shape and size, alleys that not even the bravest of souls would dare venture alone, unbeknownst foliage, and a signature scent reeking of ash and rot.
Only one block’s walk from our hotel were exposed to scooter seafood stands selling everything from dried octopus to oysters and lobsters, hordes of friendly prostitutes, deafeningly loud Western music serenading young drinking tourists of all shapes and sizes, a one-legged beggar crawling along the floor with a ball-cap extended for karmic financial offerings, name brand department stores, criminally cheap beer and Pho, tattoo and massage parlours, and even a Burger King. The eclectic essence of Saigon City is truly enthralling.
Having arrived mere hours ago, such captivating charm sets a highly anticipated precedent for the remainder of our experiences in Vietnam.
Now to finish this beer, sleep off the euphoria and see what tomorrow throws at us.
Words by Baylan McGraw