52 Weeks 52 Tests – Week 8 – a Great stay and a Hellish travel to Phu Quoc, Vietnam

This is cheat week.
I will cheat because I will write about my trip to Phu Quoc for Chinese New Year, so technically, it’s not new to me as I already travelled there in 2010, but trust me, some travel experience give you this sense of never seen before…

When it’s not your day…

We had 4 days to get out of the hustle and bustle of SIN city.
Freshly dropped in the early morning at Changi Airport, we walk confidently to the Tiger Airways counter. Zohria checks in. I check in. Not. I don’t have a Visa. I confidently reply that no visa is needed for Phu Quoc island, which is a special economic zone and has travel extensions for travelers from several citizenships, including French. Our flight is to HCMC, and we were going to connect to Phu Quoc a few hours later with Vietnam Airlines. For the airline, I am traveling to HCMC, Vietnam, and I need a Visa.
Drama.
2 solutions:
– say good bye to the holidays and brace for an immense frustration.
– try to get an emergency visa and get to the island anyway.
Zohria goes checking-in already thinking she will spend lonely holidays.
I grab my smartphone and search for emergency visa. The expert I call at Vietnam Visa guarantees I don’t need a visa for Phu Quoc, even flying through HCMC, even with different companies.
Confusion.
I have the vietnamese visa expert speak to the line manager at Tiger’s check-in. It’s airline procedur anyway, no way I can change that. I need a visa, so I buy it online, and fast, under the category “Holiday, Rush Visa” and get to pay 200 USD for it.
Pain.
I receive the approval letter 20 minutes after via email, and have now a chance to catch my connecting flight at HCMC, providing I find a flight for HCMC. Found it, bought it, checked it. Singapore Airlines. 500 SGD. Fuck it.
More Pain.
The breakfast was included, at least something I did not have to pay for :$
SQ breakfast… Eggs, potatoes, ham, coffee, bread, butter, fruit & water, 500$ only
I land in HCMC, and someone with my name on a board asks for my passport. I give it to this guy from this Vietnam visa agency him and he tells me to sit down and wait for a little while. He says “maybe 20 minutes. I see him shortcutting the queue to the visa on arrival counter, and I think: “good, I paidthe super duper extra extra, but at least, shit gets done, and faster… Anyway, I have plenty of time, my connecting flight is in 2h30 minutes…”
20 minutes wait,
30 minutes wait, I ask about the situation, guy tells me to wait,
45 minutes wait, I ask again, same reply,

60 minutes wait, I start to feel stress coming, what’s going on? “It’s holiday, Tet, so maybe the people not work”, I’m told.

Great.

75 minutes wait, meaning 75 left to my flight. I still have to get my visa stamped, clear immigration, get to the other terminal, and check in in time. My finger nails have significantly shortened in the last 30 minutes. If I miss this flight, then I paid the Singapore Airlines flight for no reason.

I now look at my guy every 2 minutes, in hope.

90 minutes wait, still nothing.
95 minutes, my guy gets agitated, it’s coming!
He hands me back my stamped passport, I thank him, and start running to the immigration counter as I have exactly 10 minutes to get out of the airport and check in at the other terminal next door.
Then followed a running sequence full of obstacles that made me feel like I was the character of some silly video game:

 

Run with cabin luggage, picks the line with no queue for immigration. Gets bounced off at the counter with no queue, closed, tries his luck at a 2nd counter: closed too.
Chooses the escalator to walk fast down the stairs. Cannot pass, blocked by a grandma protected by her grandson.
Finds the exit, runs right with his old flat slippers, slips and falls on an invisible patch of water spread there by some evil mind.
For once this sign was needed, but just wasn’t there
Gets back up, runs out of the airport to the domestic terminal. New villains in the game: large CNY crowd welcoming family. Accelerating, until next obstacle: convoy of old people in wheelchair, randomly changing direction. Obstacles: more cleaners sweeping in front of my feet, jump. Reaches Vietnam a
irlines, check in counter, checks in, in time.
Finally, we checked in our flight to Phu Quoc.

Let the holidays begin

Landed at the brand new airport, we were picked up by the driver or our “specialty lodging”, Freedomland, #1 on Trip Advisor…
I noticed that the number of construction is more than 4 years ago, not surprised somehow, given the island has a 25 km long white sand beach to cater for international tourism…

Arrived at Freedomland after 30 minutes drive, we were greeted by a friendly german lady, who explained the functioning and collective spirit of the place and showed us to our room in this jungle clad homey little resort.

We checked in a roomy, breezy, comfortable Jungle Suite and have a good read and rest in the hammock and lounge bed, the holidays can finally start…

In front of the patio of our “Jungle Suite”

Dinner is served at 7.30PM at the large communal table, central to the place. It usually is a 4-5 course vietnamese – western fusion set menu, with several small plates of starters, main course with fish, meat and vegetarian options, and a dessert.

A camp fire is lit up every evening, not far from the communal area, a simple idea that feels really great.

After a great night sleep, we went for an equally good a-la-carte breakfast, with many options for egg lovers like us.
I also had a delicious vegetarian Pho
Pho
The local black coffee also deserves a special mention…

Lunches are also a la carte, and you can even be served a limited selection right by your lounge bed on the beach, 15 minutes away from the kitchen! We were big fans of their large chicken salad…

On the first morning we decided to visit the beach, of course, and were guided to it by the resident white Phu Quoc dog.
Path to the beach

 

Sand dunes near the beach
Reaching the quiet, white sand beach after a nice little walk
After a good day spent in the sun, burning, we came back for a COLD shower, which was lovely.
Taking cold showers in an open bathroom has clearly for me some immense wellness benefits, you just feel so great afterwards!
On the second day, we rented a scooter to explore the north of the island. I was extremely cautious on the road / dirt paths, which are full of bumps…
Crossing some dodgy bridge
Gotta love that colorful contrast

We stopped by a fishing village, I believe it was Ganh Dau.

All the shops were closed because of the Tet celebration, and people were lazying around in family, playing cards, gambling, watching TV

 

 

In Ganh Dau village

Then, we stopped for lunch at Peppercorn Boutique Hotel, which has its own private beach,

 and an out-of- this-world starter of grilled calamari…

The end of the lunch was even more eventful with a lion dance that rolled throughout the resort, including the restaurant!

We also spent the last day at the beach, and went to a lounge restaurant bar named Itaca, to meet a group of people celebrating a birthday. The food was far from Freedomland quality, service very hesitant, and the fish, well, read-on…

Comes the time to return to Singapore after a great, too-short 3 days stay. I wake up feeling bloated, and a bit nauseous. “Fuck” I think, not today, not for traveling…

Hellish travel, part 2

We arrive at the check-in counter of Vietnam airlines, only to realise that Zohria does not have a confirmed reservation… She booked through a 3rd party agent and the itinerary she received shows a “no action” under that flight… There is no other flight seat available to return to HCMC for 4 days minimum… Luckily 2 other girls are in the same sort of situation next to us, and are enquiring for the next ferry boat timing scheduled to return to the mainland. Zohria goes with them and will have to rush with the taxi to the ferry, charge her low battery phone in the cabin of a pervert security guard showing porn western porn pictures to her pretty face, struggle to find a black market bus ticket to ride 8 hours to HCMC, sleep in a humid hostel, miss work on Monday and catch a new flight in the evening.

Simultaneously, I am bend in two for the whole journey back to Singapore, with a bad diarrhea and vomit-inducing nausea. Even had to get an anti-nausea jab at the first aid upon arrival in HCMC airport…

Lesson learned: if you travel during CNY:
– plan way ahead of time your flights (4 months min)
– your visa (one month min)
– beware fish during festive periods. Fishermen stop working for a few days, too.

Other than that, I still tasted something new!

Some “dragon” vegetable, cooked in soy sauce. Alright but not fantastic.

I am trying to catch up with this my challenge, because it’s already week 10 and I’m only writing week 8! Ahhh

Speak to you soon for Week 9 !

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