A Journey through Hell…

Shradha and I were entering Delhi’s T3 terminal, excited and looking forward to a long delayed vacation. It had taken a lot of last minute scrambling to make our vacation a reality for reasons I wont go into, suffice to say all preparations had been done in the last week itself. However, our tickets were booked, our hotel had our reservations and our visas had been received a day earlier. All said, we were already imagining ourselves in Vietnam.

All seemed to be going well… until disaster struck. Vietnam allows you to have a letter of introduction issued from the local consulate which assures you a Visa on Arrival. The dude at the Thai Airways counter took a look at our Visas and tickets, printed Shradha’s boarding pass, then started frowning. Soon he had dialed some higher up and was gesticulating animatedly at my ticket and visa.

Turns out my Visa had been issued on my previous passport. Thankfully, I was carrying my old passport as well, and so was able to furnish it to prove my credentials. You would think that should be enough, right? Wrong.

Their worry was that if they let me go with the documents I have, and then I am denied a Visa, they will be on the hook for letting a passenger travel with less than ideal documents. I asked them to confirm with their head office if they could, so that they would have some clarity. They called up Bangkok to confirm whether someone in my situation would be given a Vietnam Visa on landing there. They didn’t pick up for 20 minutes. When they finally did, they said they had no idea and to call to Ho Chi Minh desk. They called up Ho Chi Minh, and those heroes didn’t pick up the phone at all. Welcome to the work ethic of a communist country.

I requested them to let me go, and that there wouldn’t be a problem as I would use my unlimited charm and my innocent looking face (Its a God given gift, really) to worm my way into receiving a Visa once I land in Vietnam. Perhaps my charm might have worked in Vietnam, but it didn’t work in Delhi. They apologized profusely but didn’t give me a boarding ticket. The best they could do, they told me, was give me a ticket for a later date without any extra charges. After a quick chat with my travel agent, I ended up getting my ticket reissued for the 7th of October, 2 days after we were originally scheduled to fly.

On 6th morning, I applied for an emergency visa to Vietnam. I further discussed the accommodation situation and resolved it satisfactorily. On 7th morning, I had the Visa in my hand, this time with the correct passport number printed. Check in was smooth that night, and soon we were on our way to Bangkok, where we had a short transit. All smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong.

By the time we landed in Bangkok, Shradha had started to feel a little under the weather. However, it wasn’t anything major, and so we soldiered on, still in a pretty good mood. By the time our flight landed in Ho Chi Minh, however, she had taken a turn for the worse and was feeling quite ill. There were two options in front of us – 1. Take the Visa and head onwards, or 2. Go back to Kolkata. After about half an hour, Shradha gave the go ahead, and we got in line for the Visa.

We were scheduled to fly domestic from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang, and there was another couple who was in the same flight as us. Eric and Kathy were from Norway and were on a backpacking tour of South East Asia. They had already covered Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand, and were going onwards after Vietnam to Indonesia and the Philippines. Their trip would take them 3 months and ours was only for a week, and yet they had 2 backpacks and we had 2 pieces of luggage of similar if not larger size, along with 2 smaller hand carry suitcases, and Shradha’s purse. Talk about feeling like a luxury-loving, privileged, spoilt Marwari brat.

Being of a similar age, we hit it off pretty well and walked out. Eric had to buy some Duty Free stuff and we were also feeling a little hungry, so we took our time. As it is, our flight was at 3 in the afternoon and we had landed at 10 in the morning, so we had plenty of time. However I, being the eternal worrier, hurried everyone along saying that lets just check in, and we’ll chill after getting all the formalities sorted. Shouldn’t have been much a problem, right? Wrong.

We walked into the Domestic Terminal and approached the JetStar counter. A woman was sitting there, nonchalantly clanking on her keyboard while ignoring customers. I asked her about checking in to our flight to Nha Trang, and she replied with the dreaded words – “Sorry sir, that flight is cancelled.” Nonplussed, I asked her when the next flight was so that she could put us into it, and she replied there’s only one flight per day, and the earliest flight we could catch would be tomorrow. After I explained to her that it was impossible for me to stay a day in Ho Chi Minh, she pointed us towards the VietJet ticket counters. It was 11.50.

A 55 kg lump of incompetence greeted me at the VietJet counter. I have no idea whether she did it on purpose or was genuinely terrible at her job, but she had trouble understanding simple words like Nha Trang and Tickets. After two minutes of playing Dumb Charades with her, another rep took over our counter and finally we got some answers. Yes, they had a flight to Nha Trang. Yes, they had tickets available. You’d think it was time to start singing Hallelujah, right? Wrong.

She told us the cost of each ticket was $100. Vietnam might be a communist country, but this lady knew how capitalism works, and she used it quite ruthlessly against us. With no other option, I forked out $200, and so did Eric. It was 12.05.

We rushed to the check-in counters and were met with a lady who must have been a direct descendant of Stalin. I don’t think she smiled for the 10 minutes we were forced to spend looking at her face. She didn’t talk much either, except telling us our luggage was overweight. I tried telling her that we were on an International transit, and hence we should be allowed the additional weight. After all, JetStar had allowed it! She only replied with “Different Airlines, Different Policy.” Back to the ticket counter we went. The lady greeted us with a smile, but by this time her teeth looked like a Shark’s jaw to me, waiting to crush any hope I had of a smooth flight. Oh, how sad that we were overweight.No, International Transit wouldn’t work, as “Different Airlines, Different Policy.” Of course, we could purchase additional weight for the rock bottom price of $42. She grinned. I grimaced and paid up. She took her own sweet time printing out the receipt, while the VietJet counters had pretty much emptied, all passengers already near the boarding gate. I rushed to the check-in counter and produced the receipt, upon which finally my luggage was taken in. Eric and Kathy had no such issues with their luggage, of course, and were waiting for us to go through security. I was a little pissed at their ‘travel-light’ ways, but also grateful that they didn’t leave me alone as the only passenger still left for that flight. Oh well, onwards to paradise, right? Wrong.

Eric had bought a bottle of whiskey from the Duty Free shop in the international terminal. Upon going through security, he was stopped by Comrade I-know-no-English, soon joined by Comrade You-no-go-through-with-bottle. Eric didn’t know what the hell was going on, and neither did I. Finally we figured out that the security personnel wouldn’t let the bottle through as it didn’t have a seal. Eric told them that he had no idea a seal was required, and that he had just taken the bag as given to him by the people at the Duty Free shop. Shouldn’t it be their responsibility to pack it up properly? Comrade I-know-no-English wouldn’t budge, and took Eric back to the check-in counters, presumably to deposit the bottle in his checked-in luggage. No dice, all luggage was already gone. Eric asked the Security Personnel whether they would give the packet to the airline crew, and they could give it to him once he lands? Comrade You-no-go-through-with-bottle wouldn’t even entertain the thought. Finally, poor Eric had to leave his precious bottle of Whiskey on the Security Counter. I assumed it must have been an expensive purchase as Eric seemed livid and crushed in equal measure. The Comrades waved us goodbye with smiles on their faces. I guess their night’s libations had been arranged. In any case, we finally boarded the flight to Nha Trang. Our travel agent had already intimated the resort that we will be coming much earlier than planned, and they had done the needful rescheduling. Finally, all was well, right? Wrong.

You see, if Shradha was Superwoman (that ‘if’ is pretty unnecessary, isn’t it?), her kryptonite would be not eating at her designated time for meals. Shradha’s stomach had decided to play nice for a while, but now she wanted to eat something so that her stomach would settle down. Due to the transformation of our 5 hour relaxed and stress-free transit into a 2 hour run around like a headless chicken transit, we had not gotten the opportunity to have some lunch. No worries, I told Shradha, we’ll get some snacks on the flight to tide us over till we reach the resort. Looking over their in-flight menu, my heart and Shradha’s stomach sank. There were barely two items that could be termed vegetarian. As soon as possible after take off, I called the steward and asked him to bring two each of both items. Comrade Why-are-you-a-vegetarian smiled and politely informed us that both the items were not available. I asked him if there was anything, anything at all, that was vegetarian in what he had in the galley, and he nodded his head no, more vigorously than was needed, as if to rub salt on my wounds. I looked over with dread to Shradha, who had fallen asleep after telling me to rouse her when the food came, and decided not to wake her up after all. A sleeping person can’t feel hunger, right? Wrong.

By the time we landed in Nha Trang and Shradha woke up, she was in desperate need for sustenance. Her vomiting had died out, but something, anything, was required to make sure it remained dead. We got out after taking our luggage, said bye to Eric and Kathy, and were immediately greeted by a butler from the Six Senses resort. He helped me exchange Dollars into Vietnamese Dong (what an unfortunate name for their currency. As funny as the Canadian Loonie.) and also helped Shradha buy some fruits. After all, the car ride from the Airport to the private jetty of Six Senses would be an hour, and then there was a 30 minute speedboat ride to the resort itself. Shradha’s mood had brightened up considerably as she started to feel better, and I was just happy the needlessly stressful traveling part was over. I was in the hands of Six Senses now.

Nothing else could go wrong, right?

Right.

For Part 2 of this account, go here.