So Much Stress, So Little Time

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I’m currently sitting at my gate at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam after an unplanned extension to our time in Southeast Asia. Robin and I booked our flights months ago with Vietnam Airlines through Red Tag Vacations, and received an email yesterday saying our flight details had been changed. The first stretch of our trip from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi was unchanged, but our second flight seemed a little off. The departure time had been delayed for 30min, no big deal, but our arrival time in Frankfurt had changed from 6am to 2pm – quite the jump. We thought maybe it was because the times had been changed to local time, but that didn’t add up, and when checking on their website the times had not been updated. So we carried on our merry way with no hitch from Kuala Lumpur (which has a beautiful airport by the way) to Hanoi.

That’s when the spiral began.

We disembarked to find out that our flight had been delayed until the next morning. We found a representative who said she would bring us to a hotel paid for by the airline. Great! So we go through immigration… well, Robin goes through immigration. Turns out Canadians need a visa, and even though it wasn’t my decision to need to enter Vietnam, I still need a visa. So I’m on one side of immigration while Robin is on the other, trying to figure out this mess so that I can get to the hotel with him. After talking to three different representatives, a manager finally came over to help me get this process started. After over an hour they hand me a photocopy and inform me that they are keeping my passport until I return for my flight the next day. Yep, that’s news to me. I begin to panic as my passport has never been out of eyesight other than to renew it, and Robin begins to question this ‘procedure’. After yet another 30 minutes of arguing it’s clear they’re not going to budge, and we collect our luggage to head for the hotel. But wait, it doesn’t stop there!

They throw us into an airport taxi to take us to our hotel which is an hour away from the airport. The cab driver is going through, yet I notice he goes through the same intersection four times. Robin tells him no more ‘shortcuts’ and to get us to the hotel. We conveniently arrive about 5 minutes afterwards where upon check-in they take our passports. Well, Robin’s passport and my photocopy. Again, never heard of a hotel that takes your identification until you check out again. We get into our room and try to relax after I have a breakdown from the stress. All I keep thinking is what if I don’t get my passport back?! Luckily there’s wifi so I’m able to keep my mom updated and Robin is able to keep his sister updated, who is a gem and is picking us up from the airport.

After some chats, hugs, and a bath, Robin heads to the front desk to see if we can get some extra water as all we had in the room are two 330ml bottles. Upon his arrival he saw the staff were looking through the guests’ passports – his included – and recording where they had been previously. I guess I dodged a bullet there since all they had was the photocopy. Dumbfounded and our brains tired from trying to wrap them around this entire situation, we finally get to sleep around 3am. Oh, he also didn’t get any water as they wanted to charge him 5€ for two tiny bottles and give him back $2USD.

An hour later I’m practically lifted off the bed as our room phone rings – a bloody wake up call. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I never asked for one, and had planned to sleep for another 30min, but at this point there’s no hope of me getting back to sleep. So up I get and we both get ready and head down to check out about 15 minutes early.

Upon our arrival there’s a mess of people as apparently everyone who was displaced on this flight was in this hotel, and they’re taking their sweet time getting us checked out and our identification back to us. After what seemed like eternity we finally had everything back and a sad excuse for a ‘breakfast’ as we hopped in the cab for the airport. Same cab driver, same van, yet it only takes us 30 minutes to get to the airport. Yep, our cabbie was running the meter last night.

Finally we get to check in, re-drop off our bags, and inform the guy behind the counter that I need my passport. He gets on a walkie talkie to radio a guy who leads us to an immigration kiosk to another guy who leads us through to the immigration gates. He then disappears for 10 minutes behind a ‘do not enter’ area, but I see my passport in his hands. I breathe a sigh of relief as it is now returned to my hot little hands. We head for security who then proceeds to split us into two different lines, and not only keeps us apart but gives Robin a condescending look after he asks to keep us together.

In summary, if I have to come back to Vietnam in 5, 10, 15 years – it would still be too soon. Canadians, be careful when flying with airlines that have hubs in countries without an agreement with Canada in case something like this happens. I know I’ll be doing a bit more research next time I book a flight like this, but for now – I will never fly Vietnam Airlines again, and I can’t get to Frankfurt soon enough.

UPDATE: Delayed yet again by an additional 20 minutes, because apparently 8 hours wasn’t enough.

4 Comments

  1. theepowerofgood

    July 7, 2015

    Sorry you had a difficult time during your short stay in Viet Nam, the bureaucracy can be hard for foreigners to understand and the officers often don’t have the English skills to explain things for you.
    What happened with your passport is very standard here – Vietnamese Immigration will keep it as a bond so you’ll come back when you’re supposed to. They don’t allow you to stay in the country without a visa, no country does.
    The person at your hotel was going through the passports because foreigners and their passport numbers need to be registered with the local police everywhere they stay, even for just one night. I’m registered in the house I live in and I’ve been registered in the dozens of friend’s houses, hotels, homestays and apartments I’ve stayed in around the country. The government always wants to know where you are. I prefer to think of it as reassuring, rather than terrifying…
    Viet Nam is a socialist country and the rules are a bit tighter for foreigners. I’ve been here for over a year, and I think it is a great place to live.
    I hope you’ll consider coming back one day (on your own terms), it is a great place for a holiday.
    By the way – you were totally ripped off on the water, but hotels will try to do that to you. Next time, just walk down the street and get a litre for 20,000 dong ($1). Taxi drivers picking you up from the airport will also try to take you the ‘scenic route.’ Only take Mai Linh or Vina Sun taxis, they’re much more reputable.

    • Lindsay

      July 13, 2015

      Hi there! Sorry for my delayed reply, but thanks for the insight. I’ve never had something like this happen, and I saw other Canadians be granted a visa in front of me as they landed (one of the reasons I was so confused). For Canadians we’re taught to never let our passport leave our sight, so it was a very stressful time for me! As for the hotel, it seems as though they were looking through each page of the passport and recording where the travellers had been. The other I could understand, but it seems like a slight invasion of privacy to record the travels of each individual. And the water was definitely a rip off – unfortunately we had no dong on us as we weren’t expecting to be staying for more than our two hour layover. Lastly, the cab was arranged by Vietnam Airlines, so we had no choice in the matter haha. It was just a crazy time overall, and it didn’t help that it was at 10pm at night! If we weren’t separated, I would have contemplated just staying in the terminal overnight haha. Again, thanks for the insight, and maybe one day in the future I’ll be back for a nice visit!

      • theepowerofgood

        July 13, 2015

        Yeah, I’ve been in a similar situation with Vietnamese Immigration; I was traveling with a group of people, all of whom were on three travel month visas, while I had a year work visa and a couple of cancelled visas, so I looked a bit funny. Everyone else went through, while my passport was whisked away into a backroom and I was kept and questioned. My friends realised I wasn’t coming quickly and they were losing their minds, no one would tell them anything. Everything was fine, but it can be very worrying when it happens for the first time.

        Regarding the looking through the passport, I’ve never seen anyone actually recording my previous destinations, but absolutely everyone has a look out of curiosity. The idea of privacy in Viet Nam is a little smaller than it is in Australia, Canada, Germany, etc. I’ve had my medical results read out to me (and everyone else) in a medical centre waiting room, but I digress.

        Honestly, you were put in a bad situation, where you weren’t in control and that is stressful. What is no way to meet a country for the first time. Hopefully it didn’t negatively effect your trip too much.

        • Lindsay

          July 13, 2015

          Oh no, that’s awful! I’m glad it all got sorted out. And it was a stressful few hours but it just meant I slept very well on the plane to Germany haha. Thanks again for the insight, and I’m glad you’re enjoying Vietnam!

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