Arriving on Koh Rong Island

We left the mainland by speedboat (with a motorbike lift) and arriving on Koh Rong island, we immediately knew we needed to stay an extra night, it was too good to leave!

Getaway vehicle
Heading down to the jetty
A warm welcome

White sand like powdered snow, the clearest, warmest seas, endless deserted beaches and a bungalow villa with a(nother) private pool. I could seriously get used to this (retirement village perhaps?!)

Jetty, Royal Sands Koh Rong
Man down
Match drink to dress, done
Could be snow?
Perfect sunset

No words needed!

One day later

After a very surreal twenty four hours where we started the morning at the British Consulate in Ho Chi Minh city, we ended up back on the south coast of Cambodia with a very different view. It’s almost as if it never happened!

From here

We had a moment of panic when Big T couldn’t find his phone which would have been the ultimate icing on the cake but it turned up in his dirty washing. A relief indeed.

To here

Coming through Cambodian immigration late last night, my emergency passport was a source of great curiosity and amusement to the many border officials who all examined it and filled it with stamps and visas.

And so after an exciting city break in Vietnam, we’re now ready for phase three of this adventure, Northern Cambodia.

Watch out Angkor Wat!

And so…the fun continues

And so to 1:30pm where I was perched on a small stool waiting with a crowd of people for the office to open after lunch.

Waiting for immigration to reopen…
gentlemen, start your engines.

I was in the area for collection of foreigner’s documents so was cautiously optimistic that I was in the right place.

By 2:30pm I had an Emergency Travel Document and Exit Visa in hand and we were on route to the airport. Hurrah, but let’s be honest, we’d been there before.

We missed our 3:45pm flight to Phnom Penh but it had done the job of getting me the exit visa. We bought new flights (we have spent so much money, ouch!) for a flight leaving at 6:30pm only to then discover the flight was delayed until 10:40pm.

But all was ok with Vietnam immigration as I was stamped through and given a boarding pass. We’re off to Cambodia (again) if we ever get out of Ho Chi Minh City Airport!

A hard earned extra large beer

This has certainly been an exercise in How Not to travel through South East Asia!

What exit visa?

We collected my emergency passport now valid until September 2023 (yay, well done British Consulate!) and discovered to our disbelief that I needed an exit visa to get out of Vietnam because my original passport was now cancelled and I was travelling on a different passport number.

Processing time three to five working days. Seriously, what the fuck?

We jumped in a taxi and went to the Vietnamese Immigration Office where absolute chaos reigned. Asking for help we were told to come back in the afternoon (we ignored that) and were able to get a number to join the queue.

After a reasonably short wait, our number came up. We explained the situation, my passport hadn’t been stolen, I didn’t have a police report and we needed to buy a flight to show we were leaving the country. Big T nipped off to an Internet cafe to buy a flight, I filled out a form while our helpful chap went off to speak to his boss to see if he could help us. We felt a little bit hopeful.

Big T dashed back and with a printed airline ticket, we seemed to get things moving. We moved down to another window to pay for the exit visa. It appeared to be around $35 to get out of Vietnam.

And of course, they only took cash and despite trying to combine US dollars and Vietnamese Dong, we were short. Off we ran to find an ATM, running like maniacs, dodging motorbikes and praying for a miracle.

The second bank we tried had an ATM and luckily it was working. We withdrew 1,000,000 dong (about £30 we think) and dashed back to pay at the window.

We were handed a receipt and told to return at 2pm. What that meant, we had no idea. would we get an exit visa today? Would I get my passports back? Would we ever get out of Vietnam?

The only thing to do was sit down at a coffee shop and wait for 2pm and find out the next step…

One night in Ho Chi Minh City

What a crazy day. After being denied entry on to our next flight to Cambodia, we bought flights to Ho Chi Minh and submitted an online application for an emergency travel document whilst in transit.

We took passport photos in the airport and uploaded the most hideous picture which I hoped wasn’t my passport photo for the next ten years.

I paid £100 and when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh had to retake even more hideous photos and submit proof of ongoing travel.

We got to our emergency hotel and rang the British Consulate who said my application was processing and as they normally took two days, we set off into the city to try and make the most of things, all the time keeping a watchful eye on email for any updates.

At 5pm a notification came through that my travel document was approved and could be collected by appointment. I checked for the next available time on the system and hurrah, 10am in the morning was free!

And so now we’re about to set off to the consulate to hopefully get things back on track.

A slight change of plans

Arriving at the airport to fly from Hanoi back to Phnom Penh to continue our Cambodia itinerary, it seemed we had a problem. My passport, due to expire in June 2023 was one day under six months and I was denied entry.

Perhaps I should have been more prepared as I knew my passport was up for renewal in 2023 and I had no idea this could happen but here we are at the Hanoi airport about to board a flight to Ho Chi Minh city where the UK embassy hopefully will be able to issue an emergency travel document so we can pick up the rest of our journey.

I have completed an online application, paid the fee and uploaded all relevant paperwork and with any luck, a document should be issued within two working days. Let’s hope they’re not on strike, backlogged or on holiday for Christmas and New Year. Thank god for a mobile phone, internet and a credit card.

Not the best start to the day and we’re seriously hoping we can get this sorted. Now, off to Saigon to make the best of this situation.

By train to Hanoi

We set off from Danang station having bought emergency supplies consisting of two bananas, a packet of ginger nut biscuits and a large bottle of water, on a sixteen hour train journey to Hanoi. I have a tendency to get food fear on trains, this was no exception.

Sleeper cabin with Christmas lunch

We boarded the train and discovered our sleeper berth where, by strategic booking, we’d managed to book a two berth cabin to avoid sharing with random strangers

And off we went

There seemed to be a few arguments in the shared cabins as one lady was very disgruntled and shouted for a good fifteen minutes before we were had even left the station. Perhaps she wanted the top bunk?

Sunset view from the train

Eventually things settled down and we were off. After a while, a food trolley came along selling pork buns and sausages on sticks, I passed on all dubious meat products while Big T enjoyed a tasting selection, later to be regretted.

We were offered a complimentary meal of chicken rice which arrived later as a three course meal of watery soup, three miscellaneous meats in a bowl (not sure if one was chicken) with rice, two cold fried eggs and a fruit plate.

I chose the two egg yolks, some rice and three slices of dragon fruit. It seemed to be enough given the toilets were communal at either end of the carriage and weren’t the place to linger for long.

All aboard and not decapitated!
Told to close the window after this

The sun sets early in Vietnamese winter (5:30) and so we closed the curtains and tried to sleep as we stopped and started and jolted through the night.

Amazingly we did get some sleep.

Walking in Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi at 5:45am after a sixteen hour train journey and were obviously too early to check in to our hotel. We dropped off our luggage and by 7am were sitting having coffee before exploring the old quarter of Hanoi on foot for the next five hours!

Arriving into Hanoi, very early
Early morning in Hanoi
Hanoi morning in old town

We went through the outside food market where a variety of foods from animals to seafoods to incredible fruits and vegetables were on display. Frogs and turtles the most disturbing to my western eyes but then again, we’ve eaten frog’s legs in France so can’t be too hypocritical.

Food market Hanoi
Farmers Market Hanoi-style
Are these what we thought they were?

As the morning progressed, the noise increased as did the traffic with a mesmerising flow of motorbikes, where they were all going, we had no idea.

Motorcycle madness

By midday we were fading and thankfully were able to check in to our room and have a very welcome shower before sitting down for lunch a few doors away. Feeling much better once replenished we were able to take on the afternoon complete with a trip to the theatre to see a Vietnamese water puppet show.

I was dubious but the puppets were charming, humorous and educational. They were operated on large poles under water and told fables of rice farming, mythological animals and the history of the lake in Hanoi.

From the puppet show, to dinner at the Blue Butterfly, a highly recommended restaurant where we enjoyed another lovely Vietnamese meal before eventually collapsing, 23,000 steps later, into bed to sleep the sleep of the extremely knackered.

Hoian by night

We arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Hoian, had a quick power nap and took the early evening shuttle bus into town.

Rice paddy
View of the paddy field

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Hoian promised a traditional Vietnamese old town with unspoiled wooden houses and bridges dating back five hundred years in some cases.

It was Christmas Eve and the town was glowing with brightly coloured silk lanterns, motorbikes and mopeds careened around the streets honking as they went and locals and tourists walked, cycled, rickshawed and strolled around the old town.

Lanterns glowing everywhere

The two main streets were quieter, limited to pedestrians and cyclists as we stopped for a quick drink and nibble (the best Spring rolls ever tasted) before we arrived at the Japanese Covered bridge (dating back to 1590) and a glowing, neon, pulsating island where all activity seemed to emanate from.

Vietnamese punts offered water trips around the island while small good luck paper boats holding candles were lit and cast off from shore with wishes for the year ahead.

Island madness

Everywhere we looked lanterns glowed, a variety of Christmas music crossed treble over bass and river water slowly rose on to the road and edged closer to the kerb, the smell of sewage getting stronger as it deepened.

The atmosphere was engaging but as 9pm approached it appeared Hoian was not a late night party town as shops selling leather, cashmere, silk, tourist hats, bags and tat started closing for the night, wooden slats inserted into window frames, no glass required.

Lanterns and motorbikes

Hoian had plenty of charm by night and we were happy to have spent Christmas Eve in Vietnam.

One of the original Hoian houses

We were looking forward to seeing things in daylight!