So I left off on Day 4 of my five-day trip, which would soon take an unexpected turn…
I enjoyed a relaxing last day in Putrajaya. We grabbed Malaysian food for lunch and took a dip in the school’s outdoor swimming pool before heading to the airport that afternoon. Coincidentally, Hayley was flying out just hours after me for a visit to England.
A refreshing non-alcoholic mohito
Before we said our goodbyes, we reflected on how small the world really is. It was crazy to think we would be on different continents just 24 hours later. I can’t wait to visit you again, Hayley. Thanks for showing me a wonderful time!
Our passports and currency from four countries
I had a layover in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday night. The plan was to take an overnight flight to Busan and catch a bus to Daegu early the next morning. I’d be tired the next day, but I’d have plenty of time to get to work by 1 p.m. But things didn’t go as planned…
I noticed a few Korean people waiting at my gate, so I thought ‘Good. I’m in the right place.’ But as it got closer to boarding time, few others showed up. ‘Where is everybody?’ I thought.
Boarding time came and went. There were no announcements. The displays showed no delays. Finally, a Korean employee approached and asked me if I was traveling to Busan. When I said yes, he just said “OH MY GOD…” and proceeded to walk away! Another passenger approached me and told me our flight had been delayed eight hours due to bad weather.
I started to do the math. It wasn’t the end of the world, but my boss wasn’t going to be happy.
The employee came back and told us that the airline would set us up in a hotel for the night and we’d fly out first thing in the morning. I got grouped with three other passengers who were also connecting flights. Mr. Jung (I feel ridiculous calling him that because he couldn’t have been older than 35) had also come from KL and Da-yeong and Han-ah, two girls my age, were returning from a trip to Singapore.
They ushered the three of us through immigration together, keeping my passport because I didn’t have a visa to travel in Vietnam. Afterwards, they shuttled us to our hotel where I got a few hours of sleep before heading back to the airport.
At the airport, we check in and go through security and immigration. Mr. Jung stays by my side until my passport is back in my hand. He grumbles about the airport’s inefficiency. As a construction engineer, he often travels for work. “It was easier to get through immigration in Syria and Libya!”
I have a bad feeling at the gate. Sure enough, boarding time comes and goes. This time, there is an announcement, “We regret to inform you, Vietnam Air flight 420 to Busan has been delayed again… for 24 hours.”
People freak out, of course. And I was really stressed about telling my boss that I wouldn’t be in at all that day. (Thankfully, she was only kind and understanding and concerned about my safety!) And I was not happy about having my passport taken again.
They loaded us back on a bus and took us back to the same hotel. By that time, it was about 9 in the morning. On the way, Mr. Jung says something to the girls in Korean, then turns to me and asks, “Do you want to leave the hotel today?” He’s visited HCMC several times and would love to show us around.
I hesitate. I’m sleep deprived. I need a shower. I feel anxious about the amount of cash I have after my trip. And I don’t have a passport. I contemplate taking a long shower and spending the day napping, watching TV and enjoying free room service. I’m so glad I didn’t!
My hotel lobby in HCMC
An hour later, we regrouped and took a taxi to the tourist district. We started our delicious adventure with an amazing brunch: beef pho, spring rolls, Coke, beer and Vietnamese iced coffee. Everything was just so, so yummy! I want it right now!
So pho-king good
In true Korean fashion, Mr. Jung swipes the bill when it comes. When we protest, he laughs and says, “Just buy me a beer later. Anyway, it was only $15!”
After brunch, we head to the market. On the way, we buy coconut from a vendor… for about a quarter! I can’t believe how cheap everything is in Vietnam! You could eat and drink like a king on $25 a day! At the market, Mr. Jung buys us mangos and makes us try fruits we’ve never seen before.
Fresh coconuts for about a quarter!
A woman pedaling fruits
All kinds of fruits at a market in HCMC
Then tells us we have to get a massage while we’re in Vietnam, so we head to a nearby massage parlor. [Okay, I realize that probably sounds really strange, but I promise Mr. Jung was not a creep!]
Da-yeong, Han-ah and I shared a private room for what turned out to be a 90-minute massage! First, we changed into the pajama-like clothes they provided. When our masseuses came in, we were a little surprised to see they were all male. For the most part, they were professional, but there was a lot of giggling and “How do you say this in Vietnamese, Korean, English?”
I’ll be honest: I don’t really like getting massages. It’s one of those things (like sushi) that I keep coming back to because I don’t want to miss out on this thing that everybody else raves about. I think to myself, ‘Maybe this time I’ll like it…’
With that said, it was a mixed bag. Some parts of the massage were super awkward (having my bare ass exposed, getting lifted into the air by a tiny man) and a few parts actually hurt. But there were a couple times I actually fell asleep because I was so relaxed. It was a long 90 minutes, but I felt great afterward.
We met back up with Mr. Jung to find that he had footed the bill! “Just buy my dinner later,” he said. Afterward, we took him for ice cream at a gourmet ice cream shop. IT WAS SO GOOD!!
Gourmet ice cream
Cold Stone doesn’t come close!
After ice cream, we walked around for a while. If I had to describe Ho Chi Minh City in one word (besides DELICIOUS), it would be motor bikes. The traffic is like nothing I’ve ever seen before: a sea of motor bikes with no discernible traffic laws. To cross the street, you literally walk into traffic and hope you don’t get hit.
Walking around HCMC
Da-yeong posing in a Vietnamese hat
Motor bikes everywhere
A woman on a motor bike in HCMC
That evening, the four of us sat down for dinner and cold beer. In that moment, I think we were pretty high on life. That dinner is one of my favorite travel memories. We talked about Korea and our travels. We toasted Vietnam Air for one last wonderful and unexpected day of vacation. We just felt lucky to have met each other.
After dinner, we took a walk around the night market. I bought some coffee to bring back to the office and Mr. Jung bought us each a huge bag of dried mangos! We got back to the hotel by 9 p.m. After I took a much-needed shower, I was so tired that I fell asleep with the lights on.
Da-yeong at the night market
Dried fruit at the night market
The hotel provided the most amazing breakfast spread I have ever seen. It was like a Chinese buffet (fried rice, noodles, dumplings) meets American breakfast (pancakes, bacon, eggs) with lots of fresh fruits. It was magical! I think we ate like three plates.
We loaded the bus, drove back to the airport, checked in, went through security and went through immigration for the fourth time 30 hours! By then, it felt like a routine. Before we boarded, I made sure to get my new friends’ email addresses. Mr. Jung smiled and said, “I look forward to that day when I’m back in my ‘real life’ and get your email. I’ll be surprised. It will be nice to remember that day in Vietnam.”
Although we had an amazing time during our layover, I think we were all relieved to arrive in Busan. I lost Da-yeong and Han-ah at immigration, but I found Mr. Jung at the baggage claim. I thanked him for everything and told him I would send him some of the photos I took during our layover.
I will finally make good on that promise today.
Han-ah, Mr. Jung and Da-yeong