Monday 13th January at 5am I was in the wide-awake club! I had booked my taxi a couple of days before with Gürkan and he arrived on time and helped me with my bags. He’s a fast driver so we were at the airport before check-in even opened and I was the first through security. My flight from Dalaman to Istanbul was with Turkish Airlines and cost about £25 including luggage up to 23kg, it boarded quickly, we took off at 8:55am and landed at about 10:30am. I didn’t expect to be able to check in until 2pm at Yotel Landside but thought I would go leave my coat and case at reception. When I arrived the receptionist checked me in, wished me happy birthday for yesterday and said my ‘cabin’ was ready to go to. I was escorted to the room and the guy turned on all the lights which made it look a bit pink! I’d paid around £75 for a basic double room which is pretty expensive but I was so glad I did as everything about my stay was spot on. It had a super comfy bed that had a button to press for altering the position of it, all toiletries were provided and it had loads of TV channels.
After lunch at the hotel restaurant and an afternoon rest I went to get an early dinner. I fancied a glass of wine but it was very expensive so I asked for a glass of the cheapest red. To my astonishment the waiter explained that they had a more expensive wine available at just 3 lira more so I agreed and also ordered a steak with potatoes and salad. I didn’t expect much from an airport restaurant, especially the only one, so was pleasantly surprised by the food, the wine and the staff, despite the high price. After dinner I checked in online so that I only had to put my case in at the bag drop the next day then had an early night in that amazing bed. I was still feeling unwell and really tired so was looking forward to a good sleep before my long journey back to Vietnam. Just as I was getting comfy I had a call from Captain Caveman in Laos, I raved on about my Yotel cabin and said I will see him in Dong Hoi at 8pm on the 15th!
I had a buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant on Tuesday 14th January and then went back to repack my small suitcase. I’d done well with the luggage as my carry on bag was 4.4kg and my suitcase only 11kg so both well under the allowance. I tried to drop my suitcase off but the Aeroflot bag drop only opens 2 hours before the flight, the same time as the check-in desks meaning there was no point in the online check-in. I checked out of Yotel before noon and waited for the back drop to open at 12.40pm. I noticed that Istanbul airport didn’t have water stations for me to refill my water bottle up and I wasn’t paying the steep prices for a bottle. I only had an hour until the plane boarded after quite a slow queue at passport control and security checks.
There was no booze or entertainment on the flight to Sheremetyevo (Moscow) airport and so I read and finished my book.
We arrived in Moscow early and although I was off the plane relatively quickly the transfer desk had a massive queue and just one man checking passports then just one baggage x-ray machine. It was slow and the terminal for my next flight was a 35 minute walk after that point.
When I finally got to the next gate the flight was boarding and the officials were weighing every piece of handluggage for each person. I stood to one side to catch my breath after rushing and one of the staff lifted the barrier, took my boarding pass and let me push in.
The plane to Hanoi was massive and I had selected my seat wisely – 47C was in only a row of 2, on the aisle and had a bit of space next to it because row 46 had 3 seats in front of our 2. My neighbour was a quiet Vietnamese lady who spoke no English and sat still – result.
I watched Rocketman on the way and was terribly disappointed in it. We got served a couple of meals (which weren’t very good) and an attempt at wine was had. The wine was undrinkable and so resorted to water or coke for the rest of the 9 hours.
I landed in Hanoi at 9am on Wednesday 15th January and, because I had a seat near the back, it took quite a long time to disembark – luckily I was in no rush and was quite happy to avoid the many Vietnamese passengers who were literally scrambling to get luggage out of the overhead bins the quickest (and failing). I got my Vietnam Visa on arrival within half an hour and went to collect my suitcase. By 11am it had not arrived and most people had collected their’s, as I decided to go to report it lost a Russian man shouted to say his had been sitting on a different carousel further down the hall. I went over and there it was – I was relieved because the case was borrowed.
I decided to check out the sleep pods and considered maybe paying for a nap but at 190,575 dong per hour I reckoned I’d be best off going for some food instead. I’d now been awake for 24 hours and had a bit of sea-sickness so I went to the ATM, drew out 2 million dong and then got the shuttlebus over to the domestic terminal. At Hanoi domestic terminal there are a few restaurants accessible before passport control on the 2nd floor and I chose Hai Cang where I ordered pork and rice with a side of sweetcorn and green tea.
I managed to use the self check-in machines for the next flight to Dong Hoi but the bag drop again didn’t open until 2 hours before the flight so I sat and waited. Outside the airport it was really windy, cloudy but very warm for January. I found a cafe where I had a cold green tea drink and they were happy for me to sit and use their WiFi (I no longer had a working SIM card).
Finally at 3.30pm I was able to drop the suitcase off and then head through passport control in search of wine. I found an Australian Chardonnay which tasted so good despite it costing about £7.50 for a large glass (extortionate in Vietnam).
The flight was on one of those small propeller planes and everyone had so much luggage that I couldn’t put my legs under my seat but it was a quick flight and I was waiting for my suitcase again at 7.15pm in Dong Hoi airport. I took a taxi to the Vinpearl hotel (for less than half the cost of the glass of wine) where Captain Caveman was already checked in to our room on the 19th floor. We’ve stayed here before a few times and it didn’t disappoint, the shower was great with lots of free products and I had the satsuma from the fruit plate before going to the restaurant for dinner. Captain Caveman ordered beef carpaccio to start while I went for fresh veggie spring rolls for my starter. They brought me the pork and prawn version instead but they were nice. My main meal was tamarind prawns which were really good.
It was hot and sunny in Dong Hoi on Thursday 16th January, I was full of cold with a streaming eye and jet lag but I was so happy to see Captain Caveman again and even more excited to have the Vietnamese buffet breakfast at the Vinpearl hotel. I had dragon fruit, melon, kiwi fruit and pomelo to start with, orange juice, detox water (who knows?) and earl grey tea. I had the pho ga (chicken rice noodle soup) and the seafood fried rice.
A visit to Dong Hoi is not complete without a trip to Tree Hugger, the wonderful cafe and shop. We had the free herbal tea and we ordered white russians and lunch – Captain Caveman just loves the egg sandwiches while I had a very tasty beef and veg stir-fry with steamed rice. We sat upstairs on the balcony where one couple had brought their laptop to watch loud TV on without headphones, one of my pet hates. They left, we ordered another cocktail and then another couple had a photo shoot with the girl posing against the wall with cosmetic products in her hands. Back at the hotel we had a quick wander round Mini Good, a Korean shop, where Captain Caveman bought a few bits. In the evening we went to another one of our favourite places to eat, 7th Heaven. We ordered the Australian beef steaks and a bottle of red but when it came it was really fatty and chewy, not easy to cut. When we told the waitress she explained they had used a different supplier for the meat we had but they had some of the usual supplier left and were able to cook us another steak – this was up to the usual standard and we enjoyed that one. Back at the hotel we packed and had an early night ready for a very early start the next day – we were heading to Phong Nha!