Having managed to escape from Khuong Ha last night on the cusp of what we were lead to believe was going to be another severe lockdown, my 12 hour car journey to Hanoi airport wasn’t as bad as I expected. Tuesday 21st September started with us getting through another checkpoint, Danny was great, friendly but professional and any fears about being a woman on her own in a car with a driver I’d never met were short-lived. He’d been recommended by Ben at Phong Nha Farmstay so I was happy he would be trustworthy and he drove very safely. I was glad to have my neck pillow from Uy and Chung but it made me feel sad that I’d not been able to say goodbye to my friends, I managed to drift off to sleep for an hour but woke up needing a pee, our next toilet stop was a western style toilet and even had water and soap. Colin, who had left last month, had told me that they weren’t allowed to stop at services to use the toilets on the journey north to Hanoi. Of course you are, I think I used 3 or 4 services facilities on the way and I never saw anyone else and all were useable.
The rest of the checkpoints went smoothly and I didn’t need an Embassy letter or any documents that supported letting foreigners leave the country. There was only one occasion where the checkpoint staff came to the car to look at me, but didn’t ask me anything. The most difficult checkpoint was the last one, nearest to the airport and, because we were coming from a potential locked down province to a less strict one, they scrutinised all our paperwork. Danny was a bit cheesed off when he could have used his expired PCR test as they only went by dates at this checkpoint, not the number of hours like everyone else had.
I arrived at Noi Bai airport just as Hanoi had gone to a less restrictive Directive 15, just after 7.30am, Danny and I had a photo before saying our goodbyes. The airport wasn’t busy, less than 50 people there at any one time, I had already been given some advice for the airport so I went straight to Desk D where there is a charging station for phones and I logged in to the free WiFi which was working quite well. I ate some of my packed lunch (jam sandwiches and green tea had never tasted so good), the AC was on, the suitcase wrapping man had a small queue and there were girls coming round to ask if you needed money changing. These girls also had a chat and told me to keep my food and drink when going through security as there is nothing once you are airside – this was invaluable advice, and I gave them both one of my Fox’s Glacier mints.
At the check-in desk it got a bit stressful; I was the first to check in for my Singapore Airlines flight to Turkey, which only opened 2hrs 15 mins before the flight. I had all my documents at the ready, including on my phone the Turkish entry form and onward flight out of Turkey. They checked all documents very thoroughly and asked me why I was going to Turkey. They only weighed my hold luggage, which was under weight, allowed me to take a carry on case and a bag for under the seat but didn’t check the weight. They did ask what I had in the second bag (mainly food, drinks, a towel and a pillow) they told me I would not be allowed to take the 4 drinks through security but sandwiches were ok. He also told me my luggage would not go to my final destination and that I had to collect it in Istanbul and recheck it in.
Just as I thought all was completed, he asked for my proof of quarantine hotel on arrival in Turkey – this was not expected and totally threw me off guard. Turkey permits entry, whether vaccinated or not, to all with a negative PCR test except for a small number of countries (not applicable in my situation). I knew I had the proof of requirements on a screen shot or link somewhere and as I was taking too long to find it, he had got the manager and their huge rule book out and was insistent paid hotel quarantine was required and gave me the list of hotels (none where I was going), to book one, presumably!? I stayed calm and asked the manager to double check, an English man in the business class queue was also having issues and had started to shout at the staff a bit so I knew that wouldn’t help. I asked the check-in staff what are their rules if vaccinated and he said you don’t need to quarantine if double vaccinated more than 14 days ago. At that point I stalled him with a paper copy of my vaccinations but my 2nd vaccination was only 2 days ago so he didn’t know what the rules were. That helped me find the link to the Turkish entry rules and I was allowed to proceed, I have no idea why they have the wrong information but if you weren’t certain that they were wrong, they were convincing and I could have been denied the flight or forced to pay for a quarantine hotel I didn’t need. Due to the Covid restrictions the check-in staff are not from the airlines, they are limited Vietnamese staff who are doing the check-in for all international flights and they are finding it hard to keep up with the new information, they get confused and don’t want to be challenged but I found out if you can calmly ask why the information on the official sites say differently and can they check again, they will do. Luckily, I am used to flying, knew all the rules, had all my documents in order and was the first in the queue but it definitely caught me off guard a bit!
Going through security at Hanoi airport on Tuesday 21st September, there was just me and they allowed all drinks and food. It was quick and easy, I didn’t even need to take jewellery or shoes off or take liquids out of my bag. My first job was to find the tax refund and cash exchange office to change my emergency Dong in to Dollars so that I could buy my Corona Insurance at Istanbul airport, I’d not changed it earlier in case I got denied and had to get a taxi to do another PCR test for a flight another day. The AC was much cooler at the gate and there was lots of space to spread out and have my 2nd breakfast of a crisp sandwich and more iced green tea.
Just before midday I boarded the plane from Hanoi to Singapore, the plane was massive but only had about 12 people on, in fact there were more staff than passengers. I got a nice row to myself with space in front of me to stretch out and before they had even shut the doors I had been asked if I’d like an alcoholic beverage! On arrival at Singapore the ‘ushers’ organised us according to our connecting flights and marched us single file to the transit holding area. We got a green wrist band and were shown to a small area, some passengers didn’t know about this, were annoyed and the staff got a bit shitty. I approached one member of staff and asked about WiFi, food, where we could sit and when we would get picked back up etc. She was polite and informative, the staff seem generally stressed, though. I had a 8.5hr lay over in the transit area, which was obviously boring, the lounges were for business class only and you can get a hotel for a minimum of 6 hours, I wish I had the spare money to do that but I coped well without sleep. I watched Netflix, I finished reading my book and left it for someone else to read and I ate some peanut butter sandwiches and crisps. The walk to the next terminal was hard work and the usher went without me as I couldn’t keep up, luckily I had the Singapore Airlines app to tell me which gate to go to so I didn’t mind and just took it steady as it was a long way. Security at the gate in Singapore is lengthy, absolutely no drinks to be taken through but food is ok. Also you could only go to the toilet in the transit area, a child on our plane wanted to go at the gate but there were no toilets, they had to wait until on the plane, which would be after midnight.