Our best intentions to stay awake until my car came at 2am on 4th July fell flat! We had both fallen asleep but, luckily, I had set an alarm. I said my goodbyes to a very snoozy Captain Caveman who offered no words of ‘good luck’ or ‘hope to see you soon’ as I kissed him, and he barely woke up.
The driver, who I booked with the receptionist at the Phong Nha Farmstay, was early and the car was nice and comfortable. On the way to Dong Hoi train station, the driver had the windows open and was doing a strange tapping on the side of the car with his left hand – probably to try to stay awake. The journey cost 500,000vnd (£18) which is standard for the 50km distance and I was very early for my 3.15am train. The trains are very busy at this time of year so the booking had shown I had the last seat available, there were no sleeping berths left but I didn’t mind too much. When I got on the SE11 train it was dark inside the carriage and I could not see to get to my seat, which was in the middle somewhere. It was very busy with people sleeping, some were even on the floor with blankets over them. I found an empty couple of seats with a broken back which was reclined to almost horizontal – ideal! We left on time and were scheduled to arrive in Danang at 09.08am. By my calculations I probably had 2-3 hours of sleep before passengers started to get up and make a noise as the Vietnamese like to wake up early and eat breakfast. I got my trusty neck pillow and travel towel/blanket out and managed to nod off. By 5.25am the carriage was practically a party with the amount of toing and froing for ablutions, nose/throat clearance and smoking in the vestibule. I could see that my booked seat had people in it so I stayed where I was and was lucky enough to not get kicked out, unlike the old woman in front of me did, the conductor was pretty shouty at her too. When Captain Caveman woke up he checked on my progress and we worked out I was running about half an hour late. I still had time as my flight wasn’t until 1.15pm. I declined a banh mi breakfast baguette from the trolley, having seen them sneezed on at least twice. Masks were no longer compulsory on trains, most passengers wore them but pulled them down to sneeze! I didn’t bother wearing my mask, mainly because I knew I would probably have to wear one for a long time once I got to the airport and it makes my eczema worse.
When I got off the train I was planning on going to the noodle shop opposite the station. It was now a Korean BBQ place and next door was a craft beer place so I decided to walk towards the supermarket, Big C. I had the directions which Captain Caveman had given me and I followed them. After 11 minutes I realised I was lost so I flagged down a taxi and went straight to the airport. I couldn’t check in until 11.15am so I found a Big Bowl cafe and ordered a bowl of overpriced Pho Bo and a beer. The lady serving me kept saying I should have the more expensive wagyu beef version because it is better for foreigners. I stuck with the cheaper version which was still expensive. Even the drinks were twice the usual price for a can of beer, which definitely confused the server and the waitress that I was having beer for breakfast. So far, Plan B was going well and Captain Caveman was walking his group through the jungle towards Hang En right about now.
When I got to check-in, it was just starting to get busy but I was at the front of the queue. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect the check-in staff to be as thorough, but she did ask for proof of everything;
• vaccines and booster evidence,
• registration on Singapore site and email confirmation of that,
• onward/return flight within 30 days,
• a hotel booking in case of quarantine if testing positive on arrival
I almost forgot to ask for an aisle seat in all the paperwork checking. I had nothing printed out and all on my phone because we don’t have a printer. She didn’t notice that my hotel booking was just a photo of the link to the place Captain Caveman had sent me and she didn’t spot the mistake on my ticket back in to Vietnam for tomorrow.
I was through security relatively quickly but then the airport was pretty busy at the gates with not much seating. I wasn’t sure what time I would eat again today so I decided to go to Burger King which was fairly empty. I’d just placed my order and sat down when I noticed my ticket from Singapore to Hanoi tomorrow had an error on it, one that meant I couldn’t travel without amending it or buying a new flight.
Captain Caveman had spelled my surname wrong on my ticket back to Vietnam, and it was with one of those low cost airlines where the check-in is done by a machine, meaning my passport and ticket with booking reference wouldn’t match up.
Obviously, I could still leave Vietnam as the ticket to Singapore was fine but now I was stressed over what to do about this cock up! I decided I might be able to log in as Captain Caveman and try to amend my booking. I got all the way to where it wanted another $40 from his existing card and that’s where I failed, I didn’t know his 3 digit number on the back of his card. I let the transaction time out and it gave me a picture error message which I took a screenshot of. I’d just started eating a cheeseburger and fries when Captain Caveman rang from the little village on day 1 of his tour. He neither had his card nor knew the numbers I needed. He wasn’t as upset, or apologetic, as I thought he’d be and just said he was sure I would figure something out because I used to be a travel agent! That was about 25 years ago, it’s not like I had connections in Singapore and they were pretty strict. Now, not only was I worried about getting back in because of a potential visa issue, I was very concerned I would be stuck in Changi airport with no solution.
I had $300 cash on me but I didn’t want to buy a new ticket and have no money left. I decided I would chance it and see how things were once I got to Singapore, after all, I had 15 hours or more to work it out.
My Danang to Singapore flight was delayed very slightly so we landed about 5.15pm at Changi airport. My flight tomorrow was at 09.55am, that’s if I could even get on it because of the name mistake on my ticket. I was tired but prepared to have a mini adventure in Singapore. I was wearing my volleys, some loose trousers and a vest top but I had not thought of bringing any clothing for if there was a storm. I looked outside of the airport and there was monsoon type rain. I’d intended to get the MRT (subway) but then walk to some accommodation, which I hadn’t booked yet. I would be soaked. Instead, I decided I would go to the terminal I was flying from tomorrow and investigate the automated check-in machines at Scoot. I walked around the airport for an hour and established that the Scoot check-in was a bit chaotic so I kept on walking. I found the Jewel which is a massive mall type area with amazing gardens, fountains and lots of designer shops over several floors – it was massive. Changi is one of the best airports for this kind of thing so I decided I would just stay in the airport. I had spent longer in airports overnight and I was sure I’d be fine, plus I would try my luck at check-in in the early hours of the morning and hope to get through to one of the lounges on my Priority Pass – the one landside didn’t include alcohol. I walked for 2 hours non-stop then watched the fountain and light show. I walked some more and tried my best to change my three 100 dollar notes which most of the exchange shops couldn’t do. I got myself $25 worth of Singaporean dollars with the intention of getting an alcoholic beverage, or two. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that by 10.30pm the airport had already closed most of the shops and alcohol was not able to be purchased until I was airside – it was going to be a long night. I asked a member of the Scoot staff if there was any way I could check in early to go through to a lounge and she said there was no chance. She said I couldn’t check in until 6.55am but I wondered how the automatic machines could tell that. I bought some chocolate and almost thought seaweed crisps were salt and vinegar flavoured. I found a quiet area upstairs near the prayer room and tried to have a bit of a rest, I’d started to have a sea-sickness feeling which I get when I’ve had no sleep. I would wait until after midnight then try to check-in again when the staff changed.