After breakfast I relax in the room and see whats on Vietnamese TV. First up is some sort of show with a man in white suit crooning some sentimental song to a live piano track. The background is blue and misty. He moves through a misty spotlight. I try to lower the volume, the button on the remote does nothing. I sample volume up. It unfortunately works, trapping me with cheesy music music. I switch channels, and catch a show advertising modern shower systems. It cuts to four people at a table. Perhaps its a morning talk show. Next up is a scene with four men in traditional clothes arguing around a table. After that, an action program. A brave cop fights off five bat with nail wielding thugs to dramatic music, occasional slow motion, and many sped up punched.
I notice I hear sounds from the street again. Apparently they insulate the walls with Saran wrap at this hotel.
Im back at the channel with the blue room and spotlight. Its a talent show. The next person up is a bikini-clad woman doing hula hoop tricks set against a musical track that borrows equally from the Mortal Kombat theme and Prodigy’s Firestarter.
Tired of morning TV and not too sure about wandering around in this city, I leave the hotel early and head to the airport.
After checking in I look for coffee. The airport offers the fine dining selection of a dunkin donut, Popeyes and a burger king. I opt for a coffee at the DD. Unsurprisingly, it’s terrible and overpriced.
I find a switchboard and learn that my flight is on time. Good. I received two emails the previous week changing the schedule for departure. Each time it got pushed earlier and earlier. The flight is scheduled for 2:30 so I have some time to kill. I watch movies on a big screen playing near the food court, and count down the hours.
As 2:30 nears, I make my way to my gate. Curiously, there’s a different flight boarding there at 2:00. I suppose we’ll have a quick boarding time if we want to make it out of here in thirty mins. That flight wraps up and the sign at the desk switches to a flight for Ha Noi, not Hue, now at 2:45. Uh oh. Where did my flight go?
I check the switchboard. It still says Hue, 2:30, gate 6, on time. I ask a man who works for the airline what’s up. He tells me the flight just got delayed. For how long and to which gate? He laughs and says “who knows”. What about the switchboard? He laughs again and tells me those things are usually wrong so never trust them. The best I can do do? Wait around a few hours, it probably got pushed to 6 or 7 o’clock, no warning. This is Vietnam, he tells me, it happens all the time.
And apparently it does. Other passenges who were supposed to be on my flight grumble and shake their heads and point out that in compensation we get a free meal at one of the restaurants in the airport, something basic. It’s not the first time it happened to them.
I get a bowl of Pho Soup with Tofu out of the ordeal, but no consolation as to when my flight will leave or at which gate.
Three groaning, and slightly nerve wracking hours pass, before I find an airline employee who gives me a definite time for my flight, at 6:55PM and a probable gate.
I try to check online, maybe the airport or airline’s website has more concrete info. Unfortunately, the WiFi in the airport is shoddy at best, with sporadic signal and I eventually give up after wasting 10 minutes, and valuable percentages of my phone battery, trying to get the first page to load.
I had planned on phoning Linh, who was also flying to Hue from the South, to see if she had any advice, but there were no phones in the airport. Not a single one. My plan to buy a local charger also failed, as the only stores here sold candy and other bullshit.
Out of choices, I wait at the gate, and thank God, by 6:30 the sign goes up for my flight. We eventually board a bus and get shuttled to our plane.
Ah the flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue. It was like being trapped in a big air balloon with a rocket strapped to its ass, surrounded by three screaming babies, stuck in a seat meant for someone a half foot shorter than me. Drink service included a wet towel to wipe the sweat from our faces, and glasses of water poured from a big Dasani bottle.
Just under two hours later we land at Hue. The airport is like walking into sanctuary. An email from Linh tells me she is landing that night shortly after my arrival. I head to a cafe and buy a big plate of fried rice with veggies and a beer for three dollars. Things are looking up.
From the intercoms I patch together that Linh’s flight gets delayed. Twice. She was supposed to arrive 20 minutes after me, but lands 2 hours later. Seeing her, someone I know, walk through the gate after that ordeal felt like winning the lottery. We share a cab ride into town, we trade our brutal travel stories, and I honestly think she had a worse time getting to Hue than I did. At least my airline offered wet towels and water.
Twenty minutes later we’re downtown. I drop my luggage off at my hotel, and we go explore the city.