Updated: Apr 13
I am pretty sure you would've seen Steven Speilberg's movie "The Terminal", starring Tom Hanks, at some point in your life.
If you have enjoyed that movie, you'd love to read what's about to follow. Don't feel left out if you haven't watched it yet because this post will give you a short teaser of the movie.
A couple of months ago, I went to Bali. Yes, I was one of those million travelers who visited Bali post-Covid. Vietjet Air, a low-cost Vietnamese airline, has been targeting India as part of its expansion strategy. So, they were offering the lowest fares to Bali via Vietnam. And I couldn't wait to cash in (or out) on that opportunity. "Opportunity" might not be an appropriate word choice, particularly after all I went through, but let's not dig deeper into the word selection.
I wanted to write a blog on my Bali trip, but procrastination got the best of me. Someday, I may get to writing about it when all the travel influencers on Instagram run out of their "#bali" content. For now, I will leave you with me a picture of me in a bikini on a beach.
For some reason, the platform kept showing an error "Too Hot to Upload. Please upload another picture." every time I tried uploading the bikini pic. So instead, I uploaded a picture of me smiling away somewhere in Bali.
According to my itinerary, I had a 24-hour layover in Ho Chi Minh City on my way back from Bali. I was excited to explore the city in 20 hours and then give 4 hours for all the commuting, airport check-in and check-out etc.
But when did things ever happen as per my plan? But, of course, there had to be a twist! Here the twist was that my Tourist Visa for Vietnam didn't come through on time. There was an option for Visa on Arrival, but I realised it was not worth it. So I gave it a pass.
"No Tourist Visa" meant I had to spend 24 hours at the airport. And guess what? My procrastination was a blessing because I waited until the last minute to make a hotel reservation in Ho Chi Minh city, and now, I didn't need one. Do you see what I just did here? I made my weakness my strength! Talk about seeing the positive side of things.
Ho Chi Minh, also called Saigon is one of the busiest airports in Vietnam and yet it is nowhere close to Delhi or Mumbai airports. It is so tiny that I finished walking through the terminal in 22 minutes. Yes, I timed it.
So here's a quick guide: THINGS YOU CAN DO IF YOU ARE STUCK AT AN (TINY) AIRPORT.
Find the "Charging Station": I need not explain why, but this is a top priority. And in a country where English is not a first language, finding this becomes all the more challenging.
Find the hotspot: Although most airports provide a free wifi facility, it keeps getting disconnected. Mobile internet can be expensive if you are not on an international roaming plan. Find a spot close to a group of people, and search for available Wi fi networks on your phone. Keep trying to connect to each and every available network until you find one without a password. There's always an old man/woman who doesn't have a password protected wifi network on their phone.
Sleep: If you are a light sleeper like me, try to squeeze in some naps between the flight announcements. I just remembered that I had to warn you to be prepared to get your backside sore from sleeping on hard surfaces like a bench or the floor.
Explore: Explore the super clean and perfectly laid out display of product stores at the airport. Try out all the perfumes, especially if you haven't taken a bath since you left your hotel room.
Talk to the shopkeepers: If you do not have the local currency, just to various convenience shops at the airport, pick up a back of chip and ask the shopkeeper, "How much?". You do not intend to buy that chip pack but pretend to be genuinely interested and look hungry. When they tell you the price, ask them how much it would cost in Indian Rupees. They wouldn't know the answer, obviously. Take your phone out and do the calculation on your phone. Convert it to USD and then from USD to INR. Don't take the shortcut. Then you look at the shopkeeper in the eyes and say, "too expensive,". Then hand the pack of chips back to them, turn around and walk away. You can do this as many times as you want with different objects and can kill 3 hours easily.
Eat: When you are done with asking the prices and you actually get hungry, find the cheapest meal at the airport. Then you find a spot where you can see the airplanes take off and land. It was the longest time I ever took to finish a meal. It was such a pleasant change to eat while watching airplanes and not some series on Netflix.
Be Creative: Since there will be other travellers on a shorter layover around you, you can strike up a conversation with some of them. Of course, you don't have to tell them who you really are. You can be anyone you want to be and build a story around that character. You can pick any name, any profession. You could be a cop on a secret mission; make sure you don't disclose the mission; otherwise, they'd know that you are faking it. You can be anyone you want to be except for Amitabh Bachchan. I don't think many people can pull that off. Depending on your creativity, the strange might think that you are actually cool. A new stranger, a new story! No one would know.
Watch the sunrise: This was the best part of my layover. I watched the sunrise on Saigon city, from the airport. It's an overwhelming feeling. I didn't know if i should be happy or sad about it, but i chose to be grateful for seeing that sunset. Because that meant I had exactly half a day more before my next flight.
Check the Flight Schedule screen: Look at the names of all the cities displayed on the Flight schedule, and pick a city you'd like to visit next. Then, spend the next few hours looking at the cost of flight tickets, places to see, and things to eat in that city. This will also give you some optimism and hope when you'd see your flight details displayed there.
Read: The Good Guy | Part 2
Read: The Good Guy | Part 1
You can do a million other things rather than just "waiting" when you are stuck at the airport. You can actually finish at least three Chetan Bhagat novels in that time. But yeah, that's not a wise use of money, I'd say.
Finally, I got home, and it was definitely one of the most exciting travel stories I'll be telling my grandkids one day.
Leaving you with this picture of sunrise. Right here at this moment, I had this strong desire to say; "Goooooooood Morninggggggggg, Vietnam", just like Robin Williams from the classic movie "Good Morning, Vietnam", but I was too sober to do that.
Until next time. Take care.