Saigon at Midnight

Thursday April 21, 2022 // Past Bedtime

The last international trip I went on was in November 2018. As a self-proclaimed jet setter, this is torture. Having a baby then a global pandemic will do that to you though. It’s been three and a half years without a trip even out of my time zone.

This has had me thinking a lot about travel. Darn near everyday I’m lost in a daydream. Heck, even my dreams are often about travel these days. It’s a scratch I need to itch. But this scratch is in that one spot on your back that no human can possibly ever reach.

2022 will be another year of non-international and only Eastern time zone travel. Our eyes are trained on 2023 and with any luck, making a trip happen. When and where… that’s a different question.

With all this travel on the brain and no trip on the horizon to plan for, why not venture down memory lane?

One of my favorite memories is the night we touched down in Saigon at midnight.

Saigon, November 2016

This trip consisted of myself, my wife, and her parents. We flew from DC, had to run to catch our connecting flight in Tokyo, then landed in Vietnam. The total airtime was approximately 20 hours. After any flight that long you’re in for a whammy when you land. Jumping from 20-degree weather to a steamy 90 degrees at MIDNIGHT will shock any system back into reality.

Stepping off the plane on a new continent is an experience I wish everyone could have. We just leapfrogged half a globe. It’s incredible.

We de-boarded on the airport ramp onto a shuttle bus that took us to the terminal to get our luggage. After immigration and customs it’s around 1:30 AM. We have an extended family member that’s supposed to pick us up. We get out to the arrivals area and it’s packed. Shoulder to shoulder with folks holding signs and taxi drivers calling for your attention.

After a few minutes of searching we cannot find our ride. He’s not there…

At this point our cell phones didn’t work. Our plan was to pick up a SIM card when we got there and put it in one of our phones to use. This was on the itinerary for the day after we landed because it’s 1:30 AM and the cell phone places aren’t open.

If it wasn’t clear, my in-laws are from Vietnam. They still have family over there and they, along with my wife, speak the language. So they started chatting it up with some strangers and borrowed a cell phone. We called the person who was supposed to pick us up and no dice. He didn’t pick up.

For some reason all four of us were adamant about not taking a taxi. Maybe we’d heard too many stories about getting ripped off. And, come on, we have family nearby to pick us up.

We call the next family member and he answers!

“Stay put. I’ll be there in a few.”

Related Reading: Bitten Again // The Travel Bug

My in-laws haven’t seen their nephew since the early 80s when he was a boy. Standing outside the insanely busy Tan Son Nhat International Airport, a mini van pulls up and stops in front of us.

Have you ever seen those stunts where they try to cram like 11 people into a telephone booth? Well, that’s what we just did.

My cousin-in-law gathered the entire family at, now, nearly 2:00 AM – himself, wife, mother, and two daughters – to come get us four. We’re greeted with huge smiles and warm hugs. This is family that I’ll grow very fond of over the next three weeks.

The nine of us plus our luggage pile into the van. And at this moment I realize I’m not going to hear another word of English for the next several weeks. This is another experience I wish everyone could have.

We pull into our hotel around 3:00 AM after weaving our way through the motorcycles that move like sentinels from The Matrix. Crashing into bed, I’m left with that feeling of first stepping off the plane. That rush of humidity and the knowledge that you’re in a new place far, far from home. It’s something that’s still palpable years later. There’s nothing like Saigon at midnight.

– Josh // Reminiscing

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