Solo Travel in South East Asia: a Few Anxious Moments

– Posted in: South East Asia
Flying Hanoi to Laos

Kayaking and a Soggy Passport

(Events that caused me some anxiety during my 3 month solo travel adventure through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand)

They say carry your passport with you at all times, and I did; even when I was kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. What I hadn’t realised was that my bag wasn’t waterproof. After the 3 day cruise on Ha Long Bay I’d returned to Hanoi and the same day caught an overnight train to Sapa, Vietnam. There I stayed a few days and had no need to check my passport during this time (or so I thought).  At the Hanoi airport about to catch a flight to Laos, I had cause to look at my passport and the following account of events is straight from my diary (unedited).

29th October:

“Arrived back from Sapa on train at 4.30 am – awful trip because train made stops and each time lurched and banged it’s way to stop and start. Ended up taking a pill.

Hanoi Old Centre Hotel

Hanoi Old Centre Hotel


Bell Boy from hotel (Hanoi Old Centre Hotel where  I’d been staying prior to going to Sapa. The two ladies who run this hotel give amazing service and had not only stored my luggage while I was in Sapa but sent their Bell Boy to ensure my safety upon my arrival on the train in Hanoi, so early in the morning)  was waiting for me at the train station. His task was to ensure I safely caught a reliable taxi to take me back to the hotel (even though I wasn’t staying there any longer!) He put me in a taxi (MAD DRIVER) to the hotel, where they gave me a room to shower and get organised for my flight.

Shit! My passport is wet! (I told you it was unedited, so sorry about the language – gotta stay true to myself)
Dried it with hair dryer but my photo is watermarked quite badly. Hope it doesn’t cause major problems. Will just have to wait and see.

Filling in time at Rainbow Cafe, and trying to keep costs down. Don’t want to have to withdraw any more VMD before I leave at 3 pm for airport. Having fruit smoothie and soup.

Was driven to airport by private car arranged thru hotel @ $14 USD. At check-in the guy didn’t notice the smudge on my photo and was about to check me in. I decided it best to point it out and ask his opinion as to whether I’d be allowed into Laos. He immediately alerted his supervisors and 2 of them came over, and what a fuss! They spent ages in discussion with each other, checking and comparing the passport photo with my face, while the queue behind me waited patiently, or not. Eventually they made me step aside while more discussion took place, and other passengers were checked in. (Note: my bag had already been sent on the conveyor belt).

Eventually they decided to check me in, but making me sign a waiver against their responsibility should there be a problem! The supervisor said there was an 80% chance it would be okay as I was still identifiable by the photo.

Customs was a different matter. The female officer immediately noticed the flaw and left the booth to speak with HER supervisor. Once again, after much scrutiny and discussion, the customs supervisor allowed me through, but said I would not be allowed back into Vietnam on that passport. Shit! So what if I don’t get accepted into Laos? I’ll be in no-man’s land! What to do? My bag was probably already on the plane!

So here am I waiting to board the plane and praying that I won’t have a problem at the other end. God has taken care of everything so far so I will trust that He will continue to do so. I will just have to cross each bridge when I get to it.

Took the plane trip. Small plane with one engine with one propeller on each wing! Nice flight, lovely airline. Had a box of food and drink given to each passenger. As I was boarding, the supervisor from checkin was helping a group of elderly travelers up the stairs to the plane. When he spotted me he said “Oh you got through! Great!” but when I told them they said I couldn’t come back to Vietnam he said “don’t worry. Just get a flight to Australia, or Singapore, or even Bangkok; they are more lax with their rules, (Bangkok) and transfer through if necessary”.

At Laos, (Luang Prabang) although my passport was checked when I applied for the visa, then again at the next counter where I PAID for the visa, and then again by the customs/immigration office, it wasn’t even remarked upon! I flew through with flying colours!

Outside I paid $6 for a cab (ripoff) and told them “take me to the Riverside Guesthouse”. I had emailed this place from Hanoi, but hadn’t had a reply. It was the only place I could think of, and the sun had already set. It was night time. To my relief, they had a vacancy. It was right across the street from the river;  a small room with the hardest, lumpiest mattress I’ve had all trip, but soft pillows. No window in the room, as a corridor ran along the length of the first floor.  Never mind. I was grateful to have somewhere to stop for the night, even though, at $35 I thought is was expensive for what it was.

I put my bags in my room, and set off to have a look around. I needed an ATM as all I had in cash was about $6 USD. I already liked the place. At night the town is awake, not too busy, lovely coloured lanterns, but not overdone like Hoi An. One ATM was only able to give me 1,000,000 KIP which wasn’t enough, as 3 night’s in a room would take all of that! The other ATM in the town was out of service. I decided to leave it till tomorrow, and walked back to the hotel and slept soundly.”

“Winging it” a bit, I agree, but all part of the adventure, right?

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