I would have to say that the only downside of being an expat is that time seems to pass so quickly sometimes and before you know it, the realization that you haven’t seen family or friends back home for ages sinks in.
I was lucky that my parents came out to see me this summer and we had a wonderful time in Siem Reap and Hua Hin but I haven’t seen my sister since May 2012 and my brother since September 2011. We are a close family and whilst I had the opportunity to go back to the UK this year it made more sense to visit somewhere like Japan while I was so relatively close and I made the decision to leave my next trip to the UK until summer 2014 when I can combine it with my friend’s wedding in Toulouse.
It was only natural that when my brother told me he was going to be in Vietnam for business the last weekend before Christmas that I would rearrange my days off in order to make the short trip to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon as most locals still seem to call it) to spend some time with him.
I booked my tickets online with Vietnam Airlines http://www.vietnamairlines.com and was pleasantly surprised that unlike most airline websites these days there were no sneaky add on charges and when I emailed with a question, someone – A REAL PERSON replied to me within 12 hours! I suppose that I have become a bit jaded with budget airlines that are often not as budget as they seem….
I can only praise Vietnam Airlines, the seats were comfy and spacious and staff were charming. The meal and drinks service on the flight (which is a little over an hour from Bangkok) was also included in the ticket price, and I was able to take 20 kgs of check in luggage in addition to hand luggage (not that I needed it) which was another nice change from flying budget.
As a British citizen I needed a visa to travel to Vietnam and I applied online via http://www.myvietnamvisa.com/ receiving my “in principal” letter of approval just 2 days later along with a copy of the form I would need to fill in on arrival. You also need 2 passport size photos ready as well (although they only needed one of mine in the end) I was lucky in that my flight as not too busy and the process on landing took only around 30 minutes but to be honest I would recommend doing it in advance at the appropriate embassy as opposed to how I did it for convenience as I imagine the system would not be so efficient if they were very busy.
When you leave the airport ignore the touts at the arrivals entrance and head to the metered taxi rank just off to the left. Taxi drivers all seemed to speak a good level of English and they found my hotel very easily indeed – the journey from the airport to the centre of Saigon took around 20 minutes and cost 120,000 dong (under 200 baht or aprox 7sgd) The guidebook recommends Vinasun http://www.vinasuntaxi.com/ and they were certainly the taxi company we saw most frequently, and we found the drivers all excellent – a lovely change from Singapore and Bangkok!