Vietnam? Cambodia? Vietnam! This is the question we asked ourselves as we got ready for our vacation to Vietnam. I have rambled on and complained about the weather in Shanghai this winter which has been said to be the coldest, wettest and dullest in 32 years or 60+ depending on who you read. We had a week holiday for Qing Ming and Easter holidays and wanted to get away from the dullness and head for warmth, sunshine and blue sky.
As we watched the weather reports we noticed a typhoon was expected to affect Vietnam the day before we arrived and hang around for the first 2 days of our vacation. I thought typhoon season was summer/fall, but turns out rainy season starts in May so this was early and typhoon season is all year. If conditions are right typhoons can occur at any time. The rest of the week was calling for cloud and thunderstorms and Shanghai had warm and sunny temps forecasted. We shopped for rain gear and hoped for good weather as we packed. We got to the airport and found our flight was on time. We boarded, the plane and left on time. We flew towards our destination and could see the mountains and the coast below, all clear. We started to get restless and looking at my watch I figured we would be landing in about an hour. The sun was starting to set and we were above these puffy clouds that changed colour with the setting sun. As darkness settled in I could smell rain and looking outside into the darkness I could see rain with each blink of the flashing lights on the wing. The rain got more and more intense and I could see it sparkle in the lights from the wing to my seat a few rows ahead. The rain was going sideways and the drops must have been huge because the rain was white and it appeared like large snowflakes in a blizzard. The seat belt light came on and the announcement said we were heading into turbulence. Shortly after with less than a half hour to our destination another announcement, this time saying we were going to reroute as the storm had approached Ho Chi Minh City and due to high winds we were unable to land. The slow-moving storm had finally made land fall.
I watched the storm, which was 200 km off shore, since early the day before and wondered what that would mean for a plane full of passengers heading on vacation or some going home. We landed in Phnom Phen, Cambodia. More word, an announcement saying the winds were very high producing a cross wind so the airport was closed and we would wait 30-60 minutes before heading out again. I knew the storm had moved very slowly over the last 24 hours, so I figured an hour would not do it. Everyone settled in and chatted to others, read books, listened to music and played video games on their electronic devices. Isn’t technology wonderful? Kept a restless bunch settled. After an hour the questions started and people wanted to know what was next. We were refueled and hopes rose, but no movement. People started to be removed from the plane beside us as busses came and loaded them on and took them into the night. No word, so speculation started as people wanted to know what was happening and filled in the blanks for the unknown information. Bits and pieces of overheard information was turned into statements like “We need Visas and the airline won’t pay for all of us”; “This is a small city there won’t be enough hotels for us all”; “We’ll sleep in the airport”…. while others were upset that they even attempted the flight knowing the weather. How did some of us know about the storm and the airline did not? I wonder if they decided to go and outrun the storm since it was so slow.
One lady decided to go and speak to the captain and suggest an alternate route and get us into a different city in Vietnam… her reasoning at least we would be in Vietnam! She was disappointed when they told her we needed more fuel to get there and her response we are at an aiport, get more. If it was only that simple… The poor crew hid out as they had no information and many difficult questions were being asked. A few gentlemen sitting in front of us were making phone calls and finally they said the storm had ended we could go now. I thought ya right… how could it be that quick? Shortly after this the captain did announce the airport had reopened and we could take off. Everyone clapped, but a few “Negative Nellies” said lets not clap until we are there. I was just hoping it was safe. The airport was small and by the time we left there were many planes parked on the tarmac. We got in position only to wait again to take off as 5 or 6 other planes landed (there is only 1 runway). This is probably the most action this airport has seen in a while! After 4.5 hours sitting we were in the air again.
We approached the airport and a wind jolted us sideways a little bit, but the pilot did an amazing job as we landed smoothly. We were herded into a large bus waiting on the tarmac. It was raining lightly… I couldn’t fathom how the storm passed so quickly after it had taken over 24 hours to arrive. We were led into the airport and got our visas processed and just after midnight we were ready to leave. Our taxi had to take a few detours as the storm had uprooted trees and the branches, leaves and huge tree trunks littered the roads. As late as it was the street sweepers were out with their fan like straw brooms clearing up the streets. By morning there probably would be little evidence there even was a storm!
The roads were pretty deserted and not much action in the city. I am guessing the storm had people in for the night. A short drive to the hotel (Liberty 4 in District one- cheap and clean with breakfast included) we arrived as tired, weary travellers hoping our reservation would still be valid, as they only hold them to midnight. All was well and we checked in so we could get up and explore Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) before heading to the beach at Mui Ne.
Stay tuned for more next time … our short visit in Ho Chi Mihn and then the beach!