Tim Walker’s Vietnam II

Located near the bottom and with a lingering smell of faeces, Ho Chi Minh City is the unequivocal arsehole of Vietnam.

Nevertheless this is where our Intrepid tour began…

Jetstar had taken me from Christchurch to Auckland, where Malaysia Airlines were enlisted to fly me the approximate 12 hours to Kuala Lumpur – before briefly pausing – then flying me the remainder of the way to Tan Son Nhat International Airport, HCMC, Vietnam.

…On paper the trip was simple enough: I was to be arriving in Ho Chi Minh City a full day before my impending tour was due to begin, in order to hopefully experience the idiosyncrasies and accustom to the peculiarities, the oddities of this massive city. I would then be embarking on our 15 day tour – essentially south to north – of Vietnam. Finally I had planned to have a full day of exploration alone in Hanoi, before being transported to the capital’s Noibai Airport. Everything was planned, everything was booked; nothing should have been able to go wrong…

After checking in my luggage at Christchurch Airport – where I was told I would not see, or indeed have to worry about, it again until Ho Chi Minh City – I flew from Christchurch to Auckland. Alas, this was where my trouble-free travel ended.

…Technically, if every person I had paid to do their job had done their job to at least an adequate standard, nothing would have gone wrong…

I arrived in Auckland shortly after the scheduled 21:20 timeslot and settled in for a wait; as per my itinerary Malaysia Airlines did not plan to embark upon their eleven-and-a-half hour journey until 00:05.

…At Auckland airport I continually checked my itinerary against the electronic airport schedule, as if it were possible that I had missed something the first two-dozen times. The time was now past 11 p.m. It looked as though I was heading for Kuala Lumpur in around an hour’s time…

Suddenly my long-held expectations about air travel were realised; my flight was to be delayed by an hour and a half. I would now not be leaving Auckland until after 01:30. I settled in for a longer wait.

…It had seemed to me, upon checking my itinerary for the 33rd time, that if I left Auckland at 00:05, spent eleven-and-a-half hours in the air, then arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 07:30 in preparation for a 09:00 transfer to HCMC, someone’s arithmetic was out of whack…

01:30 I boarded Malaysia Airlines MH-132. (I recall running that flight number through my head and wondering with a smirk if this plane might just be the next target of a Soviet missile…) 02:15 we finally lifted off the tarmac. I was incensed. What was this airline doing? I wondered about my chances of making it to Kuala Lumpur before my – previously generous – one-and-a-half hour buffer expired. I consoled myself with the belief that, as there were a couple of hundred other travellers on my flight all hoping to make the Vietnam transfer, surely, if the plane was delayed to the extent that all these passengers onboard would miss that next flight, Malaysia Airlines would perhaps implement some initiative and delay the transfer flight to Ho Chi Minh City..?

…I glanced at my (newly adjusted) wristwatch as we touched down in Kuala Lumpur. 08:45. We had miraculously made up about half an hour during the flight. I bustled my way down the aisle, making good gains once I had exited the plane. I strode confidently, purposefully down the foreign corridors, taking only a moment to glance outside and see Malaysia with all its hundreds of kilometres of verdant coconut plantations…

I don’t know how I navigated Kuala Lumpur Airport like I did, but the signage must have been excellent because I led our convoy of worrisome passengers from end to end and bottom to top of that infernal establishment to slap my boarding pass on the check-in counter before giving the woman a sweaty grin – glancing at my watch to see I still had five minutes until MH-750 departed – only to be told, “I’m sorry sir, the gate closed ten minutes ago.”

…I hated Kuala Lumpur Airport from even before we’d landed in it, and the five-and-a-half hours we were forced to wait for the next plane to take us to Ho Chi Minh City did nothing to appease my sense of loathing…

I recall asking the woman at Kuala Lumpur Airport – regarding the fact that our flight-plan was being so seriously disrupted – “What about my luggage though? … It’s all on the plane I just missed because your airline couldn’t get its shit together…”

“Yeah,” piped up a younger guy from behind me, “and what about lunch – are you gonna pay for that now, I suppose?”

There were plenty more claims of indignation but I didn’t stick around to hear them; I was broken – I went to find somewhere to lie down.

…The plane that touched down in Tan Son Nhat International Airport, HCMC – over six hours after its scheduled landing (rather than 10:00 it was after 16:00 by the time I arrived) – was apparently one of a number of ‘delayed’ flights that all seemed to make landfall at similar times that afternoon…

I had barely slept on the plane from Auckland, I didn’t sleep at Kuala Lumpur Airport, I didn’t sleep on the way to Ho Chi Minh City; I arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport on target for a largely sleepless 24 hours.

…The baggage claim at Tan Son Nhat – six collection points covering a span of almost 100 metres – was bedlam. Each of the half dozen conveyors was a solid mass of baggage; the floor beneath the belts was littered with those bags that either could not fit, or had been carelessly tossed aside by fervent passengers on the hunt for their own…

I watched, exasperated, disbelieving; utterly aghast as groups of frantic Asian men darted around the baggage claim. As if trying to befuddle Westerners, they were hastily wheeling their luggage trolleys up to these stacks of discarded bags then throwing onboard whatever they could balance before again ducking away. A moment later they’d be back – loading up another trolley then once more they’d be gone.

…I was less than totally surprised therefore – after almost two hours of walking back and forth along the rows checking each conveyor despairingly yet hopefully, only too aware of the outcome that I was destined to discover yet somehow deluding myself otherwise, while trying to check also the trolleys of those filthy little Asian men as they disappeared with their arbitrary selection of luggage – to make the conclusion that my bag was not present.

I had worked out what was going on early, yet was unable to do anything to stop the bag-snatchers. I saw how they avoided any cellophane-wrapped suitcases donning the ‘Security Checked’ labels; I guessed why. I surmised the luggage on the bag-snatchers’ trolleys would be rifled through; I supposed any valuables would be quickly removed then I guessed the bags would be returned.

This was HCMC, after all.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Theo Ving

Photography by Ace Seine





2 thoughts on “Tim Walker’s Vietnam II

  1. Uyen

    Hi Tim…
    I have just read your new post on facebook. I have been waiting for your article and hoped that you would have a good journey. But after reading it, putting me at your position at that time and I feel bad now, my friend..
    Anyway, that is just begin of your trip. I am looking forward to see part 3, guy. I wish that it was not bad like that and you had a good time, Tim.

    1. mit.reklaw Post author

      Thank you Uyen, you’re a sweetheart.
      I should warn you though, today’s story doesn’t get a lot better.

      I appreciate your interest Uyen,


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