Becky and I are not rookie travellers. We are by no means the lean, mean, backpack around the world for 3 dollars a day types, but we’ve been around. For the most part we pride ourselves in our planning and preparations. We rarely wind up in a travel logistics situation that we didn’t at least think about once.
This trip it all changed. For those of you who know us know that for the past 7 months we have been furiously running a resort, and I have been pulling double job duty. We have been exhausted to the bone. As a result of the exhaustion we haven’t had the time to do the usual per-trip research. We just booked flights, booked a few places to stay, and said “we’ll figure it out as we go”.
This trip was particulary epic. I have been wanting to fly around the world for a long, long, time. I was finally going to get a chance to do it. The plan was:
Fly Charlottetown to Chicago (via Toronto)
Fly Chicago to Ho Chi Minh (via Tokyo)
Stay in Southern Vietnam for ~10 days
Fly to Singapore
Travel from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur by land
Fly from Kuala Lumpur to Bali
Spend ~10 days in Bali
Fly to Phuket Thailand for 2 days
Fly to Rome (via Bangkok) for 4 days
On Saturday we excitedly packed up, said a tearful good bye to Gilbert, and we hit the skies. The flights from Charlottetown to Toronto, and Toronto to Chicago were flawless.
We checked into the Chicago Hilton Airport hotel (sweet Priceline deal) and ate a great lamb burger at the hotel sports pub. We went to bed feeling giddy about the upcoming adventure. It was the first time in months that we could relax.
The next morning we got up at 7 and made our way to the ANA check-in counter. We we kindly greeted and asked for our passport and Visas to check in to our flight from Chicago to Tokyo and on to Ho Chi Minh. We passed over our passports and our CIBC visa credit card. The agent looked at us and said, “not your credit card, your entrance visas to Vietnam”. We, for lack of a better term, shit our pants. We stammered out a confusing string of English words that made it clear to the agent that we had no idea what he was talking about. We said we’d just get the visas when we landed (as most countries allow tourists to do this). He politely informed us that was not a possibility for Vietnam.
The agent, who may have been the nicest man in Chicago called over his even nice supervisor and they tried to make a few phone calls. No one answered as it was 8:30 on a Sunday morning. They said they could check us in for the Chicago to Tokyo part of the flight but we would have to figure out something after that. We had about an hour before the flight left.
We sat a few feet away from the check-in counter and wondered aloud what the heck just happened? Was this a new policy? We whipped out an IPad and our Vietnam guide book. Sure enough, the first paragraph of the section titled “Getting There” stated that all visitors needed to apply for a tourist visa before entering the country and it can take up to a week to process the application. It was confirmed. We we just stupid.
We quickly weighed our options. Vietnam was just off the table. There was no way we could easily get visas issued without wasting days somewhere. We decided to just “get to south-east Asia”. I called Aeroplan (who we booked tickets with) and was talking with a very helpful chap within a few minutes. He pulled up our reservations and said “So you are leaving in…. An hour!!”. He asked what we wanted to do. I just said, get us to South East Asia.
He quickly found that our two best options were Bangkok and Singapore. As the former is mostly underwater, and we are very familiar with the latter, we chose Singapore. He re-issued the tickets (for a small change fee) and wished us luck.
With that done we went back to the check in counter and started the check in process. This took 4 staff and another 25 minutes as our re-issued tickets were confusing for the system so close to the departure date.
We returned to our seats by the counter and began frantically canceling hotels and domestic travel bookings. We also made sure to book a hotel in Singapore for the night we arrived (we were to land at midnight).
The nice man brought us our boarding passes through to Singapore and we went through security. We even had a nice few minutes to email a family member about the change before the plane boarded for Tokyo.
We are lucky and were traveling business class to Tokyo. Sleeper beds, champagne, the whole deal. It was sweet.
We spent a few hours in the Tokyo Narita airport then boarded a flight to Singapore. We arrived at our Singapore hotel sometime around 1am on November 15th a full 26 hours from Chicago. We split a small tin of hotel minibar Pringles and tried to sleep.
The next day we spent wandering the familiar streets of Singapore. Between wandering and checking out of our hotel we managed to book another hotel in the city for another 2 nights while we battled jet lag and rearranged our trip.
We ended up at the Festive Hotel on Singapore’s entertainment island, Sentosa. This is apparently a family hotel. Thanks to some well timed oral-surgery antibiotic caused unwellness, Becky scored us an early check in and a free upgrade to a family suite. In addition to the king size bed we also got an awesome bunk bed perched 12 feet off the ground.
We, through very sketchy Internet, managed to rebook our plans for the next two weeks. We were now:– Flying to Lengkawi, Malaysia – Gradually making our way south over two weeks to Kuala Lumpur. – Picking up our original travel plans in Bali.
At this writing we are killing time in a 7 hour airport stop over in Penang, Malaysia. Two very, very sweet Malaysian children are watching me type on my iPad just like everyone stared at at Michael J Fox when he was wearing his “life preserver” in Back To The Future.
More travel updates to come. The moral of the story: read at least the first page of your guidebooks!