WHEN THE ROAD GETS TOUGH (marathon jungle cliffs, visa problems, non-boarding passes, and watery substances shooting out of your ass)

Dr MLK Jr says, “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

This is the mantra of the day as I sit quarantined in a beautiful hotel in Hanoi overlooking old quarter rooftops: How I wish I could be out there exploring… not in here pooping my guts out. BUT IM DEALING WITH THIS ROUGH ROAD AND I DEALT WITH A COUPLE TO GET HERE.

The glimpses of travels everyone sees on Facebook and Instagram are just a fraction of what goes into extended travel.  No doubt, there is adventure and newness around every corner to take advantage of, so don’t mistake this entry as complaining, but sometimes you have to take a break from exploring to stay healthy and sane.

Here is our story:

Michelle and I arrived in Hanoi after an expensive, urgent battle to get our visas from Laos to Vietnam. Note to future travelers- although the U.S. State department claims you can easily apply for a visa on arrival at the Vietnam airport, this is only if you are flying directly from the U.S. We learned the hard way upon checking in at the single airstrip Paksé Airport in Laos that we needed a specially approved letter from the Vietnamese government to allow us to fly from Laos to Vietnam.  Luckily we had a 5.5 hour layover in the Laos capital of Vientiane where the Vietnam consulate sits – haha so we thought! When our tuk-Tuk driver let us off at the deserted gates of the vienamese embassy it took us an inquisitive half hour of cautiously wandering around the barricade to learn it was also Vietnamese new year and everything in Vietnam was shut down. FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

So we arrive at the airport and I visit immigration first and this burly official tells me “no problem, pretty U.S. face. Bring boarding pass and I let you through” Relief, big smile, props to good genes and being born American  right!? Not so fast. With 2 hours left to takeoff, we rush downstairs, and wait in a long line for our boarding passes only to learn that because we booked through Priceline.com and kayak.com our tickets were different and we will have to speak with the hq office. FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

Deep breath, tick-tock. We have no choice but to follow this little airport guard across the Vientiane airport (which is no O’hare luckily) but still a hike with no food or water left and 12kg backpacks attached. We even knocked over a metal sparater gate trying to squeeze through where this guard was bringing us. Luckily, this beautiful Laotian hq lady with magenta lipstick and perfectly French twisted black hair pressed a couple buttons on the computer and gave us a slip to bring back to check in for our boarding passes. We wait in line again… We go to the same lady in the business class line because that’s where they placed us before. And we smile and give her the sheets and she smiles and types in the codes and we all take a deep breath cuz we’ll have and hour and a half still to catch our plane. But then her kind expression changed… “Okay you all set, where letter!?” The damn official letter!!! FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

She refused to print our boarding passes without the official letter, even though the embassy was closed and the burly immigration man said it was ok. So this is where you do not panic and remain insistent, yet kind. Albeit I repeated over and over again we visited the embassy and they told us we’d be able to get the letter here, at the airport (which the official at the embassy gate did assure us twice they could provide letter at airport). because “We went to the embassy. The embassy is closed today.  The immigration officer upstairs said all we need is boarding pass. Can you please print our boarding passes.” No-go. We divised next steps. HOPE HOPE HOPE. Thanks to my persistence, Michelle’s patience, and the graciousness of the Lao Airline staff, we found a solution. 

For how Lao airlines accommodated us at this point, I HIGHLY RECCOMEND THEM. The planes are clean, the pilots are friendly, and even on 45 minute flights in country you get a meal- yes a meal, usually of tuna, but it tastes good, and it’s a meal. 

We exited the line again, and they brought us again through that metal gate (that we pushed gently to squeeze through this time around 🙂 and they brought us into their back office to login to their personal computers to urgently apply for a visa with an hour to spare… Or 40 minutes till boarding.  Ahhh.

So as fast as my skinny fingers could type on the foreign keyboard, I entered Michelle and my info for this urgent official letter... And then for payment….. YYIKES! $247 to process “urgently”.  So chalk this charge up to not doing our research before hand. And in the travel budget this does take a chunk out and we may have to forgo some future fun, but it was important for us to make it to Vietnam. Special persistence props to Michelle here because I was about to bail at this point. So we paid, and I opened my email and they congratulate us for applying for the letter and would get back to us in 1 to 2 business days. What!? We had 20 minutes not 2 days. Ouch. More panic.  FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

This is where a handsome Brazilian named Victor (coincidental pun intended!) came to the rescue because he was in the same situation. He let us know we could call their hotline and inform them of our situation… Aka flight boarding in 20 minutes. He printed out his letter and cruised up to immigration to board the same flight we were trying to make. Suddenly we realized, no one could call. FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

We remembered a SIM card kiosk next to the Lao airlines hq station on our first tour of the Vientiane Airport. So we hustled over to the SIM card place and the new guy at Unitel International calling cards must have sensed our urgency and we made him nervous. He placed 3 or 4 new SIM cards into Michelle’s new iPhone 6 with shaky hands. None of them were working…FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE. 

Both of us tried to calm down and be as friendly as possible with him and after a little laugh he finally successfully placed the SIM card and viola it was ringing.  Exasperated, he handed me the phone and we smiled thank you and sheltered up in a quiet place so I could distinguish next steps from the thick Vietnamese English accent on the other side of the line. Somehow our info was not in their system despite repeated attempts of my email, passport number, and confirmation number. Plus we only paid $5 for 12 minutes of talk time. With 3 minutes talk time to spare we figured out there are multiple companies you can apply for urgent visas through. We had filed with e-Vietnamesevisa.com and Victor had evidently applied with vietnamesevisa-e.com. UNREAL. We were wasting time with the wrong company. FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

So we lugged back over to the back office of Lao Airlines and asked if we could jump online again. Note- the aiport does not have wifi otherwise this would not have been an issue. They smiled almost laughing at us with confused looks on their faces about our persistence to make it to Vietnam. We found the hotline number and called. Michelle got through. They could not find it. I told her to give them my passport number since I was primary on the account. A thumbs up from Michelle. They found us! Michelle let him know we were at the aiport at the beginning of the call. He asked, so when do you board? Michelle responded with crossed lips, 20 minutes. “Oh, oh,oh, I got to go. I have to call aiport now. Bye!” FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

Ten minutes later the official letter was in my gmail box. So thank you tremendously for the diligent work on behalf of Mr. Dang Tuan on your holiday!!! Thank you!!

SUPPORT 24/7 

Including Saturday-Sunday-Public holiday.

Dang Tuan (Mr)
Vietnam Immigration visas
Toll Free US # :  
(00) 1-888-898-2987

Hotline 1:  +84 933 466 328
Hotline 2: +84 908 906 080 

Tell:            +84-8.5404 31 18
Fax:            +84-8.5404 29 36

Email: visa3@visaforvietnam.vn

Visit our homepage www.visaforvietnam.vn and read more about our services.

Everything from here was smooth sailing.  Letter, boarding passes, immigration, the Laos security guards (which were pretty little Laotian ladies in pink and blue) giggling at us chugging our water, fitting our backpacks on the plane, landing safely after a 45 minute flight across the boarder. BREEZE- WE DID NOT GIVE UP HOPE.

From other travelers we had heard horror stories about Vietnamese visas on arrival and handing over passports and waiting three hours with no idea what was going on or where your most important documents were or who had them. This was in Ho Chi Minh (or NO Chi Minh as our Australian friends dubbed their airport). The Hanoi airport was refreshingly spotless, new, and futuristic. When we turned the corner to immigration, there was a trendy tiny little Vietnamese girl who had our names MICHELLE CAMPANELLI and HALLIE JAEGER written in bold purple marker on a sign. In 20 minutes, and $45 each for the actual visa processing fees, we were in! Horray! NEVER LOSE INFINITE HOPE. 

Unfortunately, all this up and down stress has probably contributed to my first time falling ill on the road. 

FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT I AM NOT GIVING UP HOPE. Dr. King is right.

I remained wonderfully healthy the past three months of my travels so I guess this is just my time, and I’m choosing to accept it and load my belly with clear fluids and a bit of rice. I’m out of Imodium and moving onto last resort ciproflaxin to hopefully rid the foreign bacteria invading my gut.  FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT I AM NOT GIVING UP HOPE.

The exciting part of this story is how I surmise I received this waterery torture:

To say we “hiked” through the jungle is an understatement. I now know what “trekking” means.  We scaled this entire cliff in 2 hours through the rain, wearing our small backpacks . A twenty minute portion of which, we literally clung to the cliff wall. (See pics below)  Beyond a pounding rapid consistent heart rate, you have to deal with cortisol and adrenaline spikes when glimpsing at the 400m drops if you miss a rung. Because of the mist, we could not even see ground at most points and I think this was a blessing. But it was an adventure of a lifetime and I wouldn’t change a thing!!! I am proud of myself for completing this trek of three days, 22 zip lines, jungle tight ropes, and mountain facades. I cannot speak more highly of the guides, and will have an entire post dedicated to treetoplaos.com. 

I’ve ran a Marthon in 5:02 and I’ve finished a 43 story stairclimb just under 10 minutes, but trekking up the final mountain back to our starting point in Ban Nongluang village was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. 

AND THEN WE WENT TO A TRADITIONAL VILLAGE WEDDING. (More on chugging beer and dancing with Laoation hands and this overal miraculous experience later). Out of politeness I ate some of the questionable village food they offered us. These very foreign foods, combined with the physical strain of our jungle journey, and the stress of making it to Vietnam, has brought me to my current quarentined state in Hanoi. FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT I AM NOT GIVING UP HOPE.

That road was tough, and this one is too.

I told Care, my traveler inspiration, that the experience dancing with the bride and groom in that village is worth 20 exploding buttholes… Thus here I sit, trying to make the best of this journey. I’ve taken it easy, made myself comfortable in an upgraded air conditioned room: Thanks to Michelle we moved form the metaphorical and literal shithole we were staying in for $8 before. I am forever indebted to my travel companion for not only dealing with the trumpet orchestra playing from my ass, but for nursing me back to health and taking it easy today. 

FINITE DISSAPOINTMENT- BUT WE ARE NOT GIVING UP HOPE.

Tomorrow we are departing on a 3 day cruise through Halong Bay and we are recharged and excited!! 

We will take the road as it comes. Relaxing up here, this is an experience in itself. 

I close with my very favorite opera singer and dear friend Sylvia McNair‘s concluding message from BMOC 2006: “A person is not judged from the car they drive or the things they have, but how they deal with the road ahead when it gets really, really tough!”





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2 Comments, RSS

  1. Tereza Lopes March 5, 2015 @ 6:08 am

    Beautiful post with very informative description. The pictures in this post was really awesome.

    • HallieLou March 5, 2015 @ 4:03 pm

      Thanks so much Theresa. Just writing from the heart!

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