Before I get in to the details of our recent delicious adventure I realized how much I learned in the process of planning this trip and how unique it is to be living this life of mine. Yes! I do need to remind myself every once in a while. The gratitude comes easily each morning when I awake to the sun rising over the ocean yet the vast change over the last few years hits me like a freight train from time to time. Like most people, I am still guilty of not giving myself enough credit for how far I have come.
Traveling from a destination like the Seychelles could not be more different from that of the United States. There are only a handful of flights departing daily which makes connecting flights nearly mandatory. This is contradictory to any travel planning I have done in nearly fifteen years as catching domestic connections proves extremely problematic thus nonstop flights are worth the investment, especially given the tight schedules the majority of Americans keep these days. Speaking of domestic unless you are taking a charter to the outer islands or the wheels up wheels down fifteen minute flight to Praslin every flight out of Seychelles is an international flight.
When I began researching our next destination I learned quickly that Google flights which can be extremely helpful became more frustrating in this case as it attempted to connect us through Abu Dhabi or Dubai no matter what our final destination. While many Seychellois utilize these hubs for their annual shopping we simply have no desire to visit either much less add the additional travel time to our commute as they only serve as convenient if you are heading north to Europe. Some day that will be the case but it was not what I had in mind this time around.
Next I began map dreaming and backwards searching flights from the options to possible layover locations that were able to connect to the Seychelles. If I was not incredibly passionate about learning and travel this would have been extremely tedious. Around this time I received an alert from the local Air Seychelles carrier announcing a sale. The absolute beauty of these discounts is that they actually give you an expiration date for the sale so barring a flight filling up you know how long you have to book. This is so unlike the tricky business of US airlines that require rash decisions to be made to get a deal. One of the sale destinations was Mumbai which made much more sense directionally. This led to finding a connecting bargain to Hanoi, Vietnam via a very attractive five hour layover in Bangkok. While everyone has their preference this was ideal in my mind as it gave us a perfect opportunity to break in travel and enjoy our beloved street food. A quick message sent to the kind woman whom we rented from there this past December and we had a great neighborhood destination near the airport written in Thai to show our cab driver. I love great people!
Why Hanoi? There are not too many countries I am not interested in seeing but I felt a familiar tug I could not really explain about Vietnam. I would compare it to the feeling I had about Seychelles three years ago. I knew next to nothing but I knew it was right. When my instinct is that strong I do not question it. Similar to that search, the more I learned the more excited and passionate I became. In addition to the lure of their amazing cuisine came the clincher of coffee. We were nearly out of the stash we had been gifted by amazing family members on our visit to America last June. The reason still unbeknownst to me, ninety-nine percent of coffee sold in the Seychelles is instant. It makes no sense. One of the very few direct flights from here is Kenya. Hello? I do not understand it and needed to let the insanity go a while after arriving so we just adjust and purchase beans whenever we travel. Thankfully MC shares my passion for an amazing cup of Joe and thus the idea of visiting the second largest exporter of coffee seemed like a no brainer. Further online study confirmed that Hanoi was more our relaxed style over the other popular choice of Ho Chi Minh. Once that distinction was made I narrowed it down to the most intriguing and walkable neighborhood which was without a doubt the Old Quarter.
I have been blessed with Airbnb experiences thus far and found an incredibly reasonable rate of thirty dollars per night for this large studio with kitchen in a prime location directly above the weekend night market. We live in peace and quiet in the Seychelles so while it is certainly not for everyone being in the middle of the local authentic action while on holiday was sure to be a nice change of pace for us.
Next up was visas. As MC has reminded me often Americans are spoiled. This makes me laugh and yet it is, in this case, extremely justified. Planning for travel for two with two distinctly different countries passports requires research, diligence and patience. The most important lesson I have learned traveling with my new husband is not taking anything for granted. Seychelles is such a small country that many immigration officials are simply not familiar with it. Of course this causes alarm in some agents and in nearly every case delay in approval. I take my role in due diligence very seriously for this reason and I have a new appreciation for my own citizenship. MC got his only break with a free transit visa for India while mine carried a twenty dollar fee. Both were the most lengthy of processes however. A four page online application was required in addition to a personal visit to the embassy here in Seychelles for approval and stamping. Thailand is a freebie for Americans yet required a fee and paper application for MC. The trick with this country is they grant approval from the date submitted so you need to be ready with accurate information and set a calendar reminder to submit it two weeks prior to travel.
Vietnam was interesting to say the least and challenged my comfort zone on many levels. As a US citizen I could apply online for the new E-Visa. It was fairly simple and straight forward, took three days for approval and cost me around twenty-five dollars. I paid online and the approval form was emailed directly. MC’s was the tricky one. There is no Vietnam embassy here in the Seychelles and the nearest is Mozambique. After doing some research that turned up with a half dozen options five of which were not directly affiliated with government offices that of course make you question their true validity, MC suggested I contact the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs for advice. They too were relatively new to this particular country’s process but aided in communication to validate what I had learned online. I was to apply via their website and then wire money via Western Union to a person’s name in Mozambique. Every red flag in the book went up for me at this idea yet I know from my time here that many locations simply do not deal with credit cards. The helpful woman was able to verify and communicate for me, eventually obtaining a copy of the representative’s diplomatic passport so I knew at least that the money was being wired to a reliable source. The paper process I am not sure I will ever get used to. Upon approval they mailed the small piece of paper via DHL which of course seemed a complete waste since there was nothing that would have been different had they emailed it and we had printed it in color. Another lesson learned. They do things differently. Do not question it if you value your sanity. We had all the necessary documents secured and that was all that mattered!
If I look back and attempt to remember the craziest, most obscene travel scenario from the Hollywood movies of my younger days the best I can recall is flying to Paris for dinner. That seemed extravagant and romantic, right? Well it somehow eluded me within all the logistics planning that we were to be blessed with having breakfast samosas in Mumbai, street food with locals for lunch in Bangkok and dinner in Hanoi. Three meals in one day in three different countries. The travel trifecta! As I sat that evening enjoying my first glorious sip of rich Vietnamese coffee my eyes welled up with tears as I thanked my lucky stars to be writing my own unique travel dreams.