Whenever I told people this story they would always being up Bridget Jones and I never understood…But this is the story about the night I spent in Vietnamese jail. Kinda.
I made a very costly mistake in Hong Kong. It will forever be known as the most expensive Tinder date I ever went on. But back to the beginning…
It was the last day of my first stay in HK (keep that in mind), it was a good time, I was spending pretty much each evening on this rooftop bar during ‘sunset hour’, The Eyebar 5/5 would recommend. The view was incredible, reaching each corner of the iconic skyline with an outside terrace 30 floors up, but this isn’t an ad so lets move on. It was my last evening before going to Vietnam and I said, ‘Hayley, treat yourself’. Before I left for Asia I had two rules: no drinking and no boys (keep that in mind, too). Matching with another Londoner, we agreed to meet up at this same bar and have a couple of drinks. For me, Tinder is great on the go for seeing places that tend to be more known locally, so this was a bit different.
He catches me up at the bar, we have a few drinks, it’s all going as well as it could. Now, I am a lightweight. Two beers and I am on Mars so why the hell did I decide it was a good idea to chase a number- because I can’t remember- of beers with shots of Patron? Peer pressure, that’s why, or because I’m just really friggin’ stupid and out for a good time. Sunset hour became moonlight hour and we decided to move onto a new place, however neither of us being from HK led to a lot of umming and ahhing over where the best spots are.
Have you ever been to an Irish pub in another country? It’s a surreal experience. I’ve only ever been to one, Mayfair Tavern in Tooting (represent), and it was as if I’d been transported back to a more humid version where the landlady was Hong Kongese with an Irish accent. Her name was Gene and they served Guinness and black, something that sounds both amazing and terrible at the same time. After a snakebite and a quick Google map, we gave up on trying to find places and decided to ask Gene herself.
“Gene,” I piped up.
“Yes, lov.” She replied.
“Where do people go to party here?” I think we all had different ideas about what ‘party’ meant because my date seemed as though he lived for mosh pits, I just want to look nice and talk to everyone and Gene…well, you’ll understand in a bit.
“You want to go to Wan Chai, lots of places there, it might be a bit quiet.”
Done. We’re off to Wan Chai. A quick hug to Gene and some written directions before an uber takes us across the island, we’re greeted by flashing lights and a lot of men wandering the streets looking lost (mentally or physically, maybe both?). It still didn’t click on for me, but my date could tell instantly. We decided just to walk down the street and see if anything catches our eye. A woman sat outside ‘club’ doors stopped us telling us about drink offers and I’m like, “what music do you play?”. “Any you want!”, that should have warned me from the get go, shouldn’t it? But it didn’t. Still as we walked down the stairs and she took her jumper off, it didn’t. Still as we sat around this long table with YMCA playing in the background.
It did. We had made it…to a strip club. Gene sent us to strip club heaven. In a booth across from us, this man had two women sat either side of him as he smoked away, another booth was two men and a solo woman. It was one of those times where you just had to laugh. After buying the girl who brought us down a very overpriced drink, I’m sure it was something like 380 HKD, we left in search for an actual club.
To cut a long story short here, we ended up leaving yet another strip club at 3am after being propositioned by a stripper, two lapdances and pretending to be in a relationship with this dude for 2 years. As I sat in the McDonalds after checking out at 11, hungover trying to force a mac and cheese toasty down, luggage in hand ready for my flight in a few hours but contemplating hanging out longer, I really thought about my life choices. Still, I flew to Hanoi and had an amazing time. It really is an incredible place to visit, so relaxed but bustling at the same time, the beauty that is Ha Long Bay. My Tinder date and I kept in contact, and somehow I decided to YOLO for a moment and fly back to HK to spend the weekend there.
The next day I wait at my gate in HK, it’s around 9pm now and I’m tired, ready to be back in Vietnam and continue my adventure. An adventure it was, indeed. Cut to immigration at Ho Chi Minh and I’m refused entry, told to please speak to the people at the Visa desk and figure it out. Shit. It’s midnight now and I’m thinking I’m about to either be 1) deported back home to UK, 2) sent to HK/Vietnamese jail or 3) strip searched. Honestly, my anxiety was rocketing and I was deciding which I’d prefer, HK or Vietnam prison.
An official came over and said that I could get an emergency visa and stay in Vietnam, or leave for HK once more. Listen. I had three days planned in Vietnam before KL and I’m cheap as hell, I did not want to fork out £160 for that, in the end I said I would go back to HK, no problem.
“Ok, come with me.”
The next 24 hours I can only describe best as a complete shit show. Sleeping overnight in a room with about ten beds, some boxes and two officials- one of whom told me he had a gun- with only my carry on, no wifi and no food was not my style. I stayed up worrying about what the fuck was going to happen when I got back, would they fine me? Would they search me and arrest me for entering without a visa? And I know, I should have better organised this, but it wasn’t planned in the first place. When I tried to talk to one official, he just shrugged and sort of chuckled uncomfortably at my questions. The other was an actual godsend though and I added her on Facebook when I left, she was asking me about some clothes she was looking to buy and that we should get our nails done if I came back. Katherine, you are the real MVP.
At 3pm I finally was ‘released’, as it were, and allowed to board the plane. However, seeing as they had confiscated my passport, at every point I was made the stay behind or be the last. And I want to once again reiterate that I know this was my fault, but the service of this airline was so incredibly poor and once I was told that they shouldn’t have let me board at HK anyway, I was mad. The straw though, my friends, the straw that broke the camels back was that I had specifically ordered an inflight meal knowing that it would be evening by the time we touched down. Did I get it? Did I fuck. I had to pay out for a sticky rice ball and a singular slice of chinese cabbage that may have been picked in the previous month but I can’t be too sure. I was now irate.
I land to a familiar sight, HK airport, by now I could direct passengers to the nearest exit, toilet and ATM machine. The last one to depart, I ask about my passport.
“Don’t worry, I will board this bus with you and meet you at immigration with you passport,” I was told with a smile.
Let me set the scene of HK immigration, think about .5KM of desks, long queues and a small corner for official use. So, where did I find this man? Nowhere. Now I was without my luggage, in the same clothes as the day previous and starving. And also without a passport. I felt nothing short of stranded and as I sat on the chairs beside several other passengers, I cried out of pure frustration. If I could name the most awkward moments of my life, that would be a good runner up, especially when all I could think about was the ‘losing face’ culture in Asia.
After a few hours of not being spoken to, googling solutions and finally calling home to tell them I was in a pickle, I decided to call the embassy. It was the only thing left I could think of. I explained my situation, or as much as I could through panicking, and he asked me to hand my phone over to the officials. After several minutes he hands the phone back to me and has the most enraged look on his face, “this is completely inappropriate, this is not an immigration issue and it’s totally unnecessary to call the embassy”, he says before walking away. His words have been forever ingrained as I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. And I understand now, looking back, that it may have been unnecessary. However I’m a lone traveller and I made a fuck up far from home granted, but being stranded with no answers and no passport or belongings, it was the worst feeling I’ve ever felt.
After another hour of sitting, aligning my chakras, deciding I was gonna spend the night here so many as well get a coffee, an angel in the form of a Quantas airline worker came to me saying they had found my passport in an office.
I told him there’s a space in heaven for him as he handed it over. You know those ugly ass passport photos? Well, I’ve never been so happy to see mine.
I booked it out of there, daring not to raise my arms on the train to Central in fear of wiping out five generations and chewing three pieces of gum at once. Finally arriving at my hotel, I went straight back to McDonalds and treated myself to a large big mac.
Emergency visa into Vietnam: £160
Cancelled hotels, new hotels, flights, transport and McDonalds: £more than I care to add up
(PS. Fuck you Vietjet, worst airline I will never fly again!)