Since I was a child, I have fantasized of becoming a world traveler and since I’m young and incapable, I have often resorted to books.
Books helped me go to places I have never imagined existed. Books fed my desire to wander in great cities, romantic getaways, historical sites, and it has also introduced me to great heroines I myself wanted to be. Twenty- five years after, my hunger for travel has become even greater and that’s when I decided to step foot on my first ever adventure.
January 21, 2014, I was Ho Chi Minh city bound. As much as I was excited for the trip, I was also anxious and restless as I lined up towards Philippine Immigration. Tales have been told, and I was bound to believe that immigration officers are sharp- fanged monsters. True enough, since I was a first- timer I was endorsed to the Level 2 officer and there I was, helpless and waiting to be devoured. I was certain that before I left home my documents were intact and complete. I have with me the Letter of Invitation, Visa and Working Permit copies of my inviting aunt and all the other pertinent documents I was instructed to bring.
I did not have any idea though, that the officers were so stringent that aside from my Certificate of Employment, I had to bring a copy of my Leave Authority Form from the office and should also have with me hotel accommodation receipts (of course it is impossible for me to have a hotel reservation since I am staying at my aunt’s friend’s house). I was so frustrated when the officer told me that she needed a copy of my aunt’s passport stamped by the Ho Chi Minh immigration. How the heck would that be possible when my aunt wasn’t even there yet because her plane tickets from Nanjing to Ho Chi Minh city got suspended due to credit card issues, and I was like “Oh No, I’m a dead girl now” to myself.
The officer advised me to get back to her once I have accomplished everything. I was worried sick thinking that all those tickets, travel tax, and terminal fees might just go to waste. My thoughts were organized during that time, thank God, and I was able to think things through until I have come up to a plan. I messaged my office mates through FB Messenger and asked them to look for my leave form in the file and take a picture of it and send it to me after.
(Travel Tip #1: Make sure you have data connection on your mobile phone, do not rely to the Airport’s WiFi).
Thank God for loyal friends, after 15 minutes they were able to retrieve my records and immediately sent the photo to me. I then went to Cebu Pacific Airlines’ check- in counter to ask favor for the print- outs.
(Travel Tip #2: Never hesitate to ask for help from anybody when travelling, saves you time wondering the why’s and how’s of things and gives you an idea on what to do when you’re put through the same situation the next time).
Though my aunt wasn’t in Ho Chi Minh city yet, I have kept a copy of her suspended Cathay Pacific plane itinerary and presented it in place of her stamped passport. I again headed to the girl officer, and after telling me to be sure to be back on my return date, I was allowed to go.
12:20 AM I arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. My aunt’s friend will pick me up at seven in the morning which means I’d have to stay there for about seven more hours. After my arrival, I had no choice but to climb back up to the third floor where the array of coffee shops are located and luckily found a spot amongst tables and chairs for me to squeeze in, also beside Western and Asian backpackers.
(Travel Tip #3: Do as the locals do, or even some of the foreigners too. Just make sure to pay respect first).
I waited there until the sun was out and hurried down the arrival area to wait for my savior. After a day my aunt was able to fix her plane tickets and made it to Vietnam, and I volunteered to pick her up from the airport. Though Vietnam is a non- English speaking country, I managed my way to the airport with just hand signals and sketches. I stayed there for five days and still could not forget how delicious Vietnamese cuisine is up until now.
This trip wasn’t planned thoroughly as every trip should be, it’s without enough preparation and sufficient savings. I was not able to save up for it due to financial constraints, and the moment I booked the ticket I did not anymore think about where to get my funds for the pocket money.
(Travel Tip #4: You won’t always be lucky, so make sure to save up for the trip months before your departure even if think you have funds coming in on certain days before the trip).
I was supposed to travel with a friend which made it more exciting for me. I thought arriving two and a half hours before the scheduled flight would be enough to cover everything; from travel taxes to check- ins to immigration, but heck we were late. By 7:30 sharp we were still lining up to the immigration booth. I made it through, given it was already my second time and the officers didn’t give me a hard time on the interview. I was in front of the officer for barely a minute and I was immediately allowed to pass through. Unfortunately, my friend failed the interview, and what’s worse is that I left all my US dollars to her thinking that the immigration might ask for a pocket money and since she’s a first timer it would better if she has plenty of cash with her.
I waited for her but soon had to leave because it’s already past the time of my flight. I ran from the immigration to Gate 103, which is by the way the third farthest gate for international flights. I rushed to the airline crew and informed them that I have arrived and that the friend of mine was still in the immigration. The crew asked me if I would still go without my friend, and of course I said yes. I was the last passenger to enter the plane and after they have closed the doors, it immediately took off.
I endlessly dialed the phone number of my friend and after a while she replied that she was indeed off loaded. I was so bothered not just because I didn’t have any dollars with me but also because I felt so guilty leaving my friend behind, but of course, I had no choice but to go alone. I was able to contact my mom and my sister and told them to ask my friend to send the money the next day, or else I won’t have anything to spend.
Though I have 2, 500Php with me, I was worried on where to spend the night thinking that in Cambodia they might not have a Peso to Dollar exchange scheme there. After praying, I found the courage to ask the person beside me, and he was kind enough to tell me that he would try to ask his wife later if she has dollars with her and told me not to worry because there are a lot of Filipinos in Siem Reap, and they would help me for sure. So I tagged along and the family asked me to just get in their car and we’ll figure out what I should do later. I guess I was so blessed that the couple’s friend, a Filipino Pastor offered me to just stay in their house for the night. We arrived safely at the Pastor’s house and his wife welcomed me with open arms.
I was able to get through my first night with the help of my good Samaritans. My friend sent the money the next day and I then booked a ticket to Phonm Penh to meet my aunt there. It was an eight-hour bus ride, and after spending the entire day exploring the historical Phonm Penh we went to Bokor Highland Resort the next day where we saw old churches, temples, and breath-taking views.
My Aunt then took me to Sihanoukville the following day. I enjoyed the serenity and the laid back atmosphere of the town. I also had the time of my life spending my afternoons in its white sand beaches free of charge, yes swim all you can for free. After four days I had to leave Cambodia’s paradise to travel to Bangkok, Thailand where a couple of friends working there were already waiting for me.
I again took a bus to the border of Cambodia, had my passport stamped; departure for Cambodia and arrival for Thailand and headed to another vehicle to take me to Bangkok. It was a total of 10 hour-bus ride until finally reaching the beautiful Bangkok. I went crazy over cheap prices of clothes and the delicious treats Thai cuisine had for my always hungry tummy. I spent the first two days roaming around Bangkok and checking out its Royal Palace, night markets, and street foods.
On the third day, my friend took me Pattaya City. There, the night is busier than the day, with all the foreigners coming in and out the local clubs and pubs. We were lucky to have found a hotel whose General Manager is a Filipino and we were given a discount of 500Baht for our room. My fair skin got darker because of too much exposure to sunlight but I just didn’t care. I still had the most wonderful time diving into the waters of Pattaya beach.
My friends didn’t make me spend even a cent, even I offered to pay for the cab, or buy a meal, they would always to me that I’m the visitor and should not pay for anything as long as I am with them.
(Travel Tip #5: If you are traveling on your own it’s better to contact as many friends as possible, they will help you big time not because they’re your friends but also because it’s part of the Filipino culture ,just make sure you to treat them back when it’s their turn to visit you).
I went back to Siem Reap after four days in Bangkok to get ready for my flight back home. I had to ride a bus again for a total of eight hours, and though it was hard traveling through the borders because of the hassles and bustles of the steps to take for the immigration, combined with the seemingly unaccommodating nature of some of the locals both Thai and Khmer, I survived. Being in two countries, and five cities for eleven days it was such a pain with only 210 US dollars in my pocket. But with courage, faith and help from friends, and angels in disguise I made it through. My trip was never smooth sailing just like the trip I had before, but it was full of learning experience I would never ever forget as long as I live!
I am again planning for another trip, and I am praying for Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar next year.
About the Writer:
I am Leri Salve L. Lapore, but my friends and the people close to me call me “HOPE”. I am from the City of Smiles, the flattering Bacolod City, Philippines. True to my nickname, I have always been hopeful when it comes to travelling. I turned 26 last December and I have been employed as a Human Resource Employee Relations Officer at a US- based Telecommunication Company for three years now. I have only been to three countries abroad and still planning for more in the future. I also love exploring the Philippines and had been to different provinces and cities in the country with the love of my life for six years.
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