It’s not every day that a guy like me gets the invitation of a lifetime… Back in the latter months of 2017, I received an invitation to visit the Seagull Models Factory in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Duyen Luu, the CEO of Seagull, personally invited me to visit the factory and be a part of Seagull Models’ 20th anniversary celebration. For those of you that don’t know, I have been working with Duyen and her design team behind the scenes. I have been getting them scale documentation for several of their latest projects, helping them come up with ideas for new projects, and of course, promoting their products through RCUniverse and Facebook. But, I never expected to get the opportunity to visit them in person – such an experience comes along not very often! While a lot of my trip was RC based, involving an excellent tour of the factory, being involved in the 20th anniversary celebration, and even flying with a local RC club, there was more to the trip as well. Now, some of the things I had to do to get ready for the trip were done months ahead of time – I had to get a passport, Vietnam travel Visa, and several vaccinations. I’m going to try to cover all of the trip and give you a taste of the whole experience!
Day One and Two – Traveling to Vietnam
This was a little odd for me – Not that I haven’t gotten on a commercial airliner to go somewhere before, but this was traveling on a whole different level. Three planes to get to my destination, changing the date, and going somewhere that English was not the native language were all firsts for me! My first flight of the day was to depart from the airport at 06:18 hrs, so I decided to stay with my good friend Scott Anderson, who lived close to the airport. Monday afternoon, I said my goodbyes to my wife and kids, gave them plenty of hugs, and started my journey with a two hour drive to my friend’s place. Shortly after I arrived, we parked my van in a secure location, had a good ol’ fashioned BBQ dinner at a local diner, and got some sleep. 03:00 hrs came much too early, but I was up and eagerly awaiting my adventure! Scott dropped me off at the airport at 04:00 hrs, I checked my large suitcase, and made my way through security. Once cleared from security, I made my way to the gate. Right by the gate was a gourmet doughnut and coffee shop, so my breakfast consisted of a doughnut with maple frosting and a slice of bacon on top, and a really good cup of coffee.
As daylight broke, it was clear that it would be a rainy day in Minnesota. I really didn’t mind too much, as I was headed to San Francisco for my first layover! A Boeing 737-900 would be my first airliner of the day, and I had a whole row of three seats to myself! The plane took off on schedule, just before 06:20, and I was on my way to California.
Since I had access to the window, I took a few photos on the first flight – thankfully, my Google Pixel 2 XL has a great camera!
Here’s a couple of photos from the terminal in San Francisco – it was a beautiful day! My layover was long enough that I was able to have a nice walk and a decent (but expensive) sandwich and drink before boarding the Boeing 777-300 for Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan. Unfortunately, we ran into an issue with the plane just before takeoff – apparently something didn’t sound quite right to the pilot, so maintenance was called in to investigate. After waiting for 45 minutes, we were finally cleared for takeoff! On this flight, I was sitting in a row of three seats – to my right was a small woman, probably 20 years my senior, and to my left was a bulky body builder who took up the whole armrest. Though the seats were a bit narrow for me, as I’m ‘festively plump’, we were seated on an emergency exit row and had ample leg room! The takeoff was uneventful, and I settled in for a very long flight. I tried to sleep for part of the flight, but was unable, so I caught up on a bunch of movies that I’ve been wanting to see. United has a really nice video system built into each of their seats, which made the trip feel a little shorter. About 12 hours after boarding the plane, the captain announced on the PA that there were some very gusty wind conditions at the Narita Airport, and that we were put into a holding pattern while several planes arriving before us attempted to land. We circled the airport for approximately 45 minutes before we were cleared to attempt a landing – this was, by far, the most uncomfortable landing I’ve ever experienced. Thankfully, our skilled pilot was able to get the plane on the ground and keep it there safely! Because of the delay in taking off and in arriving, there was no time for any photos at the airport. I had to hurriedly walk from my arrival gate to the boarding gate (30 gates away) – as I approached the boarding gate, I got in line to get on the plane. I just made it! Of course, once I was on the plane, the pilot of our Boeing 767-300 announced that we would be delayed in taking off, again due to the gusty winds. There were 21 outbound airliners in front of us ready for departure, so it was going to be a while… Thankfully, this flight was not at 100% capacity, so I was able to have a pair of seats to myself!
I did manage to get a few photos from the window of the plane – not exactly the best photos of Japan, but they’re still pretty nice!
After sitting on the 767-300 for 6 plus hours, the pilot announced that we would be arriving at the Saigon airport soon – I can’t think of the last time I had been so exhausted and excited at the same time!
Though they aren’t the greatest quality, I managed to get a couple of in-flight photos after dark. The first was us chasing the sunset, and the second was the first lights of Saigon. It was good to be over land again!
After exiting the plane, I headed to the Visa counter – to visit Vietnam, you need to have a Visa. I filled out the online application months prior to my trip, so it only took about 30 minutes to get through the Visa line and get my passport stamped. Of course, I didn’t have a photo to attach to the Visa application, so I had to pay for a photo to be taken at the airport – what a site I must have been 25 plus hours of travel on very nothing more than a brief nap! With my passport freshly stamped, I was able to get in line to have my passport checked and then I was on to the baggage claim. Unfortunately, the Visa and passport check took so long that my checked bag was no longer on the carousel. A pair of young ladies from my flight were in the same situation as myself, and we eventually discovered the lost and found area – our bags were there waiting for us! Relieved to have all of my bags, I made my way to the airport exit, where I was immediately greeted by Duyen and her son! We loaded my gear into her vehicle, and her brother drove us to my hotel in downtown Saigon.
The Kimdo Royal Hotel Saigon would be my ‘home away from home’ for the next four nights. I made it to my room, took a shower and crawled into bed to get some sleep – the total time since I woke up Tuesday morning was now approaching 30 hours, and I had lost another 12 with the date changing! By the time I made it to my room, it was pushing midnight on Wednesday June 27th, and I don’t think I had EVER been so happy to see a bed in all of my life! The hotel was very nice, and had great views both inside and out. My room had the largest bed I’ve ever seen – it appeared to be larger than any King sized bed in the US! Inside my room, you’d have no idea that I was half-way around the world. All of the amenities were as good as anything we have in the States. In the courtyard there was a garden sitting area with a waterfall and Koi pond. It was a very relaxing environment, despite the heat and humidity. These photos were taken the next morning, as it was well after dark when I arrived.
It’s funny, but I have never really thought about how (and what) the rest of the world eats on a daily basis. Though I didn’t take a photo of every meal, I did catch some of them – take a look at some of the things that I found to be delicious!
We didn’t have time for sight seeing, so to speak, so as we traveled around, I took whatever photos I could. Some are great, some are not, but they were all a great addition to my journey to another country!