December 31, 2016 2 Comments
It has been an exceptional hectic year, I was working till the final hour before Christmas Eve. Felicia and Elkan flew back last week and I had no plan for Christmas holidays. Originally, I wanted to surprise the Wahbiang clan in Malacca but the dates were too tight for me. Since I was overwhelmed with work and had no time to check with the tour agency, I asked Tracy to book us a short weekend trip to ZhangJiaJie City (张家界) at Hunan. I always wanted to visit this scenic place where the movie Avatar was filmed. It will be a fantastic location to hike and fly my new drones.
Knowing Tracy, she is always unpredictable and full of surprises. Of course, I didn’t share with her my full intention of a “droning tour”. She totally disregarded my initial instruction to book a pair of train tickets to Hunan, she got us two air tickets to Ho Chi Minh City instead! When I found out, it was too late to make any changes. I had been to Ho Chi Minh so many times and it wasn’t my ideal destination for a short break. Worse, this city is notorious with confusing regulations for drone pilots like myself. I feared another Yangon deja vu. Will my drone be confiscated at the custom?
With less than 18 hours to flight time, I decided to take a risk. Instead of bringing the new DJI Phantom 4P+, I packed the smaller DJI Mavic Pro (without the propellers to avoid custom hassle) into my large suitcase. With my past experience in Yangon, it was much safer to check in than to hand-carry the drone. I was stopped previously in Yangon because of the odd-looking drone backpack. It is always wise to blend in with the crowd.
It was a nerve-wreaking 2-hour flight from Hong Kong to Vietnam. I was mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario. Reading other travelers’ experiences on the internet didn’t help a bit. Vietnam is still a communist country and drone is a highly controlled item. Losing a drone is nothing new for me. I have lost an Inspire 1 on my birthday 2 years ago. I was prepared to give away a free Mavic Pro to the custom on Christmas Day.
Moment of truth! My decision to bring a smaller drone was wise! The custom officer at Ho Chi Minh airport didn’t stop me at the X-ray checkpoint. The large suitcase went through the X-ray machine without activating any alerts. It worked! What a great relief and joy! Truly merry Christmas! (On my way out, I was stopped and questioned about the large sized Mavic Pro batteries. I told them those were camera batteries. As I put the batteries in Li-po safe bags, the strict custom officers at Ho Chi Minh allowed me to bring them on board)
We parked ourselves at a very small boutique hotel (Fusion Suites) with very zen-and woody decorated interior. I love the hotel settings and its warm friendly staffs. The best thing about this hotel was their daily complimentary breakfast and oil-massage for all hotel guests. I tried the 60-min oil-massage and it was terrific!
Ho Chi Minh City changed quite a bit since my last visit in 2013. There are many more malls (Saigon Center, Takashimaya) sprouting across different districts. There are a lot of new condos and offices constructions. It is no longer the sleepy city of yesterday. It seems like a city in transformation.
I visited my buddy, Kevin (a Singaporean friend I met in HCM back in 2007). Strange but true, we have never met each other in Singapore. All our last meetings were in Hong Kong and Vietnam. I visited his beautiful new office and he bought us delicious local delicacies for lunch.
Tracy and I spent the next 3 days shopping, eating and exploring different districts. It was planned to be a “recharging and relaxing” retreat for my super-exhausted mind and body. We didn’t pack this trip with any crazy itinerary. It was just a simple, quiet and lazy holiday. We did the usual touristy stuffs and explored the city mainly on foot. There are so many new and beautiful retail shops and cafes around.
Ben Thanh Market was a huge disappointment, the vendors were greedy and aggressive. They offered the same things I saw 3-10 years ago, nothing new and more expensive. It was becoming a tourist trap for first time visitors. With more competitions, Ben Thanh should reinvent itself, if not be replaced and lose its glory over time.
This city is best to be explored on foot than from the air. I didn’t spend a lot of time flying the drone. There isn’t much landmark or natural scenery to capture. No doubt, Vietnam has many beautiful scenic places for drone-pilots, HCM isn’t the right spot. The city was way too congested and I didn’t feel safe flying. In fact, I had a difficult time trying to find a quiet and safe spot to launch the drone. The narrow streets and walkways were packed with scooters and people. There were too many hanging electrical cables, roof-top satellites and lamp-posts obstructing the drone. After 2 days of serious considerations, I decided to climb up the hotel’s rooftop for a short drone flight.
The drone flight took less than 3 minutes in total. There were strong signal interference everywhere. Ascending to the rooftop was much more exciting and fun than flying the drone. Tracy and I were trying to figure our way up to the top without being caught by the hotel’s security cameras or staffs. Just a little thrill and fun to spice up the quiet day.
Fully recharged and geared to face another uncertain new year. For sure, I be back to Vietnam very soon for my next drone flight. Stay tuned.