Locked Up Abroad?

Have you ever watched “Locked Up Abroad” on Nat Geo channel? Think of Midnight Express only world-wide. The show focuses on those that are stupid enough to try to smuggle drugs out of various countries in various ways. Invariably they are caught and have that “Oh, my God” moment when they are stopped at customs. From there, they are led to a special room to be interrogated and eventually arrested. Why do I bring this up? Read on.

We decided to fly to Hong Kong from Hanoi. Good decision, by the way. The train trip from Saigon to Hanoi was enough train travel to sate me for a few months, at least.

Our hotel arranged a shuttle to the airport bright and early in the morning. It was a pleasant drive since we were heading out of town, so not as much traffic. We passed by a large flower market. Do you know that the flower markets in Vietnam are open all night long and close in the morning?

We were dropped off at the international departures area at Noi Bai Airport. Check-in was easy enough. Our bags were weighed; we were given our boarding passes (JetStar Airlines did not allow web check-in for this particular flight). Did you know that some Asian airlines also weigh your carry-on bag? No more than 7 kg allowed for your carry-ons. Anyhow, we were pointed to a checkpoint on the way to immigration.

Clayton’s boarding pass and passport were scanned; he was passed through to immigration. I expected the same for me because, why not? The uniformed officer scanned my boarding pass and instead of waving me through, gestured me to stop, grabbed his walkie-talkie and started talking. Of course, he spoke not a word of English. Let’s just say he sounded very, very serious. I had no idea what the problem could be. At least my conscience was clear because I definitely wasn’t carrying any contraband. However, this is a communist country and just because I was innocent didn’t mean that things would go smoothly for me. I assumed he was calling for a female guard to escort me somewhere private for a full body cavity search.

I was getting pretty nervous by now. And I was innocent! Imagine how nerve-wracking it would be if you were doing something naughty? Eventually, the guard finished talking over the walkie-talkie and said, “go back counter”. I asked if my husband could come with me; he said yes. We went back to the ticket counter and explained what had happened. No one seemed to understand why I had been sent back. Finally, one of the agents figured out that I should have been sent to the room where luggage was being examined. She walked us over there and I handed over my documents to the man working there. I saw my suitcase had been set aside so assumed that they had seen something inside that concerned them when it was scanned.

I was asked if I had e-cigarettes in my suitcase. I answered, “absolutely not!” (I am not a smoker). I was asked to open my suitcase. I had all of my belongings (other than clothing) organized into ziplock bags which was helpful. I held up each ziplock for them to inspect. They still insisted that I had an e-cigarette in my luggage so sent it through the scanner again. He looked at the x-ray and then brought the suitcase over again for one more go-through. The offending item turned out to be a sonicare toothbrush! That would be one BIG e-cig! My boarding pass was stamped to indicate that my bag had now passed inspection and we were able to continue our journey. Whew! No body cavity search necessary!

The rest of the immigration/customs experience was fine. The flight was fine. We made it to Hong Kong and found our hotel just fine. I feel especially fine since I am not locked in a prison cell in a communist country!



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