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On the list of dumb things to do while travelling, losing your passport has to rank pretty close to the top of the list.  Depending on where you are in the world the cost and hassle of replacing it can easily run into several hundred dollars and days or even weeks of ruined travel time.  Knowing this, I have always taken particular care to know where my passport is at all times and as a result, have never really come close to being permanently separated from my little blue travel companion.  Never, that is, until yesterday.

To be fair, I probably wasn’t at my best at 6.15am when the ironically named ‘sleeper’ bus rolled into Nha Trang.  Ten hours of bumpy roads, chattering passengers, bad music and the lights being turned on every couple of hours for no apparent reason had resulted in me getting perhaps a little less than a full night’s sleep.  Following my usual routine, I grabbed my wallet and passport out of the bag that had been uncomfortably nestled between my knees all night, jumped down from the top bunk and retrieved my pack from underneath the bus.

Striding confidently (albeit in the wrong direction) towards my intended hotel, I was looking forward to a shower and a chilled out morning getting sunburnt on the beach.  Once I finally found the place and climbed up the six flights of stairs to my room – always a pleasure with 10kg on your back in 30 degree heat, I find – it wasn’t until the receptionist asked for my passport that I realised that something was wrong.  Very wrong.

After a bad impression of a Maori haka as I checked and rechecked every pocket, and then tipped out the contents of my day pack, I realised that somehow my passport and I were no longer as one.  I still don’t know exactly what happened – perhaps it fell out of my pocket as I jumped down from the bed, or something.  The details didn’t really matter though – what did matter was trying to get it back, and fast.

I sprinted back to the place where the bus had dropped me off, but my passport was nowhere to be found.  A small crowd started to gather as I asked various bystanders if they had seen where it had gone, but nobody seemed to know.  The people in the tour company/cafe nearby weren’t especially interested in helping, and things were starting to look pretty dire when my knight in shining armour appeared beside me.  Rather than a suit of chainmail and a trusty steed, however, Dan the moto driver was dressed in shirt and jeans and was riding a ubiquitous beaten up Honda scooter.  “Jump on, jump on” he implored.  “I know where your bus will be.”

I briefly considered my other alternatives (none), took the offered ill-fitting helmet and we sped off into the morning sunshine.  Dan’s confidence was sadly misplaced however – not helped by me not having ever been told the name of the bus company that I’d travelled with – and despite multiple stops all around town, my bus was nowhere to be found. It was time for plan B.  I found an unsecured wifi connection (thankfully prevalent throughout Vietnam), looked up the booking office that I had used in Saigon and rang them.  Great idea.  No answer.  I tried several times with the same result.  Hmm.  Time for plan C.  I rang the hotel that I had stayed at which was just down the road from the booking office, and asked the lovely receptionist if she would mind walking down the road and getting the information for me.  It was a long shot, and although she agreed to do it, I suspect that she never actually bothered.

Luckily I eventually did manage to get through to the booking office, and the ever helpful Dan translated what I was after and asked the booking agent to ring the cafe that I was standing in (who actually operated the sleeper bus service, as it transpired) and tell them that despite their protestations one of their buses actually had arrived from Saigon that morning!

The staff had been insistent that no bus had arrived but were very interested to find out where I was staying (Dan suspected that somebody would have miraculously found my passport later that day and returned it to my hotel – in return for a hefty finders fee, of course).  They contacted the driver who went to have a look … and I waited in an even higher state of nervous anticipation.  Dan was eavesdropping on the conversations backwards and forwards and it was looking very bad – “No passport, he can’t find your passport”.  Oh.  Shit.  Visions of returning to Saigon, finding the embassy and forking out a lot of money that I don’t have started to flash through my mind.

And then all of a sudden, Dan jumped up off the step.  “Let’s go, let’s go.  They’ve found it!  Hurry, hurry!!”.  He quickly got directions and then we were off.  I had no idea that a badly serviced 50cc motorbike could go that fast with two people on it.  We flew through the city streets and out of town, splashing through puddles and roaring along dusty lanes before we finally slowed down to start looking for a bus.  You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to spot, and eventually we came across a makeshift garage with a couple of mechanics working on some buses.

Dan leapt from the bike and walked over to the mechanics, where he was pointed at the luggage compartment of one of the vehicles.  He bent down, picked something up and held it aloft.  My passport.  I’m not a religious man, but I was thanking some kind of higher power at that moment.  I gave Dan a huge hug and he broke into the first smile I’d seen from him that day.

As we returned to town at a much more modest pace, my new best friend turned to me with a serious expression on his face.  “Dave, you are a very lucky man.”  You are not wrong there, my friend, you are not wrong there.  Of all the dumb mistakes I’ve made in my travels over my years, this one nearly took the cake.  If it wasn’t for his help, there would have been absolutely no way that I would have got my passport back myself – or certainly not without paying a lot more than the $35 I ended up giving him for his assistance.

Without speaking the language and with minimal information to go on, I would have been left totally high and dry.  All’s well that ends well, I guess, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson from this little escapade.  Make sure you know exactly who are travelling with when booking a bus in Vietnam in case something does go wrong, and quadruple check that you have taken everything of value before you get off it.  If I’d followed that advice in the first place, I’d have a much less interesting story to tell – but a much lower stress level to go with it.

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