— travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams —

travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams


hcm_001My father used to work for Philippine Airlines, and one of the best things about his job was getting to fly on PAL planes for free or at substantial discounts. All PAL employees enjoyed this perk, from managers to janitors to maintenance crew. The downside to this obviously awesome employment benefit was being the airline’s absolute last priority.

“Chance passenger” was a term I was familiar with since childhood; it meant we would only be issued boarding passes if there were still vacant seats after all paying passengers had checked in. We used to show up with hopeful faces at the airport hours before our flight and we would be given boarding passes mere minutes before takeoff. Now that I think about it, my current compulsion for advance booking planes and trains may have taken root during those airport waits — there are few things more heartbreaking to a young kid excited to fly than to be told the plane was full.

(Still…free! For that PAL will always have a special place in my heart.)

Now that my sister and I are grown up and living in different cities, our family doesn’t get to travel together as often as when we were kids. The last time all four of us went on a “chance passenger” trip was a few years ago, to Ho Chi Minh City. And as chance would have it, we weren’t able to get on the flight we wanted, and our proposed weekend jaunt was further shortened by a day.


Nonetheless, we enjoyed our first trip to Vietnam. We stayed at the Hong Han Hotel, a clean, comfortable, unassuming place in the heart of the backpacker haven of Bui Vien. (This was before it was discovered by Lonely Planet and awarded by TripAdvisor, so props to Papu, the original obsessive travel researcher.) Breakfast was at the second floor balcony, a good perch for observing local life. Around the hotel were shops selling everything from bags to beach wear to Tintin collectibles, and the legendary Ben Thanh market was only a short walk away.


The food, of course, was fantastic. After a few hours of roaming about, we plonked ourselves down plastic chairs in the market and ordered the best ever noodles. My father, as usual, bought fruits for us to enjoy later at the hotel, and on our way back, we spotted sticky rice in various shades of delicious.

The next day, we went to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, a gorgeous cathedral whose outer walls were made of red bricks from Marseille. We visited several stores around Ben Thanh to stock up on North Face gear, and then we spent the rest of the day walking along the surrounding streets.

It was a very quick trip and to this day I can’t fully say that I’ve been to Ho Chi Minh. However, the opportunity to travel with family is always precious, and I can say we all had a wonderful time, chance passengers or not. Oh, and 1 Philippine peso is equivalent to nearly 500 Vietnamese dong (VND), so this trip was the one time I could say I made my mom a millionaire. Priceless feeling!

Here’s hoping another trip is on the immediate horizon. (Ehem, Papu.)


SGMT recommends:

  • Staying at the Hong Han Hotel
  • Seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Buying North Face bags
  • Leaving enough space on your luggage for new luggage
  • Bringing duct tape for binding those bulky bags to submission
  • Buying banh mi for your flight back home

“Chance Passengers to Ho Chi Minh” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

14 Responses

      1. Awh thank you! I love seeing Viet Nam from the inside through my family’s eyes. Looking forward to following more of your adventures 🙂

  1. Gay, on being a chance passenger. A friend got me staff discount sa Etihad (her sis works there) for my US trip. I was told about this nga I’ll be super duper last priority so there’s a chance I won’t be able to board. But since I was alone and not peak season man sad I though ok ra. Everything went well except on my last leg going home na- Abu Dhabi to Manila. I was stuck in the airport for 15 hours siguro ta haha! Grabe, alone and hungry, makapraning hehe

      1. Depende unsa imong hilig! You can swim with whale sharks in Oslob. You can go island hopping, or you can go to Camotes/Malapascua/Bantayan/Sumilon Island if you like beaches. You can also climb Osmena Peak (in Dalaguete) or Mt. Manunggal (where Magsaysay’s plane crashed). 🙂

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