French Polynesia Travel

Vietnam to Tahiti: A Drug-Fueled Travel Nightmare

And you may ask yourself, How did I get here?

I never wanted to go to Tahiti. If you had asked me a year ago it would have been at the bottom of my list of destinations. After living in Hawaii for almost 5 years the last thing I needed was a nearly identical island vacation.

“bUt yOu LiVe iN pArAdisE!?” Yes, I get it, from the outside it’s unfathomable that I would want to leave paradise. It’s literally perfect aside from the rampant corruption, insane cost of living, lack of career opportunities, and lack of nightlife.

One of my friends on Oahu had already booked a trip to Mo’orea, Tahiti and invited me to join along. I was standing in Safeway when she called me, I wanted to say no almost immediately but thankfully I heard her out.

Once she explained that the entire goal of the trip was to swim with humpback whales, I was in. She told me how much I owed her and I paid for most of the vacation immediately.

My logic was: I’m traveling through Asia already, this will give me a chance to see more than just one region of the world. It can’t be that difficult to get there.

I’ve Made a Huge Mistake

Turns out it’s extremely difficult, especially when you’re nowhere near the fucking place and there’s 0 demand for people traveling from Saigon to Tahiti. As I browsed flights and browsed some more, it started to sink in just how stupid I was for assuming this would be easy.

If I hadn’t already paid for the trip I would have backed out (props to my friend for knowing this and locking me in early). I scoured every corner of the internet trying to find the best deal. After 2 weeks of shaking my head and cursing softly at my laptop screen, I finally had a solution.

My final route was:

  1. Saigon, Vietnam
  2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (3 hour flight, 4.5 hour layover)
  3. Syndey, Australia (8.5 hour flight, 1.5 hour layover)
  4. Auckland, New Zealand (3.1 hour flight, 1.5 hour layover originally, flight delayed to 3.5 hour layover)
  5. Papeete, Tahiti (5 hour flight)

Flight Time: 19.6 hours

Layover Time (including delays): 9.5 hours

Total time spent hating life: 29.1 hours

The only saving grace of this nightmare was the one-way ticket ended up costing me less than $500. I booked my tickets with a smug smile on my face, thinking I had bested the airlines and found a glitch in the system. I would pay dearly for my hubris.

In addition to the entire day lasting 30 hours, if my first flight was late even a little bit I was fucked. No refund, no travel insurance, stuck in Sydney without a place to stay. It would’ve cost me A LOT of money in missed flights, hotels, etc. Money that I couldn’t afford to piss away.

I was so caught up in the money/late flight anxieties that I didn’t take into account the fact that I’m a human being. And human beings aren’t meant to take 5 flights in one day and travel for 29+ hours.

Fear and Loathing in Saigon, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Auckland, and Tahiti

Starting the trip from Vietnam to Tahiti.

Before the Nightmare, when I still had hope

Once I got to Asia the 30-year nightmare to Tahiti became a distant worry. It was only when I finally got to Saigon did reality set in. I actually have to go through with this plan, and this plan fucking sucks.

In my arrogance, I thought I could tough it out. But when faced with reality I realized I needed performance enhancers (dehancers?) to put me in a coma for most of if not all of this horrible experience.

While I was in Da Lat waiting for my flight to Ho Chi Minh, I found a local pharmacist and tried to explain best I could what I was about to go through.

Thankfully, she saw the desperation in my eyes. “LONG FLIGHT, ANXIETY, VALIUM, HELP” I said as if being louder meant she’d be able to understand me. She squinted her eyes and somewhat nodded then handed me a pill bottle and said “Google, you Google!” I looked up the medication and it was some off-brand, Vietnamese Xanax-like pills that “reduce anxiety and promote sleep.” Perfect. I asked for 10 of them. She looked taken aback and yelled, “5, no 10.”

I wanted to argue, “lady you have no idea what I’m about to go through.” but it wouldn’t have mattered. It was pure luck that she gave them to me in the first place. Please God let these be strong enough to get me through.

I had 5 weird pills and some leftover sleeping pills from Hanoi. It wasn’t perfect but it would have to do.

Leaving Saigon

At the Saigon airport looking sexy

I had to take a passport photo for Australia. This is that photo.

Fast forward to the morning. I go to Ho Chi Minh 3 hours early because I was nervous and I’m the first and only person in line to check-in at the Air Asia counter.

I hand the ticketing agent my passport. “You need an Australian Visa to fly there”. Whoops. I’m immediately flustered and stammer out “h–how do I do it?”

Luckily, Australia makes it easy for Americans to get in. The visa process took me about 15 minutes but sent my anxiety into panic attack territory. Time to pop pill 1 of 5 to calm down.

I then stress eat about $20 worth of McDonald’s and get some work done to keep my mind occupied. About an hour later the first pill kicks in. This definitely doesn’t feel like Xanax or anything else I’ve ever taken, but I’m really relaxed. My head is in a comfortable, sluggish haze.

I pop a sleeping pill for good measure and set off.

Kuala Lumpur


The sleeping pill was premature, why did I do that? The anxiety medication was more than enough. Now I’m stuck in this 3-hour layover nodding off in public like a heroin addict.

I look for coffee and find the largest, most comfortable Starbucks I’ve ever seen. It takes up most of the terminal and has enough weirdly shaped chairs and couches to stock an IKEA.

I chug a Venti cold brew so I don’t miss my flight. Well, that and I need to work and make money. The weird coffee/off-brand Vietnamese medicine combination puts me in a state of zen and I get a shocking amount of writing done.

As I walk towards my gate about 45 minutes before my flight, I’m captivated by a cookie/candy store. It may be the drugs talking but this place looked like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

It had been a while since I’d taken benzos (they’ll ruin your life stay away from them) so I forgot about one important side effect: extreme hunger. I bought 1 lb. of peanut M&Ms and 5 chocolate chip cookies. The cookies didn’t survive the walk to the gate.

While waiting to take off, I ate these M&Ms with such pleasure and gluttony that I cringe thinking about it. My eyes were 99% closed as I ate them one by one, savoring each bite, softly moaning and writhing in my airplane seat. It would have been less awkward for the people next to me if I were masturbating.

And then I passed out.


Sydney Opera House

Aw crikey Shelia a boomerang hit me bloomin’ onion– Australia

I awaken, as I have many times, drooling and covered with peanut M&Ms. The plane is landing. I fumble around in the dark, looking for…something, I’m not really sure what. It feels like I need to do something but my brain is too tranquilized to remember. I anxiously move around in my chair and clean the drool off my face.

I remember as I’m walking off the plane that the “something” was picking up the avalanche of M&Ms I had left all over the plane.

I start to disembark the plane when when flight attendant behind me says something I can’t quite make out. I definitely heard “lot of M&Ms can you please pick th…” I was in a trance so I just kept moving. Only afterward did I realize what an asshole I was. A pound of M&Ms is A LOT to clean up. Plus I spilled them before the flight landed so those sumbitches rolled all over the plane.

I wander around the Sydney airport for an hour or so and start to regain some brain function. Time to take another pill and nip those thoughts right in the bud, I don’t want to remember any of this journey. The 2nd pill starts to kick in right as the flight is boarding.

I collapse in my seat like a coat being thrown on a chair, put on my favorite sleeping noise (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast if you’re curious) and pass out for the 3-hour flight.

New Zealand

I don’t remember this

The wheels have fallen off.

I’m jostled awake as the plane wheels bounce off the ground. Jesus, we’re already here? That felt like 15 seconds. As we taxi to the gate I try to get up and find that my legs don’t work like they used to. I had to jump around a few times because they felt like big rubbery noodles. My face and demeanor are similar to Hunter S. Thompson on ether.

The drugs had taken hold. I’m lucid but not really there. Parts of my brain have shut down completely. If my mind was an airplane cockpit all of the lights would be flashing and a piercing alarm would be screeching non-stop.

The Auckland airport is shockingly nice. It even has a smoking area that I took full advantage of. I enjoyed a much-needed cigarette without considering that I was hungry, delirious, and full of strange pills. About halfway through I felt like I was gonna pass out or throw up or both.

I put it out and took a photo of the sunset with this plane design in front of it. At the time, I thought I was Ansel fucking Adams and wanted to submit it to National Geographic.

It’s not good

I eat some above-average Mexican food (for New Zealand) which brings me back from the brink of death. My brain is still mostly on autopilot but at least I’m not nauseous. One more flight to go.

Annnnnnnnd it’s delayed. Honestly, I’m not that annoyed. It may be the drugs or delirium but at this point, I don’t care. I’m going to sit down and be in a coma anyway so what’s a few more minutes?

I’m doing everything in my power at the gate not to fall asleep or go insane. I hate podcasts, I hate music, I don’t want to watch Netflix, life is confusing pain, I regret all of the decisions that have led up to this point. If I die on this flight it would be somewhat of a relief.

My anger and frustration start to outweigh the medicine so I pop one final pill to get me through this flight.

The last thing I remember is buckling my seatbelt.


Please Kill Me

“Sir. SIR! SIR! THE PLANE HAS LANDED. THE PLANE HAS LANDED SIR, YOU NEED TO GET OFF.” I stare at this large, angry face for a minute, confused as to who it is or why it’s yelling at me. My brain is trying it’s hardest to answer these questions but is too tired and drugged up to be of any use. I finally realize that I’m on a plane that’s landed…somewhere and I need to get off.

“Ohhkerr geterrrfff plan” I slur. I stumble and bounce around the seats trying to regain my balance and find my bags. The flight attendant is visibly annoyed. So much so that I have to stifle some laughs.

I don’t think I’ve ever been or will ever be more confused in my life. It’s what I imagine dementia must feel like. This was my brain:

The hula dancers and Samoan artwork all over the walls had me convinced I was back in Hawaii for a few minutes. Until I saw a giant wall that said TAHITI. Oh yeah, that’s what I’m doing.

I’m legally retarded at this moment so remembering where I am is a huge victory. My excitement disappears when I realize that I was the last one off the plane and now at the back of the customs line. And they’re just as slow as Hawaii. And there’s only one person working because it’s 3:30 AM.

“Maybe I’m trapped in purgatory and this trip never ends,” I think to myself. “I died on the second flight and this neverending trip is my punishment.”

When I finally get out of the airport it’s 4:15 AM local time. The cab pickup area is a ghost town. Me and the rest of the passengers from the plane all look around at each other and kind of shrug. “Somebody will probably show up,” we all say to each other. “They can’t just leave us stranded.”

Everybody keeps asking me where I’m staying and if they have Uber here and what our options are even though I JUST LANDED ON THE SAME FUCKING PLANE they were on so how would I know? One good thing about being that fucked up is people tend to leave you alone.

Everybody who talked to me for more than a minute did not try talking to me again. I would love to see footage of how I was acting and speaking, it was probably really bad. It felt bad.

An Econoline van pulls up going 60 MPH and yells at us “You need a ride?” No, we’re gathering here for our monthly book club you asshole, yes we need a ride. Our entire plane piles in and gives the driver our various destinations. I’m the closest hostel so I’m first. A silver lining in an otherwise awful, confusing mess of a day.

I pass out again in the van and get woken up by a stranger for the second time in 2 hours. This time, though, I’m at the hostel. And the owner stayed up to let me in. I’m on a hot streak right now.

I don’t even remember going to my room but when I tell you that I passed out I mean I passed out. It wasn’t good sleep, it was like somebody knocked me unconscious. I didn’t move or wake up again for 16 hours. And I would’ve slept longer but I was about to piss the bed.

Mo'orea, Tahiti
Photo off the coast of Mo’orea, Tahiti

This was right outside and I didn’t care

I take a 3-minute piss and when I come out of the bathroom, I feel almost more fucked up than I did yesterday. I’m greeted by what appears to be 2 French families who are smoking cigarettes and eating baguettes. It was like walking in on a stereotype.

We all stare at each other for a few seconds. One of them asks what sounds like a question, “J’est pas un ici parlais vous?” Or something to that effect. I maintain eye contact as I silently grab a baguette and walk back to my room.

I can hear them laughing as I close the door. After changing my clothes I eat half the bread then go back to sleep spooning the other half.

Never Again

Swimming with black tip reef sharks off the coast of Mo'orea.

Was the trip worth it? Absolutely. Swimming with whales, dolphins, manta rays, and sharks was a top 3 life experience that I will always remember.

Would I do it again? I’ll die first. I’m done with sketchy Vietnamese pills and will never be cheap when it comes to flying that far. A lot of the nightmare was of my own doing but I shudder at the thought of attempting that trip sober.

Still, taking a lot of sketchy ass anti-anxiety pills and mixing them with sleeping pills was a recipe for disaster. I survived but the exhaustion, flying, and drugs could’ve easily killed me.

Before you book that budget flight, take a minute and think, really think about your itinerary. That 15-hour layover and 3 connecting flights may seem tolerable now, but trust me when I say it’s not. Be realistic and when you do fly, stay off the unregulated prescription pills.

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