Monday, 10 October 2016

Not all Hotels are the same - Intercontinental Saigon - the second time around

Detail of the brocade on one of the cushions in the lounge area
Hotel: Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Stay: 3 - 8 January 2016
Room: Club Deluxe upgraded to Suite

Not all hotels are the same. 

This South East Asian outpost of the Intercontinental Hotel Group is a little gem, and that's mainly due to the wonderful staff.

We stayed here one night on our outbound journey to London from Sydney on Vietnam Airlines. Now we were looking forward to a short 5 day urban retreat on our way back from our Northern Hemisphere Christmas trip in Europe.

Payment and Points

For this stay, we had booked a Club Deluxe room at VND5,323,500++ (approx US$240 or AU$315) per night plus taxes of 10% government tax and 5% service tax - so no tipping required.

Our choice of room was deliberate - this was an urban flop-and-drop, so access to the club was important and knowing that we would be upgraded to the next room grade - a suite - clinched the deal.

The stay earned 14,406 pts plus 1,440 elite status points, totalling 15,846 points. We almost doubled our points due to a combined promotion which gave us an additional 14,000 points bonus for staying in January.

The inclusions for this rate were (from the booking confirmation):
  • Private registration for check-in and check-out 
  • Daily breakfast from 6:00 am to 10:30 am at Club InterContinental Lounge or Market 39 
  • Afternoon tea from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Club InterContinental Lounge 
  • Evening drinks from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm with a great selection of canapés, beverages and our special wine of the month at Club InterContinental Lounge 
  • All day refreshments - Free use of internet in your room and at Club InterContinental Lounge - 
  • Free use of the iPad whenever you are at Club InterContinental Lounge 
  • Complimentary pressing of two pieces during your stay 
  • 25% discount on all laundry services 
  • Two hours usage of the Club InterContinental boardroom for up to 8 people during your stay (subject to availability)
As an Ambassador member of IHG hotels, we also received the following.
  • Guaranteed room upgrade
  • Fresh fruit upon arrival
  • In-room water
  • In-room gift
  • Single-room rate for double occupancy
  • Extended checkout—up to 4pm
  • Dedicated Ambassador check-in area
  • Complimentary pay-TV film per stay**
  • Complimentary newspaper, delivered daily
  • Instant checkout
Our upgrade, in this case to a suite was confirmed with us prior to our stay. That's not always the case - see a future report on an Intercontinental in Hong Kong.

Limousine transfers were VND1,407,000 (Approx US$63 or AU$85) each way.


Our hotel experience started with our pick-up at the airport in the hotel car. Wifi, bottled water, cool towels, all very well done, just like in our last visit.

Our flight arrived about 90 minutes early, so we got to the hotel about 7:30am - way before check-in time.

The staff commented on our early arrival, and apologised for our suite not being ready. They enquired about our plans for the morning, and hearing our tired response, immediately arranged for us to access a room through until check-in time when our upgrade to a suite would be ready.

I can't tell you how much such courtesy is appreciated. We had a nap and freshened up. A wonderful option.

Our Suite

We went down to The Library off the main foyer to grab some lunch sometime after midday. While there, a staff member told us that our room was ready, and checked that we were OK to have all our luggage moved.

Our new home for the next 5 days Rm 2014

The hotel staff did their magic, our new keycards were delivered to us over lunch, and when we went up to our new suite, all was in place, down to clothes in the wardrobe (closet), and a couple of items we hadn't packed away left in a similar position in the suite. I must add that to my list of cute things hotels do to make you feel loved.

Our new Suite on the 20th floor.
The entrance foyer - to the right was a bathroom with toilet and basin - and to the left - you can just see it, a door into an additional bedroom - if you needed to make this into a two bedroom suite.
The lounge area was great - at least three places to recline and relax, fresh orchids on the coffee table, a fine view across the city and the other tower holding their serviced apartments.

The TV came with Bose sound system.
Close-up of the desk - where my on-board toiletries had been placed - just where I had left them in the other room. That square plate with the ribbon was our welcome gift as an IHG Ambassador member.
From the lounge, you turned right into the bedroom, faced first by a dressing table.

Bose sound system under the TV to the left, and the bedroom vanity straight ahead.

Both rooms were spacious, both with wood floors and area rugs.

I'm not a big fan of the bed runner down the length of the bed, but I do like the padded bench at the end of the bed.
The bane of the insomniac - TV at the end of the bed.
I liked the plum, light brown and sand tones of the room. The bed was extremely comfortable, and those feather pillows - wonderful. The dressing area and dressing table are a great idea, especially when you are sharing the suite.

View from bedroom into dressing and wardrobe area. I'm not a fan of windows from the bathroom into the bedroom, but at least these were frosted with a distracting pattern.
Detail of the dressing table and Mickaeli's hat. He takes sun protection seriously.

Dressing room, with two double wardrobes, luggage rack, and adequate room for our suitcases

Remember we were not doing minimum luggage. We had to pack 5 layers of thermals for our trip to Norway to see the Northern Lights, so that was two cases each for our checked in luggage, and two carry-ons - six suitcases in all. We had tried to pack wisely, with all our thermals in two cases, and just what we would need for Vietnam in the other case and carry on. Well - we were largely successful. Two cases remained closed the whole time in Vietnam. The space looks a bit tight in this shot, but once two of the cases were out of the way and we had unpacked the other - there was plenty of room.

Bathroom left - glass enclosed shower, toilet and sink.

Bathroom, right - sink, freestanding bath, windows to bedroom, wall TV, and red lacquerware accessories.
The bathroom had everything, including shaving mirror, and scales, although not double sinks, which I really like when staying with my partner. The bath was of a reasonable depth, and they had bath salts (that little globe shaped red lacquerware container). I'm not a fan of the looked-into bathroom, and those sliding doors were not moved.

The bathroom TV - I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, reception and colour reproduction were shot - so it wasn't worth the effort. The bath area had nowhere to place anything - like a glass of wine, or reading material that us bath aficionados like.

Desk - roomy, great chair, light, and altogether a pleasure to work at.
The desk area and lounge were spacious and well set up, making work and lounging about a pleasure.

Lounges were comfortable, and plentiful. Only complaint would be that low back on the central lounge, but hey - there were two others to choose from.
There was a dinky leather box housing the remote controls, including the Bose sound system. Unfortunately it wasn't quite working as we wanted (we couldn't get our apple devices to work with it, and the TV didn't seem to be taking advantage of the Bose superior sound reproduction). We didn't realise this for a day or two. Too many things to do other than watching TV. When we did discover the problem, an engineer was despatched and soon had it working perfectly.

Bose remote control, and TV remote. Look at all those channels - and still nothing to watch!
The suite had everything we needed, and a few little treats that added to the comfort of our stay. Things like fresh flowers, and fresh fruit and mineral water each day.

A vase crammed full of yellow orchids on our lounge coffee table.
Bowl of fruit, and daily sparkling water 

Hotel Facilities

We sampled most of the hotels facilities, including having a breakfast in Market 59 Restaurant, but we loved the Club and had breakfast, afternoon tea and drinks there nearly every day.

The hotel had a great gym, which I somehow managed not to photograph, and a good sized pool and pool lounge area. I seem to only have photos of drinks by the pool, which gives away my focus.

Cold towels, iced water as soon as you made your home by the pool, followed by some cleansing ales.
You entered the pool via the gym. Always greeted and assisted.

The hotel tower is on the right. The serviced apartment tower on the left.

The pool view from my sun lounge at one end. Entrance to the gym is at the far end. The balcony to the left was roped off during our stay.

Staff at the club lounge greeted us like old friends, and I acquired a morning addiction to fresh coconut water.

After ordering this once for breakfast, staff offered it to me every morning, and I developed a situational addiction to fresh coconut water.
A view of the club, from our favourite sideroom.
Another day, another afternoon tea. Mini burgers, cold soup, sandwiches, fruit tarts, scones, opera cakes, chocolates and other fancies.
We were sad to leave the hotel. They again allowed us to stay in the lounge snacking and drinking through out the evening until our departure in the hotel limousine at around 6:30pm, when it was off to the delights of the Vietnam Airlines business lounge - again.

2PAX Wisdom

This was a paid stay at the Intercontinental Asiana, Saigon. We took advantage of all the inclusions provided by Ambassodor membership and elite status, from early checkin and late checkout, to room upgrade and club access. Our stay was one of the most pleasant in a city hotel that I have experienced.

Throughout our stay, staff's attitude was 'how can we make your stay more comfortable'. When we came across a cleaner outside our room, the question was - did we need anything? More towels; more bathroom products; anything? Staff in the club introduced themselves, and greeted us warmly on each return. The manager, or assistant manager made themselves known to us during each stay. All staff made us feel totally at home.

We have stayed at hotels around the world, from 5 star to safari camps. This hotel, unexpectedly, gave us one of the warmest and most memorable stays of our lives. Thanks to all, and especially General Manager James Young, who introduced himself in the Club, and who also knows how to lead an extraordinary team of skilled hotel professionals.

Intercontinental Asiana staff,

More stories from this trip

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

5 Cute things hotels do to make you feel loved

Fortunately no towels were injured during this display of Swan towel art at the Hotel La Union Cienfuegos, Cuba

I am a sucker for things that some hotels do, that just make you feel loved, and fussed over.


Romantic stuff, like petals in a heart shaped on your bed for your anniversary.

At the Hotel De La Paix in Luang Prabang, Laos (now a Sofitel) - for our 21st anniversary.


Placing a bookmark in your book when you have left it upturned on your bedside table, or splayed out on your sun lounge while taking a dip.

Left splayed by the bed - miraculously bookmarked by housekeeping.


Complimentary sunscreen while sun-baking

By the pool at the Imperial Hotel New Delhi, where they supplied complimentary suntan lotion. Unfortunately it's smell was a little too reminiscent of public toilet disenfectant of the sickly sweet kind.


Tidying your computer or phone recharge cords with a velcro cord tidy.

Velcro iPhone cord tidy at the Four Seasons Sayan in Ubud. Housekeeping tidied them every day.


That thing they do in the bathroom, where the staff tidy your bathroom products, and place them in an orderly fashion on a square of toweling.

I don't know what it is, but I just love coming back to the room, and seeing that housekeeping has created order out of chaos for my bathroom accoutrements.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Royal Suite Room Upgrade in 5 pictures

Because our villa pool turned green with envy just like the pool at the Rio Olympics, the management at Four Seasons Sayan offered us a choice of options for alternate accommodation. One was the three bedroomed Royal Suite. Well it would have been rude to say no.

Full review coming in the future - but for now here are three pictures of our new three bedroom  'suite' with its magnificent view down the river.

The entrance - with a roof that has lilly and lotus ponds, a rooftop bale, and a red rice paddy, oh and some stone guardians.
From the first floor looking down at the pool sundeck and dining bale.
View from the dining bale back to the Royal suite - two floors, three bedrooms (excluding staff quarters), two dining rooms, at least two sitting rooms, and more bathrooms and outdoor showers than I could count, that's all I'm, saying
The dining bale. Pity we don't have 10 friends on hand for a quick dinner. However the lounges on the far left have the view you can see below.
If you will excuse the term - this is the 'money shot' for this Royal suite. The view down the river is mesmerising.
Full report of our trip to Bali soon, including reviews of Garuda Economy and Business, and two different suites at the Four Seasons Sayan.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Bali-hi has called me in 3 pictures

Our quickish decision  because of a fantastic Qantas Holidays deal sees us in Bali this week,

Full reports to come, but here is our trip and arrival on three pictures.

Skyteam Lounge with considerably more foliage, but the same orange banquettes.
Made it into the Skyteam lounge due to a status match with Qantas Gold status through Alitalia's frequent flyer program. Probably not actually going to fly with Alitalia, so glad I got this benefit before the card outdates in early 2017.  Also discovered that the Skyteam Lounge at Sydney International is also a Priority Pass lounge. Oh, and they have updated the plantings now, so it actually looks lush.

Garuda A330-300, with 2-4-2 seating plan. We were in the 2 on the left hand side in the forward cabin directly behind business. They have footrests in economy!, They have shared power points, and points to charge your appe products. What's not to like?

I am lucky enough through a combination of good fortune, hard work, money, and good frequent flyer points acquisition to usually fly in something other than economy on medium to long haul international. Not this time. Slightly less than six hours on a daytime flight should be do-able right? Well it is. But as I age, the space restrictions, sheer numbers of people, plus my increasing lack of physical flexabilty, make economy less comfortable.  Still, Garuda and their staff do pretty well.

And - hey, there is a pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow - an upgrade to a villa with a pool at the 4 Seasons at Sayan near Ubud, Bali - for a week.

Upgraded to a Villa with plunge pool, as per booking, but lucked out on King bed. We were offered alternatives, but they either involved a downgrade, no pool, or a room move after 5 nights. We picked the queen beds x 2 option.

OK so we didn't get a King bed, but we did get a pool. Still no complaints.

Look forward to some more detailed reviews over the coming fortnight. We have 7 NIGHTS here!

Monday, 29 August 2016

How nostalgic is it getting a new passport?

My old faithful passport. With me since 2007 and a bit battered, but now officially and deliberately damaged to render it unusable.

Bali Hi!

Mickaeli and I are heading to Bali in September. Like the time you thought it was a good idea to wear shoes without sox and it just became smelly and uncomfortable, this has been a quick, recent decision, with the unforeseen complication of needing a new passport. On the other hand, I don't think the Four Seasons at Sayan will be smelly or uncomfortable.

My old passport would have run out at the beginning of February 2017 - which would have meant (by a whisker) less than 6 months validity on my passport by the time we exited Indonesia.

My travel agent said 'Don't even think about trying to use that old passport', and having no wish to endure any Shapelle Corby type experiences in Indonesian detention, I have taken his advice.

Airlines, not to mention immigration departments are almost universally strict about the 3 or 6 month rule.  And that means that your passport needs to have 3 or 6 month validity for the whole of your stay - up until you exit the country you are travelling to - not even a day less.

Sort of online application

So on 2nd August, being a person of a modern technological persuasion, I filled out my application form online, (surprisingly efficient for a government website - I'm talking about you printed it, and wandered around the corner to our local Post Office sub-branch to lodge it. Conveniently they also do passport photos - you know the ones that make you look guilty of almost any crime you can imagine, or at the very least someone to be avoided on public transport.

After a bit of checking, signing, offical stamping, hair arranging, photography, idle chit-chat and parting with around AU$300, I came away with 4 spare photos, an information sheet on what to do next, a very long receipt with lots of application codes, and the vandalised passport you see above.

Now the rules about how the photograph needs to appear for your passport are very strict. I thought going to an official passport agent for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) that promised  'We'll help ensure your passport application meets Australian Government requirements.' would in fact ensure that my application did meet Australian Government requirements.

Not so.

A week later, I almost missed an email from the lovely Bharathy at DFAT informing me that my photo didn't cut the mustard. I couldn't agree more. All I needed was an accompanying profile shot with an ID sign, and I looked like an inmate of some prison/asylum, or alternatively a phrenology exhibit.

Bharathy was not interested in my cosmetic appearance it turned out when I called her number. There was a printing artefact like a shadow on the print, which meant their highly sophisticated image security system rejected my photo. No biggie. I popped around the corner, and my sub-branch manager re-took my photos, at no extra charge and signed a few more forms. He offered to lodge the form via his courier system - but advised it would be quicker if I personally dropped it off at the central Sydney office. Since its only about 25 minutes away by public transport - I hopped on the train, and hand delivered the revised photos and accompanying paperwork myself. Very efficient - not even a queue to wait in.

The advantage of the online application is that you get a tracking number, so you can log-in and check on progress. Although 100% complete on 17 August - the system advised collection from 19 August onwards.  That Friday was a little fraught with work, so it took me until the following Monday to collect. Again no queue, just a momentary wait while the counter attendant logged in. A women of few words, the sight of my old vandalised passport and receipt was enough to make my new passport mine!

Shiny and new with a new translucent wallet holder! (not shown)

Passport nostalgia

This is only my 3rd passport ever. My first was acquired in 1988. Unfortunately in those days, they didn't render it useless, and return it - they just destroyed it once your new passport was issued - so I can't riffle nostalgically through that first one.

I can riffle nostalgically through my last one - which I will have to do when I make my application for a Russian Visa next year. They need 10 years of your travel history, and my memory just ain't that good without assistance.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Qantas Holidays honours its online Four Seasons Bali pricing mistake deal - possibly at its own cost

This saga started on a whim just over a month ago when my partner Mikaeli came home after a long hard workday on a rainy cold winter evening in Sydney and said 'We have to escape this winter'. This was only a couple of days after a firm but polite conversation about budgets and discretionary spending.

Naturally, my interest was peaked, never being one to resist the opportunity to catch a plane and escape to a nice hotel somewhere warm.

Our original plan was to squander our remaining points (the ones that hadn't already been foolishly spent on a first class trip to Europe next year (a story for another post) on our winter escape. But it looks like the rest of Australia has the same idea, so points fares are hard (not impossible) to come by to the destinations we fancied - Bali, Fiji, Noumea (New Caledonia) and Vanuatu - if they have fixed that runway.

The offer I found

In the shower of travel related email newsletters I get, something caught my eye, and took me to the Qantas holiday site. Deciding it wasn't suitable (code for too expensive) I poked around a little more on the website to see what else was available.

I don't have an original screen grab, and they have withdrawn the offer but this is sort of what we saw - but with a way different price, and for 7 nights with an upgrade to a Villa:

This is a screen grab from 10 August. I saw the screen on 11 July initially - with a very different price.
The price I saw was from $1224 (US$940) per person and was for 7 nights, with an upgrade to a villa.

Out with the calculator, comparison shop on the Four Seasons website, and that works out at AU$350 (twin share) a night - versus AU$799 (US$612) a night on the Four Seasons site for the same Villa (todays price - with lowest price guarantee) - so less than half price if you include the upgrade to a Villa. And that's not even counting the other inclusions of transfers, breakfast, wifi etc etc.

A deal too good to refuse.

I checked some dates for flights eyeing the possibility of some points based fares and then enquired straight away.

Initially, the consultant said - 'Oh - I think we have sold out our allocation. Let me check with the hotel and get back to you'.  I held for a while, and she said, 'Yes they will honour it, what dates would your prefer?'  

Well - we had worked out some possible dates, but actually, I wanted to get some availabilities first so I could look up points fares, and then hopefully juggle the two.  The consultant advised that it wasn't that straight forward - you needed to make a booking and pay a deposit within about 5 days to secure the deal, and the deal was specific to the dates.

So, I agreed. I had a partner to consult as well as points fares to look up, so better get the deal held for sometime before I dick around with the details.

The consultant put in some dummy flight details (so that the transfers could be booked), and promised to send me a booking confirmation any minute.

I got a booking ‘Invoice’  via email a few minutes later for more than twice as much as the price advertised. I rang them back. . .

. . . 'I know that the price was 'from' but I thought that meant it might increase by one or two hundred dollars, not more than twice as much!' I stated politely.

'Must have been a pricing or marketing error, - just hold on' she requested.  After a few minutes wait, she reported that something definitely had gone wrong, 'Must be a pricing or marketing error . . .' and that it was being referred up the supervisor chain and they would have to get back to me in a day or two - it might even take a week.

I vaguely thought - do I want to get all nasty on them, and threaten a social media campaign, and to get the advertising regulator, on to them about false advertising? etc etc - and then I thought - I don't think I can be arsed. The probable outcome I figured would be that they would come back sayin it was the price she had given me and we would decide it was too expensive and not proceed.

From then on, about every week, I would get an automated email requesting that I pay a $110 deposit to secure my booking, and each time I would call, ask them to look at the booking notes, and they would say 'Oh that is strange - I'll extend the period by another week until this is resolved'. And so it went on, perfectly politely, with me expecting them to come back and say, no, sorry - that is the price, take it or leave it.

Except they didn't.

Just when I had given up, on 1st August, I get a phone call saying that they would honour the advertised price. WhooPeeee!

It would have been rude to refuse.
That's for 7 nights at teh Four Seasons with an upgrade to a Villa, people!

Well done Qantas

Next call - to our regular travel agent to arrange airfares.  I give him all the details, and tell him that he is welcome to take over the booking (which means he gets a commission), and to get on and organise our flights.  He calls back, and says 'Boy have you got a great deal. I think Qantas is paying for half your holiday'. He had to be put up the food chain to a supervisor, who said, no - he couldn't take over the booking given the amount it was costing Qantas Holidays already. Fair enough.

So I don't know who made the mistake, but my ex-Qantas contacts say it does happen, and when it does, it ends up being costly.

As to Qantas honouring the deal - good on them for doing it voluntarily without a cross word from me.

I think good consumer protection here in Australia, and the power of social media means large travel organisations are much more pro-active on this sort of error than they used to be. And they score lots of loyalty points from me.

Image of from one of the Villa's © Four Seasons

Our Flights

So, the airfares. Bali is a very popular destination from Australia, but frankly all the return flight schedules are awful. There are three airlines that fly direct from Sydney, and their schedules for our dates are:

GA  715    SYD DPS   10.25   14.40
GA  714    DPS SYD   23.30  #07.25

JQ   37   SYD DPS   16.40   21.05
JQ   38   DPS SYD   22.35  #06.15

and Virgin Australia
VA  65  SYD DPS  11.35  16.20
VA  64  DPS  SYD  01.10  09.15

Potentially we could have marshalled points for Virgin Australia - but their redemptions are very points intensive, especially if they have run out of their lowest Reward Seat category. Even in that category your looking at about 45,000 points return in economy, or 99,000 in business, both plus fees.

Let me take the suspense out of this. We're travelling Garuda on a A330-300 in economy and business.
Image from Garuda website
On Jetstar it would be 40,000 points economy, and 80,000 in Business - but remember this is low cost airline business - all-be-it on a 787.

We have ended up booking paid fares with Garuda (we didn't have nearly enough for points travel) - with our travel agent successfully requesting a cheaper fare bucket than was publicly available (another reason to use a travel agent!).

Cost of our blended economy/business fare is AU$1,711 per person inc taxes. Marginally cheaper than Jetstar (AU$1,723) although they don't have flat beds in business, but do fly B787's. Virgin were most expensive at AU$2,200.

Garuda have vastly improved their service over the last few years - gaining a 5 star rating (for what its worth) from Skytrax.  Our trip will be on an A330-300 with a 2-4-2 seat plan in economy, and unfortunately their old 2-2-2 formation in Business. We won't get to experience their new 1-2-1 business cabins installed with Super Diamond design seats from B/E Aerospace on their newly ordered A330-300's.

Although flying out Economy, we are doing the overnight return in Business Class, and they are the only ones with flat beds. As our travel agent said - who wants to ruin a nice relaxing holiday by flying the redeye in economy home.

Reviews coming in September:

  • Lounge Reveiw - Sydney Skyteam Lounge (if I have interpreted the entry eligibility correctly)
  • Flight Reveiw - Garuda GA715 A330-300 to Denpasar in Economy
  • Transfer Review -  Denpasar to Ubud
  • Hotel Reveiw - Four Seasons at Sayan - Villa
  • Transfer Reveiw - Ubud to Denpasar
  • Lounge Review - Garuda Lounge - Denpasar Airport (Ngurah Rai International)
  • Flight Review - Garuda GA714 A330-300 to Denpasar in Business Class 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Vietnam Airlines London to Ho Chi Minh City, for some R 'n R, and an urban break

Vietnam Airlines VN50 
London Heathrow (LHR) – Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon (SGN)
Monday, January 02, 2016 
Depart: 12:00 noon
Arrive: 06:25am (03 January 2016)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 
Seat: 3D (Business Class)

After our frantic four week visit to London, Cornwall and Tromsø in Norway, we thought we deserved a break so booked 5 nights in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on our return to Sydney.

We would be back on a 787-9 for this flight, our second experience of the Vietnam Airlines product.

Our flight departure time was changed almost without us noticing it, so instead of a 2:45pm departure, we were now scheduled to depart at midday.

I hate rushing at an airport and prefer to arrive early and spend some time relaxing in the lounge before hand. So that nearly 3 hour change in departure, meant we needed to leave our Fulham accommodation closer to 8:30am and travel at rush hour rather than after 10am. Then I remembered we were leaving on Sunday. Not even London has a rush hour on Sunday. However our plans changed from getting up at a reasonable time to pack, to packing the night before.

Commencing the process of relaxation - Bloody Marys - and they were not the last consumed in the Skyteam Lounge before boarding.
Our trip to Heathrow Terminal 4 by minicab - actually a van - was uneventful and we made good time.

Next stop the Skyteam Lounge, which I have previously posted about.

We wandered down to the gate as soon as our flight was called, and negotiated our way to the priority queue, and onto the plane. Unlike our previous pre-Christmas flight, apparently now on the 2nd of January, it was definitely a Christmas flight:

A blue and white Christmas apparently, although who ever made the seasonal video did not get the colour theme memo.
Flight attendants overall on this flight seemed a little more upbeat than our last flight with Vietnam Airlines - or maybe I was just more willing to be demanding in my requests for service.

Other than the addition of Christmas decorations the cabin was the same as our previous 787 flight VN51 HCMC to London. 

The seating plan was the same as on our previous 787 flight from Vietnam. Reverse herringbone in a 1-2-1 configuration of the popular Zodiac Cirrus seat. My partner Mickaeli thought the pitch was a little tight, and indeed if you had your seat in any type of recline, getting out without returning it to the takeoff and landing position was difficult - even when you lowered the  arm rest.

Arm Rest that can be lowered, with small storage area on the right, deep enough for an iPad. When the seat is reclined, it can be difficult to get out of the seat, even when the arm rest is lowered.

Seat controls were clear and simple, and did their job well.
Amenity kits co-branded with Charriol were in contrast to the blue Chopard ones distributed on the Sydney to HCMC journey. Contents were pretty much the same but different branding. We were in the same seats as our outward journey for our 10 hour 40 minute flight to Ho Chi Minh City.

Charriol co-branded amenity packs - in contrast to the Chopard amenities on the SYD to HCMC leg. Brown socks already on my feet. Yes that is my first glass of champagne in the upper right - served in a wine glass.

I love these kinds of flights. 10 hours gives you time to have a drink, really enjoy a meal, settle down to a movie, and then have a good sleep.

Vietnam Airlines don't distribute pyjama's to their Business Class passengers, but fortunately we had packed our black Virgin Australia ones, so I slipped into them once we were in the air. They do however supply slippers as well as socks - which make me feel much better about foot hygiene when visiting the bathrooms.

Menu's were distributed, and our orders - including for breakfast were taken before takeoff. I always find this a little weird. It's like telling cook what you want for dinner tomorrow night (I'm kidding, like I have staff!).

Business Class Menu cover - with just a hint of Lotus petal.
Choice of two entrée (starter) and five Main courses (entree)

I always mean to order the asian option, but then I worry that in my addled state, I will slurp and spill noodle juice all down my front - so I stick with the western omelette.

Not too specific about the Champagne and wines, and refills were done in the galley, so I never did get to find out what the champagne was. It tasted fine, although not noteworthy.

I ordered the foie gras (the French colonials handed on some great traditions to the Vietnamese).

I know I should at the very least feel guilty about the force feeding of geese, but it's still delicious.

Soup, salad and foie gras came on one tray. Service on this flight was brusque, but observant. Rarely was there pro-active service, but all requests were met in a timely manner, and with grace and mostly a smile - and at worst a concentrated look.

Having experience this attitude on the way over, I felt much more comfortable with it, knowing that a smile and finger pointing to my glass would get me a quick refill.

Sorry - I downed the Broccoli and Potato cream soup pretty quickly, and obviously before I took this photo of the foie gras and sourdough. It was after 1pm, and I was hungry.
I'm allergic to fish, and the pig cheek just sounded too much, so it was either the chicken thigh and fried rice or the beef. In my experience, its pretty hard to get a good piece of steak in the sky, but in this case it was not bad, although well past the medium rare I would have preferred.

The steak - a fillet I think, was fine - mainly due to the sauce. - although I am not sure it was actually horseradish.  Beans with sultanas, tomato and potatoes were on the good side of OK.
I watched a couple of episodes of American Horror Story - Hotel on my iPad, but my heart wasn't really in it. The in-flight entertainment selection was limited but diverse. I mean, there was not a lot of options, but a lot of categories including new release films and some recent and old classics. The entertainment catalogue as you would expect was skewed towards asian tastes.  You can have a look at their current selection and get the idea. I didn't use their noise cancelling headphones, because I now am the proud owner of a pair of Bose in-ear Quiet Comfort 20 headphones (thank you Father [Mickaeli] Christmas!).

OK time for an afternoon/evening nap. Since the entertainment wasn't doing it for me, it was time for rest, so on with the eye shades, in with the earplugs, and recline the seat.

I slept for 3 to 4 hours, and when I woke up we were over India about here:

One view from the flight screen

And another. It just cycled through the views as is normal.
Not much else to report really. I tried to sleep some more, but finally gave up, asked for more champagne, and read for a while.

About 2 hours out of Saigon, that old reliable the breakfast omlette was served.

To avoid that last rush hour for the toilet, I changed out of my Pyjamas and into a pair of light pants and T-shirt ready for our arrival in Saigon.

Although shorts are what I would prefer, most Asian men wear long pants as shorts are at the immodest end of acceptable. Our exposure to the actual 34ºC (93ºF) heat of Saigon would be transitory while we were going from airport to carpark, given that we would be largely moving from air-conditioned aircraft to air-conditioned airport, to air-conditioned hotel car, to air-conditioned hotel. Anyway, I always feel more appropriately dressed when arriving at a fine hotel in long pants, rather than shorts. I also have a psychological block about wearing shorts on planes. I've done it, but I don't feel comfortable about talking about it, so don't ask.

We landed pretty close to the expected arrival time of 6:25am, and our bags came out fairly promptly.  Immigration was pretty efficient, so we were in the hotel car in under an hour, and on our way to our second visit to the Intercontinental Saigon - and probably a long wait before our room would be ready.

2PAX Wisdom

The 787 is a lovely plane. I love the higher pressure, as I never feel as fatigued on these newer aircraft - including the A380 as I do on older aircraft with lower pressure.

The plane itself was under a year old, and looked clean and fresh. I like the reverse herringbone seats - but I, and especially my partner found the pitch a little tight, especially when trying to exit the seat when in any form of recline.

Service on this flight was better than on our previous incoming flight - although that might have been because I had got used to asking for what I needed, instead of just expecting pro-active service.

So - good to very good hard product, and once you know how to manage it, solidly good service, but not pro-active.

Catering was on the good side of average, and a lot better than much I have experienced in business class (Jet Airways, I'm talking about you!) Drinks were OK despite 'mystery champagne' and no published wine list.

Direct aisle access is wonderful, but the apartness you feel as a couple because of that large console between the middle seats - even though you are  facing into each other, does not make for an intimate flying experience when accompanied by a partner (like the otherwise abominable BA business class does). I'm sure there are better implementations of the reverse herringbone that I have yet to experience.

More stories from this trip