Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Vietnam Airlines - Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Hey, that A330 is a 777!

Our trip: Sydney to London via Saigon, return. Side trips to Newquay and Tromsø via Oslo
Vietnam Airlines VN772 
Sydney (SYD) – Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon (SGN) 
Monday, December 07, 2015 
Depart: 12:00 
Arrive: 15:55 
Duration: 8h 22m 
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER 
Seat: 3H (Business Class)

Background
If you remember from previous posts - this was the first leg of my first northern hemisphere Christmas. We had decided to trade cost for comfort, and opted for Vietnam Airlines business class for $4379, rather than paying an additional $2000 for the next most competitive airline.

The upside was the cost, and the chance to fly on VN's new 787-9's. The downside was that two legs would be with outdated product on A320's and we would have a 9 hour layover in Saigon on the way to London.  We turned our 9 hour layover into 36 hour flop and drop by spending a night at the Intercontinental Asiana in Saigon. Actually we spent a bit longer than that, but more about that later.

Plane Switch - A330 to 777
After doing a bunch of research back in April, it took until early August to book the airfares. This is partly because we have busy lives outside of travel, but also because the Vietnam Airlines 787-9 flights had commenced and that made me more comfortable about knowing we would be travelling on a new fresh product rather than VN's badly reviewed 777 business class product.

Sydney to Saigon (HCMC) Seats 2K and 2H in the 777-800, not the A330!

We were also expecting angled lie flat seats on the A330. This was not to be. Like a house brand replacing a name brand, or Coles to Aldi, or David Jones to Myers, or Barney's to Century 21, we went from A330 with angled lie flat seats to 777's with their old fashioned recliner seats. No one died, but another flight attendant lost a wing in hostie heaven.

I actually didn't even notice the substitution until I looked at the safety card. This was a daytime flight, so who needs a bed, even angled lie flat?

Boarding and Departure
We boarded through a separate Business Class entrance - and made our way to our seats, and had our coats taken by the flight attendant. They circulated with water, juice and champagne - as always I took the bubbles and the cold towel. We settled ourselves in, and noted that Mum and daughter (in hooker heels) were seated 2 rows directly in front of us.

We got away just after scheduled departure of 11:50 at about midday.

Pillow, blanket and cloth recliner seat in business class on VN 777

Seat and Amenity Pack
The Amenity Kit, branded Chopard was distributed soon after boarding, and contained:

Brush, Toothpaste and brush, lip balm, earplugs, socks, eyeshades,
moisturiser, signs to 'wake me up for duty free' (as if!) and contents card.
You also got, what we call 'Toilet Slippers' - which is what the Japanese have to go to the toilet in their stockinged feet, once shoes have been removed. I think these are very civilised. It means you can lounge about in your flight socks, and don your slippers when tooling around the cabin and bathrooms. Given the untidiness of other passengers in airplane bathrooms (do you wipe out the handbasin after use?) - I think slippers are a sanitary essential.

Service
It's hard to tell if this is culture, or training, but service was rarely anticipatory. You needed to ask for things. If you asked, you got, efficiently, and with a smile. Once I got used to that - service was pretty seamless. Let me illustrate this. The menu contained no details of wines available. When the flight attendant was taking  meal orders she asked what drink I wanted before dinner, and what wine I wanted during dinner - red or white? However when I asked what they had available (during service), I was promptly shown all available (2 reds and 2 whites, and one champagne) - all done with a smile. It felt that it was more about Vietnamese directness, rather than a lack of skill at service. The same was true when needing a refill, not offered voluntarily, but swiftly despatched when requested.


Lunch Menu - I missed the 'Assorted instant noodles on request' at the bottom

Menu
You would not take a Vietnam Airlines flight for the gourmet food. On the other hand, you ain't going to go hungry either. Vietnamese and European options were provided, and served on a tray. Desert cart to end the meal. Lunch was offered about 2 hours into the flight at roughly 2pm Sydney time. I ordered the grilled prawn and panfried chicken - with as you can see, a Bloody Mary.
Amuse Bouche - minus one of them, but with Bloody Mary.

The entrée - as we Australians would call it,
or starter, soup and salad as those in the USA would say.
Asparagus cream soup, salad, and prawn and jellyfish with chilli and cucumber.
Sorry - no shot of the chicken. It wasn't that memorable. I did however have some cheese and fruit, but avoided the other sweet temptations on the cart. Since my intention was to have a bit of a post lunch nap, and then maybe a movie, I eschewed coffee, and instead had some cognac. Again - Vietnam airlines, not so keen on publishing the brand, and I never saw the bottle. It was the perfect pre nap drink though.

Cheese and fruit - moved from metal cutlery to plastic for this course.
Why? Don't ask me.

Entertainment
The screen was 'in-arm', so you had to do a bit of a dance, or at least deploy the tray table and pop-up screen in the right order - otherwise glassware would be damaged!

Entertainment options were pretty limited, but we knew this from scouting the Vietnam Airlines website prior to boarding. I tend to travel armed with an ipad full of options, so this was no biggie.

The options on the website are the same as they were for movies since March 2015 - but actually there were some newer options. On searching the system, they had Inside Out - the animated movie about children controlling their emotions - something I wanted to see - and maybe some skills I needed to learn! The in-arm screen was small, but clear, and so I enjoyed my cognac and movie.

Entertainment screen with Inside Out information,
with cognac, and 'toilet' slippers bottom left.

Refreshment
about 4 hours later (6pm Sydney time) and about 2 hours before landing in Ho Chi Minh City (at approx 4:30pm), we were offered a 'Refreshment' - which was really a light dinner. Sorry about my shakes with the menu card.

Sorry about the shake on this shot. Too much champagne?
I chose the Barbecued Pork, and another glass of champagne. Perfectly acceptable, but nothing special. That applies to the meal and the champagne.

Landing
Out landing was nothing special until we got out of the terminal, where that 35ºC heat was hinted at. We were soon through immigration and collecting our huge quantity of luggage (2 bags each), and looking for our hotel car driver. I love a man with a sign with our names on it in an airport.

Our driver navigating Saigon traffic. Note the overflow cases in the front seat.
You try packing for Vietnam and Norway in the same trip!

I love Asia.

Its been more than 12 years since we last visited Vietnam and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). It was good to be back, especially in the comfort of a black Mercedes limousine, with cool water, cool towels, and cool tunes playing on the stereo, as we acclimatised to sensational Saigon.

Nothing says 'Asia' like a giant father Christmas in the middle of Saigon.
Don't tell that guy on the motorbike that he can't phone and drive at the same time
Next stop - Intercontinental Asiana for one night before our onward journey to London on a brand new 787-9.

More stories from this trip


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