From time to time on the Ginger Travel Guru we have a guest article from a friend. This is one of those guest posts from James and Richard who recently travelled with Vietnam Airlines from Coolangatta in Queensland, up to London. Part 1 can be found here. We left James and Richard having just disembarked in Ho Chi Minh City.
We were met in the terminal by an airline representative as part of the Vietnam Airlines transit tour programme, to look after us during our seven hour layover.
This initiative gives transit passengers a complimentary visa (although as British Citizens there is currently a visa waiver in effect so we didn’t need one), a hotel room (3* for economy passengers, 4* for business), dinner at the hotel and transport to / from. You can also opt to have a short tour of the city included if your layover is long enough – we didn’t do this as we took advantage of this last time we came through the city (on a much longer 15 hr layover).
The mad streets of Ho Chi Minh City are something to be experienced, I’m not sure I’d be confident driving here despite lots of experience elsewhere. Fortunately, we had a local driver, even his local knowledge didn’t help as a motorcycle collided with the back of our brand new minibus, much to the driver’s vocal displeasure. A short exchanging details delay followed, before we were dropped at our hotel. After a shower, snooze, some food, a short stroll, we were collected by an airline car and taken back to the airport, allowing us about 90 mins in the SkyTeam lounge.
As LGBT travelers, we had no issues when checking into the hotel, we were offered a twin room or separate rooms at our choice. We opted for a twin room, as there was no point in confusing matters asking for a double. Vietnam is quite a traditional and conservative country, but homosexuality isn’t (and never has been) illegal, so there should be no challenges over and above any personal prejudice a person may have.
The lounge was very busy, but comfortable and with an open airy feel. It also has my favorite feature of any lounge I’ve been in before… a pet area. Never seen that anywhere else in the world! [GTG: A lot of US airports now have ‘pet relief’ areas]
it had a generic food selection, but not to the standard that is generally expected in a business class lounge. Cold meats were covered, but not refrigerated on counters for example, various stale looking buns on the side etc. There were also a number of local hot food options available in chafing dishes. We didn’t have any food as we’d eaten dinner at the hotel.
The drinks selection was rather woeful, to be honest. Some terrible wines, a quick google shows the still wines (including the amazingly named “Arome de France”) can be bought for about £6 in the UK, the sparkling wine was sweet and the spirit selection was basic. There were also two local beers and soft drinks available. We opted for a local beer, which was quite nice, and in no time, it was time to board.
Efficient boarding proceeded, and we were on our way to London. I won’t speak much about the aircraft as it was an identical Boeing 787-9, the only difference was that we opted to sit in the front two middle seats (1D and 1G). The menus were brought out swiftly and orders taken.
I opted for the barramundi which was tasty and perfectly cooked, accompanied by a tasty sauce too. The potato that came with it was a solid lump that was almost powdery in consistency and inedible. The honey and lime cheesecake was rather bland and just an airy mush, but inoffensive. In the standard Vietnam Airlines annoyance, bread was brought after the meal was finished. The crew forgot to bring the wine that I ordered, but topped it up once I reminded them. I soon went to sleep under the very good quilted blanket, I was woken by the crew starting breakfast service. I don’t understand why airlines do this, but it was about 2.5 hrs before landing and I would have preferred a little more time snoozing….
But anyway, I opted for the cold plate with fruits. It was nice enough, and freshened me up for landing. The Muesli and yogurt that came with it was delicious though. Before long, we were getting ready to land and arrived into Heathrow on time.
In summary, the Vietnam Airlines experience was a comfortable one and great value for money – I would happily travel with them on this route or to another long-haul destination. We had a flat bed, on a comfortable modern 787, a big screen entertainment system, lounges in airports and an elevated level of service in the cabin and on the ground. However, everything was just a bit well…. average. Nothing was polished or excellent, nothing made me exclaim “wow, that’s good”. On the flip side, I didn’t really feel I had grounds to particularly complain about anything either – it was just about adequate. I’m sure that with very little effort Vietnam Airlines could make their service on a par with the best out there, the hard product on the aircraft is solid and it was only let down by average service and delivery, which is a shame. So, if you see a good deal with Vietnam Airlines, go for it. If they are pricing on a par with Emirates, Cathay or any of the other big airlines then I’d stick with the more familiar carriers.