Here is a trip report for our great ASEAN adventure.
It will be a long one as we were away ~20 days. There are some new types for me on this report, including the 737-400, which we flew 3 times! We had a diversion too, the first for me in many years. And another new type, the ATR, of any type, in this case the 72. Also the Fokker F70, but I must admit that I may have flown this as a youngion, as dad’s Saudia employee discount did land us on some interesting routes around the Middle East and Europe long before I was documenting types.
It’s nearly 3500 words. So grab a beverage, sit back, and enjoy!
Last year a co-worker had casually mentioned that there was a space in late April, early May where there are a bunch of public holidays group nearby. And if you were take nine days off, you would have 19 days straight off work. If you took 12 days off, you would have 24 straight days off work. 24 days seemed like you may as well right yourself out of your job. It’s a fine line I know…
We had originally decided to go to the South Island of New Zealand for the holiday. With the earthquake damage, and finding that some hotels still were not taking bookings, we consulted our Kiwi friends. They were mixed, and the last thing we wanted to do was be in the way. So we changed our plans to go to Laos and Vietnam instead. Two countries on our Asia checklist before we leave HK, likely in 2-3 years time.
Planning for the trip was quite fun for me. If there were money in it, would love to book travel all day long… Anyways, I had originally priced HKG-KUL BKK-HKG online at Cathay’s website, but the fare was HK$7900+tax each. I called a travel agent whom I occasionally use, and the price she came back with was HK$4900+tax each. That was great, so I booked it. My intention was to then catch the AirAsia flight from KUL to VTE, but it had filled up. Flying in and out of Laos is expensive (in the interest of time, we wanted to minimize ground transportation), so that was a bummer. But the ticket was confirmed for KUL, otherwise I would have booked through to Saigon directly. Anyways, with the help of the Lonely Planet Mekong Guide Book, we created an itinerary which would route us:
HKG – KUL (CX725)
KUL – SGN (AK884)
SGN – DAD (BL596)
DAD – HAN (BL564)
HAN – LPQ (VN869)
XNH – VTE (QV402)
VTE – BKK (TG571)
BKK – HKG (CX702)
Enough rambling, on to the trip!
Type: 777-200 (non-ER)
Route: HKG – KUL
Seat: 17A (upgraded to biz class)
Load: 100% in Biz, ~100% in Y
The day before travelling, I received an email stating we should arrive three hours early because it was Good Friday and they were expecting long lines. Our flight was scheduled for 12:25pm, and we caught the 9:30am bus. At check-in we received the upgrade and were pleased. Off we want to buy a book or two for the trip. She bought “The Four Hour Body” and I bought Alan Sugar’s book.
After waiting in the lounge, we learned that our flight would be an hour late because of late arrival for the aircraft. No drama, the lounge is nice.
Boarding was a champion’s task, and seemingly they boarded long before they told us to leave the lounge, and essentially we were one of the last few on. This is quite an old 777, so the old seats, regional first class, and there is no direct window in this seat, but if you lean back a smidge you can see the window ok.
Some views while taxiing:
Take off Video:
Heading down into KUL:
Seeming endless rows and rows of plantations on the way in!
Landing in KUL:
Taxiing to the gate:
This picture had me so curious, I looked up to see if Southern was based in KUL..it’s not
All the pictures of flight CX725:
The flight was problem free. So many CX planes have the new AVOD now, it is a bit sad when you don’t have it available. The meals are always pretty top notch, two Western choices and one Asian one. I had the beef, and the cheese plate. We followed more or less a direct route to KUL, and there was no turbulence to speak of. Despite the late departure we landed only 30 minutes late. Perhaps a little padding chucked in the schedule…
Here are some pictures of KL. It was our first visit. It’s an interesting city, really, a tale of two cultures—one traditionally Islamic and conservative, and the other, very Chinese.
And we were able to witness a proposal right outside the Marc Jacobs show:
She seemed mortified by the experience, but said ‘yes’!
All pictures of KL, and a ride on the skytrain:
After a day and a half, it was time to jump over to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to start the holiday. AirAsia was chosen for this task:
Reg: Not Sure, I thought –AYS, but that doesn’t exist in the database
Route: KUL - SGN
We had pretty much a full day in Kuala Lumpur, but starting around 2pm, it started raining insanely bad, so we decided to just go to the airport. The ride to the LCCT seems to add another 20min over the regular terminal.
Checking in was easy, just needed to show our welcome letter to Vietnam. We had two hours plus to kill so we went to the Coffee Bean. Once through security there was a fair bit more than I had anticipated so we blew our last MYR on some duty free stuff.
Descend and Landing Videos:
Taxiing to the gate:
This flight was pretty good. I would rank it up there with the best of this trip, and AirAsia certainly did not disappoint, as I was looking forward to testing them. I had pre-ordered us some food for the flight and that arrived as expected. The sandwich (cold) was much better than the hotdog (supposed to be warm). Then they did a brief duty free run, and left us a alone for most of the nearly two hour flight. As expected too, most of the flight attendants on this flight were very pretty.
All pictures of flight AK884:
So it was onto to Saigon, where we took a river tour in a speed boat, and cooking class, as well as a look around the city center:
All pictures of Saigon / Mekong River:
Two and a half days later we were off to Hoi An. A quick cab ride to the airport, and as nice as the international terminal is, the domestic airport, could use a refresh…and some lessons on queuing!
Route: SGN - DAD
The first thing that struck me was the leg room. Literally, I cut my knee getting into the seat. Also, there was no temperature control while on the ground, so it was quite an oven in there. Good thing we had our freebie portable fans from an Energizer battery pack with us.
No landing video because the memory card was getting full, so I just took some pictures.
The flight was pretty good. Left on time, the planed cooled pretty quickly, and we did experience some turbulence we approached a thunderstorm during the approach into Da Nang. The crew came around once with refreshments for sell, then once with items for sale. The flight seemed to have a local pilots. The next one, was both Western pilots. Both had local crews. I was curious, because except for airport signage, the whole operation is as branded the same as the Australian Jetstar branding (ie, website, where I booked) and onboard.
All pictures of BL596:
The van took us to the Hoi An Life Resort, which is a smashing place in the center of town. It is pricey, and in hindsight, I would pay half as much and stay somewhere else, or pay a bit more and stay on the beach. The hidden gem of the Life Resort though is the restaurant. By far and away, the best drinks and burger (in appearance and taste) in the town and pretty affordable too!
The charm of Hoi An can’t be denied. It’s awesome. Though it feels almost too awesome at times, like there is a puppet master in the background choreographing the experience for tourists.
Here are a few pictures:
All pictures of Hoi An:
So after what was certainly too short a time, we were off to Hanoi. A couple of days in the city, then a Ha Lang Bay experience booked through Handspan. To get there it was back to Jetstar. I should note that would have liked to take a train here or there, but we really wanted to see as much as possible and Jetstar is just so cheap!
Route: DAD - HAN
This time we got lucky, and exit row, and what nice legroom it was. I expected this flight would be the same as SGN – DAD, but it was actually about 25 minutes longer. As I mentioned before, the pilots were Western, I assume Australian, but when it was time for the captain’s announcement the intercom was so weak, I couldn’t hear.
Pilot pow-wow with two Jetstar planes on the ground in Da Nang
You can see the new terminal taking shape in the background, also in the videos below.
Back-tracking taxi (in two parts) then Takeoff:
Sadly, this was the same plane as the previous Jetstar leg a few days earlier. Same comments though, a quick round of refreshments on offer, then items for sale. Other than that, they left us alone. This flight was pretty smooth, though cloudy most of the way. The runway in Hanoi (and Da Nang) seemed to be a bit rough. I couldn’t believe how small the terminal at Hanoi was. We would be in there in five days for our flight to Laos.
Here are all pictures of flight BL564:
Ahhh, Hanoi. While Saigon had nice wide streets and some sense of order, and Hoi An, was a bit sleepy and awfully charming; Hanoi was chaos. In the Old and French Quarters the streets are narrow, don’t line up exactly, and with all the scooters it leaves one frazzled at the end of the day.
Here are some pictures:
All pictures of Hanoi:
We stayed at the Hotel Elegance Sapphire, which was quite nice. And for the price, a tremendous value. After two days, we left for Ha Lang Bay.
It is pretty straightforward. Through a tour company, they book you on a boat company. You can do it on your own, by getting your way to Ha Lang city, then hussle your way onto a boat. It’s beautiful, but it is awfully touristy. Even on the boat, the planned stops are overrun with tourists. That said, it doesn’t take away from the scenic vistas. It was odd though, every time they scurried us off the boat, when we returned, there were new people on board.
Here are some pictures:
My Titanic-esque shot
All shots of Ha Lang Bay:
After the trip to Ha Lang, it was one night in Hanoi before leaving for the airport the next morning to fly to Luang Prabang, Laos.
Check-in was pretty easy, and clearing security was easy as well. There were so many people outside the check-in, which was roped off, so I had no idea what they were doing. Once past security, there is more than one would suspect, but it is a small terminal still. We killed lots of time in the café and went down around boarding time. While waiting, the announcement came that due to weather in Luang Prabang the flight was delayed exactly one hour.
Type: Fokker F70
Route: HAN - LPQ
It was actually less than an hour before boarding began. Even once we were all on the plane though, we waiting 15 minutes before engine startup and taxiing to the runway. It was already drizzling in Hanoi so I expecting some turbulence enroute. There was a bit, during the flight, more so when we were circling the area around LPQ trying to find an opening in the clouds.
On taxi, we got to catch a 777ER on takeoff
Then it was announced we were diverting to Vientiane to wait out the storm.
Landing in Vientiane:
Taking off from Vientiane:
Landing in Luang Prabang:
The flight was quite choppy. Service on board was limited to only juice or water, it was free, not buy on board. They did not do refreshments on the leg from Vientiane back to Luang Prabang. Also, on the ground in Vientiane, the captain refused additional fuel. The crew was nice, but certainly I can’t totally judge them on this short flight. That said, I’m glad I did the Fokker F70 and its high pitched engines.
Here are all pictures of flight VN869:
The process for entering is pretty easy, the visa on arrival is a painless process, and we were out of the terminal in less than 30 minutes. The flight carries on to Siem Reap, and it appeared to be 50/50 on who was going to which destination. The flight seems to pick up passengers in LPQ and take them to Siem Reap (or back to Hanoi, I presume). It is a code share flight with Lao Airlines.
Luang Prabang is a cute little town. We used a tour company to take us around Luang Prabang over to Phonsavan (the Plain of Jars), since we were not interested in making our way around on our own. We used Buffalo tours and the guide was fantastic. He was so cool, and he totally got the right level of detail to give us, and gave us plenty of time on our own too.
The town, around the peninsula is very walkable, and filled with cheap eats. The night market covers the rest of your needs. We came at the beginning of the wet season, and sure enough every night, it poured on us hard.
Here are some pictures of Luang Prabang:
Then we took the road to Phonsavan. It was long, windy, and you would climb to the top of one mountain, only to go back down and climb to the top of the next mountain. The scenery was beautiful. I think we were lucky to pick this route to drive, and it took a solid eight hours.
For pricey (but yummy) eats in Luang Prabang, totally recommend “Blue Lagoon”!
All pictures of Luang Prabang (and one of the waterfalls):
On the road to Phonsavan:
Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars:
Phonsavan is the sleepiest town I have visited. It’s pretty big, there is a military base nearby, and the one time capital of the area. There are some really old sites here, the primary one is the Plain of Jars. I love the many stories which are told about their existence, my favourite is that they are the whiskey jars of a race of giants who once lived in the area. In a way, I don’t want to know the real story, though an Australian anthropologist is working on getting the full story.
And the Kiwis are working hard to de-mine the place. God bless them.
All pictures of Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars:
After one and a half days here, including one day without power, it was time to leave. We had to say goodbye to our guide, who’s enthusiasm for Laos was quite infectious. Him and the driver made our trip 1000x better than it likely would have been! And they took us to the airport, how cool was that?
Lao Airlines has four flights a week from Phonsavan to Vientiane, in what may be the sleepiest airport in Laos. Though in the takeoff video you’ll see a fleet of Migs. I do wonder if they are operational. We did see a few military helicopters while we in the town buzzing to the airport, and one cargo plane landing while we were on Jar Site #1, which is pretty close to the airport.
About 30 minutes before we were due to take off, the flight from Vientiane landed and pulled in on the ramp. The boarding pass was not even hand written. Instead, the boarding pass looked normal, except rather than printing anything on it, they had stickers of the seat numbers and they just placed the sticker on the boarding passes. We were assigned 7A and 7B.
Type: ATR 72
Route: XNH - VTE
The airport is for Xieng Khuong province, which is why the code is XNH I believe. One thing I loved is that while the metal detector kept beeping, no one bothered to follow up. The flight was mostly Western and Thai tourists, with a few locals in too. A lot of people had vegetables and stuff from the morning market, which seemed odd. I would assume that the morning market in Vientiane would have more stuff.
After announcements in English and Laos, we were on a way and took off from the point we entered the runway. I love the optical illusion the props make, including the shadow on the ground that matches the ‘frozen’ propeller. Note the
Migs at about :40 seconds to go in the video. Takeoff video:
It was a bit choppy in the clouds, and I loved the power of the ATR. Also being below the wing afforded (and by default you) some nice views. Refreshments, pictured in the full list, consisted of dry fruit snacks and water. The crew was very nice. With a flight time of 40 minutes (scheduled for 30), it was not long before we left our 14000 foot cruise level and headed down to Vientiane. The captain did a good job of moving around the clouds and 95% of the flight was very smooth.
All pictures of flight QV402:
Had to wait a bit for the luggage, but once in a cab we were at the hotel in a few minutes. We stayed at the Mercure (just downgraded from a Novotel).
By then we were tired. It stormed heavily every night, so we made our way to the waterfront, the Luxembourgish café, Chokdee Café, and then a massage. We tried to the same the next day, but it was closed. So we did the Pizza company instead.
Consequently, there are not many pictures of Vientiane:
All pictures of Vientiane:
And so 10-May had arrived and this being Buddha’s birthday, signalled the last day of the holiday. It would be spent mostly travelling. We would fly Thai Airways to Bangkok, have a four hour layover, then fly to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific.
At noon, we made our way back to Wattay Airport in Vientiane. Check-in was a snap, and the check-in lady was able to check our bags all the way through, something she seemed familiar with doing many times before.
Route: VTE - BKK
Load: ~80% in Y
Seats 33A & 33B are actually the second row in economy. That was a surprise. I noticed that flights at VTE took off and landing in opposite directions, both coming from, and departing away from, the city. Our Thai Airways flight was no different.
The flight itself was very nice. The difference in service was not so marked, other than we pretty much received a full meal on this flight, albeit a cold one. We had not flown Thai since we moved from NY to Sydney in July 2005, and we were reminded why we liked it.
It was a smooth flight, and the time being 1 hour 10 minutes, even though it is a shorter segment than XNH – VTE was on the ATR, I chalk up to traffic and sequencing on arrival.
All pictures of flight TG571:
Once off the plane, we made our way to the transfer area for Cathay, which was a nice long walk. Checking in for Cathay, was a snap, and wasted about three hours in duty free shopping before we left for the lounge. A nice haven from the madness. Soon, a nice woman in the Cathay uniform whispered in my ear that we were boarding now.
So we made our way to the gate, knowing that the holiday would soon be over. Night had pretty much fallen on the city of Bangkok, but I still took some pictures and some video.
Reg: Don’t know
Route: BKK - HKG
Load: ~100% in Y
All pictures of flight CX702:
As usual, this flight was fine, by Cathay standards. Very smooth, and totally on-time. Our gold status got us and the third person in our row (had gold too) our meals early. Once we landed we received our bags in about 10 minutes, and caught the 11pm bus back to Discovery Bay.
It was an amazing holiday. We loved all the places we visited, but hold a special place for both Luang Prabang and Hoi An.