Genius12
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Posts: 250
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Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Thu Jan 30, 2020 6:21 pm

Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

I had always been curious about Vietnam given its prominent place in military history of recent times. In choosing where in the country to visit for a relatively short first-time trip, the capital of Hanoi in the North seemed an appropriate location to start, particularly given its proximity to Hong Kong which would also feature on this trip’s itinerary. I should note that travel took place in May 2019, before the large-scale and ongoing unrest in Hong Kong commenced the following month.

Highlights ahead in this report:
• Four sectors in Qatar Airways Business Class, featuring three different products, including Qsuite on the 77W
• Staying in the Presidential Suite at the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, including the Club InterContinental experience
• Cathay Dragon Business Class on the A321
• The Club InterContinental experience at InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong
• Full reviews of the Cathay Pacific The Wing and The Pier First Class lounges at HKG

Radisson Blu Arlandia Hotel, Stockholm Arlanda Airport

With our positioning flight on BA arriving into Stockholm mid-morning and QR check-in desks not opening until mid-afternoon, I had reserved a day room at the Radisson Blu Arlandia Hotel, conveniently located within the SkyCity building connecting Terminals 4 and 5. The walk to SkyCity from T2 (home to BA) is fairly long at around ten minutes and involves multiple level changes, although is fully protected from the elements. The SkyCity also offers the advantage of being fairly close to T5 (roughly four minutes’ walk away), from where our QR flight would depart later that afternoon.

Check-in was swift in a contemporary lobby area, but that’s where the 21st century ended as we were directed to the right and then around a curved corridor to the left. Our Standard Room was small (to be expected) with no view to speak of other than a semi-enclosed roof, and boasted interior design straight out of the 1990s, including oppressive yellow-painted walls, yellow curtains and a utilitarian marble-clad bathroom. A browse of the hotel’s website suggests that Superior rooms and above have been recently refurbished in a much more contemporary style – these would be my pick on any future stay.

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Three particularly bizarre elements of the room baffled me; the bottle-opener was screwed to the bathroom wall (rather than being in the vicinity of the mini-bar as you would expect), the TV was partially positioned over the connecting door to the adjacent room rendering the door unusable, and the bedroom featured a retro uncovered strip light (presumably an emergency light of some sort) above the air conditioning vent. Note that in keeping with most Radisson Blu properties, there are no slippers, bathrobes, coffee machine or complimentary water in Standard rooms. I didn’t use the shower in order to be able to determine whether the mirror was anti-steam, but I doubt it was.

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This trademark Genius12 interrogation aside, our room performed satisfactorily for the purposes of offering a few hours’ rest between flights; it was clean enough, there were both power and USB sockets adjacent to the bed, and the complimentary wifi worked well.

ARN-DOH

Shortly after booking the Qatar Airways flights in March I was advised that a credit card security check was required (presumably due to the fact I’d booked the tickets whilst on a hotel’s wifi network with an IP address registered in a country that didn’t match my credit card address). Having failed to do this via QR’s incompetent telephone and email customer service teams, I was prompted to do this in person at QR’s ticket desk, located directly opposite their check-in desks at ARN T5. Verification formalities complete, it was back over to the Business Class check-in desk where there was a short wait for boarding passes to be issued and bags tagged as oneworld Business Class priority, and another short queue at Fast Track security.

QR were using a different pier (Gates 11-24) to the usual F Gates pier at T5 that afternoon due to what appeared to be taxiway reconstruction work, resulting in a trip to a new lounge – the wholly unremarkable third party Norrsken lounge, operated by Menzies. This is a significant downgrade over the usual Stockholm Arlanda lounge (also operated by Menzies) on the F Gates pier, which I most recently reviewed in my Singapore 2018 trip report.

Located adjacent to the SAS lounges one level up from gate level, the Norrsken lounge is one of the smaller airport lounges I’ve visited and offers basic interior design with amenities and cleaning standards to match.

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The principal part of the lounge beyond reception features banquette and table seating along the left-hand wall, with additional seating both the other side of, and at, the semi-circular low dividing ‘feature’ wall.

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This feature wall wraps around the self-serve buffet and bar area, where a paltry and unappetising selection of mainly cold items could be found. At the far end of the lounge is a part-enclosed meeting room which doubles as additional table seating.

To the right of reception is a small high-top table and stool seating area which looks like it’s designed for short dwell times such as phone calls, beyond which is a sparse news stand integrated into the wall.

The far corner of the lounge offers a small soft seating area and apron views (including our 787 in the distance), although its small size and location opposite the washrooms means it’s not the most pleasant of spaces in which to wait for a flight. The view of the apron was made a little more interesting than usual by the variety of livery-less aircraft painted solely in white making their way back and forth, presumably wet-leased to cover for grounded 737 MAX aircraft.

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Boarding from Gate 18 in the Non-Schengen part of the pier commenced shortly after our arrival at the gate, where there was a priority lane for the boarding pass and passport check and a signed (but not segregated) seating area. Business Class passengers were called second to board after those passengers needing additional time.

A single airbridge led from the building to Door 2L of A7-BCU, a four-year-old 787-8 featuring the excellent Collins Aerospace Super Diamond product in Business Class. I reviewed this seat (which also features on QR’s A380 fleet and non-Qsuite A350s) in detail in my Singapore 2018 trip report, so will focus on the soft product in this report. I will however note that QR are to be commended for specifying individual air vents across their 787 fleet.

After successfully navigating to Seat 3A in this small five-row cabin (six if you include the oddly located 6EF between the two washrooms aft of Doors 2), I was approached by a member of the cabin crew who welcomed me and offered a drink along with a choice of hot or cold towel. Jackets were taken on request, and seat tours were offered for those unfamiliar with the product.

As I waited for my QR signature drink of mint and lime to arrive, I looked around the spacious seat where a blanket and pillow had been pre-placed before boarding, with a bottle of Aqua d’Or water in the bottle holder, noise-cancelling headphones in the armrest and amenity kit on the side ledge. Whilst the contents of the amenity kit, including Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio products, was identical to many recent QR flights, the Bric’s bag in which they came was a new variant to me – a leather-effect (and slightly cheap-looking) semi-hard black plastic with red detailing. The socks, eye mask and ear bud case were black to match. QR haven’t changed their amenity kit contents for some time, and although the bags are rotated quite regularly, I’d like to see some different toiletries make an appearance soon.

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PJs, slippers and mattress pads are not available on day flights, although dental and shaving kits as well as Rituals hand wash, moisturiser and body mist/spray are available in the washrooms. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to see QR make slippers available on day flights and would also appreciate a pen to be included in the amenity kit for completing landing cards where required.

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A relatively short flight time of 5h46 was announced by the flight crew, with our cruising altitude for the evening being 39,000ft. A selection of newspapers was offered to complement the magazines available in the Doors 2 entryway, and new, smaller format menus and wine lists were distributed before pushback – a much handier size for storing around the seat (and for taking home for those of us with a trip report to write!). With the exception of the dessert wine, the wine list remained the same for all four QR sectors of this trip.

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A little under an hour after boarding, dinner service commenced with a glass of the Lallier Grande Réserve and a ramekin of warm mixed nuts.

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After a welcome from the CSD, the usual table-laying process commenced swiftly, including laying of the tablecloth, placement of the bread plate (more of a tray really), butter, oil with accompanying dish, smart QR-branded salt and pepper cellars, metal breadbasket (containing three different rolls), and artificial candle. A red water glass was also placed on the table with an offer of still or sparkling mineral water; I’m not a huge fan of these glasses as they feel quite rough to hold and drink out of, in contrast to the rest of the table and glassware.

A very pleasant amuse-bouche of pickled salmon was offered first, swiftly followed by the salty but enjoyable creamy green pea soup with asparagus and roasted buckwheat. The Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay was a suitable accompaniment.

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The superbly presented poached scallops and apple vinaigrette with mussel dill mayonnaise, shrimps and rye bread crumble tasted just as good as it looked.

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For my main course I’d chosen the herb crusted salmon fillet served with baked potatoes, grilled mini fennel, baby courgettes and light marinara sauce. The relish accompanying this dish was quite spicy, although the dish was hearty and nicely presented.

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The warm chocolate and cherry tart with mascarpone cream and pistachio tuile was excellent, although the heat (perhaps slightly hotter than ‘warm’) had caused the tart to partially collapse by the time it came for me to take a photo. This dessert was certainly the better choice of the two listed on the menu – the alternative of fresh berries with mint syrup is really basic and the syrups (the exact flavour varies by flight) are usually sickly sweet.

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My oolong tea was accompanied by a box of Godiva chocolates and a hot towel to complete the dinner service.

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During the meal service I watched the entertaining and musically triumphant A Star is Born (who knew that Lady Gaga would turn out to be such a good actor – or that I would ever reference Lady Gaga in one of my trip reports?). Annoyingly I had to use QR’s supplied headphones instead of my usual pair of Bose QC 35 II headphones as the sound was way too loud during the film and couldn’t be adjusted properly; I originally thought this was due to an issue with the film, the IFE system at that particular seat, or potentially a wider IFE problem on the aircraft, but have since concluded I need to purchase a new adapter for my Bose headphones to be able to use them on certain aircraft.

The Oryx One IFE system fitted to QR’s 787s is fairly buggy, on screens that are noticeably chunkier and slower to respond than on A350 aircraft equipped with the same seat. The system also lacks external cameras, and annoyingly doesn’t automatically turn screens off when not in use causing a significant amount of light pollution; this is particularly noticeable in a half-empty cabin. My final IFE-related observation is that the positioning of the handheld IFE controller means it is often inadvertently operated by an elbow on the armrest, although this is admittedly a seat design fault rather than an IFE failing.

After a brief doze, I requested a mint tea which as usual was brought on a tray accompanied by a selection of packaged biscuits.

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A third and final hot towel was offered at the top of descent, with jackets handed back before the cabin crew were asked to take their seats for landing; I prefer jackets to be handed back on the ground, although can appreciate that there might be limited time to do this in some situations.

In a typical arrival onto a remote stand at Doha, we disembarked from Door 2L (with Economy Class passengers being held back by closed curtains and crew standing in the aisles) and were soon proceeding to the empty priority transfers security via a dedicated Business Class bus whose journey was perhaps just a little slower than usual due to its progress being hampered by a baggage truck.

DOH-HAN

The Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business lounge was reasonably busy at this ungodly hour of the morning, with plenty of passengers awaiting their connecting flights. I reviewed this lounge in detail in my Japan 2018 trip report, so head over there for the photo tour. We found a spot in the quiet area (home to red chairs that are more style than substance) for the 45 minutes or so that we had to wait before heading to Gate E21 via the transit train.

E21 is, of course, a bus gate where a dedicated Business Class lane was set up for the boarding pass and passport check. As is often the case at bus gates at Doha, Business Class passengers were called to board after Economy Class passengers, which meant by the time our dedicated J bus had reached the aircraft side, we had to be held on the bus for a short time whilst two buses worth of Y passengers went up the stairs before us.

This minor inconvenience and distinctly first-world problem aside, we were soon being welcomed at Door 2L of A7-AEA, a rather elderly (by QR standards) A330-300 (a change from the scheduled -200 variant), weighing in at 15 years old. Despite her age, this aircraft was in excellent condition internally and of course featured individual air vents at each seat, contrary to many more modern aircraft, as well as notably powerful overhead reading lights. QR are in the process of retiring their A330 fleet, having retired their last A340 in May 2019. The final A330 will be retired in 2022, with the fleet being replaced by the A350 and 787.

All of QR’s A330s are now fitted with the Collins Aerospace Diamond seat in Business Class; note that this is a substantially different product from the excellent Super Diamond seat featured on the previous sector of this trip, being in a 2-2-2 configuration as opposed to 1-2-1. I reviewed the Diamond product in detail in my Japan 2018 trip report, so will focus once again on the soft product for this sector.

The usual pre-departure ritual of cabin crew welcome, jackets taken upon request, offer of a drink of choice and a hot or cold towel commenced as the flight crew announced a flight time to Hanoi of 7 hours. Seat 2J was set up for boarding with a pillow and blanket on the seat itself, and a rather bold red amenity kit bag placed on the small side ledge next to the hand-held IFE controller. A bottle of Evian water and QR-branded noise-cancelling headphones featured in the tiny (and inconveniently located) stowage space at shoulder height next to the headrest.

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Menus, wine lists and PJ/slipper packs from The White Company were handed out soon after my mint and lime arrived, as were newspapers for those who wanted them.

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The flight crew advised that there would be a short delay to pushback due to the closure of Pakistani airspace affecting flight paths in the region, but before too long we were airborne and I was changing into PJs in the spotless washroom, which unusually for an A330 features a window. There are no changing tables or seats in the washrooms on this aircraft type, which does make PJ-donning a little more awkward.

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As is the norm on QR flights, the CSD came around the Business Class cabin to individually welcome each passenger, and in my case stopped to hang my clothes, query whether I would like to be woken for breakfast and take a pre-sleep drink order. With this flight departing at 02:25 Doha time, few passengers chose to partake of the ‘late night dining’, instead opting to rest for a few hours. I was no exception to this, settling down to sleep soon after finishing my hot chocolate.

As I mentioned in my detailed review of this seat in 2018, the seat is on the narrow side for a comfortable sleep, with both head and foot room quite constrained. No mattress pads were available on this sector despite it being a night flight; I’m not sure whether they’re ever offered on A330-operated sectors, given the second-tier cities these aircraft tend to fly to. As the cabin wasn’t anywhere near full, I requisitioned a blanket from an empty seat as my mattress pad, which made for a fairly comfortable sleeping surface.

The attentive crew offered me a hot towel as I woke from my four-hour slumber, swiftly followed by a fresh orange juice and the laying of my table for breakfast, which included a basket of breakfast bakery products whose quality seems to diminish with every QR sector I fly. During the meal service I watched Ocean’s 8 which was surprisingly enjoyable, even allowing for the Sandra Bullock factor.

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The Greek yogurt, strawberry compote and toasted granola with nuts was average as is the norm for this dish, with the platter of seasonal cut fruits following.

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For my main course I’d chosen the chive scrambled eggs with grilled chicken breast, rosti potato, vine tomato (actually generously plural in reality when compared to the menu description) and Portobello mushroom. The eggs were a little over-done and somewhat grey-tinged from their close proximity to the mushroom, but overall this dish wasn’t half bad, accompanied by an espresso.

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Throughout the breakfast service one of the cabin crew members kept bumping into, and treading on top of, my feet as she leant across to serve 2K, which was mildly annoying. A mint tea concluded the breakfast service, with a basket of mints offered to each passenger as we started our descent into Hanoi.

Landing into Vietnam’s capital at around 14:00 local time, just a little behind schedule, we parked at a dual-airbridge equipped stand and disembarked from Door 1L, well before the second airbridge docked at 2L. There was no queue at all at immigration, and with our bags amongst the first onto the belt were soon proceeding through customs to the arrivals hall, where we met with our representative from the InterContinental.

InterContinental Hanoi Westlake and Scenes from Hanoi

I’d pre-booked the IC’s chauffeur service for the 25-minute drive from the airport; met kerbside, our wifi-enabled Mercedes E-Class was soon pulling up, stocked with mineral water and mints. We were offered cold towels by the driver and received a phone call from the hotel through the car’s Bluetooth to welcome us, confirm our preferred check-in location, and take arrival drinks orders.

The InterContinental Hanoi Westlake is one of two ICs in Vietnam’s capital; as its name suggests, it’s located on the banks of Ho Tay (or West Lake), in contrast to the skyscraper location of its sister hotel in the business district.

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As we pulled up at the low-rise main building, we were greeted by a host and escorted through the lobby and along the ground floor corridor to the Club InterContinental lounge. Although not required on this trip, the lobby featured a separate Ambassador desk and seating area immediately to the left of the entrance.

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Check-in formalities were completed within the lounge, accompanied by yet more cold towels and welcome drinks. The hotel’s Assistant Manager even stopped by to provide a personal welcome, which I don’t recall ever experiencing before. Combined with the chauffeur transfer, this was a very impressive arrivals experience.

Declining the offer of a buggy service to our room, we stopped off to look at the hotel’s main lounge area, before heading out along a walkway to one of three over-water pavilion buildings and our Over-Water Panoramic View room located on the ‘ground’ floor of the second pavilion building, and an upgrade from our booked Club InterContinental room in the main building.

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Decorated in classic Vietnamese style in keeping with the rest of the property, the room was spacious if not overly luxurious and featured a stunning view from its suspended balcony across the lake to the city centre beyond.

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Two bottles of mineral water and a small fruit ‘hat’ were placed as a welcome gift, alongside a welcome card. Interestingly, and in contrast to most other IC properties I’ve stayed in, there was no coffee machine in the room, these only being provided in selected suites. There was, however, a cafetière and complimentary ground coffee available in the minibar.

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Whilst there were plenty of power sockets by the desk, there were none available for use by the beds, and certainly no USB sockets. Both the bedside and over-bed lights were linked for each bed, which meant everything was quite bright and difficult to adjust to a good pre-sleep level. That being said, the bed was comfortable and provided a solid night’s sleep.

The bathroom was as spacious as the room and nicely appointed, featuring double vanities, a separate bathtub and walk-in rain shower. I particularly liked the wooden ladder-style towel rail and appreciated the thoughtful bottle nook in the shower stall. Amenities were the usual San Francisco-based Agraria products.

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Considering our welcome drinks in the lounge had taken some time to enjoy, luggage delivery to the room was quite late; when it did arrive, there were limited locations to store it, with only one suitcase stand in the room (and no spares available on request). Despite this, staff were friendly and quick to respond to requests, including coming to remove a dead gecko from under the TV console.

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The Club InterContinental lounge, located in the main building, is spacious and comfortably designed, featuring numerous different ‘rooms’ and seating areas to suit all occasions. To the right of reception is the large dining area, with the buffet at one end and table seating at the other, including one large dining room-style table for groups.

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In the middle of the lounge, behind reception, a comfortable lounge seating area features three sofas and several armchairs, and views across the lake either side of a faux fireplace. A selection of board games and children’s toys were available here.

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The left-hand portion of the lounge is split into three; a combined business centre and library, a glass-sided meeting room, and a smaller lounge seating area with low tables for two or four. The washroom is also located here, although note that unlike some other hotel lounges, there is no shower for early arrivals.

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We visited the lounge that evening for drinks and canapés (which commence at the early hour of 5pm and conclude at the equally early 7pm), where an extensive and beautifully presented buffet was available alongside waiter-served hot canapés and drinks from a somewhat makeshift bar set up on a couple of dining tables in the corner of the dining area.

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Service was polite, but a little overly reverent, with some staff members lacking in confidence. That being said, by our third evening visit, the staff had remembered our preferred drinks orders and had two Hanoi Breezes practically lined up waiting for us as we arrived.

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This service pattern continued at breakfast, with friendly but slightly slow service and clearing of tables, tempered by another great buffet and a strong à la carte menu that featured everything except my favourite Bircher muesli. All breakfast beverages were waiter-served, and the tables were notably well-laid.

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Our first breakfast of oatmeal porridge and smoked salmon Eggs Benedict was excellent.

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As novel as the over-water location of our room was, the consequential damp smell was overpowering; after one night we’d had enough and requested after breakfast the following morning to relocate to the main building. The staff in the Club lounge were happy to source an alternative room for us, and we left them to do this whilst heading out to explore Hanoi for the morning.

Our first stop was the Kim Lien Pagoda, a Buddhist temple located right next door to the InterContinental. Wandering around Ho Tay, we stopped at the picturesque Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in the city at over 1,450 years old, before moving on to the wholly uninspiring Botanical Garden.

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The One Pillar Pagoda near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum is designed to resemble a lotus blossom, and although small, is worth a stop for its unique design.

With feet tiring, a taxi (red, white and blue livery are the ones to look out for) was hailed to take us to Dong Xuan Market; you could easily spend an hour or so getting lost amongst its wet and dry sales floors and many more hours exploring the streets of the surrounding Old Quarter, including Quan Chuong gate and Bach Ma Temple.

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The Old Quarter provided some of my favourite street photography shots of this trip; I was particularly struck by how happy these workers looked, enjoying the simple pleasure of lunch in the back of a van.

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Returning to the hotel by taxi, we stopped at reception to see which room the hotel had moved us to; the Duty Manager was summoned, and I was astounded to be told the only suitable room was the Presidential Suite! We were escorted up to the fourth floor of the main building and given a brief guided tour of our new room (number 401 in case you’re wondering), undoubtedly the largest I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in.

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Our luggage and fruit ‘hat’ had been moved to our new room whilst we’d been out enjoying the city, and later that evening a bottle of wine appeared in the suite as a further (and totally unnecessary) apology for the inconvenience.

Entering through double doors, a cloakroom was to be found to the left of the entrance, with the main living room taking up almost the entire width of the building’s wing beyond.

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With a large sofa and two wide armchairs, the living room also featured a sound system and expansive desk fit for a president, complete with its own guest chairs, printer and stationery.

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To the right of the living room, a separate dining room offered seating for a more than adequate ten guests (which naturally had to be tried one evening with an in-room dining-ordered dessert), beyond which was the second bedroom and ensuite bathroom, almost identical in design to our previous room.

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To the left of the living room, the master bedroom featured a separate lounge area with chaise lounge, feature TV and desk monolith, and an expansive bathroom with freestanding bathtub, double vanities and walk-in rain shower, all to a different, distinctly more upscale design than that featured in other rooms.

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The ledge over the toilet roll holder was a particularly useful feature to balance reading material or a phone whilst, well, you can imagine. Amenities remained Agraria, although larger bottles were offered in both bathrooms and the cloakroom, with mouth wash also available in the bathrooms. I do wonder whether upgraded premium amenities would normally be offered to guests paying for the Presidential Suite. Interestingly, a premium-branded hairdryer was available in each bedroom, in contrast to the more basic affair in our previous room.

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It may have been a Presidential Suite, but that’s not to say that there weren’t a few minor niggles; the same issue with harsh lighting was evident in both bedrooms, the aircon in the master bedroom was too cold and couldn’t be adjusted, there was no magnified mirror or full length mirror in the master bedroom/bathroom, and the shower in the master bathroom was more style than substance, lacking in power, with an uncomfortable slatted wooden floor and a door that only opened outwards, ruffling the admittedly thick bath mat.

No fewer than seven private balconies surround the Presidential Suite leading from the master bedroom, living room and second bedroom, with superb views across the lake, hotel grounds and surrounding neighbourhood.

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As if seven balconies weren’t enough, the suite was completed with a butler’s pantry, featuring a mini kitchen and a coffee maker, which naturally featured its own service entrance from the corridor.

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After freshening up in surroundings fit for a king or queen, we headed down to the lounge for afternoon tea. Served from 2pm until 4pm, afternoon tea is an entirely waiter-service affair, with a selection of sandwiches, pastries, scones and drinks served seat-side on modern tableware. I found the flavours of the pastries to be a little bland compared to the norm for afternoon tea, but this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as such delicacies can often be overly sweet.

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That evening we dined at one of the hotel’s two restaurants, Saigon (the other being the Italian, Milan). With visible kitchens through glass, traditional Vietnamese cuisine is offered in comfortable surroundings, with views across the lake. Excellent friendly and professional service was paired with flavoursome cooking; we liked it so much that we dined here on the subsequent two nights of our stay as well.

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Our second full day in Hanoi commenced with another excellent breakfast in the Club InterContinental, this time with the egg meurette as my à la carte dish of choice.

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We took a taxi to the National Museum of Vietnamese History; spread over two buildings separated by a death-defying road (as all roads in Vietnam are), the first building was home to the earlier history of the country whilst the second (and more interesting) was dedicated to the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is referred as in Vietnam). It was particularly interesting to learn about the history of the War from a Vietnamese perspective.

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By this point we’d mastered the art of crossing the road in Hanoi; a relatively slow but steady pace (at any point) in a straight line will generally result in the numerous vehicles and many more mopeds filtering around you. Changing speed or direction mid-crossing is not recommended unless you have a particular desire to test the effectiveness of your travel insurance.

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Passing the opulent Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel and Government Guest House, we emerged at the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake and the on-lake Den Ngoc Son (Temple of the Jade Mountain). St Joseph’s Cathedral is well worth a visit, as is the small Chua Ba Da temple on its approach road to the east.

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Train Street, north of Hanoi Railway Station, was sadly devoid of trains the day of our visit, but the architecture and bustle of the street made for no less of an interesting stroll along the track. We would be lucky enough to see a train making its way through the narrow street at a different location to the south of the station in a couple of days’ time.

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Our third day in Vietnam’s capital started, oddly enough, with the Japanese Breakfast option from the Club lounge’s à la carte menu, before we headed out via taxi to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

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It’s important to realise that the interior of the Mausoleum operates with restricted opening hours, and there are strict rules prohibiting photography within the vicinity of the imposing structure. The queue post-security was fairly fast-moving, and before long we were filing past Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body in respectful silence, all the while being watched by an imposing military honour guard.

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Ho Chi Min’s Stilt House is a relatively humble piece of architecture, in contrast to the austere grey granite of his Mausoleum; after seeing his home, you can’t help but wonder whether he would really want such an imposing tomb as his final resting place.

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The Temple of Literature, with its five courtyards, presents a quiet sanctuary in an otherwise hectic city.

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The nearby Imperial Citadel of Thang Long includes the historic former headquarters of the People’s Army of Vietnam within the D67 Tunnel and House.

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That afternoon, we visited the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre for a traditional show; interesting for the first five minutes, and tolerable for ten, the rest of the show (all seventeen scenes of it) can perhaps kindly be called ‘an experience’.

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A gift of a stuffed gecko was waiting for us on return to our suite; a little too close to the real thing for my liking, I left this in the suite for it to be recycled for the next guest!

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A simple omelette started our fourth and final day exploring Hanoi before that evening’s flight to Hong Kong.

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Sometimes the best things are saved until last, and this visit to Vietnam was no different; our second visit to Train Street, this time to the south of the station, heralded only a half hour wait for the next train – and what an experience it was. Standing in the narrow strip of the ‘safe zone’, the train thundered past at a surprisingly swift pace – no wonder the local residents have to help some tourists understand the importance of remaining as close as possible to the buildings on either side of the tracks.

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A brief stop at the unremarkable Hanoi Railway Station seemed almost obligatory after our Train Street experience, from where we walked to the small but educational Hanoi Police Museum and on to the infamous Hoa Lo Prison Museum, home to John McCain during its ‘Hanoi Hilton’ days.

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Back at the InterContinental, I was pleased to see that our suite had been refreshed by housekeeping despite today being the day of departure; this is always the mark of a property on the ball. Checkout took place seat-side in the Club InterContinental lounge, accompanied by afternoon tea. The lounge manager thanked us as we left the lounge and gave us a parting gift of two small bottles of wine, thoughtfully plastic so as to be easily packed in suitcases.

Heading to a taxi, I reflected on what a great experience the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake had provided in truly unique surroundings, and what a fascinating city Hanoi is. I will definitely return to Vietnam to explore more of this picturesque and historic country in the future.
 
Genius12
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Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Thu Jan 30, 2020 6:21 pm

HAN-HKG

The Cathay Dragon check-in area at Noi Bai International Airport is jointly branded with Cathay Pacific, despite CX not serving the airport directly. Two desks were open for Business passengers and oneworld status members that afternoon, and before long our bags were checked in and tagged with smart Cathay Pacific First tags, presumably courtesy of my oneworld Emerald status.

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The priority boarding pass check, immigration and security were all virtually devoid of other passengers; understandably, there was only one lane open for priority security.

Cathay Dragon (KA) passengers have access to two third party lounges in Hanoi; both the NIA Business Class lounge and the Song Hong Business Class lounge. Lounge invitations are issued at check-in with both lounges printed on, although the NIA lounge receptionist took our invitation on entry which presumably means visiting both lounges isn’t an option. Despite this, I was reasonably happy with our choice of lounge and saw no reason to attempt entry to the Song Hong lounge.

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The NIA lounge is located one floor above gate level and commands sweeping views of one of the airport’s two runways. Whilst the design of the space is fairly basic, the high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows give the lounge an almost theatrical air. The fairly large space offers multiple seating options with a mix of armchair types, interspersed with occasional tables and indoor plants; the overall effect is airy and relaxing.

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The main seating area is slightly elevated from the rest of the lounge and represents something of an obstacle course for passengers with cabin baggage, such is the tight and regimented arrangement of the seating. Immediately adjacent to the windows, the elevated floor falls away to the base level, which seems to be a flawed and somewhat hazardous design.

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A business centre is offered halfway along the lounge, adjacent to the washrooms which were kept reasonably clean throughout our stay.

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Massage chairs are available to the right of reception, alongside lockers for storing personal belongings whilst within the lounge. A separate lounge room behind reception appeared to be reserved for members of the military.

At the far-left hand end of the lounge, a buffet area offered a pretty decent selection of both hot and cold dishes (although I didn’t sample anything on this occasion), with table seating (bizarrely also featuring armchairs) set out in a square adjacent to a tended bar.

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Our 90 minutes in the lounge passed quickly, although the lounge’s wifi was pretty much unusable; I resorted to using the airport authority’s free wifi which was much quicker.

Gate 28 was our departure point from Hanoi that evening, where a separate lane was available for Business passengers and oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members. CX Silver passengers had their own boarding lane, but this did not appear to extend to other oneworld Ruby members, priority boarding not being an advertised benefit of this status level. Boarding commenced on time, and we were soon being welcomed on board B-HTD, an A321 delivered new to Dragonair (as Cathay Dragon then was) in 1999, before transitioning officially to KA in 2016.

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Cathay Dragon’s A321s are configured in a two-class configuration, with 6 rows of 2-2 Business seating and Economy arranged in the usual 3-3 configuration in a single cabin. The cabin quickly filled as passengers boarded, which meant I unfortunately couldn’t get any overall cabin photos on this flight.

The Business seats on this A321 are the same as those across the Cathay Dragon fleet, also featuring on Cathay Pacific’s regional A330s and 777s. For shorthaul, regional flying, these seats are very comfortable. With fixed back shells, passengers reclining in front don’t bother those behind, and there is ample seat pitch and width. Whilst the seats are not flat beds or even angled lie-flat seats, recline is fairly generous for a shorthaul product.

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The seats feature a literature pocket (incorporating headphone socket) within the centre armrest, with basic electronic seat controls above, just below a shared drinks console. A handheld IFE controller, of the retro variety, is located within the armrest.

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In front, the seat features a decently sized IFE touchscreen, sandwiched between a coat hook and a USB socket. Power sockets are available between the leg rests. A pouch adjacent to the IFE screen is seemingly intended to hold a phone, but sadly doesn’t fit an iPhone 7 or larger, the seat having been designed before the trend for larger phones really took off.

A cushion and blanket were resting on my seat in the second row of the cabin (11A), with headphones provided in the literature pocket. Naturally, I opted to use my own Bose to enjoy an episode or two of Fawlty Towers on the bug-free and easy-to-use system.

Our Australian captain welcomed us on board as cabin service commenced with a pre-departure drink of either still water or orange juice from a tray – no champagne was offered. This was accompanied by a packaged wet towel, which felt a little cheap. Newspapers followed, along with an announcement by our senior purser of this evening’s 1h30 flight time.

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Once in the air, we were welcomed by name and offered menus, following which a very rapid service commenced, with our female cabin crew member taking quite a brusque approach, even going so far as to offend the gentleman in 10A (the first row ahead of us), although I didn’t quite catch the crux of the thorny issue.

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Dinner service rolled down the aisle on a trolley, with trays handed out to each passenger containing the sole starter (a bland grilled seafood salad) and various accoutrements. The dressing for the salad was contained within a very cheap-looking plastic pot; I’m not sure whether this was a catering error or the usual service standard, but it certainly wasn’t what I would expect from Cathay.

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Alongside the passing of the tray, drinks were offered together with the choice of warm bread from a basket; a couple of slices of garlic bread were my carbs of choice.

The two main course options were offered from a trolley, with examples of each visible to passengers to aid choice. The steamed snapper, mashed potatoes, broccoli, capsicum, and mustard gherkin sauce was full of flavour, although presentation left a little to be desired.

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Once meal trays had been collected, a choice of Haagen-Dazs ice cream flavours were offered from a hand-held tray; I would definitely prefer to see Cathay Dragon offering a ‘proper’ dessert to conclude an otherwise acceptable meal service. Hot drinks were offered, and although at no time during the flight were drinks top-ups proactively offered, the cabin crew did oblige upon request.

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Landing into Hong Kong on time, we parked at the North Satellite Concourse, home to ten airbridge-equipped gates for narrowbody aircraft. This facility opened in 2009, and although currently its design necessitates a bus transfer to the Terminal 1 main building, it is due to be connected by a bridge later this year. No landing cards had been issued on the flight, so we weren’t through immigration as quickly as we could otherwise have been, but once forms had been completed there was only a short queue and our bags were amongst the first onto the belt in the baggage reclaim hall, enabling a swift transfer to a waiting taxi and on to the InterContinental Grand Stanford.

InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong and Scenes from Hong Kong

I have stayed at the Grand Stanford on two previous occasions; the first in 2011, and the second post-refurbishment in 2016. As in Hanoi, this is one of two ICs in Hong Kong, the ‘main’ InterContinental being located a little further along the Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) promenade, closer to the Star Ferry pier. The Grand Stanford is around a 15-minute walk to the ferry (a little too long for comfort), compared to the ‘main’ IC’s much more attractive 5-minute distance, with the latter commanding an unobstructed view of Victoria Harbour, unimpeded by the Salisbury Road unlike the lower floors of the Grand Stanford. I found the location of the Salisbury Road to be more visually and audibly intrusive on this occasion than both previous stays; it was particularly noticeable from the Club InterContinental lounge.

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Despite our late hour of arrival approaching midnight, we were welcomed at the door with our bags taken and promptly delivered to our room. With the Club lounge closing at 11pm, check-in had to be performed at the main reception in the lobby; the Ambassador desk was unstaffed, which meant a short queue to complete formalities. I was handed the usual Club InterContinental welcome letter, although there was no Ambassador welcome letter or personalised welcome card as is the norm in many other properties.

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The lobby of the Grand Stanford, as with many of the public areas, has not been refurbished to the same standard as the Club lounge or the guest rooms, and is starting to show its age; the lift cars in particular are very dated.

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Our Premier Full Harbour View room on the 8th floor was the anticipated one category upgrade from our booked Premier Side Harbour View room. At just 28 square metres, this is a small room by any standards, but was all the more noticeable when coming directly from a 305 square metre Presidential Suite! Despite its small size, the recently refurbished room was smart, in a design much more to my taste than the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake’s rooms. I particularly appreciated the mood lighting, marble-topped tables and Eames replica office chair; naturally, there were ample power sockets, including adjacent to the bed. The in-room safe didn’t want to work properly that first evening, but after requesting maintenance take a look the following day, all was fine for the remainder of our stay.

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Due to its size, the room lacks space to comfortably sit and relax, with just a small chaise-lounge positioned by the expansive picture window, from which there were spectacular views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island beyond.

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In-room Ambassador amenities included a fruit plate and a bottle of Fiji water, both of which were replenished daily. Additional complimentary InterContinental-branded mineral water was available in the minibar, adjacent to a Nespresso machine.

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The marble-clad bathroom was nicely appointed, featuring a walk-in shower (incorporating handy bench) and Agraria amenities, although again was rather on the small side. I’ve previously stayed in rooms at this property which feature a bath with shower over, in lieu of a walk-in shower, but had requested a walk-in shower on this occasion.

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After a much-needed comfortable night’s sleep, we headed down to breakfast the next morning in the first-floor Club InterContinental lounge. I should declare at this point that access to the lounge was provided free of charge by the hotel as compensation for inconvenience experienced during an evacuation of the property on our previous stay in 2016; this will in no way alter the following review of the lounge.

I’ve often thought that this lounge would be better located on a higher floor, away from the distraction of the Salisbury Road, but despite this intrusion the space still manages to retain a sense of calm luxury.

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From reception, the lounge opens up into a fairly narrow rectangle, split down the middle by wooden screens to create two distinct areas; on the right, adjacent to the picture windows, is the main lounge area, whilst on the left is the buffet, consisting of three blue-lit chilled stations and one ambient station, with a hot station a little further along. The buffet side of the lounge also includes a small seating area with wall-mounted televisions.

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A high-top table, small business centre and library is located at the far-right hand end, adjacent to a door to a private outside terrace, seemingly mainly used by smokers.

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The opposite end of the lounge, adjacent to the hot buffet station and a meeting room, offers additional dining table seating, as well as several rather retro armchairs; this part of the lounge is partly screened from the main seating area and as such is a little more private.

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There are no washrooms within the lounge, the closest available being those along the lobby balcony on the same level as the Club lounge; the balcony is accessible through the lounge’s rear exit door adjacent to the meeting room.

The overall design of the lounge is classic but with a modern twist, and despite having a deficit of armchairs, the Grand Stanford’s is certainly one of the better Club lounges in the InterContinental network.

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Breakfast in the lounge is an extensive affair, with both an excellent buffet and à la carte menu available; the latter can be customised on request. Eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon) was my dish of choice to start that first morning, served with sautéed potato, grilled mushrooms, roasted cherry tomato and spinach.

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On a couple of occasions at breakfast, cutlery was attempted to be re-used between courses by the otherwise friendly, attentive and professional waiting staff; this is a big no-no for me, and always results in a polite request for a clean set.

One of the beauties of visiting a city multiple times is that there’s no compelling force to see all of the ‘touristy’ sights on subsequent trips; this was certainly the case on this visit to Hong Kong, with our first day taken at a relaxed pace. A walk along the TST promenade, a trip across the harbour on the Star Ferry and a stroll through Central and TST was all that made the agenda.

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Afternoon tea in the Grand Stanford’s Club lounge is a slightly reduced affair compared to that on offer at the Hanoi Westlake; waiter service is limited to drinks only, with a small but perfectly formed buffet being the favoured method of allowing guests to enjoy their sandwiches, pastries and scones.

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Evening canapés is a similarly buffet-centred approach, with an expansive selection of both hot and cold options available and a wide variety of waiter-served (and regularly topped up) drinks, including champagne. Chocolates are available on request.

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Day two in Hong Kong heralded more fair weather, and started with a perfectly cooked tomato omelette, this morning served with pork bacon in addition to the usual accompaniments.

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After hearing about our plans to hike the Dragon’s Back ridge, the Club lounge manager kindly offered us a selection of snacks to take with us, following up on our return that afternoon to see how the hike had gone. It’s this type of engaging service that sets apart an experience and makes it memorable.

Memorable is exactly what the Dragon’s Back hike was; despite some fast-moving cloud cover, views in all directions were astonishing, most notably from the hike’s highest point, Shek O Peak.

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Taxi is by far the easiest and most comfortable way to get to the hike’s starting point on Shek O Road, although we opted for the equally straightforward and probably slightly more scenic bus to take us back to Wan Chai once our hike had concluded. Spending some time exploring the Wan Chai wet market, we returned to the hotel in good time to catch the end of the afternoon tea service.

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The next morning started on a sweet note with French toast with cinnamon, before heading up to the top floor to scope out the attractive gym and rather less attractive rooftop swimming pool.

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Our third day in the city was spent mainly in the Central district once again, including a trip on the always pleasing Central-Mid-Levels escalator, a walk around the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens and an almost starring role in a movie being shot near the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

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That evening we dined at Bombay Dreams, a favourite spot in the city for Indian cuisine.

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A customised order of scrambled eggs on toast kick-started our final day in Asia’s World City, which was spent strolling through Kowloon Park and a mini excursion to the charming Tang Dynasty-style Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Nian Garden.

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That afternoon, an offer of waiter-served strudel made an appearance at afternoon tea, which seemed a little out of kilter with the usual offering, but was sampled nonetheless. Returning to our room later that afternoon, we found a letter outlining the details of some emergency maintenance to the air conditioning system planned for the early hours of the following morning; no disruption was experienced.

The morning of our departure from Hong Kong was spent relaxing around the hotel, with checkout being conducted in the Club lounge. On examining the bill, I couldn’t see any mention of the Ambassador dining credit having been applied, so requested that this was deducted. This was done promptly, but as we were preparing to leave the lounge, the manager returned to advise the credit had in fact already been applied within one of the in-room dining charges, and she would have to re-charge the additionally deducted amount. Whilst I understand the logic behind this, it did seem slightly odd that this mistake couldn’t have simply been waived given the relatively low value of the credit.

The lounge manager accompanied us down to the lobby (where our luggage had been stored) to see us safely into a taxi to Kowloon Station, concluding another solid stay at the InterContinental Grand Stanford. Whilst the property has its flaws and has perhaps fallen a few notches in my personal InterContinental league, it still remains a very comfortable base from which to explore the city.

I sincerely hope the ongoing situation in Hong Kong is resolved in the near future to both Mainland China’s and the people of Hong Kong’s satisfaction as far as practicable, enabling Asia’s World City to be fully open for business once more.

HKG-DOH

In-town check in at Kowloon Station was quick and easy, with no queue at the single desk for use by all Qatar Airways, Scoot and Hainan Airlines passengers. There was no separate premium check-in desk, unlike for Cathay Pacific passengers for which there were dedicated First and Business desks. Our bags were tagged as oneworld First Class priority, with the agent changing the boarding pass card stock in order to issue Qatar Airways Business Class-branded BPs; it’s this sort of detail that sets QR apart from its competitors. A lounge invitation to use any of the Cathay Pacific lounges was also issued. It should be noted that Qatar Airways passengers are only able to check-in in-town from 13:35 on the day of departure; I would like to see QR moving to all-day check-in as is common with most other airlines departing from HKG.

The 24-minute Airport Express ride passed by in a flash. HKG doesn’t offer priority immigration or security, but queues were light at both, and before long we were airside in one of the most architecturally and geographically pleasing airports in the world.

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Designed by Foster + Partners and opened in 1998 along with the airport, The Wing and The Pier were for many years Cathay Pacific’s only lounges at Hong Kong International Airport. Both featured separate First and Business sections, and both followed the same interior design palette that remained until 2013 (in the case of The Wing) and until 2016 (in the case of The Pier). Whilst other lounges have opened (and closed) in the intervening years, The Wing and The Pier remain Cathay’s flagship facilities at their home hub.

The Wing was our first stop that afternoon. Refurbished between 2010 and 2013, The Wing lounges are still a Foster + Partners concept. The First lounge is located on the same level as check-in, with a dedicated entrance immediately to the left after security. The Business lounge is accessed from gate level, although the lounge extends to the same level as the First lounge.

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We were welcomed at reception and immediately emerged into ‘The Champagne Bar’, as Cathay Pacific refer to it. The lounge’s colour scheme of black, red and white is immediately made clear here, with polished black marble floors and red leather Chesterfield armchairs and sofas.

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The IT Zone is actually two small nooks either side of a services core, offering newspapers, magazines and bespoke Solus chairs on one side, and iMac computers and laptop desks on the other. In a traditional design nod, the desks feature Eames office chairs, which I believe are originals. Four further desks are available adjacent to The Haven Bar.

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Beyond the first IT Zone, the lounge opens up to the main seating area, featuring three clusters of armchairs separated by low dividing walls and smart occasional tables with integrated lamps. Solus chairs, upholstered in red leather, are dotted around this space too.

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The lounge is starting to show its age, with only sporadic floor sockets available for power; there are none integrated into the tables as you might expect, and no USB sockets anywhere that I could find. Five cabanas, twelve shower suites and the (rather dark) washrooms are located off this space.

At the end of the main seating area, adjacent to the tended bar, The Haven offers a hybrid of waiter-service and buffet dining, all in a smart but windowless space. Both table and banquette seating options are available.

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Beyond The Haven, an additional self-serve dining area is available, offering an extensive buffet, tended coffee station and variety of high-top and traditional table seating. Differing slightly in design from the rest of the First lounge, it’s my understanding that this space was originally designed to be part of the Business lounge but was more recently incorporated into the First lounge to provide additional dining capacity. This space is the last in the First lounge, which ends with a customer service desk that doubles as the bridge between the First and Business sections of The Wing.

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Whilst the overall design effect of The Wing First lounge is undoubtedly impressive, the ambience does feel slightly clinical, not helped by the lounge’s open aspect to gate level below. Natural light and views, on the other hand, are in abundance. We didn’t spend much time visiting on this occasion; despite this, we were offered a drink almost as soon as we sat down, and service seemed attentive for the short time we spent in what remains a quiet and calming space. The Wing is holding up well after six years of use and abuse, but the design is starting to feel a little dated, particularly in contrast to Cathay’s latest design concept we were about to experience at The Pier.

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Located at apron level near Gate 63 (for the First lounge) and near Gate 65 (for the Business lounge), both some walk (or transit train ride) from the central part of the terminal, The Pier was refurbished between 2013 and 2016 by Studioilse, the design firm responsible for Cathay’s current lounge concept also seen at Heathrow amongst other global airports. This is, in my view, one of the world’s smartest airline lounge concepts; it is at once elegant, homely, comfortable and luxurious – indeed, the designers had a contemporary apartment in mind when they put pen to paper.

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Descending to apron level via the lift due to some maintenance being undertaken to the escalator, we were greeted at the walnut wood-panelled entrance and emerged into the elegant green onyx-clad lobby. This lobby runs the length of the lounge, connecting The Dining Room at one end to The Bar at the other, and features several occasional tables, leafy green plants and a variety of artwork, as well as a wavy sofa in the centre. Two driftwood-inspired tables at either end offer additional focal points.

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Turning left from reception, a few steps along the lobby brings you to The Bar, a beautifully styled space continuing the green onyx-clad walls from the lobby, featuring a horseshoe-shaped tended bar and multiple seating options ranging from bar stools through to comfortable extra-wide armchairs. Most seating clusters feature tables with lamps and integrated power and USB sockets in a pull-out drawer. Mirrors inlaid into the interior wall cleverly reflect the apron view from the other side of the lounge.

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The general tranquillity of the space was at fairly regular intervals shattered by the rather loud bartender who seemed more intent on making it known that this was his space rather than that of the passengers. I ordered a Hong Kong style milk tea and was rather brusquely informed he’d have to check at the dining room as they were ‘short staffed’; as it turned out, my beverage of choice was available, but the way the bartender dealt with the request was not becoming of a flagship first class facility (or any facility, for that matter). The slight service issues continued with the waiting staff having to be regularly prompted to clear empties; this really let down what is an otherwise excellent lounge.

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The Pantry, located to the left immediately before the entrance to The Bar, is a small self-serve buffet room, offering decent cold and ambient snack options, along with hot and cold drinks. As with the clearing of empties, the replenishment and refreshment of The Pantry left a little to be desired.

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Adjacent to The Bar, partially separated by a screen, a walnut wood-panelled lounge area is probably the most comfortable of the spaces on offer, and features five clusters of armchairs and sofas, including stylish wingback leather-clad options with ottomans, lit by Jules Wabbes-designed brass pendants. A self-serve drinks station is located here, although it wasn’t set up for use during our visit that afternoon.

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The Library connects the main lounge area back with the lobby and features a comprehensive selection of newspapers, magazines and a handful of books from custom-designed racks, along with an integrated sectional sofa which didn’t appear to be a very comfortable option for long-term reading given the plethora of alternative options a few paces away. That said, this is a smart and thoughtful addition to the lounge.

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Moving along the lobby, The Bureau contains six semi-private workstations, all of which feature iMacs, smart telephone handsets and table lamps which echo the brass accents throughout the lounge.

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Washrooms featuring pleasant Aesop products (but also rather hard paper towels) are located a little further along the lobby, opposite the entrance to The Retreat, where showers, a foot massage service and eight day suites are available. Unfortunately, on this trip there wasn’t time (or really any need) to fully utilise these services, but the addition of day suites during the refurbishment of The Pier is very welcome. The Retreat reception was happy to provide dental kits on request.

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At the end of the lobby, The Dining Room provides full waiter service à la carte dining in three horseshoes of green leather banquette seating; the space exudes 1930s art deco style, with the walnut wood panelling extending for the first time to include the ceiling in this part of the lounge.

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The octopus and potato salad was nicely presented but lacking in flavour, although both main courses of pan seared Atlantic salmon and the braised ceps, shiitake and black fungus mushrooms were enjoyable, despite the small portion sizes.

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The steamed coconut milk and walnut custard wasn’t to my taste, but the mixed berry clafoutis didn’t disappoint.

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Service was a little rushed, with courses being presented as they were ready rather than together. On balance, this ground dining product is solid but not particularly memorable, unlike the pleasing overall design and comfort levels offered by the lounge more broadly.

There was quite a wait to board at Gate 32, but this gave me a good opportunity to photograph our ride to Doha that evening, A7-BEL, a 777-300ER delivered new to Qatar Airways in 2017.

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Two airbridges were in use when boarding finally got underway almost 15 minutes behind schedule, with Business Class passengers boarding to Door 1L via a dedicated lane.

I was welcomed and escorted to Suite 4J, a forward-facing Qsuite. QR currently fly four different configurations of the 77W; two offer old-style 2-2-2 seating in Business Class (either one cabin of four rows, or two cabins of four and three rows), all in the process of being refurbished with Qsuite. The two Qsuite configurations offer either one cabin of six rows, or two cabins of six and five rows, all in a 1-2-1 configuration. Our aircraft that evening was sporting the more premium-heavy configuration of two Qsuite cabins. I reviewed the excellent Qsuite product in detail in my Singapore 2019 trip report so don’t intend to do so again here.

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At my seat was the usual generous pillow, whilst on the side ledge was a luxurious blanket, blue Bric’s amenity kit and the small ‘unique to Qsuite’ pillow which serves no purpose at all and offends me with its ridiculous quote.

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A bottle of Evian water and QR-branded noise-cancelling headphones were located within the seat’s aisle-side armrest.

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I was pleased to note that QR have retained the individual overhead air vents in Business Class during the refurbishment of their 77W fleet, although found it strange that there was no mood lighting during boarding and that the airbag in this seat felt more bulky than it had on the A350.

The cabin crew did the rounds welcoming passengers by name, offering a choice of pre-departure drink along with a hot or cold towel.

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Newspapers followed, along with a fabric pouch containing slippers and PJs by The White Company.

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Menus, including a snack platter menu only available on selected flights, were also handed out before pushback. The wine list was the same as previous sectors of this trip, with the exception of the dessert wine shown here.

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Our captain announced a flight time of 8h30 and an initial cruising altitude of 32,000ft, just before the safety video played. Interestingly, menu orders were taken whilst the Arabic version of the safety video was still in train.

Pushback came around ten minutes behind schedule, but as soon as the seatbelt sign was off the CSD came around to offer a further welcome to passengers; I requested the mattress pad be fitted to my seat straight away, which provides an added layer of comfort and avoids the need to wait after the meal service has concluded before going to sleep. The crew also place an additional pillowcase over the pillow as part of the partial turndown service that’s offered in Business Class. I took this opportunity to change into the comfortable PJs in washrooms designed similarly to those on Qsuite-equipped A350s. This configuration of the 77W offers three Business Class washrooms – one in the forward galley on the port side, and one either side of the Doors 2 galley. As you would expect from any QR-operated service, they were all kept spotlessly clean throughout the flight, and the crew were happy to hang my clothes for the duration of my time ensconced in PJs.

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Wifi was available onboard, with a stonking one hour’s unlimited complimentary service available to all passengers. Unlike most in-air wifi products, this actually worked consistently at a pace faster than a tortoise.

Dinner service commenced with a glass of the Bordeaux (the suggested wine pairing to my main course), accompanied by a ramekin of warm mixed nuts. The wine was poured in the galley rather than at the seat due to Ramadan.

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The crew offered a variety of oils to accompany the bread basket as they laid my table, before presenting an amuse-bouche of nondescript salmon to commence the meal.

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This was swiftly followed by the roasted red pepper soup with basil oil dressing; ‘fairly spicy but pleasant’ advise my notes.

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My chosen appetiser of grilled chicken breast with soba noodles, quail egg, sesame seed and hoisin sauce was ‘different’ to put it politely; I’ve never had great catering out of HKG, and this was one of those dishes that certainly lived up to low expectations – a rare outright ‘no’ for Qatar Airways catering.

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Next up was the lamb loin with lentil ragout, cherry tomato(es), asparagus and jus (gravy). Sadly, the lamb was over-done, although the dish overall was well flavoured.

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To conclude, the warm pistachio crumble green tea cake with raspberry filling and vanilla sauce was pretty decent paired with a mint tea, although I had to request a spoon as only a knife and fork were initially offered which was a little odd for dessert. At no point, other than water with dessert, were drinks refills proactively offered during the course of the dinner service; this is quite unusual for a QR crew.

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I was clearly still feeling a little peckish, as shortly after the green tea cake was demolished, I requested the gourmet ice cream selection, which turned out to be ‘just’ vanilla and strawberry. This was nicely presented, albeit a little bland at 32,000ft. Godiva chocolates and a hot towel concluded dinner.

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During dinner I watched Mary Poppins Returns, an enjoyable sequel to the 1964 original.

Despite the 777’s noticeably louder interior when compared to next generation aircraft, I managed a solid three hours’ sleep, waking around 90 minutes out of Doha to an offer of a drink (cappuccino please) and a couple of episodes of Fawlty Towers. As detailed in my Singapore 2019 trip report, the Qsuite seat in bed mode is reasonably comfortable (all the more so with the mattress pad) but is somewhat restricted in the footwell. At this particular seat, I couldn’t get the aisle-side armrest cover to close properly, a worrying sign of maintenance issues cropping up early on a relatively new product.

A third and final hot towel was offered as the captain announced our descent into Qatar’s capital city, with both the crew and CSD offering personal goodbyes to each passenger. As is par for the course at DOH, we had been assigned a remote stand which entailed the usual single-door (2L) exit via stairs to the second of two dedicated Business Class buses, the driver of which opted to take the wrong route around several stands before depositing us at the entrance to transfers.

DOH-ARN

Quite a small queue was starting to build at the priority security lane, but a proactive agent swiftly guided the newly joining passengers to an adjacent lane to ensure waiting times were minimal.

Given an eight-hour layover, as with my previous most recent trip through Doha, I’d opted to pay for access to the Qatar Airways Al Safwa First lounge. At the time of travelling in May 2019, the fee (per passenger) for access for Business Class passengers was a relatively modest QAR250, but this has since been increased to the somewhat steeper QAR600. At the lower price, this represented very good value to utilise the bedrooms that Al Safwa offers, but at the higher price the gap narrows versus use of the airside transit hotel. For shorter layovers where sleep wouldn’t be possible, or layovers during the day, I’m very happy with the Al Mourjan Business lounge, the limited number of showers aside.

The transaction to enter the Al Safwa lounge took a little time, during which it was quite amusing to see the number of failed access attempts by other passengers looking for one of the many other lounges DOH offers. The lounge receptionist escorted us inside to the ‘crossroads’ of the lounge and offered a lounge tour, although I had to politely cut him short as tiredness was setting in at that point. I reviewed the Al Safwa lounge fully in my Singapore 2019 trip report, so head over there for the full details and photo tour.

At the Quiet Area reception, our boarding passes were taken, and we were informed of the 6-hour limit for use of each bedroom (which wouldn’t be a problem since access to the wider lounge for paid passengers is also limited to 6 hours). I got a decent sleep of around 4.5 hours before waking for a shower; no slippers are offered in the bedrooms, although there are robes. Four other niggles persisted from my previous visit; the lighting within the room is impossible to adjust to a completely blackout setting (the hall light being the culprit), the desk and over-bed reading lights are impossible to turn on (not that I needed them on this visit), there are no USB charging ports (only power sockets), and there is no full-length mirror either in the bathroom or in the bedroom itself. Despite this, the ensuite bedrooms offer a private and comfortable resting space that can’t be rivalled by any other lounge at the airport.

Emerging from the Quiet Area, given the super early hour, breakfast was skipped, and we relaxed on the terrace area for a short while, despite the lack of functioning coffee machine in that area. As detailed in my full review of this lounge, I find the space to be eerily soundproofed and quiet; I only observed three other passengers using the facilities in the time we were there.

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Leaving the lounge just before our six hours was officially up, we headed over to the opposite side of the terminal for the more life-like Al Mourjan lounge. I was delighted to see Bircher muesli on offer from the café’s buffet (it having been removed from Business Class breakfast menus some time ago), and so despite previously declaring my lack of appetite I hastily availed myself of a bowl, to be enjoyed along with a waiter-assisted coffee in the quiet zone with a partial view through the terminal’s brise soleil of an elegant QR A350.

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Boarding at (remote) Gate D23 was in progress as we arrived and were escorted through a short queue and directed to the dedicated Business Class bus, sporting new red leather seats. There was a short wait for the bus to depart, and again as we arrived at the aircraft and waited for an Economy Class bus to unload. I’ve yet to fully work out QR’s remote stand boarding process, but Y almost always seems to board before J, with the J bus often waiting at the gate for some time; this is distinctly sub-optimal.

A7-BDC, a three-year-old 787-8, was to be our chariot that morning to Stockholm. Welcomed at the top of the stairs at Door 2L, I was escorted to Seat 3A in the forward cabin. At the Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seat was a pillow and blanket, with a green faux leather amenity kit on the ledge, a bottle of Evian water in the side console holder and headphones within the armrest.

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The cabin crew passed through offering the usual Qatar Airways welcome, choice of hot or cold towel and choice of pre-departure drink – as (almost) always, I went with their signature soft drink of mint and lime; whilst the quality of this drink differs depending on who mixes it (presumably at the caterers before it arrives on the aircraft), it’s always a refreshing choice.

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The CSD offered a personal welcome along with menus and wine lists, whilst the Captain announced a flight time of six hours on the nose, cruising at up to 40,000ft. Despite pushback commencing on time or thereabouts, I was offered a refill of my mint and lime, along with a choice of newspaper and the taking of orders for breakfast well before we reached the runway. I noted with sadness that QR have seemingly removed both smoothies and Bircher muesli from their Business Class breakfast menu completely.

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After takeoff, in tandem with my Americano arriving, I fired up the 787’s reliably buggy IFE to watch Can You Ever Forgive Me?, an excellent biographical film that kept me both interested and entertained to its conclusion.

My table was set for breakfast with a low-quality bread and pastry basket, jam and butter along with a choice of still or sparkling water and my chosen fresh orange juice.

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The Greek yogurt, mixed berry compote and toasted granola with nuts is a staple of the Business Class breakfast menu and is reliably edible, although the dish is somewhat bland and the compote pretty cheap.

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Next up was my chosen main course of steel-cut oats served with berries and cream; this was very hearty and pleasant as is always the case.

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The platter of seasonal cut fruits offered a refreshing conclusion to the breakfast service (although whatever the orange fruit is, it’s exceedingly foul), supplemented by a not-so-hot hot towel, an espresso and the offer of a mint from a basket.

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Throughout the flight, the excellent cabin crew (including the CSD on numerous occasions) stopped by to offer drinks refills and snacks, later suggesting I’d maybe like to try a dish from the light options selection. The answer to this was yes, naturally, with the second meal service getting off to a lukewarm start with the disappointingly bland but fresh mixed garden salad (including hidden mushrooms), served with a choice of dressings that made the dish a little more flavoursome.

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Tiring of the film Widows, I switched at this point to some further episodes of Fawlty Towers, guaranteed to make you smile.

Next up was the Hungarian goulash and mashed potatoes with herbs, served with garlic bread. This was super flavoursome with tender beef, although the garlic bread was hard as nails.

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To conclude, the afternoon tea (minus the fresh finger sandwiches), accompanied by an English breakfast tea, made a sweet end to another very good Qatar Airways flight. Returning from the washroom prior to descent, a hot towel was waiting for me at my seat.

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The CSD wished all passengers farewell individually, ahead of a landing into Stockholm 15 minutes ahead of schedule. This early arrival was promptly negated by a ludicrously lengthy taxi to a remote stand (presumably due to the ongoing taxiway works). Whilst the cabin crew held back Economy Class passengers for Business Class passengers to disembark from Door 2L first, there was no dedicated bus. Once we’d eventually arrived at Terminal 5, there was only a short wait to collect checked luggage and we were soon on our way back to Terminal 2 for our connecting flight home to London with British Airways.

Thank you for reading along through this journey to Hanoi and Hong Kong. Your questions, comments and feedback are all welcomed and much appreciated.
 
QF93
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Oct 22, 2016 10:44 am

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Thu Jan 30, 2020 10:56 pm

Thanks for a fantastic trip report. You have inspired me to add Vietnam to my list of 2020 destinations to visit.
 
Kent350787
Posts: 1141
Joined: Wed May 28, 2008 12:06 am

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Fri Jan 31, 2020 6:25 am

Thanks for such a detailed report - such a great range of pics!
 
mrkerr7474
Posts: 55
Joined: Wed Dec 23, 2009 7:55 am

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Fri Jan 31, 2020 11:41 pm

Awesome trip report with some fantastic pictures! Makes me want to try QR as my next airline and definitely head to Vietnam also, thank you
 
Genius12
Topic Author
Posts: 250
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Sat Feb 08, 2020 1:20 pm

Thanks for the replies so far!

Just to clarify, we stayed at the Radisson Blu Stockholm-Arlanda Airport Hotel at ARN (between the terminals), not the Arlandia (which is close to the airport). I'm unable to edit the report now to correct this.
 
Scotron12
Posts: 299
Joined: Fri Mar 01, 2019 2:13 pm

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Tue Feb 18, 2020 1:50 pm

Absolutely wonderful pictures...thank you. Salivated from start to finish. Hotel in Hanoi looks teriffic...
 
Genius12
Topic Author
Posts: 250
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Mon Feb 24, 2020 7:15 pm

Scotron12 wrote:
Absolutely wonderful pictures...thank you. Salivated from start to finish. Hotel in Hanoi looks teriffic...


Thanks Scotron12! The IC Westlake was indeed a great experience.
 
VTCIE
Posts: 390
Joined: Wed Oct 10, 2018 11:10 am

Re: Hanoi and Hong Kong via QR and KA J featuring a Presidential Suite and CX First Class lounges

Tue Feb 25, 2020 7:55 am

A great insight into colonial Vietnam and French influence as has been mostly forgotten by the outside world. Also, every review of yours only serves to highlight how QR is only getting better and better at everything it does; no wonder you do not choose anything else for your trips between Scandinavia and Asia.

Plus, your English is pitch-perfect, more than most others on this site. By the way, did you type out this review on an iPad? Curious.

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