TRIP REPORT: Vietnamese adventure from Zagreb

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Vietnam Airlines - My three flights aboard their A350, A321 and B787 aircraft

Written by Matjaž Nose

I spent two weeks exploring Vietnam during my last Christmas and New Year holidays. I booked my flight tickets well in advance. A morning Adria Airways flight to Paris (codeshare with Air France) was scheduled as my initial flight on the way to Hanoi and Vietnam Airlines flight (codeshare with Air France also) was then supposed to take me to Hanoi. My return flight was a scheduled Air France daytime flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Paris with a transfer to an evening Adria flight, arriving to Ljubljana airport the same day, late in the evening.

After Adria Airways said goodbye to us at the end of September last year, I knew my flight itineraries would have to be changed. Discussing my possible new flight arrangements with the Air France sales office in Ljubljana, I opted for the following flights. Instead of a morning Adria flight from Ljubljana I chose Croatia Airlines (they also codeshare with Air France) morning flight from Zagreb. My Paris - Hanoi flight remained unchanged. For the return flight, I was rebooked on a Vietnam Airlines night flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Seoul where I would have to catch a morning Air France (aboard their new A350 airplane) flight bound for Paris which arrives early enough to catch the connecting HOP flight to Ljubljana that same day. Separately, I also booked a domestic Da Nang - Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam Airlines flight ending up with total of three flights on board their airplanes. Let me share my economy class flight experiences with this Asian SkyTeam carrier in the following trip report.

Foggy early morning at Zagreb airport

Check-in area

Departure area

1. Flight Paris (CDG) – Hanoi (HAN)

Flight number: VN 18 (AF 5096)
Flight date: 20 December 2019
Aircraft type: A350-941
Aircraft registration: VN-A891
Departure time: 13:10
Arrival time: 06:10 +1
Flight duration: 11h

My journey to Vietnam started at Zagreb airport. It was a foggy early morning, when I arrived at the airport. The airport was rather empty when I checked in and proceeded towards the boarding gates. Croatia Airlines flight to Paris on board their Star Alliance livery A319 aircraft was my first flight and it was on time. I will not write much about this flight, but I must highlight their meal service. Flying with them few times recently, I found out they serve delicious cold meals comprising cheese cubes & olives in olive oil, sliced dry Istrian sausage, or as was the case during our morning flight, yoghurt with almond biscuits. Very tasty and much better than usually bland sandwiches served by some other carriers.

Informative seat-back

Slats in takeoff position

Deployed thrust reversers

CDG inter-airport connectivity

We arrived at terminal 2D of Charles de Gaulle airport. I had to take a bus operating inside the airport to transfer to terminal 2E where I waited to board my first Vietnam Airlines flight.

Boarding gate M45 was assigned for our Hanoi flight. Vietnam Airlines operates daily flights from both, the capital city Hanoi and Vietnamese largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon). Their A350 aircraft serve these routes. It is not a surprise that Vietnam Airlines connectivity with France is so good. Vienam along with Laos and Cambodia were French colonies (Indochina) until becoming independent in 1950s after the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam.

Besides Paris, Vietnam Airlines' (founded in 1956) European destinations include Frankfurt, London and Moscow. Most of their destinations are of course located in Asia but they fly all the way to Australia too. Their fleet currently consist of 103 aircraft, majority of them are A321s (74 airplanes). The widebody fleet comprises of A350 and B787 airplanes - 14 each. The total average age of their aircraft is around 6 years. As part of a SkyTeam, they codeshare with Air France and this allowed me to buy Air France tickets and ending up flying a mix of Air France and Vietnam Airlines flights.

Boarding M45 gate section

Our bird bound for Hanoi

Boarding for our Hanoi flight started on time. Scanning my boarding pass by myself at one of the e-gates, I was inside this modern A350 aircraft shortly after that. I was ready to explore one of the most modern aircraft. Economy class features 3-3-3 configuration. In addition to basic economy class, they also offer premium economy and business class seats. As expected, they have very responsive in-flight entertainment screens and comfortable seats. I really like the A350 aircraft, it truly is one of the best airplanes.

Automated boarding e-gates

Economy class section of our A350

My seat - last row

After takeoff, we turned south towards Bavaria and Austria and continued flying over Hungary and Romania. After we crossed the Black Sea we flew over Georgia, Azerbaijan, Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Laos, before we started our descent toward Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi. This is some geography referring to our flight path. Now, let us have a lunch. You can choose codfish in rosemary demi-glace sauce with garlic sautéed potato or beef stew with daikon radish and steamed rice. Feel free to choose your dream virtual lunch today and I will also serve you some virtual champagne or a beer, whatever you wish my dear reader.

Is your city on the screen?

Flight path of VN18 flight

Menu for CDG-HAN flight

Lunch

Toilet amenities

A pillow, blanket and basic amenity kit was placed at each seat. It was a long flight so I tried to sleep a bit before the cabin crew switched on the lights and served the breakfast about two hours before our landing.

It was an enjoyable flight, the food was good and the cabin crew were professional. The load factor was also very good, I spotted very few empty seats. Immigration clearance was fast - in order to increase the number of visitors, Vietnam now offers very convenient and relatively inexpensive (25 USD) 30 day, single entry e-visas. You can apply from your home computer, pay a fee and within 3 days you receive your e-visa which has to be printed out and shown to the immigration officer when you enter the country.

Rear view of airplane cabin

Preparing our breakfast meals

Breakfast

After clearing immigration, I headed towards the baggage conveyor belt to collect my checked baggage. It was still dark when I exited Noi Bai airport and surprisingly chilly (I had to wear a cardigan during my stay in Hanoi, but it was much warmer and sunny later, when I arrived to Ho Chi Minh City, some 1200 km south).

Arrival to Noi Bai airport

Waiting to collect luggage

Colourful wall of Noi Bai airport

Entrance to HAN airport

I spent a few days exploring Hanoi before going to Ha Long Bay for two night cruising in the magnificent karst landscape. Vietnam is a very long and narrow country, travelling from north to south or vice versa can take a lot of time, therefore many internal flights connect airports from north to south of Vietnam. The busiest flight route is definitely Hanoi - Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam Airlines utilise thier widebody fleet along with their A321 aircraft on this route. There are also some other low cost Vietnamese carriers, most known is Vietjet which serves domestic as well as international destinations.

After enjoying Ha Long Bay, I took a night train to the former imperial city of Hue before visting Ba Na Hills and exploring Hoi An for few days. The closest airport to Hoi An is Da Nang and on the first day of the new year I flew down to Ho Chi Minh City to spend the last few days there before flying back to Europe.

Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi

Railway street in Hanoi

Ha Long Bay

Seaplane in Ha Long Bay

Golden Bridge - Ba Na Hills

Street vendor in Hoi An

2. Flight Da Nang (DAD) – Ho Chi Minh City (SGN)

Flight number: VN 121
Flight date: 1 January 2020
Aircraft type: A321-231
Aircraft registration: VN-A396
Departure time: 11:00
Arrival time: 12:30
Flight duration: 1h 30m

I took a private car (€12) directly from my Hoi An hotel to Da Nang airport some 30 km away. Da Nang airport is almost in the middle between Hanoi (north) and Ho Chi Minh City (south). There are some nice sandy beaches close to Da Nang and, as said before, a picturesque 'lantern' town of Hoi An is also not far away. I was told that Hoi An is very popular among Korean tourists and therefore there are many direct flights between Da Nang and Seoul or Busan in South Korea. My domestic flight by Vietnam Airlines to Ho Chi Minh City was operated with an A321 aircraft. I bought my ticket directly from Vietnam Airlines website paying approximately €40 (this includes checked baggage).

Entrance to Da Nang airport

Departures monitors & self check-in counters

Check-in area at Da Nang airport

Departures area

Our plane arriving from Hanoi

Our A321 bound for Ho Chi Minh City

Vietjet airplane

Boarding gate

The flight was completely full, although there are flights between the two major cities almost every hour during the daytime. This was an uneventful flight with some nice views during takeoff and landing. We departed from a cloudy Da Nang and after an hour and a half landed into a sunny Ho Chi Minh City. During the flight, we were offered a glass of water or coke. No snacks were served during this flight. We landed at Tan Son Nhat airport ahead of time and disembarked at their domestic terminal. Remote stairs were used this time and a bus took us to the terminal building, where we waited for our checked baggage. Interestingly, there was a notice that we had to show our baggage claim tags at the exit from the airport and they really checked if the baggage claim tags match the labels on the checked baggage we had.

Business and economy class cabin

Seats - without IFE

Da Nang coast while ascending

Approaching SGN airport

Landing


Domestic Terminal of SGN airport

Deplanening

Airport bus

Baggage claim tag check info

I spent the last days of my holidays in sunny and hot Ho Chi Minh City. The former city of Saigon (hence the airport IATA code SGN) was re-named to honour the beloved president Ho Chi Minh. He is still very popular in Vietnam - every bankonote has his portrait. You can also visit his mausoleum in Hanoi where his embalmed body rests in peace since his death in 1969. You can find a lot of impressive French colonial buildings here (cathedral, post office, various villas, excellent food and some interesting museums dedicated to Vietnamese war. Until 1975 there were actually two Vietnamese states, the north one (communist, supported by Soviet Union and China) with the capital Hanoi and the south one (non-communist, supported by USA) with the capital Saigon. After the fall of Saigon in April 1975, the country was united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. You can still see a lot of red flags with the hammer and sickle all over Vietnam. It is worth spending few days in this Asian metropolis and taking at least a day trip to the Mekong Delta which is not far away.

Statue of Ho Chi Minh

Delicious street food

Cause-effect information (The Law of Karma)

Vietnam Airlines poster

3. Flight Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) – Seoul (ICN)

Flight number: VN 408
Flight date: 4 January 2020
Aircraft type: B787-10 Dreamliner
Aircraft registration: VN-A879
Departure time: 23:35
Arrival time: 06:30 +1
Flight duration: 4h 55m

Flying back home, I had the opportunity to check out another of Vietnam Airlines’ widebody aircraft. Seoul Incheon airport is one of their key destinations in Asia (it is also a hub of another SkyTeam member, Korean Air). The aircraft type used for the overnight SGN-ICN flights is the B787-10 (the largest member of the B787-8,-9,-10 family). Their fleet currently consist of 11 B787-9 and 3 B787-10 aircraft (with length of 68m they are 5.4 m longer compared to -9 variant). Their B787-10 planes feature 24 business and 343 economy class seats.

I arrived at Tan Son Nhat International Airport (terminal T2) around three hours before the scheduled departure. There weren’t many passengers at the check-in counters when I checked in. I also did not spend much time for immigration and security check, everything was smooth and soon I started exploring SGN airport. You have a lot of opportunities to spend your money. Many shops sell souvenirs and other products, you can spend your time having a massage at Sen Viet Spa before having a good meal or just a 'soup of the day' (beer) at Saigon Cafe.

Check-in at SGN Terminal T2

Sen Viet Spa inside departure area

Saigon cafe & its soup of the day

Boarding gates 8 & 9 downstairs

Boarding through gate No. 8, we were soon ready for departure. After we reached the cruising altitude, we were served supper. I opted for beef and egg noodles which were surprisingly tasty. We headed towards the Chinese Island of Hainan and continued north towards Taiwan before reaching the Korean island of Jeju and finally Incheon airport. Frankly speaking, the flight was more or less uneventful, I also managed to sleep a bit before we disembarked at ICN airport at dawn.

My B787 seat

Reading Viet Nam News before departure

In-flight magazine

Toilet

Supper menu

Supper

Flight SGN – ICN route

Cabin with sleepy passengers

Parking position at Incheon Airport, Seoul

Incheon Airport

To conclude, I enjoyed my Vietnam Airlines flights and would definitely fly with them again in the future. Vietnam itself is also a country that can offer a lot to their visitors: friendly people, outstanding landscape, great cities and delicious food. I will return for sure!

Comments

  1. wow what a great and detailed report. Love it!

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    1. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed the report.

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  2. What a fantastic review, well done! Enjoyed every minute reading it!

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  3. How was the load on the OU flight?

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    1. The LF was around 70-80% on the OU flight

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  4. Thanks for sharing this great trip report!
    I'm actually heading to Hanoi in late march for a marathon there and I'm planning to stay 9 days.
    I've reserved the last 4 days for Hanoi, do you think that's sufficient?

    Also I was planning to visit pu luong, ninh binh and ha long bay in the first 5 days but after going through your report now I kind a want to visit Da Nang and the surrounding area as well and leave Saigon for some other trip.
    What do you think? Are those days sufficient to visit both north and the central part of Vietnam? How many days do you think is sufficient for Hanoi?
    Thanks

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    1. Yes, 4 days should be sufficient for Hanoi. From other places in Vietnam, I really enjoyed Ha Long Bay (stayed there for 2 nights) and Hoi An (4 nights with a day trip to My Son). I advise you also try to spend at least one full day in Hue - it is a fantastic former imperial capital. I took a motorbike transfer from Hue to Hoi An and visited Ba Na Hills on the way.
      Well, it all depends on your preferences. I had 2 weeks altogehter for my trip and I also had to skip Sapa and some other places for example. I advise you stay 3-4 days (minimum 2 full days) in Hanoi, at least one night cruising Ha Long Bay before going south. To save some time, you can take a night train from Hanoi to Hue or Da Nang same day as you return from Ha Long Bay (I took the 8pm train arriving to Hue next morning at around 10am - you can buy train tickets online - or take a flight from Hanoi). You can then spend your remaining days in Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An before returning back to Hanoi.

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    2. Hello Angel.

      As someone who is living in Hanoi at the moment, 4 days is more than sufficient. A piece of advice - skip Pu Luong if you are interested in animals, they are long gone. If you are not interested in animals, the scenery is nice, but almost identical to Ninh Binh (which is amazing, and my advice is spending two days there instead 1 day at Ninh Bing and 1 day at Pu Luong). Ha Long is a must :)

      I spent my last year's vacation in Central Vietnam, here are some impressions: Da Nang - Sutomore sa Aliexpressa, overcrowded with Japanese and Korean tourists, so prices are through the roof. Same goes for Hoi An, which is arguably in top 5 destinations in the world right now. Locals know it, and became cheeky and overconfident. My landlord (who is Vietnamese) visited a little before us, and told me they were rude even to her.

      On the other hand, I can not think of words to recommend the city of Hue enough. Also a touristy place, but still not suffering from overtourism. The city is small but spread out over a large area, it is authentic, you can rent a bike and visit thombs of emperors anddrive through small villages and jungle, you can visit abandoned dragon water park, you can hit some amazing beaches nearby... 10/10

      And a plus - both road and railway from Da Nang to Hue offer the most amazing scenery EVER, you can see some parts of it in Top Gear's Vietnam special.

      Hopefully this helps, hope you will have nice time in Vietnam.

      Cheers!

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    3. Thanks both Matjaz and the anonymous friend :)
      These are two very helpful advices of how should I spend my days in Vietnam and for sure I'll use some of your advices.
      I'll leave Ho Chi Min city for another trip and try to visit as much as possible from central and north Vietnam.
      Thanks again, Angel

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  5. I found my city on the map! Nice report. Well done to Vietnam Airlines for having such a modern fleet.

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  6. Wow that domestic sector fare is very cheap for a full service airline.

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  7. Great report Matjaž. Thank you for sharing tour trip with us and thanks to ex YU, this section is becoming more and more popular, especially with such reports.

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  8. Thanks for a great report. Having flown both Vietnam Airlines A350 and B787, could you give a brief comparison of the two? I have not had a chance to fly A350 -- yet -- but was really dissapointed with the lack of comfort in the economy class of the several 787 that I've flown with.

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    1. Well, A350 is one of my favorite aircraft types. It really is a very modern airplane. Comparing Vietnam Airlines' A350 and B787, I can confirm your experience - I felt more comfortable aboard A350 and what I really do not like are dimming windows of the B787s. It is never completely dark if you have a night flight. IFE was great in both cases though.

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  9. great report.maybe you should have divided it in 2 parts,so we would look forward for the next sunday morning

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    1. Thanks, I am glad you like the report. Maybe you can look forward for the next Sunday morning. Anyway, I had to return back to Slovenia from Seoul ...

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