This FR was initially posted in my native French here The return flights (SGN-NGO + NGO-TPE) will be posted in English soon.
This FR started at TPE Terminal 1, reached by taxi because I did not have much of a choice that early, for the record fare of 1050 TWD, expressway toll included (usually, it is rather 1200 TWD).
I had not checked in the day before on the internet and I had not selected my seat, because CI's website refused to recognize my reservation number. But now that a FReporter had told me that this was actually commonplace and not worth worrying about, I had a good sleep, albeit a short one, since the alarm clock rang at 4:15.
The day before, I had seen on the printout of my plane ticket that my luggage allowance was 20 kg. I thought I had invested FB airmiles for flying business? Maybe I remembered wrong. The result is that I stayed in that economy class waiting line, wasting a quarter of an hour compared to the non-waiting line for the business class check in counters.
That domestic flight to KHH, which is actually operated by Mandarin Airlines, is a curiosity, because you cannot book a seat on it on AE's website: it is reserved for connecting passengers from an international flight.
Anyway, no problem, there were still window seats available on the best side, looking west for an early flight to avoid having the sun spoil picture opportunities. Anyway, the flight is mostly above the South China Sea that China shamelessly claims to be entirely its territorial waters. The islands in that sea, all claimed by several different countries are tiny – some are only a few dozen square meters of rocks – and can't be seen from a plane at cruising altitude.
My luggage received a priority tag, which was not going to make much of a difference, and I received an invitation to CI's lounge, which was not going to be much of an advantage either.
The ongoing renovation of TPE's Terminal 1 means that the way from landside to airside keeps changing. Now you had to take a narrow escalator which you could easily miss but for adequate signage. Once upstairs, the access to the security check and then immigration seem to be reasonably final, and both are flawlessly efficient and courteous.
On the right, the rear face of the immigration check counters.
And on the left, this sign tells me that I am 145 meters from the CI lounge.
It was indeed very close, but having wasted time for check in, I only had a quarter of an hour to enjoy my VIP status in the lounge.
Actually, in democratic Taiwan, a quarter of an hour is enough to check all the VIP's advantages, at least for an experienced Flight Reporter. Ten seconds to enjoy the smile of the staff at the desk, who were not as pretty as this decoration in front which I do not need to hide for privacy.
Step number 1: the toilets. For the showers, you must ask at the desk, so I do not know, but the rest is clean and neat.
Note that Taiwanese men are expected to be trained to take care of babies
They obviously need some additional training, because the cleaning ladies placed a slippery floor warning sign after cleaning the mess.
I did not check if the Taiwanese mothers are better at that, because taking pictures of female toilets is very poorly thought of in Taiwan. There are even cameras to surreptitiously take pictures of those who surreptitiously take pictures there (did you follow that?).
Next step is therefore the computer self serve room:
That gives me the opportunity to take the current corporate screen shot.
It was faster than booting my own laptop and typing the wifi access code, no matter how short it is.
For homesick French travelers, there is the Japanese edition of the (French) Figaro Magazine.
For those who are uncomfortable with the Fig'Mag editorial line, or do not care much for ladies' magazines, there is also a daily newspaper (the International Herald Tribune is edited in Paris). The few Flight Reporters who read neither Japanese nor English nor Chinese will have to do without reading matter: there is nothing for them. The blue stamp which politely requests to leave them in the lounge is in Chinese only, but all should understand the message.
It will save work for this staff who replenishes the supply.
Beyond the newsstand, there is a twin-aisle lounge (the other aisle is on the right, outside the picture's frame). Between the two, there is the kitchen and stands for food on the passenger's side of the walls…
… with a succession of Western food, non Western beer…
… and sandwiches, with miscellaneous cans overhead.
With regards to wine and spirits, there is more than I need since I never drink any, and I leave to specialists to comment on their adequacy.
Turning around at the far end of the aisle, there is made-to-order noodles counter, which appears to have interested 27 passengers since the lounge opened, according to the call number.
Alongside the other aisle, there is Asian food.
A chopsticks sterilizer which is does not work
I had no time for have noodles prepared for me, but I tried both cultures, in two servings (ideally, I should have taken tea the first time).
Let's be honest about it: CI's lounge at its hub pales in front of that of TK at IST. Furthermore, the drapes are lit to make believe that it is sunny outside, but there are actually obscured windows with no view whatsoever, which was expected from the lounge's location. Having exhausted the meager offering of this lounge, it was time to reach Gate A6, without going again to the toilets, without the use of a wheelchair, without changing the nappies of a baby, without nursing a baby, with no need for eating again and no intention of buying souvenirs.
The plane-spotting pictogram is missing (there is no observation deck in TPE), but I did not miss much at that time of the day, since very few planes stay overnight in TPE, so most planes are CI or BR.
Heading towards the gate, through this corridor decorated with calligraphies that FR frequent readers know well.
One of FR's most famous escalators is at the far end.
This time, in due consideration to my seniority, I took THE escalator of TPE, whose six steps are too many for the climb, so there is a half-step high slope on the other side. That means a net 1.1 meter elevation gain: good thing they installed two to make sure one is always working.
It is 7:02, and no time for going to the toilet, reading books, easting, relaxing, praying, relaxing or playing, all activities identified by pictograms, or discovering Taiwan's folk arts. I already covered all these in my previous FR ex-TPE.
It is high time to board Flight CI781 to Ho Chi Minh City, which has kept the IATA code of its pre-Vietnam War end name: Saigon.
I did not know the A6 boarding room and its overhead decoration.
Most Elite/J passengers had already boarded, but there were still a line of Y passengers on the right. It appeared to be quite full behind the curtain.
The 333, just before the J/Y branch.
The registration number geeks will be happy to know that I flew on B-18302.
A nearly comprehensive view of the J cabin.
And a selection of magazines for the duration of the flight
I could do no less than take news from the only European country having diplomatic ties with Taiwan. No, it is not Italy, of course!
The electric plug only seem to be compatible with E/F type, but they actually are not and you need an A type adaptator.
The lit diodes give the impression that they can provide power, but whether I connected my laptop to my plug, or three FAs try connecting it to another plug, the result was the same: zero milliamp. I made it clear that I was unhappy about it, but of course they could not help. It is a brand new laptop whose power supply claims to need only 65 W, much less than my previous one whose 90W demand was a frequent problem on board planes.
It did not stop us from raising my glass to the health of our Great Leader.
Nor from finding that I was too short for the seat pitch of Row 1.
The safety card
A FA took my jacket and hung it in the clothes rack in the background.
Distribution of the menu which is dedicated to the TPE-SGN line: breakfast for the outgoing flight on the left, lunch for the return flight on the right.
The catering is by China Pacific, an obvious subsidiary of China Airlines, according to its logo design. We'll go back to it later.
Plane spotting from my window shows that the A-D wing of TPE is China Airlines – centric.
There is nothing but peach tree flowers in the morning.
Two four engine CI aircraft in front of each other
If you look hard, you can find two non-CI Skyteam members which probably spent the night in TPE.
And a lost Eva Air cargo plane
Both left side…
… and right side of that 747 seem to have too many reactors.
We taxi alongside the cargo area, which is slightly more diversified. There are CI cargo planes,
..including the747-400F registered B-18722 which was never painted to CI's colors, because it had a serious accident when it was built in the Boeing works, and CI decided it would be bring bad luck to have such an unlucky machine in CI colors.
There is ANA too
As well as BR
Another Eva AIR (MD-11)
In the mean time, the IFE as be set to frontal camera mode, which makes it possible to check that the pilot does follow the line.
Close to the end of the runway, these are Far Eastern Transport's two 757s, stored until the company finds use for them.
Last, a UPS plane
Take off runway23R. In the background, the coast on the Taiwan straits.
The controls of the two seats.
In sleep mode, the seat is nowhere like flat, but this aircraft configuration is for regional flights
Furthermore, the footrest is ten centimeters too far away when you are ten centimeters too short.
Above, it looks like this
The service protocol is that the FA adds the sugar herself according to the passenger's request. I do not find it a good idea: I like adjusting the amount of sugar myself, between none and lots of it. I had the impression that the first cup of coffee was better than the second one.
A tray like this one is brought to each passenger:
Then, eight minutes later, this unconvincing spinach and cheese bread
… even though it was a creation by Master Wu Pao-chan (I never heard about her).
The other passengers had received their hot meal way before, and eventually, no less than sixteen minutes later, a FA asked if I wanted to have mine. I was waiting for it all that time, but they apparently were waiting for me to eat the fruit first. This is not what you would do in China, but I am not sure about Taiwan. These are the seafood noodles I was waiting for, with an optional spicy sauce.
Quite frankly, it was a complete failure, both sticky and overcooked. It did not go to the toilets to puke, but for visiting only.
It was clean, with this set for passenger use
A 50,000 TWD (1,300 EUR) fine if you smoke in the toilets? I believe that it can be much worse in other countries, but it is seldom posted in the toilets.
The last business class row was entirely empty, which gave me the opportunity to take a picture of the left wing, with a Taiwanese mountain skyline as a backdrop.
And the right wing with a much better lighting
The not-to-be-missed winglet
When I returned to my seat, I found that a FA had obscured my windows. It was not a bad idea, and I snoozed until ETD-30'. Some windows remained open though: there was no constraint about it.
When I eventually woke up, we were already above Vietnam.
I did not use the IFE located in the armrest, because the geovision was of little interest during a flight which was nearly entirely above water. That screen was on the wall, for the fully recorded safety demonstration. Then, there was a BBC news program, but I did not use the headphones.
Back to the Vietnamese landscapes
An unfinished expressway
The Vietnamese appear to have imported the toll way concept
If that is an artificial canal, the surveyor did not know what a straight line is
An interesting bridge above a canal
Di Linh Lake and what appears to be fish farms on the left, due to the aerators
Binh Hung Hoa Cemetery
Ho Chi Minh City's urban sprawl…
It seems reasonably landing planes spotter-friendly.
I could not identify these planes in the distance, just after touchdown.
A Philippines Airlines A320
Aligned pier side, a VN aircraft, an SU 767 and an MH 738
We wait for a few minutes for the arrival of that Follow me car, whose flashing lights look rather like those of a police car…
… and we do not go very far, to park between an Air Asia A320
… and a TG 333 on the other side that we could see previously
When leaving the aircraft, a FA apologized for my laptop receiving no power. This was the very first time that a Skyteam FA ever did that, and was worth mentioning.
A European Union national can obtain a Vietnamese visa at the local consulate, but it is more expensive and more cumbersome than receiving an invitation letter from a Vietnamese travel agency, which together with an ordinary ID picture is the key to a visa on arrival (the invitation letter costs a typical 10-15 USD, and a single entry one month stay visa 45 USD, at the time of that trip).
The counter on the left is where you hand out these documents and your passport, and then you wait for half an hour or so, seated if it is not too crowded…
…until you are called (by a rather weak PA system), pay the 45 USD in cash and recover your passport with a brand new Vietnamese visa. I also received a rather rare – but nevertheless authentic – two dollar bill as part of the change for my three 20 USD bills.
Before going through immigration where the waiting time was quasi nil, I went to the toilets which I left as clean as they were, despite a very uncomfortable diarrhea. My previous dinner and breakfast at home were nothing out of the ordinary, so I blamed the food on board. It could not be due to the fact that it was Asian food (I had been eating local food for years), nor the very spicy sauce (I use plenty myself), but more probably the seafood in the noodles which was not fresh.
After the end of my vacation, I complained to CI about that, in a factual manner. I received within 72 hours this reply:
Dear Marathon François:
Thank you very much for your letter. Regarding your comment which about the meal quality of seafood on the date of 23Mar'13 CI-781 Taipei to Ho Chi Minh City business class. Please kindly open the attachment for the instructions: Thanks your valuable advice about meals.
Food and Beverage Dept. In-flight Service Supply Div. China-Airlines
… with this attached scanned letter.
I shall never know the actual cause of that uncomfort (inadequately washed hands? Not usual with me), and it does not really matter, since I did not suffer from that after leaving the airport. The reactivity and the personalization of the answer (note the discrete linguistic imperfections, which shows that this was not a copy-pasted standard text) are to the credit of China Airlines. That is even though I have no history with them: this was an award ticket using FB airmiles accumulated with AF. End of the incident – I gave a bonus points for CI's handling of the matter.
Immigration itself is very fast and once the passport has been stamped, we overlook the luggage delivery area.
Since I had been waiting for 24 minutes to obtain that visa on arrival, all the pieces of luggage had already been delivered, no matter their priority level. There were only those, including my suitcase. I guess that the visa on arrival procedure did not apply to the Taiwanese on board my
The many labels are remembrances of some of the many trips of made on bus 1819 from TPE to Taipei's main station. You can see on the left that it took more beatings from its travelling in the Far East than its owner.
Exit landside: like in Indonesia, the general public does not have access inside the building, and I am suddenly in a hot and sweaty environment. It is quite crowded, but the three quarters of that crowd will rush an hour later at the arrival of a local celebrity, taking numerous flash pictures.
I was waiting for several hours for another star, travelling on another flight.
Which flight? Flight AF244, of course, that Mrs. Marathon had boarded the previous night in CDG, to meet her husband in an unknown airport for the umpteenth time.
That was another newcomer's mistake: whereas in Indonesia the entire terminal is off limits to non-passengers, in SGN, there are restaurants and a gallery overlooking the international check-in area, where I could have enjoyed the air-conditioning, with a seat or next to a power plug to recharge my laptop. I found that too late.
There was a luggage trolley option at the intermediate level too
Cafeteria option at the upper level
The line at check in for Air Asia flights
… but the other check in counters were quite empty
Plane spotting opportunities are few and of low quality
Since I was waiting outside, I gradually upgraded myself until I reached a public seat strategically located next to the place where all passengers have to go through, only that at the strategic moment, several people came up and blocked my view, so that my wife eventually saw me after five mildly anguishing minutes.
You will not have a FR about her flight, which would not have had the maximum grade in punctuality, being 25 minutes late even though it had left CDG on time.
On the other hand, I can't resist sharing a story worth its weight in airmiles. Mrs. Marathon travelled in J seated next to an AF captain (she later saw his professional badge). He reached his seat much later than all other passengers, after Mrs. Marathon saw him give unidentified objects out of his bag to FAs. Mrs. Marathon is no newbie, and thought little of that insider upgrade.
After leaving the plane, he reached the Visa on arrival counter at the same time as Mrs. Marathon. Or rather, he bypassed the line of passengers, and found out at the counter that his professional badge was not a laissez-passer like when he was part of the crew on another flight in January: when you are a passenger, no matter if you are airline staff or not, you need a letter of invitation (and an ID picture, that he did not have either). Check in staff in CDG and TPE had duly checked that we had these. The AF captain asked for help from a colleague about to go through the Crew, etc. channel who could do nothing for him. What happened next? Mrs. Marathon had recovered her passport with a brand new Vietnamese visa, went through immigration like a breeze and does not know. Airline staff may be used to cheating on board with regards to company rules on upgrades, but they should know that they do not have visa privileges when they are not part of the crew.
China Airlines Lounge - 2
Taipei - TPE
Ho Chi Minh City - SGN
The plane was nearly on time – I was going to wait for several hours anyway. The comfort on board was all the better that there were only 14 PAX for 36 J seats. CI loses its bonus by not delivering power to my laptop. No complaint about the FAs, the delay in serving the hot meal was compensated by miscellaneous attentions.
On the other hand, I slash the meal grade: I find it unacceptable to be sick because of airline food. The lounge was below standards too.
A note on my rating of SGN's accesssibility : I hate the airports where you have to wait outside for arriving passengers, especially if the weather is hot and humid. There is actually no identified meeting point. It also lacks a rail link to the city. There was zero wait at immigration itself, but I had to wait half an hour for the visa on arrival. Seated, not standing in a line like at your ordinary airport, so all in all, immigration at SGN was arguably above average.
(SGN's rating should be 8.5 / 4 / 7 / 9 - always that bug which jacks them up to x/10/10/10)
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