Where are the domestic flights when you exit SGN's international terminal? Left? wrong, you cannot go very far, only far enough to reach the International Departures level, and find out that there are two levels on top of it which are both accessible to the general public and air-conditioned. Looking at our ticket printout was a better idea: it told us that there is a distinct domestic terminal in SGN. Going right from the exit, we soon saw that indication which was missing in front of the exit.
And then came this path which was sheltered from sun and rain, quite pleasant actually apart from its irregular interlocking pavement which was a nuisance for dragging our luggage.
This is the domestic terminal, seen from the outside (the path is just beyond the edge of the picture on the right), with a video surveillance camera which looks like an afterthought.
I did not really want to fly round trip to Da Nang (DAD), but an open jaw with Hue, whose IATA code is not HUE, but HUI in order to mean Hue International. But when I started preparing this trip in November, a Canadian French-speaking internet forum taught me that HUI was going to be closed for overhaul from March to November 2013. That did not stop VN to keep selling tickets to/from HUI during that period. It was unclear if all passengers would transferred to flights to DAD, due to lack of seat availability, and if the new schedule would be to their liking.
Better take that airport closure for granted and plan a roundtrip to DAD. In March, there was a flight every hour, and since the AF incoming flight had not been very late, the delay between both flights was useless, but we could not change for an earlier flight. Not only the fare did not allow it, but our flight turned out to be full, and the previous ones were presumably full too… due to HUI's closure.
The staff at the access to the J/Elite check in counter let us in, maybe thanks to the language barrier.
Four hours between the arrival of Flight AF244 and the departure of Flight VN1322 was excessive and I knew it, but since we would reach the hotel at night anyway, better take no risk in case the AF flight was late. Last year, Mrs. Marathon has missed her connecting flight in HKG because her AF flight was late, and had been reprotected on the last flight to TPE, the one which lands around 1am. But this time, since these were two separate tickets, missing the flight to DAD would have a ripple effect on our whole vacation.
I hoped to have access to VN's J lounge (because we were both J passengers on international Skyteam flights and connecting to a domestic Skyteam flight in Y), and holding Gold and Silver FB cards, but no way: what had worked in PEK to enter CZ's lounge failed in SGN, maybe because these were two separate tickets.
Over two years to kill airside in SGN. I have seen airports in China which were worse than this one, but this will nevertheless not be my best memory of Vietnam. First of all, the airside zone is definitely plane spotter-unfriendly, with a corridor on the tarmac side, which meant two layers of windows, one of them tinted, and lots of framing to support both layers.
Furthermore, the bilingual calls were frequent, very loud, through a bad PA system, the kind that predated the word hi-fi.
It was several rungs below the level of the international terminal. We could do some duty free shop sightseeing.
Especially since the staff were paying more attention to the embroidery than to passengers who had no intention to become customers.
I knew that swallows' nests are used in local restaurants, but I do not know the recipe, and I do not feel much like trying.
Shark fins are for soup too, but not only they are horrendously expensive (at least here), but they are ecologically highly incorrect.
No free wifi, but this internet access screen is free of charge.
This provides me a corporate screen shot which is slightly distorted, but better than nothing. Vietnam has a poor rating when it comes to internet freedom, but at least FR is not blocked by the censorship.
Time passes by, slowly when it is uncomfortable, until our flight is called… half an hour late.
The passengers wait in a reasonably ordered line.
There is a Sky Priority lane that nobody uses. Mrs. Marathon could have used it (she is FB-Gold), but what was the point without me?
There was no plane at gate 12. No, there was no partial solar eclipse, just clouds.
… because we go down stairs to a bus. Although the lighting decreases rapidly, I hope to have some plane spotting opportunity.
This Tiger Airways plane is marginally more visible than from the airside area.
… let us hope that the bus (parked slightly further away) will give better opportunities.
Despite the bus tinted glass windows, this is VN-A356, an A320 belonging to Jetstar Pacific, Jestsar's Vietnamese subsidiary, that I had not seen so far on FR.
And the star of the day!
This is the first picture of an A350, in Vietnam Airlines livery!
Yes, I know, they wrote Airbus 321 underneath, a usual trick of all producers to disguise their prototypes from would-be spies.
The bus does not go far enough (and I am on the wrong side to take pictures of other aircraft), and reach VN-351, i.e. the next plane of Vietnam Airlines. This time, it is indeed an A321, but I believe the painter at VN is somewhat color-blind.
He even confused consumers.
This A321 is actually very interesting: after the bankruptcy of Royal Air Cambodge in 2001, Cambodia Angkor Air has been created in 2009 as a joint venture (51% Cambodian government, 49% VN). VN provided planes like this one, which was painted to the Cambodia Angkor Air livery, and returned later in VN's fleet, without undergoing another paint job.
There are four rows of J in 2+2 seating,
And then the economy class in 3+3 seating
Unfortunately, seat 21A is a bad seat: there is above the leading edge of the wing a slightly shorter module, with a single window instead of two, which creates a slightly isolated window, and therefore a row with hardly any window at all.
Furthermore, the window in front of me appears to have been thoroughly sanded. With the added handicap of the waning light, I took my pictures without aiming through the window behind me.
On the other hand, the seat pitch was correct
Even when the passenger seated before me reclined his seat during the flight, I was able to continue undisturbed the typing of the FR of the preceding flight, which is my basic criterion for comfort on a non-night flight.
Meanwhile, this is the safety card
And the small cleaning towel which has been distributed.
It is indeed a VN aircraft, despite the unusual livery: the head rests, the FAs, and the safety demonstration on the IFE all bear VN's logo.
The windows being what they are,
… I am not to make a fortune out of the copyright dues on these pictures of that Malaysian cargo aircraft and of that plane of the Vietnamese low-cost airline Vietjet Air.
I did not fly with them, but this is their FA's uniform, a lot more modern than that of competing Vietnam Airlines.
759 000 VND for SGN-DAD, this is half of VN's base fare, but that does not include checked luggage fees, and it may not be valid for any flight.
Last plane spotting shot: there are three ATR72 parked close to the runway threshold, including this one of Vietnam Air Services
Departure runway 25L
Gaining altitude also meaning gaining some light, just enough for a winglet shot
Like any self-respecting Asian FA, those of VN wear an apron to protect their uniform during the service.
I wonder about the risk of messing one's uniform when distributing 350ml bottles of water. C’est La Vie !
With regards to the IFE, it is indeed VN, but it does not tell us more than that.
Touchdown at 18:21: the plane recovered in flight nearly all its initial delay. This came with the bonus of a record delivery of the luggage: despite a very short walk through the terminal, we waited our two pieces of luggage for less than one minute.
We only needed to spend half a million VND (an impressive amount of zeroes, but less than 20 EUR) to reach Hoi An by taxi, take a quick dinner in a local restaurant and crash to bed. The FR stops there, and you can do without by scrolling down to the conclusion.
Hoi An is a very small trading town alongside a river, whose centre kept all of its original authenticity. It may be the only one of its kind, because the region was among the most bombed during the Vietnam War. This is the reason why it made it to the prestigious World Heritage List drawn by the Unesco.
There is a Japanese heritage, such as this bridge which has been built by the Japanese community in the 16th century.
Connoisseurs of the TSA-LZN route will have recognized in that House of the Fujian Chinese community a statue of the goddess Matsu, protector of sailors which is revered on both sides of the Taiwan straits.
Those who are more familiar with CAN will feel at home in the garden of the House of the Guangdong Chinese community, with this scaled reproduction of the statue of the five legendary goats which gave birth to the city of Guangzhou, also known as Canton.
But the same river which gave Hoi An its prosperity is also a calamity whose floods in case of a typhoon are devastating: see the marks on a pillar of the Quan Thang House.
The 14th day of the lunar month (a few days before the full moon) in Hoi An, the inhabitants lay offerings to the gods in front of all the shops – it is said that there are over 300 tailor's shops in the city.
They play to what seems to be Chinese chess
Or participate to demonstrations of traditional martial art – this one is one of several that evening.
From Hoi An, ruins enthusiasts can go to My Son, a sanctuary of the Cham civilization which dominated the center of Vietnam for a thousand years. Alas, the Viêt-Công installed one of its bases there that the American bombed, and then came by way of land to reduce to rubble the most beautiful monuments that their air force had failed to destroy.
For once, we can thank the French, who moved the most beautiful sculptures to a museum in Da Nang, which is now one of the inescapable stops of cultural tourism in this region.
Amateurs of art and civil engineering will take a look at this new bridge in front of the museum, decorated with a stylized dragon of painted steel.
… and then take the road of the Clouds Pass, when it is not in the clouds which gave it its name, which provides beautiful vistas on the coast.
A tunnel over 6 km long saves an jour on the trip north to Hue: on the way back, it took only a 2h30' car ride to catch our plane in DAD, since we could not leave from HUI, closed for eight months of renovation work.
Take the train? Very cheap (less than three Euros for Da Nang - Hue), but slow: the single meter gauge track offers few paths for passenger trains. If you missed the 16:50 train from Da Nang to Hue, the next one is at 23:27! Note the two counter-rails to keep the train on the track in case of derailment.
Pulled by a D19E Type 2 Diesel-electric Chinese made locomotive, Train SE19 is here only an hour away from Da Nang, its destination. It will have taken 18h35' to cover 791 km from Hanoi
There is a lot to be said on Hue, and that will be in the FR of the return flight.
Ho Chi Minh City - SGN
Da Nang - DAD
Six minutes late at touchdown, but an immediate luggage delivery: that did not deserve penalizing the punctuality. On the other hand, reaching the tarmac 30 minutes later than expected degraded the plane spotting opportunities due to the reduced lighting. The comfort of the seat was excellent, but I was in a row with only a half window, and a badly scratched one at that, which degraded the quality of any picture. Once aloft, on time or late, it was going to be dark anyway. The comfort in SGN was poor, without being a disaster. The lack of water fountain is all the more regrettable that water is sold at an outrageous price.
If it was a low cost airline, it would deserve 5 for the meal. But the fare is not that of a low cost, and that deserves a below average grade. On the other hand, the FAs were smiling, and I have no specific comments on the ground staff either.
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