Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hue with Vietnam Airlines and La Résidence Hotel

We had a really long layover, about 4 hours, in Saigon. We had to walk from the international terminal to the domestic via an outdoor walkway. It was sort of a cruel welcome to the heat and humidity of Vietnam. The domestic terminal in Saigon is very sad. It is completely utilitarian and lacks any kind of style or decor. It's just a giant room with airline counters and it's not well air-conditioned. We had standby upgrades waiting for us, but we had to check-in at the economy desk, which was a bit of a downer. The domestic business class lounge for Vietnam Airlines is really sad. It smells like smoke and has big bulky ugly furniture. At least it was a place to relax and have internet before our flight to Hue. They only call the flights for the large cities of Hanoi and Danang and they never called our flight. When it was time to board the flight we were taken out to our plane by a bus. Our plane was probably at the farthest possible stand. We had to walk up to the plane and I took these shots. The Vietnam Airlines blue is really pretty and they only seem to fly A321s out of the A320 family although at one time they flew A319s and A320s.

Since we were in business class we boarded at the front of the plane. Come to find out there were only two other people in business class on this flight. Only 4 of the 16 seats were occupied and they assigned us all to row 3. 

The flight from Saigon to Hue is just over an hour long and maybe around 1.5 hours but no more. It's really a pretty view all the way up the coast.

They served a little cold plate snack on the short flight up the coast. I also ordered a beer because I remember having Vietnamese beer before and actually liked it.

When we landed in Hue we were the only plane at the airport. The plane parked about no more than 200 feet from the terminal building yet we deplaned and boarded a bus to the terminal, which was absolutely ridiculous. What also added to the ridiculousness was that the 4 of us in business class had our own bus to ourselves. In a sense it was nice, but by the time the bags made it to the terminal all the other passengers were there crowding the baggage claim area.

This picture was shot just inside the terminal building and it is clear just how close and how unnecessary it was to be bused to the terminal. 

We had our hotel, La Residence Hue, arrange our airport transfer and when we exited the arrivals area our driver was waiting for us. The hotel is less than 30 minutes from the hotel and it was early evening when we arrived. The front desk agent invited to sit in the lobby to complete the check-in. We were given cold towels and a welcome drink. Because I'm a Platinum member with Accor, I also received a gift in the form of a stationary set. La Résidence is an M Gallery hotel and part of Accor. This hotel is the old governor's mansion from colonial times and it is really charming. There are three main buildings and our room was in a separate building from the lobby and restaurants. We were given a deluxe river view room on the top floor with a large balcony. The view from there was amazing. In the picture below the ancient citadel can be seen across the river with the large flag pole.

The next day we took a day tour of Hue and we had a tour guide and driver the whole day. We first went to three different emperor's tombs. There are way more than three but we only had time for those. Each had its own character and the first one was the tomb of Tu Duc. It is the most dilapidated of the trio we saw and was built in the 1860s.

The second tomb we saw was that of Minh Mang. It was built early than the previous one we saw in the 1840s. This one is in better condition and is really pretty.

The third tomb we saw was that of the last emperor, Khai Dinh. It is really nice and was the most crowded of the ones we saw. It was built in the 1930s.

After that tomb we drove to the citadel where we had lunch inside the walls of the ancient city at a really nice restaurant with upscale Vietnamese food. After lunch we toured the citadel area and the forbidden city within the walls.

After the citadel, we drove up the river to the Thien Mu pagoda where there is also a monastery behind it. The view of the river from the pagoda is very beautiful. All of the parts of the city we saw were pretty and serene.

Once we finished walking around the pagoda we boarded a river dragon boat. It was a perfect was to end the day enjoying the cool air of the river on a boat all to ourselves. We saw children playing in the water along with some water buffalo.

The river boat let us off just a block from our hotel and we walked back and bid farewell to our guide who gave us an amazing day around the ancient city of Hue. If you ever get a chance to go to Vietnam, Hue is not to be missed.

Friday, July 4, 2014

LAX to Taipei on EVA Airways' brand new 777-300ER in Elite Class

I flew out of LAX to Taipei on EVA Airways for the first time. I was excited to try a new Asian airline especially because I was flying in Elite Class, which is EVA's premium economy class. We got to the airport and checked-in about 3 hours in advance of our flight, which was scheduled for a late afternoon departure. We made our way to the Star Alliance Lounge after passing through security. It was quite empty although I expected it to be full with all of the late afternoon departures to Europe. We had a long wait in the really nice lounge and had some food and drinks before making our way to the gate.

This is the swanky outdoor patio area of the lounge. I love it out there and I have never seen anyone else out there the two times I've been able to use the lounge. This is a shot of the water wall behind the couches.

The lounge has many different seating areas and there is an "outdoor" area that is still clearly indoors. It reminds me of lounges at Hong Kong International Airport. This area overlooks the shops and restaurants.

From the "outdoor" sitting area there is a very long bar that is also on the inside part of the lounge.

With about 45 minutes before departure we made our way to the gate where our 777-300ER was waiting. It looked really shiny and new and I actually had forgotten that EVA just took possession of 2 new 777s. This was one of them. I looked up the registration online and sure enough I saw that EVA had only had this plane for about 20 days.

When we got on board I realized that the Elite Class seats were new and didn't look like the older ones on the website. The old ones have green hues, but these are brown and feel really nice. We had bulkhead seats on the right side of the cabin. We had a ton of room for the very long 13+ hour flight.

There was lots of room to stretch out in this bulkhead row of Elite Class. The seating in this cabin is 2x4x2.

I had a nice view of this gigantic GE90 and gorgeous wing. Next to us were 2 other Star Alliance jumbos getting ready fly east to Europe.

The new Elite Class had huge 16:9 individual screens. Since we were in the bulkhead the screens were on the wall. In this picture, our remaining time of 13:22 is seen. We ended up leaving almost 1.5 hours late because our plane came in late.

This is a shot of dinner. I chose the fish and it was fairly good. I'm not sure how this meal compared to that in economy class, but it wasn't half bad.

There were lavatories at the back of the cabin that were exclusively for the Elite Class passengers and it had these really nice smelling toiletries in it.

Soon after takeoff, the flight attendants passed out these 15 minute free cards for the new inflight wifi. I think the price was something like 11.95 USD for 1 hour and 21.95 USD for 24 hours. I imagine that if one needed to do a lot of work and had a connecting flight then the 24 hour rate would be a reasonable choice. I only used 15 minutes to send out this picture to facebook.

About 2 hours before landing, they served breakfast, which was quite good especially since I was hungry enough to eat. It had been about 9-10 hours since we had eaten dinner and I actually slept a little bit in the comfortable new seats, which was nice because I rarely am able to sleep on planes. 

With the delay, we ended up landing around 11:00pm. Our connecting flight didn't leave until 9:30am the next morning, so I had made reservations at the Novotel airport hotel. We ended up only staying at the hotel for about 6-7 hours in total.

This giant stuffed panda was waiting for us in our executive floor room at the Novotel Taoyuan Airport hotel.