My holiday in Southeast Asia is quickly drawing to an end and it’s time for me to begin the long journey home. It’s been a lot of fun. Even so, I am looking forward to returning to more familiar climes. Vietnam is a lovely place and I hope to return some day, but it is also a vicious assault on the senses that leaves you reeling.
Date: 11. September 2012
Airline: Qatar Airways
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1B, aisle seat
In Hanoi I stayed at the Sofitel Legende Metropole. The original building, which still stands today and is still in use as a hotel, was opened in 1901. At the time it was the only decent place to stay in Hanoi and subsequently became the preferred hang out of the rich and famous, both resident and visiting.
Later on during the American war, it became a refuge and a safe haven to the foreigners in the beleaguered city, at the time many embassies converted the guest’s rooms at the hotel into offices and set up shop there.
After the war, the place fell into disuse and neglect, and by the time the Accor Hotel Group took over the building in the nineties, it was merely a derelict and rat infested ruin.
Today the Metropole is restored to its original splendour and enjoys once more the reputation of being the best place to stay on town.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Just before 15h00 my butler knocks at my door to collect my baggage. I check out and head downstairs to the lobby, outside the driver is already expecting us. I leave central Hanoi just after 15h00, the journey to the airport takes some 45 minutes to complete. The roads and streets in central Hanoi are small and narrow, it’s a tight squeeze for us and the incessant swarm of the omnipresent Vespas.
The agent at check-in issues my boarding pass as well as the lounge invitation. In Hanoi all airlines use the same lounge, with the exception of Vietnam Airlines who have their own one.
THE TRANSIT AREA & LOUNGE
The lounge is one floor up from the public area. The terminal is a strange place, it’s packed with souvenir stalls with gaudy lights in some places, while other parts of the building are more or less deserted and empty.
The lounge itself is rather large for the airport and offers both warm and cold food and drinks. I help myself to the glass noodles with pak choy and enjoy the view outside until the time comes for me to board my flight to Bangkok.
At 16h50 a Qatar Airways rep comes to the lounge and invites all passengers to board. By the looks of it there are eight adults and four beastly kids on the flight this evening. By the time I reach the gate they’re already making the final call for the flight.
The cabin of this bird is very nice. I think of all the intra-Asian flights (some of which I’ll post later on) I took on this trip this is the nicest one. There is even a small kind of pot mounted to the bulkhead on both rows and the roses in it are actually real and very fresh. There is a cushion at every seat, as well as a pair of earphones, which have been placed in their specific compartment by the side of the seat.
The toilet on this bird is enormous. You could throw a party in there. It’s also well stocked with Molton Brown goodies, shaving kits and dental kits.
The crew, as is to be expected, are an interesting mix of nationalities. All of them are very friendly and take a professional approach to their job.
After that I receive a small lacquer plate with a warm rose scented towel. This is followed by the distribution of the menus on this short sector. The flying time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.
We push back right on time. We’re number three for departure behind a FedEx A310 and an Air Mekong Canadair Regional Jet. For an aircraft as grand and majestic as the Triple Seven it would be appropriate to describe the take-off roll in terms of power and grace, to go rambling on about thundering down the runway and defying the earth’s gravity and that kind of talk. But in actual fact the more suitable description in this case would be to say that we bounce down the runway until eventually we bounce into the air and stay there. The runway in Hanoi is the most uneven one I have every departed from! It has the whole plane shaking.
There are no choices on the flight today. The flight isn’t really long enough. When the tray arrives it contains a hot meal that is beef with rice, carrots and pak choy with garlic. The pak choy tastes very bitter so I just leave that. The rest is okay. Nothing outstanding, but it’s okay.
For dessert there is a fruit salad with dragon fruit, papaya, strawberries, pineapple and grapes.
All in all it’s an unspectacular flight, there no ‘wow’ moment but I have nothing to fault Qatar Airways with either on this short sector.
There is one very strong point in Qatar Airways’ favour. Before we land the cabin crew distribute the embarkation cards for Thailand. For passengers in Business Class they also provide a fast track voucher for immigration. This is something Egypt Air did not provide when I flew with them from Kuala Lumpur back to Bangkok earlier during the trip.
Out of the four airlines I did international flights with in Asia on this journey – Royal Jordanian, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways – Qatar Airways gave by far the most professional and polished performance.
As we climb out of Hanoi and the beautiful landscapes of Vietnam slowly vanish under a veil of humidity and heat haze, I reflect back upon my journey through this fascinating and amazing country. It will take me a while to fully appreciate and understand the country and the people I encountered. I don’t think I’ve ever before experienced anything quite like Vietnam.