VASCO is an acronym for ‘Vietnam Air Services Company’. This trip review covers my journey from Saigon to the to the beautiful island of Con Dao, which belongs to Vietnam and lies due south of the mainland, a short flight of 45 minutes away from the capital.
Date: 4 September 2012
Airline: VASCO on behalf of Vietnam Airlines
From: Ho Chin Minh City
To: Con Dao
Cabin: Economy Class
Getting to the Airport
Vietnam is a fascinating and beautiful country. Even Saigon has a certain charm about it, although it may not exactly be what you’d call beautiful. The city still retains many traces of its colonial past as part of French Indochine, most noticeably the cathedral of Notre Dame in the centre of town, which was built by French craftsmen using bricks that were brought all the way from Marseille in France.
So far, I was always under the impression that Beijing has the worst traffic I’ve ever seen, mainly due to the fact that most Chinese drivers seem to have a very developed death wish and simply drive like maniacs. That was until I came to Vietnam…
It’s not that there’s a lot of congestion, and you certainly can’t say they drive too fast. They couldn’t even if they tried probably. The thing is, the cities are crawling with Vespas. The Vespa is the most popular mode of transport within the cities and it’s not unusual to see as many as four or five persons on a Vespa, driving through the narrow streets of Saigon just like thousands of other drivers.
From what I gather, the strategy when driving in Vietnam is just to never stop, no matter what’s coming your way. Instead, slow down and start honking like something crazy.
Fortunately, I had the pleasure of being driven to the airport in the hotel shuttle, which I suppose is quite a derrogative term for something with a Mercedes star on the bonnet. The journey to the airport from the hotel takes about 45 minutes, mainly due to the traffic. The airport is very close to the city.
I arrive at the domestic terminal, which looks like it’s quite an old facility from its architecture. Apart from that though, it’s clean and seemingly well equipped. I find my row for check-in and am processed by a friendly young lady. Initially, she places me on 14A. Just as I turn to leave though, she calls me back and asks me if perhaps I would prefer the exit row ‘because you have long leg’. I have two actually and I agree that by Vietnamese standards I probably am rather tall. So she issues me a new boarding pass for 1D, a window seat.
The Vietnam Airlines Business Class Lounge
From check-in I head one floor up to the departure lounge. Security is a very relaxed affair, you don’t have to remove your liquids or your laptop, which makes the whole process much easier.
There is a Business Class lounge, but the young lady tells me that my Air France Platinum card is only valid in the international lounges if travelling on an Economy Class ticket. So instead, I have a look around the airside shopping area, which is certainly different from the retail selection at other airports. Anyone for some frozen snake perhaps?
Boarding is called on time. Literally. I don’t know if the PA was kaput or what but the gate agent starts yelling something in Vietnamese – the only bit I understand is Con Dao – at which the other passengers at the gate stand up and go through the gate. So I follow suit. I head down the stairs to the waiting bus.
The cabin of this bird looks very well used and the headrest covers look as though they’ve been ironed to death.
From what I can observe, the inner one of the two parallel runways is used for departures at Saigon, while the outer one is used for arrivals. Take-off is quite sprightly for this little turboprop. As announced by the pilot, we hit quite a bit of turbulence as soon as we get airborne.
The cabin crew consists of two young Vietnamese ladies, both of which are friendly and welcoming.
Service on this short flight consists of a bottle of VASCO branded still water and a jasmine scented prepacked towel.
By this time we’ve left the mainland behind us, rather abruptly the muddy brown waters of the Mekong Delta give way to the clearer waters of the open sea.
The approach into Con Dao is quite spectacular. Think St. Maarten in miniature. Most of the approach is over water, then we fly over the beach at a very low altitude before eventually touching down.
As the icing on the cake, I disembark and walk across the small apron to the terminal building.
The driver taking me to my hotel is already expecting me. For the next four days I am going to do exactly nothing at all, except sit in or by my own pool. What bliss!
Domestic flying in Vietnam is a lot like taking a bus. And from what I can tell, that’s how VASCO understands its mission. No more, no less. Can’t really argue with that!
My hotel in Con Dao is the Six Senses and I am even fortunate enough to get an upgrade to one of their beach villas. Although in actual fact it’s a bit of an overkill, the villa is spread out across three bungalows and can sleep six! Still, the large pool is certainly cool.