Smart air travel

What is a night’s sleep worth? Even just a fitfull, semi-snooze during an international flight? As economy class travellers (which, let’s face it, is the vast majority), is a more expensive airfare worth the “investment” to arrive relatively refreshed ready for action, rather than save money on a budget option and waste two or more days recovering?

Believe me, jetlag recovery takes longer as each year passes. Myself being of a somewhat “compact physique”, air travel is the one time I can get revenge on the “longer legged” passengers … but seriously, I do feel for them. However, I’ve copped early-onset osteoarthritis in the lower back, making flying (read: sitting for extented periods) a painful challenge. I will pop a heavy duty painkiller or a knockout tablet (both of which I avoid at any other time) to make the trip bearable and I won’t sleep – and I’ll feel lousy for two to three days.

The cheaper/good value airfares for Melbourne/Sydney/Brisbane to Asia are predominantly overnight flights, such as Scoot via Singapore (generous carry-on weight limits but expect up to 24 hours’ travel time, and Singapore accommodation prices can be eye watering), the dreaded Jetstar Asia (once fabulous, but these days with a reputation for cancelling flights and gouging money eg: weighing the jewellery worn by women at boarding etc), Thai Airways via Bangkok, and Malaysian Airlines via Kuala Lumpur.

AirAsia X and smaller Chinese airlines can be cheap but expect a lenghty tour of the transit lounges of Asian airports – and really not a viable option when taking check-in luggage because of the self transfer stress and the frequency of late or cancelled flights.

Alternatively, pay twice the fare for a daytime flight, such as Qantas via Singapore, Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, and China Southern is starting to offer some good value, daytime flights via Guangzhou. At present, I’m favoring Vietnam Airlines which has a day flight direct between Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

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Two EXTRA seats for just USD27. Yes, just USD27/AUD40 to have two vacant seats next to mine in Economy, on the Vietnam Airlines overnight flight direct from Ho Chi Minh City to Melbourne. Stretching out and sleeping is a huge plus (but, of course, expect to sensibly sit upright and buckle up tight during severe air turbulance, for your own safety).

The meal is hot, too (*hint hint* Qantas) and the cabin crew service is superb. The Economy fare is about AUD150 cheaper than Qantas. The extra seats are available only if not sold – so check with Vietnam Airlines and OptionTown, https://vietnamairlines.optiontown.com/

My motto: “travel smart, travel happy”.

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Boarding a flight from Bangkok to Hanoi and in “autopilot mode” having had zero sleep on the preceding overnight flight from Melbourne, I place my bag in the overhead compartment at seat 34K and then notice someone’s in the seat. Recheck my boarding pass: it’s my error, mine’s seat 36K and I’m two seats too early. I apologise, mumbling: “Oops, I’ve jumped the gun” – GUN! A dozen alarmed faces swing around to stare at me! South-East Asians may not be familiar with Aussie vernacular, but they sure know the dreaded “G word”. In these days of heightened security, one must carefully choose one’s words … even if half asleep.

https://asianjourneys.com.sg/eMagazine/singapore/2020-02-01/page-1#book/

Open letter to UK travellers

Dear UK travellers,

Please visit Australia. We are a friendly bunch, with a continent full of unique wonders, and you get an embarrassingly fabulous exchange rate on your money.
Contrary to our Govt’s silly marketing, most Australians do not have “plastic” faces with collagen lips and botox smiles, but do expect a laugh and a cheeky grin under a layer of sunscreen.
Please also bring any mates who don’t speak English – modern Australia was made by millions of migrants from across the world, and an ancient Indigenous culture. Besides, interpreters can be handy as many of the most popular dishes in our world array of eateries have foreign names.
You won’t miss out on your favorite British breakfast tea but be prepared for arguably the best barista coffee outside of the Mediterranean.
Oh, do you like good wine and cold beer?

Yours sincerely,

Australia

Virgin Air’s Bali bargain

Anyone for Bali?
Virgin Australia has fares $299 one way and $499 return Melbourne to Bali to mark the launch of the airline’s new route. It includes 23kg of baggage – that’s a great price. The economy fares are on sale until Monday November 25, for when the flights start March 29 next year 2020.
If you’re Bali bound, I’d be checking it out:
Website: virginaustralia.com
Instagram: @virginaustralia

Choice: In with the new while keeping the old

A view to the future: Ibis will be a perfect fit for the foreshore at Vung Tau, Vietnam.

The popular weekend escape for Ho Chi Minh City’s populace, Vung Tau is balancing the accomm options with new, proportionate hi-rises while keeping the multitude of traditional nhà nghì “motel” guesthouses. Choice.

This “Ibis Suites” Hotel on the “back beach” is having the finishing touches and will soon open. (The security guard came over and went crook at me for taking this pic – all the while he was smiling, as they do. Haha.)

Vung Tau is so do-able…

Double the Delights of Vietnam

Happy in Hanoi, GREG HACKETT hits the road to Vung Tau. Literally.

I came. I saw. I broke a big toe. (Apologies to Julius Caesar.) However, Vung Tau might just be my lucky break. I’ve been on the hunt for an “easily do-able” South-East Asian seaside destination to replace Cambodia’s diabolically destroyed Sihannoukville, and this south Vietnamese pearl is looking perfect. Even an aching toe (I don’t suppose you can sue a municipal council for an uneven footpath injury in this part of the world, eh? Haha) doesn’t seem so bad, with the aid of osteo-paracetemol, Saigon Green beer, a beach, and a thousand smiling faces.

Pullman Perfection

Variety is the essence of this Vietnam journey: imagine French Versailles one day, Ancient Sparta the next; from a Hanoi Pullman luxury suite to a standard room at Vung Tau’s Hoang Cam guesthouse. This is how I travel. And I love it.

My first time in Hanoi, and the Pullman makes it easy. An optician across the street from the hotel’s entrance is handy – I have my eyes checked with the hi-tech gadgetry, and order (with same day delivery) several new spectacles of the same or superior quality, and half the price, of those I bought in Melbourne. The Pullman is located on the edge of the Vietnam capital’s “embassies precinct”, with the Temple of Literature, Uncle Ho’s Museum and all the other bits and pieces that tourists seek. The Pullman’s concierge provides a map for a casual 40-minute “cultural walk”.

Embassy “Spy” tail

Now with good vision (and a full stomach from the breakfast buffet) I gladly put the map to use. As I strolled (or semi-hobbled, with a crook back) past the Ukraine embassy’s gated entrance, a 30-something, hair shortly cropped, blue eyed blond bloke, dressed all in trendy black, emerged with a beautiful Vietnamese girl. He nodded “hello” to me, and I nodded in acknowledgement and let them pass, as I further studied my “cultural walk” route. By pure coincidence, we headed in the same direction – him chatting to his young companion and darting glances back at me, and me schlepping along about 30 metres behind, happily absorbed in trying to decipher street directions. Ten minutes later, we passed the Chinese embassy and crossed the intersection, to Lenin Park. With a quick frown in my direction, he ducked out onto the street, stopped a taxi, hurriedly bundled his lady acquaintance into the back seat, jumped in himself, and off they sped to their … afternoon assignation.

The silly bloke. If he thought I was tailing him, Putin’s spies must now be half the height and twice the age!

Choice accommodation

Smaller, “no-frills” guesthouses and hotels (the ubiquitous sign Nhà Nghi in Vietnamese) suit a solo traveller such as myself, and the Hoang Cam guesthouse, at US$7 a night, ticks the boxes: fan and aircon, WiFi, mini fridge, cleanliness, location and a bonus balcony. However, for a traveller, a couple or a family wanting quality/price comfort, I can’t speak (or write) highly enough of the Hanoi Pullman. My many friends and contacts who have followed my travel writings over the years are familiar with my praise for the Accor accommodation properties Pullman/Sofitel/Novotel – because I’ve simply never had a problem with them. And I can be blunt in my assessment.

Travel Tip: Always tip the hotel/guesthouse manager the day you arrive, not the day you depart. It makes sense.
At Vung Tau’s Hoang Cam hotel, The reception lady mistakenly overcharged me when I prepaid my bill. The following day, the manager informed me and reimbursed the cash. Most Vietnamese and Cambodians are good like that …

https://asianjourneys.com.sg/eMagazine

Getting fresh on a lunch date

The little lunch date soon becomes a seafood feast: that’s me when I see FRESH from the sea.

Two crabs steamed (my fav), a lobster grilled, a whole fish (I mistakenly pointed to the cobia, I meant grouper. Oh well) in that SEAsian tomato sauce that makes any fish delish, and a large seafood noodles.

Add an iced tea (trà dá, I relish it), a little Red Bull and a small water: USD100/AUD150 (I’m glad our politicians are paid in AUD, not USD)