Before I start divulging the many and different tales from our recent trip to Vietnam, I thought it might help to post the itinerary we followed.
Day 1 Evening flight from London Heathrow to Bangkok.
Day 2 Arrive Bangkok. Transfer to Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Day 3 Explore Bangkok with Driver Daeng.
Day 4 Fly from Bangkok to Hanoi. Stay at Sofitel Metropole Hotel.
Day 5 Day trip to Ha Long Bay.
Day 6 Hanoi.
Day 7 Fly from Hanoi to Hoi An. Stay at Ha An Hotel.
Day 8 Hoi An.
Day 9 Fly from Hoi An to Nha Trang. Stay at Evason Mandara Six Senses Resort.
Day 10 Chill out in Nha Trang.
Day 11 Day trip to Dalat.
Day 12 National Holiday in Vietnam. More chilling out.
Day 13 Fly from Hoi An to Ho Chi Minh City. Stay at the Majestic Hotel.
Day 14 Day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong River.
Day 15 Last day in HCMC. Fly back to Bangkok. Stay at the Peninsula Hotel.
Day 16 Leave Bangkok. Time to fly back to England.
That’s quite a few flights; seven in sixteen days, to be precise. We did the Heathrow-Bangkok legs with EVA Air, Taiwan’s national airline. Their colour scheme is really quite green, as in seventies lime, they have Eva- branded Hello Kitty merchandise in the in-flight shopping magazine and everything, yes everything is too much trouble for the flight attendants. Still, their direct flights to Bangkok were the most competitive for us at the time and the film selection was so good that I managed to squeeze in 5 on the way back. That’s a lot of film watching I’ve managed to catch up on in one 12 hour flight.
Air Asia took us from Thailand to Vietnam and back. Monsieur and I like the flights we’ve taken with this low cost airline; they’re cheap, efficient and the fleet is shiny new. What we hate about Air Asia is being stung on the excess baggage. We paid $125.00 US excess baggage on our way out of Vietnam. Suddenly those tickets don’t look so cheap, but it’s the way they make their money, I guess.
Vietnam Airlines was our choice for internal travelling in Vietnam. We weren’t delayed once, although the flight from Nha Trang to HCMC terrified me. One of the engines made a straining whine for the duration of the flight, the plane dropped suddenly on a number of occasions and the turbulence was relentless all the way. I admit being white-knuckled with fast-filling eyes threatening to spill over and I prayed most of the way. When we arrived miraculously in one piece we went to church to light candles in thanks. I’ve seldom been so scared or so grateful to step off a plane alive.
When we met up with Adam of Vietnam Travel Notes he told us we’d been very lucky with our on-time departures with Vietnam Airlines. Apparently, their reputation for being delayed is so severe that they’re the butt of many airline jokes. Well, we were impressed and we always seemed to land BEFORE the scheduled arrival time. I don’t know how they do it. The runways could do with some work at some point. Lots of bumps and potholes.
If you want to know anything about our trip or experiences of Vietnam, leave a comment and I’ll get an answer posted for you as quickly as possible.
To read Malaysia, Part 13, click here.
Knees still wobbly from our brush with the fastest man in Malaysia, Monsieur and I were soon on the flight to Langkawi, somewhat bemused by Air Asia‘s luggage policy. As with so many low cost airlines, the tickets are kept cheap by strict luggage limitations, in this case a challenging 15 kilos per person. We knew we’d be slightly over this but it’s pretty difficult to travel for two weeks on less than this, especially if your motto is ‘be prepared’, as is mine. Even most backpackers carry at least 15 kilos on their backs! So when the check-in clerk said we’d have to pay excess baggage charges, I winced in anticipation of a hefty bill. It actually wasn’t bad at all – 72RM (around £11.00), but that wasn’t taking into account my two carry-on bags. Everywhere, the signs told me that only one carry-on bag was permitted. Feeling like a spy I hid one behind the other, thus managing to get both through security and avoiding more excess baggage charges, only to find in the departures lounge that plenty of people had more than one carry-on. Some looked as if they were taking whole shops home to Langkawi! In fact, at the other end, the caroussel was loaded with giant carry-alls so full they were fit to burst. Someone had checked in an entire brand new dinner service, still in its box. Other people had woks, saucepan sets and other kitchen items. There were giant plastic bags filled with boxes and packets of food. It seemed to be cheaper to bring certain items from the mainland via Air Asia, in spite of excess baggage costs, rather than buy them in Langkawi or ship them over. Air Asia definitely held the winning ticket with this one.
The flight from the LCCT to Langkawi took barely an hour in a brand new plane with splashy red and white livery. The black leather seats were a bit tight, but nothing you can’t cope with for sixty or so minutes, and we had the in-flight entertainment of the baby hauling himself up by the headrest in front, giggling madly at Monsieur and me. Perhaps it was because we were boring white people in bland travel uniform compared to the colourful Malays with their pretty scarves and bright tops all around us.
Grabbing the in-flight menu, I was interested to see Pot Noodles in Tom Yam flavour alongside Air Asia tee shirts with Manchester United slogans emblazoned across them. Seemed like a pretty tenuous connection to me and I doubted my fellow passengers were big Man U fans, but I guess you never know. Meanwhile, out the window we could see a sprinkling of islands below us as we approached Langkawi. Following a hectic week of non-stop movement, it’d be wonderful to chill out in one place for a few days, and that’s exactly why we were here.
We pre-paid our taxi to the Pelangi Beach resort and were bundled into a beat-up old van without much suspension, as we found out soon enough on the pot-holed road around the airport. Once we were clear of the terminal, we bumped along past lush paddy fields with their requisite big-eyed water buffalo. It was the sort of landscape that makes you think you’re walking through an issue of National Geographic.
Soon we were driving through Pelangi’s gates, up to the main building, an impressive construction in local dark wooden style. It stood open to the elements, front and back, without windows or doors and in the centre of the spacious lobby was a large, elevated bar, just perfect for sipping cocktails with a little pink umbrella perched on the rim whilst watching whatever it was that took place on the stage at the other end.
Check-in was swift and a smiling porter whisked our bags away as we were given our room keys and driven to our chalet in a golf cart. Chalet? I thought to myself, in Malaysia? Talk about incongruity, alas, no yodelling Heidis herding goats here. The ‘chalet’ was once again constructed of chocolatey wood, with an oriental sloping roof. It housed eight rooms overlooking a lake filled with giant water lilies and surrounded by more chalets identical to ours. Our balcony (or lanai) was ample, so we’d be able to sit and breakfast here or enjoy a cool glass of something in the evening. All around us was hot but quiet, apart from the odd splash of ducks on the lake or the buzz of a dragonfly or two. Yes, we’d find some peace here.
Inside, our room was huge, with a walk-in dressing room, dedicated unpacking area and a mini-bar that would be affordable enough to use. Still, we weren’t here to sit in a room all day so out we went to explore the grounds. Near our chalet was a leisure area with a traditional kampung or house on stilts in its midst. There was a small animal farm where hens pecked around their houses, a somewhat neglected archery zone, mini golf, tennis courts and a ship for kids to clamber all over.
Further along, we found one of the two resort swimming pools, called The Cascade Pool because of its mini waterfall. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be swimming here as the decks were being refurbished and the smell of varnish hung heavy in the air. This wasn’t stopping a group of Moslem women who were enjoying the water with their children, in spite of their full swimming robes in tropical black. In one respect it’s wonderful that their robes don’t stop them from cooling off this way but in another it made me feel uncomfortable as I couldn’t imagine swimming in clothes. The last time I did that was when I donned a pair of pyjamas for a life-saving exam.
We walked on, finding a path to lead us to the beach, a long, wide strip of white sand giving onto the sea. Hammocks hung between trees and a golf cart tootled along, its driver spraying foliage for mosquitoes. The sky was changing colour now so we sat on the beach as we watched it turn from blue to fiery red. Everything was steeped in a rosy hue as the sun descended before us. Such incredible beauty made me want to skip and yell and cry all at once. Instead, we stood mute, photographing the changing scene to remember it always. We then stumbled off the sand and into the outdoor restaurant, taking a table on a platform by the beach so we could decadently sip on cocktails as the sun disappeared amidst a flurry of pinks and blues.
Monsieur and I decided to have dinner from the buffet inside an adjacent longhouse where there was a dangerous spread of fresh salads, vegetables, seafood, charcuterie, cheese and altogether too many calorific desserts. Then, back outside, we found a barbecue where a frantic team of chefs in tall hats cooked whatever we chose. Monsieur had a big, juicy steak and I took full advantage of the slipper lobsters and prawns, which were delightfully fresh and oh-so-simply grilled. As we ate, tail-less feral cats with imploring eyes begged for tidbits. They were tame enough to boldly pounce on anything dropped by-accident-on-purpose by the diners, but scampered the second a waiter approached or someone moved too fast, hiding beneath the platform until the coast was clear. They may have lacked a home or friendly lap to sleep on, but one thing’s for certain: these must be the best-fed cats in Malaysia.