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Trip Report Trip Report - Vietnam, Siem Reap, Hong Kong

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I won't report on the "usual suspects", but I'll try to "fill in the blanks".

For starters, let me describe us. We are two just turned 60-year olds. We have traveled a lot, but never before to Asia. We always travel independently, and have never been on an escorted tour other than a private tour for six in Egypt three years ago. We don't even like to travel with friends, let alone strangers (the group of six in Egypt was us, our two kids and two friends of my son) :-) We like a fair amount of "first class", but can also accept utilitarian when the cost of first class is out of line (ex. great hotels in Hong Kong) or the price/value ratio is off-kilter (ex. we flew AirAsia through Kuala Lumpur, rather than non-stop from Siem Reap to Hong Kong, for a big cost saving). I would never really say a hotel is "just a place to sleep" -- I LIKE nice decor, however, it doesn't have to be fancy at all (by way of example, my daughter and I loved the Hotel Preciados in Madrid a few summers ago....small room in a well-located hotel...the room was so well designed that the small size was unimportant, and it had an excellent bathroom). A bad shower is enough to ruin a hotel for me. If we had to pick from an array of activities, we would always choose wandering around a city with no particular focus, markets, historical sites and history museums, even shopping, over strictly art museums. We used to eat "on the fly" (meaning no research or planning in advance). We still don't like to make reservations or go too far from our hotel to eat, but we like to know what the choices are. We never eat in hotel restaurants, except for breakfast when it's included, and, rarely, room service, when we're too tired to go out. We are not into nightlife at all. Usually we get up, have breakfast, spend the entire day out and about, come back to rest, go out for dinner and a walk, and back to hotel. We take an occasional taxi, but most often use public transportation or our own legs to get around. On this particular trip, we sometimes walked over 8 miles in a single day (I have an electronic pedometer that's measured to my stride)

So, here we go. I'll start with the flights (there were 9 or them).

FLIGHTS

Flew United 747 business class using miles, via Seoul. The new business class seats on the 747 were fantastic, as was the service (American style, my preference, meaning "just service" as opposed to Asiana Airlines-like deferential service). All in all, this was the most comfortable of all the flights (of which four were in business class).

Asiana from Seoul to Hanoi. Very nice service (see above), seats were fine but not lie-flat, but that was not necessary as this flight was only 4 hours. Hated the video system (had to navigate a little cursor arrow on the screen, which was a pain). Good food.

Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi to Hue, Danang to Saigon and Saigon to Siem Reap. Made these reservations in advance, cheap for the intra-Vietnam flights, not-so-cheap for the Saigon to Siem Reap leg (not much competition on that route and all flights are expensive). Ended up changing two of them because it was raining in HoiAn (so we left early for Saigon) and because we had extra time in Saigon, we left earlier than planned for Siem Reap. Except for one matter (see below), Vietnam Airlines was efficient, seats were comfortable enough (of course, the flights were really short). Pretty much like Southwest. The planes were newish, clean and seemed well-maintained. It was great that we could change flights without paying a change fee, and for the second of the two, no increase in fare either (even though they should have/could have charged us $12 each by my calculation). The first change was made by the hotel in HoiAn, no problem, the increased fare was charged to the same Visa as I used to charge the original flight. For the second change, we had to just take our chances at the airport because we made our decision after the office was closed for the night. We got there and went to the customer service desk. They told us to go to the check-in counter. The girl there had no idea what to do and tried to tell us that because the flight was "operated" by Cambodian Airways, we couldn't change (wrong!). She sent us to the station manager at the check-in counter. He told us the flight was "available", but we'd have to find out from customer service (LOL) what the change fee would be. We told him we'd already been to customer service, but he said he could only check availability, not the increased fee. OK, back to customer service. She checks and says "no fee, go back to station manager and tell him that". We dutifully say okay. Back to station manager, and tell him the customer service person said no fee. He said okay (really). He marks something on our tickets and sends us back to the check-in person!! Okaaaay. Oh, and for the record, not only are there no change fees on VN, there's also no charge for checking baggage.

AsiaAir from Siem Reap to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong. Typical low-cost airline. Couldn't figure out how to pay for our bags on line (a slight discount) so we did it at the airport, $18 per bag (still a huge saving over flying directly from SR to HK on another airline). The "scam" is that the flight was booked as two separate flights, and Kuala Lumpur airport is not all that easy to navigate -- we had to collect our bags, go through immigration and customs, and then check in again. It was all easy until we tried to check our bags in again (and pay again) -- the woman at the counter MUST have been a trainee, but she 1) didn't understand that we were there to check our bags and knew we had to pay, 2) couldn't figure out the price, 3) our visa credit and debit cards didn't work and we had no Malaysian ringits, but fortunately my AmEx card did work, and 4) they couldn't get our receipt to print. This must have taken a full 20 minutes. As for Asia Air, let's just say I am height-challenged, and there was so little leg room, I couldn't cross my legs unless I lifted one leg over the other with my hands (otherwise it would hit the seat in front of me). But, it is what it is, a low-cost airline and we knew that when we booked the tickets. The flights themselves were unremarkable.

HongKong to Tokyo on Air Japan. This was the worst of the four business-class seat experiences. Old-fashioned business-class seats. Comfortable enough for a short flight. Again, terrible video system (different from Asiana, though, same as ANA, which owns Air Japan).

ANA from Tokyo to San Francisco (777-300ER). Seat bottoms very hard. The lie-flat position was awful, the angle was too severe to be comfortable. But by making adjustments to the seat, seatback, leg rest, etc., you could get it very comfortable. Service was fabulous (but then the plane was pretty empty, I'd guess business was one-third occupied, and there were two people in first class). As I said, the video system stinks. First of all, the choices were horrible. Second, nowhere does it tell you (neither in the magazine, nor on-screen) on what channel a particular video is playing. Therefore, you have to scroll through the channels, watch the beginning of each to see what movie it is and in what language it is being played, then remember it for future reference! Really frustrating. Food was pretty good.

That's it for airlines. Next up, hotels.

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