While just 1,200 miles from each other, Phnom Penh and Hanoi are worlds apart. There are no direct flights and the connection flights often go through faraway hubs like Kuala Lumpur, Wuhan or Hong Kong. I was happy to find a Vietnam Airlines flight that went from Phnom Penh to Vientiane in Laos and then on to Hanoi. Revenue tickets were $262 – or almost 25 cents per mile, more than 6 times what we consider a great deal at Mighty Fares for the one-way – so I used 10,000 Flying Blue miles and $45 instead.
The tuk tuk right from my hotel to the airport was a mess with dust, diesel exhaust and hot air on a bumpy, dirty road. I had very low expectations for the airport, but they turned out to be unnecessary.
There was no craziness to endure and the building was well cooled down. However, Vietnam Airlines only opens check-in two hours out so I killed some time at the local coffee shop; it was expensive but delivered great coffee in a quiet area of the departure hall.
Once check-in opened, a VERY friendly agent checked me in and explained to me the lounge location. Immigration and security lines were non-existent and then on I was on to the Plaza Premium Lounge. The same lounge in Hong Kong still gives me goosebumps by how bad it is. Nevertheless, the Phnom Penh lounge is brand new and you can feel that. It’s a great lounge with a decent food menu, lovely interior design and somewhat fast WiFi.
It’s so much nicer than the crowded, dirty Plaza Premium Lounge in Hong Kong.
I had only been sat down for a few minutes when boarding was announced – about 45 minutes prior to departure. I packed up and made my way to the gate, which was almost empty bar a few gate agents who quickly sent me on my way. Indeed this A321 was only about half full (not surprising given those high fares).
We dutifully waited for the remaining passengers until the scheduled departure time came around and I ended up with a whole row to myself. Take-off was quick as there was no ATC wait.
There was a meal and a non-alcoholic drinks service (which I skipped since I’d sneaked an Angkor beer from the lounge).
After a bumpy 80 minutes we landed in Vientiane. Unfortunately, you are required to leave the plane, go through security and wait in the hot boarding area for 20 minutes. After that I walked back to the exact same seat as before. That felt really weird.
Just 45 minutes later we touched down at Hanoi International and this modern airport that just opened in 2015 welcomed us with bright lights and easy immigration.
Vietnam has a pilot program for most European passport holders that gives you 14 days of visa-free stays. This has not yet been extended to US passport holders, but it’s being discussed. I used my German passport and the immigration officer asked where my visa was. I was a bit surprised and answered that I didn’t have one, to which he simply said, “Two weeks”, stamped my passport and waived me through. Two weeks are plenty for me 🙂
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