Home > Qatar Airways, Thailand, Trip Reports, Vietnam > Asia 2012 Trip Report: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

Asia 2012 Trip Report: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: United Airlines LAX-SFO, United International First Class Lounges at LAX/SFO

Part 3: United Airlines Global First Class, San Francisco to Frankfurt

Part 4: Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt

Part 5: Lufthansa FRA-ZRH, SWISS First Class Lounge at Zürich

Part 6: SWISS First Class, Zürich to Hong Kong

Part 7: Emirates A380 First Class Suites, Hong Kong to Bangkok

Part 8: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Bangkok to Singapore

Part 9: Exploring Singapore

Part 10: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Mumbai

Part 11: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Mumbai to Singapore

Part 12: Singapore Airlines Business Class, Singapore to Hanoi

Part 13: Hanoi / Ha Long Bay

Part 14: Qatar Airways Economy Class, Hanoi to Bangkok

—————————————-

(SEEEEEE? Not all my flights are First and Business Class … ;))

I get the idea of sticking to one airline or alliance for elite benefits … despite flights rarely taking up the majority of a vacation, elite status really can make a huge difference. If you fly an international long haul in coach, you can at least enjoy the business class amenities on the ground. And you can earn a lot more miles that will get you into that business class seat sooner or later.

But for hotels, I don’t see the point. At least not at this stage in my life. I’ve collected hotel points in all the major programs – Hilton, Starwood, Hyatt, Marriott, Priority Club, etc etc. If I had elite status at one of them, say Starwood, I would have been mightily tempted to stay at the Sheraton in Hanoi. And that would have been a bad thing.

Because you see, the hotel I eventually chose, the Charming II, turned out to be absolutely fantastic. No, it wasn’t the biggest room in the city. No, I didn’t get Club Access due to a Club Room on the Club Floor. And no, I didn’t earn points on the stay (not even Hotels.com credits since I booked a cheaper rate by making an actual direct e-mail booking with the hotel). And yet, it was cheaper than the Sheraton’s cash+points price (minus the points).

Why was it fantastic? Despite having 44 rooms, the staff knew everyone and were, like the name of the hotel suggests, charming. The desk agents offered to take me to their favorite local eatery, since I had a night after my sister and her friend left before my flight. I’m even friends with them on Facebook now. For all I know, I Couchsurfed in Hanoi with new friends.

Oh, and I still got Free Breakfast, Free Wi-fi, a welcome drink, a bottle of wine, and daily bottles of water. And was allowed to stay 8 hours past check-out due to a late outbound flight. And because I stayed 3 nights, a free airport cab. Who needs hotel elite status?

But it was time to leave Vietnam, a country I will definitely pay $45 again for a Tourist Visa sometime in the future. I needed to head to Bangkok, to get a glimpse of Thailand, and a taste of real Thai food (and also because I had an Emirates booking Bangkok-Hong Kong later that week).

My first choice was actually Vietnam Airlines, since I’m a Delta Gold Medallion and both airlines are in the Skyteam Alliance. But they wanted me to rob a bank before booking a one-way in coach. Thai Airways likewise, but I didn’t have Star Alliance status at the time.

So I went to Kayak, and saw that it was either the 9am flight on AirAsia or the 11:35pm flight on Qatar. Yes, Qatar. They fly a Hanoi to Bangkok flight, which then continues to Doha. If you’re in the south of Vietnam, you can fly Lufthansa or Turkish Ho Chi Minh City-Bangkok. Though I don’t think Mr. Ho Chi Minh would approve of a separate First Class Terminal like in Frankfurt, especially in his eponymous city. Anyway …

The AirAsia A320 flight had a better timing, but I’m wary of “Low Cost” Carriers (or LCCs, as they’re called). Indeed, the final price, including a la carte options like baggage/seat selection/dignity, would have been halfway between Qatar’s prices for economy and business. Sadly, par for the course these days. I elected to go with QR, on their huge 777-300ER. Gotta love fifth freedoms.

I thought about booking business for this leg, but the sub 2 hours flight time made me think otherwise. And unlike Emirates, Qatar Airways’ 777s have coach seats in a 3-3-3 format, not a squished 3-4-3 format. And the flight was less than quarter full. Coach it was! Back to flying with the masses!

Before I even get to the flight, or even the ground experience, I have to share a story. A story dedicated to Social Media and how small the world is.

I asked about the Hanoi-Bangkok flight on Flyertalk’s Qatar Airways (QR) subforum, about what was included in economy and business class tickets for the short flight. Within 2 hours, I had a response from the company representative. A plus to QR for understanding how to connect with its passengers in this day and age.

But it goes even further. For you see, I was having troubles checking in online the day of the flight. I would later find out this was in no fault QR’s, but actually United’s, since their new system wasn’t meshing with non-alliance partners on the mileage earning side. I ended up having to send the miles to US Airways. In the end, I would fly a flight between Vietnam and Thailand on a Qatari airline to bank in an American program that I use to fly European carriers to North Asia.

Anyway. When I get bored, I tweet. When I get excited, I tweet. When I get frustrated, I tweet. A mix of the first and third made me send out a tweet stating how QR’s website wouldn’t let me check in, something I wanted to do as soon as possible since I didn’t have status or a premium cabin ticket.

Within minutes, I had a message from a QR twitter representative asking me if he could assist; it was the same representative from FlyerTalk. And within a few minutes, we were sending each other direct messages, basically text messages over Twitter. And within a few more minutes, after providing PNR code, seat preference, and mileage account number, I had a mobile boarding pass in my e-mail inbox.

Here I was, sitting at a café in central Hanoi by the lake, leaching wifi off a fancier café that actually had an internet connection, and checking in for a flight to Bangkok on a Middle Eastern carrier over Twitter with an airline representative. And had it not been for my daftness, I would have realized that during my stay in Bangkok, I passed by the same QR offices of this representative on Sukhumvit Road almost everyday on the way to my hotel. How small and connected a world we live in.

—-

With an 11:35pm departure, I left my hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi a bit past 8pm, for the 30-minute drive to Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport, much calmer than the drive to Mumbai’s airport. As I expected, the driver and I were greeted by a madhouse at the terminal. The only oasis of calm in the check-in area was the Qatar counter. Excellent.

Watching large groups check-in seems to be a pasttime at HAN …

… but not at the QR counters.

I was curious and did a bit of a test to see if Vietnam Airlines is aware of its alliance. A quick show of my Delta Gold card and I was allowed in to the much quicker priority check-in line … for the flight I wasn’t booked for.

I made my way past exit immigration and into the small international concourse, simply a big room with gates toward the sides. In the middle was a large café, aptly named SKY CAFÉ. A bit of research beforehand and I knew the wi-fi pass code, to stay a bit connected before my flight. I found a corner to sit in, as most of the seating area was taken up by passengers taking up 2 to 3 seats each in supine position.

The opposite side of the concourse

No seating available …

Difficult children need the most help.

I would have missed having lounge access upstairs had it not been for the following text messages from my sister the night before, during her lounge visit from being a Vietnam Airlines Business Class passenger to Paris-CDG and her friend having Delta Gold Status on a Korean Air flight to Seoul-Incheon in coach.

(HAN lounge pics from my sister’s visit)




Her: “To sum it up: 50 watt lightbulbs in lounge, food that’s less interesting than the restaurant 200 feet away, and the wifi doesn’t work, so [friend] and I are stealing it from the massage place outside the lounge. And the music playing sounds like it’s from a video game. But there are plenty of drinks! Just no real alcohol …”

Me: “That’s appalling.”

Her: “Oh wait. Sad red wine pairs well with the 50 watts. And comfy, minimally stained couches. I mean, it’s okay. I just think you (and anyone else) would be [Double You Tee Eff] about it.”

And 14 hours later …

Her: “Okay, I just walked into the Air France lounge at Paris, that Hanoi lounge was definitely bad. I thought I’d just been spoiled by Singapore …”

Qatar Airways 611, HAN-BKK
11:35pm – 1:00am +1 (1h25m)
Boeing 777-300ER
Seat 14F, Economy

Boarding wasn’t really called; I simply approached the desk to make sure that my US Airways mileage number was on the ticket, to which the desk agent replied, “Yes. You may board now.”

I ended up being the first one onboard since there were no business class passengers on this segment, and sat in a right aisle seat in the center section, mostly because it didn’t have an entertainment box underneath it like the other side (thanks, Seat Guru!). At first it felt tight, though you have to realize that since January, this was my first segment in over 20 that wasn’t at least Economy Plus/Comfort. I know … #firstclassproblems. Nevertheless, for economy, it’s actually a great seat!

My Economy Class seat. See, my life isn’t all First and Business class!

Decent in-flight entertainment (that works on the ground!)

Amenity kit … for a 600-mile trip. Probably meant for passengers going to Doha, Qatar.

Without a pre-departure service, I simply turned on ‘The Descendants’ on the IFE, since QR turns their system on before takeoff. One thing that QR does (that EK doesn’t) is they bleep out any profane language, which kind of changes the course of many scenes in the movie. Though throughout boarding, I was able to watch the movie in solemn isolation. For all the desire to fly in premium cabins, you sure are bothered a lot before takeoff. Champagne? Magazine? Hot towel? Menu? Massage? Okay, maybe not the last one. Or maybe on Thai Airways …

The movie was interrupted briefly for what is quite possibly the most boring safety presentation in the world. Despite all my gripe about North American airlines, give me Deltalina’s finger wag any day. “Smoking is not allowed …”

After takeoff, the flight attendants quickly went to work to give out hot snacks quickly. I wonder what it would be like if it were a full flight. And before you say that this flight time is unsocial, the flight departs in the early evening four days of the week. Still, you can’t complain about this for such a short flight. It was plenty filling.

Classy.

On approach, the cabin lights went through different shades.

The winds were in our favor and we landed at BKK ahead of schedule. Unlike my Emirates HKG-BKK flight, we had to line up at the end of the jetway and “check-out” of the flight (basically, cross our name off a list of those flying just the first segment).

I hired a taxi at the departures level to avoid the 50 baht surcharge. Bangkok at 2am for a first-timer is definitely a fun but scary place. Add to the fact that the taxi driver was driving at 120km per hour through city streets and it was tough to get my bearings straight.

Alright, before I continue on, I have to explain how I ended up where I eventually did. I booked the QR flight about 5 days before I flew it, since I didn’t know when I’d want to leave Hanoi and go to Bangkok. I booked just 3 days in Bangkok at a Radisson property due to a Buy 2 Nights Get 1 Night free promotion. When I eventually made my plans, I needed 2 more nights in Bangkok.

With my luck, those 2 nights happened to coincide with a large international convention. I won’t give the name away, but everyone I know who is part of this organization is well-traveled, so it’s no hyperbole when I say the city was overflowing with their members on these days.

And since the city was overflowing with them, so were hotel rooms.

And so when it came time to find a hotel room for these nights, it was a tough task. I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg, especially in Bangkok where the supply more than outweighs demand and hotels are supposed to be cheap. So I eventually chose a hostely place called “JustBeds” in Silom, at the attractive price of $21 a night for a private room near the Chao Phraya river. Despite the name, the rooms also come with a TV. And a bathroom. And a fridge, that’s inside the bathroom.

But why am I saying all this? Because this hotel, like many hotels in Bangkok, is on something called a soi. And if you haven’t yet been to Bangkok, the way they name their streets and sois can get confusing. I understand it now, but trying to map my way around the city beforehand was terrifying. And this coming from a guy who knows some cities better than his friends who actually live there.

As we approached the small soi where my hotel was supposed to be, my taxi driver didn’t know where my hostel was. I ended up getting a tour of Bangkok when we drove around at circles, for the equivalent of $1. We decided to ask somebody on the street. Needless to say, not that many people are “out and about” at 2:30am, so it took a while. After finding someone, I finally found my hostel — behind an Indian restaurant.

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  1. August 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    We’re going to be on the same flight – Hanoi to Bangkok on Qatar. Loved your narrative. Hope we have as much fun.

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