Author Topic: Vietnam with a mix of Israel  (Read 3079 times)

Offline brodes18

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Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« on: September 11, 2019, 09:13:18 PM »
As a kid, I remember reading about faraway places in books my mother bought me. I recall being fascinated by the varied cultures across the globe and especially in Asia. My interest in world travel has brought me to some interesting place in search of learning cultures. Its this curiosity that brought me to Vietnam this time. I am writing this en route to Vietnam and plan to start in Hoi An (central), work my way up to Hanoi (capital), and then finish it out on the Ha GIang loop (North) by myself for the next 2 weeks.

Planning
Being that Ive ventured into solo travel in the past, I came across the subreddit dedicated to solo travel. When I first began planning a trip to Southeast Asia, I was looking for info on Thailand. I had heard good things about it and it had a nice amount of award hotel options. However, many people on Reddit strongly recommended Vietnam over Thailand. The more I read about Vietnam, the more I wanted to go there. Vietnam is a large country north to south and with a maximum of 12 days (including tavel), I knew I had to be selective in order to make it meaningful. Ha Giang province is in the northern tip of Vietnam bordering with China. It is a mountainous region with beautiful views and a motorbike loop that goes around the region. It takes 3 - 4 days to travel the loop where you have the opportunity to stay in small Vietnamese villages through the trip. The pictures I saw were surreal and I added this as the only must do for my trip. With it decided that Id spend my time in the north, I added Hanoi for the weekend. I was planning to do a 2 day trip to Ha Long Bay (the big tourist attraction in Vietnam) which looks beautiful too, but was convinced otherwise by the very touristy feel of it. I added Hoi An and an overnight train ride to my trip instead as a way to get to know the country when I get there (and the availability of Chabad there). Plus, Hoi An being the custom tailor capital of the world added it to the list

With my location wish list settled, I went to work on logistics. Vietnam currently has no non-stop flights to and from the US. The common options for the stopover from the US are in Tokyo & Hong Kong. I was hoping to fly in F (my first time) on either JAL or Cathay Pacific as I had heard incredible things about both. Another decent option I had found was Qatar via DOH where I could try the Qsuite. However, routing via DOH using AA miles would have required two tickets due to their routing rules, so I was back to choosing either JAL or Cathay. I wanted to one on the way there, and one back to try both, but that all changed due to CX (Cathay) F availability.

On Cathay First, their 777-300ER has a total of 6 seats making it pretty exclusive. Cathay used to release at least one award ticket when the schedule opened and then one at a time around 2 weeks prior to departure (at 10 PM eastern). Now ever since the Vietnam mistake F fare back in Jan, CX F has been very difficult to find (if not impossible). I began planning to find availability on JAL (excellent last minute availability) both ways in case this was my only option. Then I came across a couple of articles on how Cathay restricted awards  based on married segments so that searching HKG JFK mights show no availability, but select other routes (e.g. HAN-HKG-JFK) might have availability. So I went about searching many routes in SE asia for CX F availability, but nothing showed. Back in 2017, Dan wrote a post about using only 70K Alaska miles for TLV-HKG-JFK with a free stopover in HKG. I put TLV JFK into Qantas booking tool, and boom there it was: TLV-HKG in J on the A359 and F on the 777-300ER. I called Alaska and they had no trouble booking it with this timing:

8/20 TLV HKG 2:40 PM
8/29 HKG JFK 4:30 PM

Now all I had to do was book a ticket to TLV and a round trip to Vietnam from HKG. This would be my first trip round the world. I booked JFK TLV on 8/17 using Qantas points on LY Y during the whole availability on LY debacle. I hoped that J would open prior to my departure.  I only had 16 hours on the ground in Israel, so I opted for only direct flights. With slim options, nothing opened prior to my trip.

SE asia flights are very cheap (especially on LCC) so I booked options that best fit my timing. On the way out, I got on HK express for ~$100 early morning. For the return, I selected Jetstar for the return using Qantas miles (6400) which includes checked baggage.

Im a pretty last-minute traveler in that I like to wait to book anything even if I have a plan. The freedom of having options gets me. It has come to bite me at times (just ask my DW 😊). On this trip, I booked all accommodations day of the check-in. Ill cover accommodations when I get to each part.

Packing and Food
I spent a bulk of my planning on packing, so I want to share this info for those who find it useful. If you want to go to the trip itself, go here.

Being that I was going to be traveling around to many placed, I learned early on that a standard carry on wouldnt do. I would take a backpack instead. This turned out to be difficult for me as I had to be very selective on what to bring. With this, I still overpacked. For my two week trip, I selected:

         Osprey Porter 46 medium size backpack
         Ebags packing cubes
         A messenger bag
         Luggage locks
         A backpack rain cover
         Electronics
o   HP Pavillion x360 11 laptop
o   3X 256 GB micro-SD cards (with shows & movies)
o   Amazon Kindle
o   Fire stick
o   Anker power brick
o   Power plug converter
o   Samsung buds

I packed enough clothes for a week without washing. After I got here, I found that getting laundry done here is VERY easy and cheap. I could have packed less.

I had been planning on bringing frozen food with me in my cooler bag. Being that there was a Chabad house / restaurant in both Hoi An & Hanoi, I decided to rely on this and leave the extra baggage at home. I picked up pastries & cold cuts in Israel for my time up i9n Ha Giang where there would be no food options. I also obtained tuna and rolls from the Chabad in Hanoi prior to my trip up north.

Part 1: Israel
LY8 8/17 23:50 departure, arrives TLV +1 1750 Boeing 787-9 seat 53A


Its been 10 years since I was last in Israel. Even though this would be a short trip, I was excited. I arrived at JFKs T4 for my check-in to LY8 at 1.5 hours prior to departure. The check-in line was quite short and I was through El Al security and baggage check within 10 min. I was taking a bunch of supplies to the Chabad in Hanoi and had to check the bag. Since I didnt need it in Israel, I asked if my bag could be checked all the way to HKG on CX. They said that it could not being that it was a separate ticket. Im not sure how legit that reason was. I headed to TSA security where my Pre-check status had no use on El Al. There was a short line at that late hour and I was through in 2 minutes I headed to the gate where the flight had already started boarding. I was ready to go and boarded the plane right away. I find it interesting that on domestic flights, people rush to board early where as here, most people simply wanted to sit at the gate for longer. I imagine it has to do with bin space and it running out on domestic flights. I had selected my seat via Whatsapp and noticed that many seats in the back of the plane were open. I hoped it would stay that way, but was doubtful on a summer sat night flight. As the plane filled, I was delighted to find that the seat next to me (middle seat) remained open! This was the best I could hope for in Y for my flight to TLV. At a few minutes before 11:50 (our departure time), the door was closed and we pushed back from the gate. After a short taxi, we were taking off. This would be my first ride on the 787 dreamliner and I was amazed by how quiet it was. I also played with the new window shade buttons which enable some cool photo opps. Shortly after takeoff, they came around for drinks where I ordered some wine and water. I started watching a movie and was dozing off within 20 min


No line for security



Etihad A380 ready to depart for AUH



Empty JFK T4




My bird tonight


Nice new clean interior



Seat 54A



Decent legroom




Some Kosher wine (Barkan classic) to settle in

 

I woke up about 4 hours later, I had missed dinner which I was quite happy with. The El Al shachris was about to begin in the back of the plane, and I went to join. The flight attendants that occupy the back area were quite accommodating in having us all up in their space. They simply moved through the crowd to do their job.

Small side note about my feelings on El Al. They take a lot of heat for the way they operate an airline. While I do agree with some of the criticism, I also have an emotional admiration and appreciation for how authentic Israeli (and Jewish) it is. Their attitude, the davening, the basic kosher standards, the Hebrew is just a beautiful way to feel like you have entered Israel before even getting there.

I also got to get a peek at the crew resting quarters in the back. While I could not see what its actually like in there, I found it fascinating to see the crew go to sleep there during the flight. First time Ive seen such a thing. After davening, I used the wi-fi to find a place to stay in Jerusalem for the night using Chase points. At $20, its a good value with good speed. I booked a boutique hotel right outside the old city and ben Yehuda called Villa Brown for 12,712 Chase UR points instead of $191 for the 1 night including breakfast.

I had breakfast about 2 hours before landing which was ok about what youd expect from an airline meal. Soon enough, the pilot announced our decent into TLV. As we crossed the shores of the Mediterranean, a feeling of excitement came over me to be back in Israel. We taxied for a few minutes before parking at the gate. I headed to passport control, then to get my baggage and was out in about 30 minutes. Overall the travel experience was a perfect 10 in my book. Everything worked like clockwork from A-Z.


Davening Shachris



Breakfast



Breakfast



Wing!!!!!!





Shadow Dreamliner



BA 777 & DL A330



Welcome to Israel



The best lounge at TLV ;-)


More to come...

Offline BarryLincoln

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2019, 10:27:35 PM »
Great start!! Look forward to reading the rest...

Offline Ergel

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2019, 11:17:32 PM »
Great start! Nice meeting you in CX J
Life isn't about checking the boxes. Nobody cares.

Offline davidrotts63

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2019, 04:09:20 AM »
Looking awesome! Can't wait!
(Quit) pulling out the flowers, and watering the weeds. -Peter Lynch

Offline KSMH

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2019, 07:38:41 AM »
Well written.
Always praying for delayed baggage.

Offline Yitz

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2019, 08:37:08 AM »
Beautiful Report

Offline brodes18

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2019, 03:42:55 PM »
Great start! Nice meeting you in CX J
Same here. I have something about Ben and Jerry's coming up! :-)
Looking awesome! Can't wait!
Well written.
Beautiful Report
Great start!! Look forward to reading the rest...

Thanks, appreciate the comments. Was trying not to put in too much detail. I'll keep it coming.

Offline ludmila

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #7 on: September 16, 2019, 11:16:31 PM »
Nice TR, looking forward to read the rest.
I was the Best,still the Best, and will always be the Best.
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Offline brodes18

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2019, 08:40:28 PM »
I exchanged $100 at the airport for the trip (I know, bad exchange rate but I needed it then). I tried to get a sim card, but they all wanted $20 for a few days and I didnt want to activate my Google Fi service since I was unsure about using it in Vietnam. I took a Sherut to my hotel (after doing some research about the train and being told to avoid it).

The Villa Brown hotel turned out to be perfect to my needs. Its a nice very small boutique hotel right between Meah Shearim & The Ben Yehuda area. The room was small, but modern. Its a 3.5 star hotel that Id rate 7.4/10. It was very comfortable for the night. The location was amazing being that I wanted to go to the Kotel for early Vasikin Shachris the next morning. I settled in and went to meetup with some friends in Machane Yehudah for some food. Got amazing fried fish at some random Fried fish place and some American fast food from Hatch. The food at Hatch was authentic with some of the best wings Ive ever had. That said, I should have gone with a good Shwarma in Israel than American food After eating I went to the Kotel for an emotional Maariv before heading back to my hotel. I took the #2 bus back to my hotel. When I got on, I was told that Egged busses dont take cash anymore. You can only use a RavKav card which is very hard to find. At that point I was done and just went on anyways. I figured Id deal with this RavKav business tomorrow. More on this later.

I set my alarm for 5 to ensure I had time to get to the Kotel for the first Shachris (vasikin). The experience of davening at the wall and having all the minyanim come together for Shemonah Esrei is quite inspiring. I took a taxi at the early hour to the kotel and arrived right on time. After davening, there is a booth that opens to offer free coffee to everyone there. Its another part of this experience (although the coffee itself, eh ??). After spending some time at the kotel, I walked back to my hotel for a good Israeli breakfast which was excellent! I packed my bags to be ready to head to the airport and went to the Machane Yehida shuk to pickup supplies for my trip to Vietnam and shop for a Rav Kav card.

Ok, so the Rav Kav system is quite the Balagan today. Im sure some of you know more of the background here, but what a pain especially for tourists. The idea is to have a single rechargeable card that can work across all public transportation systems in Israel. The implementation is still lacking. First I had to buy a Rav Kav card. I went to 5 stores before I found one that carried them (a small cell phone store near Davidka Sq). Once I bought one, I paid to put 30 Shekel onto it. When I tried to use it for the train, I had to go to a kiosk to purchase a discounted ticket onto the card. I could not use the money stored on the card but had to add money for the ticket to be loaded onto my card. Huh? I captured the confusion of other Israelis experiencing similar issues.

I picked up some pastries, cold cuts, and bread for my upcoming trip. Had I known about the lack of kosher snacks in Vietnam, I would have picked up those too. I headed back to my hotel and then off to the airport.

For the way back to Ben Gurion, I decided to try the train. It seemed quite compelling on price and time if things went smooth. I caught the 18 bus right outside my hotel to the train station. At the train station I went through security, purchased my ticket, and made my way down to the train. There were 4 long escalators that take you down what must be around 300 - 400 feet underground. The train to Ben Gurion is quite fast. It takes something like 20 minutes from Jerusalem. We departed on time and very shortly arrived in the airport. The whole trip with the bus took 35 minutes of travel time and about 50 minutes with all the rest. It only cost me a total of 12 shekel (including the bus)!

I whisked through security, checked in my bag to HKG (which was a mistake Id realize later), immigration & carry on security (where my water was fine!) and headed to the Dan lounge contracted by Cathay Pacific. I had very low expectations thanks to reports Ive read here and spent about 10 minutes before it was time to board. I headed over to my gate and spotted my beautiful ride for the next 10 hours.


This trip in the Sherut (shared taxi) was quite chaotic, but got me to Jerusalem within an hour


Hotel lobby restaurant


Hotel Lobby


Yaffo Street on a warm summer night


Veggie pizza thing in Machaneh Yehuda (5.6/10)


Fried fish N chips in Machaneh Yehuda (8.2/10)


Beer Bazar


Beer Bazar local beers


Dirty fries @ Hatch Machaneh Yehuda (7.2/10)


Short Rib Sandwich @ Hatch Machaneh Yehuda (4.6/10) although I could see this having better potential if it was hotter


Buffalo Wings @ Hatch Machaneh Yehuda (9.6/10) best wings Ive ever had!


Jerusalem before sunrise


Jerusalem before sunrise


Kotel Vasikin


Kotel sun coming up


Free coffee for the early risers


Notes in the Western Wall


Garden outside Old City


Garden in hotel entrance


Outdoor breakfast @ Villa Brown Hotel


Lavish Breakfast @ Villa Brown Hotel


Omelet @ Villa Brown Hotel (6.8/10)


Machaneh Yehuda market


Rav Kav madness


5 of these to get down to the train platform


High speed train in the Jerusalem station


Can you spot the design flaw?


Two story


Ben Gurion station


Red carpet for taking the train?


Sad DAN lounge


Food DAN lounge (2.5/10)


Carlsberg beer DAN Lounge


Wingtips!

More to come!!

Offline ludmila

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2019, 08:45:02 PM »
Great TR with nice pictures.Thank you.
I was the Best,still the Best, and will always be the Best.
Pele Good,Maradona Better, George Best.

Offline Luvisrael

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2019, 08:47:32 PM »
Beautiful pics!

Offline ruv

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #11 on: September 22, 2019, 09:01:08 PM »
Great TR with nice pictures.Thank you.

+1

Offline ad120

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #12 on: September 22, 2019, 09:47:01 PM »
Beautiful pics!
+1
I am not sure why you were told to avoid the train.
It's absolutely spectacular. I would even take the bus over the Sherut.
Wondering what your kashrus standards are...

Offline Yitz

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2019, 09:43:04 PM »
I like your style. What camera are you using for pictures.

Offline shmuels2

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Re: Vietnam with a mix of Israel
« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2019, 01:21:50 PM »
After spending some time at the kotel, I walked back to my hotel for a good Israeli breakfast which was excellent!


Outdoor breakfast @ Villa Brown Hotel


Lavish Breakfast @ Villa Brown Hotel


Omelet @ Villa Brown Hotel (6.8/10)


Best breakfast I've had in Israel, far superior to the huge buffets with unending mediocre dishes. Everything they served was excellent, and the mezze assortment seems to change daily. The chef was present all three days of my stay, is a real pro and friendly. Menu design by chef Meir Adoni (one of Israel's top chefs).
« Last Edit: September 27, 2019, 01:26:12 PM by shmuels2 »