Author Topic: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi  (Read 2599 times)

Offline EJB

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Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« on: August 22, 2018, 11:54:25 PM »
After our last trip to Asia in January with the family, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a week together in the summer sans kids. At first, we had planned on visiting Japan in ANA F, booked with virgin atlantic points. Then, we decided to move the trip to Vietnam and cancelled the ANA flights as they didn't work as well schedule wise. We also decided on Phu Quoc since we were sitting on Marriott certificates and heard great things about the JW Marriott.
For flights, we weren't happy with the timing of the ANA flights. The outbound would have required me to take off half a day at work when a number of my international coworkers had flown in to meet with me. The return was a day earlier than I would have liked. I noticed that JAL releases 2 weeks of F seats daily and Cathay releases 2 weeks of F seats at approximately 10PM each Sunday and booked the below longhaul flights at T-14. We chose Vietjet for the shorthaul flights. They are technically a low-cost carrier but they charge incredibly low rates for add ons (e.g., 30kg luggage cost $10, premium seating cost $2)

Outbound:
CX F (77W F, 77W J) JFK-HKG-SGN (70k AS + $44.20, second leg was technically business but I reserved an F seat)
VJ Y (A321) SGN-PQC ($55, including 30kg checked luggage and extra legroom seating)

Return:
JL (789 J, 77W F) HAN-NRT//HND-JFK (75k AS + $66.71, with a 1+ day stopover in Tokyo)
VJ Y (A321) PQC-HAN ($110, including 30kg checked luggage and extra legroom seating)
In total, we spent 5 days in Phu Quoc, 1 day in Hanoi, and 1 day in Tokyo.

For lodging, we redeemed a Marriott (old) category 6 certificate to stay at the JW Marriott in Phu Quoc. They technically didn't have availability for our dates, but I arranged with the hotel to pay a nominal ($25) upgrade fee a night in exchange for them allowing me to redeem my certificate there at the next level room type.



For food, we brought 5 days worth of frozen POM meals and arranged with the hotel to store our cooler bag in their freezer.

30kg of food and ice


We arrived at JFK around 2 hours early for the Cathay Pacific flight. Security was a breeze, but unfortunately TSA precheck was closed for the 1 AM departure. Cathay uses American's Flagship lounge at JFK, which is underwhelming as an F passenger.

This seat is so wide, my 4 year old can sleep sideways and still be comfortable


 Loads of legroom


 No Hemolis, but no Stogel either




Cathay pacific first class is consistently a pleasure. We sat in seats 2 D/K, which are in the right cabin, as we were traveling together and could not secure the entire left aisle (Cathay operates a 1/1-1 configuration in first class on their 77W and the 'A' seats are alone in the left aisle). I've flown many first-class products, and even though Cathay's hard product is not nearly the most glamorous when compared to the likes of Etihad, Emirates, or Singapore, the all-around product is always stellar and a steal at 70k AS points.  Their flight attendants always know when to show up and when to stay hidden, as well as when to strike conversation and when to stay quiet. I find that many other airlines either overdo it or underdo it (see my experience with JAL below). Singapore is also exceptional in this regard. Our 15-hour flight was flawless and a pleasure.

We then spent a few hours in the Wing lounge. We literally were the first to enter the lounge, and had the lounge completely to ourselves for a good 30 minutes before a small crowd trickled in. Despite it being 6 AM, I reserved a stir-fried lamb meal by calling up the lounge a few days beforehand. You can never have too much Hermolis food when traveling for 24 hours. It also is a pleasure to shower Cathay's first-class lounge, since their shower rooms are extremely spacious, have excellent water pressure, and are a great way to freshen up after a long flight.

Our next flight was to Ho Chi Minh City. Cathay only sells Economy, Premium Economy, and Business on this route, but I noticed they were planning on using a 77W with a first class, and that the first class was completely blocked on their seating map. I called up Cathay to book seats 1A/2A but was shut down 3 times. Agents told me it was "impossible" to be seated in those seats, and that they would be empty on the flight.

DROPR

I sent a quick DM on twitter to Cathay Pacific asking to be seated in 1A/2A on that flight, and literally 2 minutes later I refreshed the seating chart and noticed the seats were reserved. I then saw a response to my DM from Cathay confirming my new seat assignment :). Unfortunately, that flight was under 3 hours, so we didn't get to enjoy the product, but it was cool sitting in first class despite being ticketed in business.


CX 77W

 


 We arrived in Vietnam and immediately head to obtain our arrival visa. Since Vietnam and the USA are on such great terms, tourists from the USA need to obtain a visa upon arrival. The process is simple: apply online, pay a $10 fee, get approved in ~a day, and pay $25 at the airport for a BS stamping fee. There was a "fast track" option for around $20, but I cheaped out thinking "how long can the line be." Unfortunately, boy was I wrong.

Our connection time gave us 2.5 hours to get our visa, pass through immigration and customs, and re-check our bags, and enter domestic security. I thought that would be plenty of time, but the line moved extremely slowly. After waiting for over an hour and nearing the baggage check cutoff, I walked up to the desk, handed them $50, and asked them if they could process our visa ASAP since we had a flight to catch. Fortunately, they obliged and we just made the baggage cutoff.

Another close call at SGN - I decided to chance bringing a drone into Vietnam. Technically you are not allowed to bring a drone into Vietnam and are not allowed to fly without a permit (expensive and almost impossible for tourists to get), but my research indicated that only Da Nang really confiscated drones. I took a chance, and separated the drone into parts packed in different bags, and ultimately had no issues.

 We arrived in Phu Quoc at around 1PM. Getting around in Vietnam is extremely cheap and convenient with Grab, southeast asia's version of Uber. A 30-minute ride from the airport to the JW Marriott costs around $8. Several of our rides in Hanoi that were ~30 minutes cost under $2. There is no need to reserve a driver, just keep in mind that you may need cash to pay the fare. Grab drivers do not all accept credit card payments in Phu Quoc (they do in Hanoi).

At the hotel, I was upgraded from their base room to their oceanfront room with a nominal tip (1 million VND can make someone's face light up). The room was spectacular for the price, and the hotel is really one of a kind and extremely fun. It is themed with an insane amount of detail as a fictional university called Lamarck University. The buildings are all different departments within the university. For example, our room was in the Department of Anthropology. There are a plethora of antique trophies and real books/educational material throughout the campus, and the hotel really feels like a campus. Instead of me talking about it, let me show you some pictures:



























 Our room felt extremely spacious with 1.5 bathrooms (though the main bathroom didnt have a toilet), 15 foot ceilings, and an oceanfront balcony. It was decorated in the theme of the department very tastefully and was fun to explore. Bathroom was massive (the size of NYC hotel rooms) and equipped with Aromatherapy amenities.


Now look at those ceilings!






 View from balcony


The hotel runs many activities each day and publishes a weekly schedule every Sunday. We asked for the schedule the Sunday before we arrived and reserved activities via email, since many of them are capacity controlled.

Of the activities, we chose a few bike tours, the hiking tour to Ong Doi Cape, T-shirt painting, and Marine Biology. We would have liked to also participate in lantern making, hat making, towel sculpture, and beer yoga. The activities were a great and free/cheap way to enjoy our time at the resort while feeling a part of the university.

T shirt painting


The hotel also is beautiful. It is no Bora Bora or Maldives, but for the price, it delivers quite a great deal of value. Here are some additional shots of the property:








  Ong Doi Cape


This was where we went on the walking tour. It actually was weird The destination was the next-door hotel (Accor Premier Village, which is a gorgeous property as well), and guide offered to give us a tour of the competitor hotel while we were there.

In addition to the hotels activities, we rented their bicycles and explored for a nominal fee (~$2/hour), used their free kayaks/paddleboards, enjoyed their pools, and played many games of chess, pool, and ping pong. We also rented a speedboat and a local driver for a day to explore the neighboring islands and were really looking forward to having a great time, but we unfortunately did not have a great time.
1.   The water was surprisingly rough and the speedboat driver didnt seem to be driving carefully enough. We made sure to say tefillas haderech, because we were afraid for our lives at a few instances. As an insurance professional, I regretted not checking the operators liability coverage, which Im assuming was nonexistent.
2.   I got slightly injured while tripping on a rock in the water. I barely noticed scraping against the rock when our driver pointed at my hand. I realized I was bleeding slightly and thought it was minor and not a big deal, so I told him dont worry, Im fine. He kept pointing at me looking concerned, and I repeated Im fine. Finally, my wife saw my arm completely red from top to bottom dripping into a pool of blood in the ocean, at which point I realized I was not fine. I went back to the boat, where we realized that the boat didnt have a first aid kit. Thankfully I had a shirt, which I used to tie up the wound and told the driver to head back to the hotel. It took almost 2 hours before I received medical attention at the hotel, and thankfully I have a family doctor/plastic surgeon I was able to reach at 2AM in America to get a second medical opinion. I was told no need for stitches, but no water for at least a week! The way back to the hotel was pretty scary, because I nearly vomited and passed out.

Speedboat


This is the beautiful area near where I got injured


My shirt (sorry for the graphic photo)


We still had plenty of dry things to do and had a great time, but I would have enjoyed having more time in the water.
Oh, and remember how drone flying is illegal in Vietnam... I got 5 or so flights in before security realized I was flying from discreet locations. They approached me and politely told me using google translate that Guests cannot fly here. I tried hiding my controller and the fact that I was flying and almost lost my drone (it wasnt within sight and I accidentally disconnected the controller from my phone, so I had to fly it blind back).
We also went to the nightmarket with the hotel shuttle but found it extremely underwhelming and not worth it. We did find stores advertising US Military discounts and goods. I always wondered if that was a way to arrest people :-).



Howd they know I forgot to bring a shofar???


That pretty much sums of the JW Marriott. Overall an amazing place for the price we paid. Unfortunately, it is now a category 5, so the price is slightly higher than what we paid, but it still is a good deal at that rate IMO.

The remainder of our trip was quick stops in Hanoi and Tokyo. After arriving in Hanoi, we dropped our bags for $4/bag in the airport luggage storage. We didnt realize theyd make us walk through a secure area of the airport where employees check in (behind barbed wires) and run the bags by security to ensure we had no batteries in storage. We had a bunch of batteries that they didnt catch, but they did catch my portable charger and made me carry it with me. Overall, the baggage check took around 30 minutes, and had we known it would take that long, we would have just dropped the bags by Chabad.
We had 10 hours in Hanoi and a full day in Tokyo. In Hanoi we underestimated how hot it would be and planned way too much walking. It was *only* 94 degrees, but with humidity the head index was close to 115! We visited a few museums, walked around the ho chi minh mausoleum area, went to the Chabad twice for meals, walked around a park, visited the Hanoi Hilton (no, I didnt ask if I could speak with Mr. McCain) and took a taxi back to the airport for our next flight.






What heroes!











It was refreshing to find these in the airport for only $3


We arrived at the airport over 3.5 hours before our midnight flight.  Unfortunately, JAL opens their check in desk at 3 hours before flight time sharp. There were 4 agents sitting by the desk staring straight ahead, but they were unwilling to bend the rules one bit and start checking bags a minute before the clock struck 9.
Our flight to Tokyo took around 5.5 hours and was in JALs newer Dreamliner seats (Sky Suite). This is an Apex Suite J product that is excellent all around. It provides a significant amount of privacy and comfort for business class, especially in the window seats. JAL actually blocked the window seats for redemptions for our flight and were unwilling to let me reserve in advance on the phone, telling me I needed status or to wait until airport check-in. I dont have oneworld status anymore, but I decided to use my old Airberlin number when I saw Airberlin on their FF drop down, and guess what It worked! My boarding pass had Oneworld Sapphire on it :)






My wife tried this and claims catfood is tasty by comparison


Mt Fuji from above



 We arrived at Tokyo around 8 AM, davened, and headed straight for the Narita Express to Shinagawa. I booked a night at the Marriott Prince Sakura tower, which cost 40k points, since the hotel was a few minutes from the Shinagawa station an hour from NRT and 20 minutes from HND. They let us check in at 9:30 AM without any issues, and we rested for 2 hours before heading the streets of Tokyo.
The one activity I wanted to do but wasnt able was go-karting. Unfortunately, they didnt accept the only international drivers permit we were able to get with 2 days notice abroad, since it was a mobile version (we got our fees refunded). We did walk around and visit the imperial palace, shibuya crossing (where I took a sick time lapse of my wife waving/dancing in the middle slowly), Sega, and (tried to) play some pachinko. I found Tokyo to be a beautiful and fun city but did not fall in love with it due to cultural differences with the people there. We capped off our whirlwind day with a meal at Chanas Place, which was a mile walk from the hotel.   


Cool garden at hotel with Koi pond





We woke up the next morning and took the 20-minute train ride to Haneda. Our check in experience was much quicker then getting to Tokyo We were in the lounge within 10 minutes of entering the airport. JALs first class lounge is nothing special Yamazaki 12 and a pretty neat beer tap. It was pretty crowded but had ample seating and abundant outlets.




Unfortunately, I was randomly selected for additional screening, but the process was quick and lasted an additional minute (my wife took most of my bags and they swabbed my backpack).


I then tried JAL F for the first time, and my reaction is mixed. I love the leather seat and find it extremely comfortable. Their pajamas also fit me very well (and they carried a small!). Bed is top notch as well, with the option of firm or hard mattress toppers. I found the flight attendants irritating though due to cultural differences. They were too much in your face for my liking, put what seemed like a fake smile every time they came to serve anyone, and looked at me weird when I tried to, for instance, take a drink from their hands instead of letting them put it by my side. I enjoyed CX and SQ service much better in first class, but I guess that is a personal preference. They served Hibiki 17, which is excellent, but I was a bit bummed I missed out on the 21 year served on ANA. The Stogel meal onboard was thankfully of the frozen variety and actually was edible. Overall, the flight was still excellent and I came off at 10AM and was able to work a full day immediately after landing.








We were the first off the plane and proceeded through global entry with literally 0 line and were at the baggage carousel under 4 minutes from when we left the plane. Unfortunately, as is commonly the case, global entry didnt save us any time because our bags didnt arrive at the carousel for 10 minutes.
Overall, we had an amazing trip and had a great time, especially in Phu Quoc. I highly recommend the JW Marriott for anyone looking for an inexpensive option in southeast Asia.   

Offline Yehuda25

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2018, 12:05:33 AM »
Awesome TR!
To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.


― Aristotle

Offline Yaalili

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2018, 07:24:07 AM »
Nice TR. I felt similar with my JAL F flight. I have flown all 3 you mentioned (CX, JL, SQ) and SQ had best of the 3. Though none of them can top GA service.

Good job on getting regional F seat on CX.

Offline EJB

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #3 on: August 23, 2018, 08:13:48 AM »
Nice TR. I felt similar with my JAL F flight. I have flown all 3 you mentioned (CX, JL, SQ) and SQ had best of the 3. Though none of them can top GA service.

Good job on getting regional F seat on CX.

Was hoping on getting GA they were running the buy one get one free promo. And was considering Bali as a destination. But they didnt have award avail despite not selling a seat in f. And Bali has a few earthquakes.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2018, 08:17:14 AM by EJB »

Offline eandd

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2018, 10:51:00 AM »
Great trip report!!! but where's the sushi?

Offline MosheD

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #5 on: August 23, 2018, 11:50:24 AM »
Great TR!
Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Offline sam28

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2018, 12:03:00 PM »
Great TR sounds fun . thanks for taking the time .

Offline Denverite

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #7 on: August 23, 2018, 12:23:48 PM »
Great trip report!!! but where's the sushi?

+1  :)

Offline EJB

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2018, 12:57:17 PM »
+1  :)

DO in the city for sushi now if you're interested!!!

Offline mmgfarb

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #9 on: August 23, 2018, 01:39:07 PM »
Nice TR! From the moment I saw the JW Phu Qouc when it opened as a cat 5 I thought it would be one of the best redemptions in Asia.
I also agree that SQ's service is better than CX's, it just felt more genuine to me, they went out of their way to do everything they could for me when I didn't have a KSML. That being said, I enjoyed my CX F flight last week immensely, the hard product is phenomenal and at the end of the day it's really hard to fault the soft product at all.
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Offline @Yehuda

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2018, 02:08:27 PM »
Nice TR! You should write them more often! Looks like a fun trip.

Offline EJB

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #11 on: August 23, 2018, 02:47:52 PM »
Nice TR! From the moment I saw the JW Phu Qouc when it opened as a cat 5 I thought it would be one of the best redemptions in Asia.
I also agree that SQ's service is better than CX's, it just felt more genuine to me, they went out of their way to do everything they could for me when I didn't have a KSML. That being said, I enjoyed my CX F flight last week immensely, the hard product is phenomenal and at the end of the day it's really hard to fault the soft product at all.

Agree w Singapore in general but I actually had phenomenal FAs on CX this flight. One of them had a pretty good understanding of kosher and started talking about some kosher places shes been at in Hong Kong and New York and the dishes she liked.

Offline Toasted

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #12 on: August 23, 2018, 03:29:49 PM »
What a TR! FCAS shouldn't be risking those boulders.

Offline EJB

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Re: Xin cho!!! Vietnam with a taste of sushi
« Reply #13 on: August 23, 2018, 05:29:57 PM »
What a TR! FCAS shouldn't be risking those boulders.

I did have $1m in travel accident coverage :)