Vietnam Airlines: Luang Prabang to Siem Reap in Business

11 Feb 19, LPQ – REP

When running through my options when I worked out these bookings last June, I decided on a fifth freedom flight by Vietnam Airlines.  They flight Hanoi-Luang Prabang-Siem Reap, so I hopped on for the Siem Reap leg.

Ahead of time, I decided to do an Optiontown upgrade to business class, as the cost difference between the extra 10kgs and the Optiontown price was, again, negligible. Optiontown is a third party broker of paid upgrades into premium economy or business class, depending on the carrier. Some opacity is maintained by the need to have a booked itinerary before you can see any prices.  You go onto the Optiontown website, enter your carrier, PNR code, name, and the email tied to the booking. At that point, if available, it offers a fixed price for the itinerary. You’ll be notified if the upgrade was accepted from 72-4 hours before departure. The upgrade is assigned at the airport. If the upgrade is unsuccessful, you are refunded.

I wasn’t expecting a high load in the business cabin, as Luang Prabang – Siem Reap is the definition of a leisure route. As I expected, the upgrade cleared at the 72-hour mark.  I had to print out a document from Optiontown and bring it to the airport. A little last century, but I can work with that.

At the airport, I changed my remaining kip to USD and proceeded to the designated Vietnam Airlines counter. They didn’t bat an eye at my upgrade documents and promptly printed out a card with my seat – 2A. I checked my bags in and proceeded through the most lax security check in memory. I had a look at the terminal, which included a couple of eateries, duty free shops, and last-minute souvenir stands.

Nothing really ensorcelled me, so I proceeded to the sole Priority Pass lounge, which is Bangkok Airways’ facility. I swiped my card and went on in. Having flown with Bangkok Airways in 2015, I knew what to expect – water/tea/coffee, sandwiches, seating, and wifi. The facilities are basic in the scheme of lounges, but it still beats the terminal.

Given how small the terminal was, the Bangkok Airways lounge ended up being right next to the departure gate, so I could see when my flight arrived and disgorged the passengers coming from Hanoi. I was able to walk out just as the gate agents were calling for Sky Priority (a harmonized term across the Sky Team alliance for premium cabin + member program elites) passengers. Perfect timing.

Upon boarding, I was quickly offered a cold towel in addition to a newspaper and non-alcoholic pre-departure drink. Landing documents for Cambodia were also distributed. The FA working the business cabin spoke exceptional English. After the cabin door closed, the pilot (Russian accent?) came on and welcomed us aboard.

The business cabin’s 16 seats were older, mechanical recliners. The color scheme was forgettably institutional and begs for a refresh. To an extent this is expected on what is probably a low-yield tourist route.

Not counting uniformed crew member resting in the last row, I was the only passenger. The J cabin’s FA had a fairly easy workload on the 1 hour 15-minute flight. A snack was served – a pork pate chaud with fresh fruit and drinks.  I opted for a glass of Vietnamese beer and black tea.  I quite enjoyed the beer, for the record.

 

I did peruse the newspaper to see what opinions the Vietnamese government holds on various ASEAN and global issues. When I read that Trump and Kim would be meeting in Hanoi, I wondered what Ho Chi Minh would make of international comrade Kim Il Sung’s NBA-fan grandson meeting a reality TV start turned US President in his old capital?

In short order, our pilot had us on the ground in Siem Reap, another relatively small airport.  On the ground, one goes either to the visa-on-arrival desks or straight to immigration if they already hold a Cambodian visa (for many, an e-visa). I opted for an e-visa ahead of time to save myself a passport page.

 

The process of entering is a bit slow, as they verify the e-visa, take finger prints, and take a face picture with all the haste of an underpaid developing world bureaucrat.  From the queues at the desk, another flight or two had arrived shortly before us.  After about 25 minutes waiting, I was through, had collected my bags, and met my hotel’s tuk-tuk driver to take me to my next home.

 

Summary: I enjoyed the onboard service, though the entire product wasn’t outstanding to the point where I’d go out of my way to fly on it. If you get a fair price, by all means go ahead.  Despite the bit of rigmarole with  Optiontown, I’d use it again.