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First Trip to Asia (Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Thailand)

First Trip to Asia (Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Thailand)

Old Aug 15, 18, 6:04 pm
  #1  
pjs
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Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Alpharetta, GA, USA
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First Trip to Asia (Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Thailand)

Planning – skip this post if you do not care and just want to read about the trip

The wife and I consider ourselves fairly well-traveled internationally (About 15 countries in Europe, Australia, NZ, Israel, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, etc.), however, we had never been to Asia. We decided last year that summer 2019 would be our maiden voyage. I had plenty of transferrable points and wanted to get there comfortably (biz class would be fine to be able stretch the points) and take advantage of some hotel free nights at some aspirational properties. The question was where do we go?

We decided on SE Asia as we were traveling without the kids (well, basically adults now at 19 and 16) and they both want to go to Japan someday, so we’ll save that trip for them. I decided initially on Northern Vietnam (I really wanted to see Ha Long Bay) and Thailand. At first, we were going to add a stop in Seoul as we could get there easily from Atlanta on DL or KE, but last summer’s hijinks between Trump and Little Rocket Man spooked my wife so I had orders to find another route.

I decided on Hong Kong as our stopover point as it would be a good place to spend a couple of nights to get acclimated to the time change, and then it would be a quick hop to Hanoi from there. Plus, I could use my free night from the IHG credit card at the Intercontinental. And it was a bit of a bucket list destination for me.

I planned for us to fly on CX through ORD to get to HKG. I took advantage of the AsiaMiles transfer bonus from Citi and transferred all of my 90k TY points to CX. I needed another 62k from Amex to get me to 170k for the two one way tickets. I put the seats on hold and the TY points transferred within a couple of days. Meanwhile, no sign of the Amex points. I managed to extend the reservation a couple of times, but finally CX said I would have to wait for the transfer. Both Amex and AsiaMiles blamed each other for the delay. In the end, it took 86 DAYS for the points to transfer.

By then, I had made other plans. My wife had a decent stash of SkyMiles, but when I first looked at routing to HKG from ATL (through SEA), it was 125k per person. While waiting for the AsiaMiles transfer to post, I re-checked Delta and voila, 80k per person ATL-SEA-HKG! There was very little chance it would be on a reconfigured 777, but even though the product was old, I grabbed the seats and figured we would make do. At least we would have no fuel surcharges on DL.

By this time, I had roughly shaped our itinerary. 2 nights at the Intercontinental Hong Kong (one free, one for 60k points before the devaluation), 2 nights at the Hilton Hanoi Opera ($95 cash rate), 2 nights on Ha Long Bay (Red Dragon Junk), 2 nights in Bangkok (hotel TBD), 3 nights in Chiang Mai (Le Meridien $55 + 3500 Starpoints, also pre-devaluation), and ending with 2 nights at the Conrad Koh Samui (both ended up free, one from the Surpass sign-up and eventually one from the Aspire)

I knew we would fly back from Koh Samui, Thailand so I was looking for a biz class deal for our return. I didn’t really care whether it was trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic, so I looked at all the alliances. Then, in August 2017, Aeroplan offered a 35% transfer bonus from hotel programs. I had enough points for a Marriott travel package, so for 270k Marriott points, I received a 7 night cert (to be used or refunded later) plus 162k Aeroplan miles, enough for 2 biz class seats from BKK-ATL. I found space on Turkish BKK-IST-ATL, so not only did we have a nice ride home, but there were again no fuel surcharges. At the time I grabbed the seats, there was no space from USM-BKK on Thai so I figured I would pay cash for that flight. In the end, the biz space on USM-BKK opened up a few months out, so I paid the change fee to add the segment ($100CAD pp) instead of the $149pp for economy seats. That way, we could check our bags all the way through and be protected on the whole itinerary in case of any issues.

As for the other flights, I found space on Cathay Dragon from HKG-HAN in biz using 9k Avios pp and HAN-BKK in biz on Qatar (fifth freedom flight for the win) for 9k Avios pp. I booked BKK-CNX for $41pp on Bangkok Airlines. The CNX-USM flight was a pain. There’s only a couple of non-stop flights per day and they are expensive on Bangkok Airways. I waited a few months for the price to go down, but ended up paying $300pp as I had no choice unless I wanted a connection, but who wants that on vacation?

So, the only remaining issue was where we would stay in Bangkok. I originally booked the Peninsula via Amex FHR for $233/night, but then I realized we wouldn’t spend much time in our room anyway so I switched to the Conrad for $130/night. After reading some threads on here, I realized that the whole lobby was under construction this summer so I finally switched to the Millennium Hilton as it was on the river and more convenient for sightseeing (and less than $100/night). I was also able to snag reservations at Gaggan for our second night in Bangkok. I booked some other tours but I will just leave those as a surprise if you stick with the trip report.

I have never spent so much timing planning and re-planning a trip, but in the end, everything worked out great. This forum and others on FT were a big help in planning this trip. I hope you join me as I present our trip on this thread over the next few days with lots of substandard iPhone pics and reviews of all the hotels, flights and tours we took (and especially all the great food).
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Old Aug 15, 18, 7:33 pm
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Join Date: Dec 2003
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We are heading to SE Asia in mid Sept. so I look forward to your TR.
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Old Aug 16, 18, 1:32 pm
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Quite an unusual itinerary IMO - I think you risk spending a disproportionate amount of time in airports and travelling, but each to their own. 2 nights in a lot of those places really is very little time. 3 nights in Chiang Mai is plenty.

Good luck with your adventure
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Old Aug 16, 18, 1:52 pm
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Love SE Asia. Reading this in preparation to return soon.
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Old Aug 16, 18, 2:18 pm
  #5  
pjs
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Originally Posted by Kettering Northants QC View Post
Quite an unusual itinerary IMO - I think you risk spending a disproportionate amount of time in airports and travelling, but each to their own. 2 nights in a lot of those places really is very little time. 3 nights in Chiang Mai is plenty.

Good luck with your adventure
Agree it was risky, but it worked out. More to come soon. Just trying to get pictures organized for the TR.
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Old Aug 16, 18, 2:48 pm
  #6  
pjs
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July 16, 2018 – Off we go!

It felt like we had waited for this trip for years instead of months, but the day finally arrived. There may or may not have been a coincidence that I planned this trip to leave the day after the World Cup ended. If you’ve read my other trip reports, you know I might be a bit of a football nut.

We got our 19 year old to get up early and drive us to the Atlanta airport. After all, we pay her car payments and insurance (and college tuition and food and…) We arrived at ATL around 8am for our 10am flight to Seattle. We checked our bags through to HKG and went to the SkyClub at A17. It was not too crowded, especially for a Monday morning, but I suppose things thin out a little in the summer. We had a light breakfast in the lounge and relaxed for an hour or so.

DL 2344 ATL-SEA – Seats 2C and 2D

We boarded on time and found our seats in the fairly average 757. Legroom was fine and the IFE was good (with live TV), but there was nothing that special about the hard product in F for a cross-country flight.



We took off at 10:25 after a long taxi and lunch was served at 11:15. No menus were provided. “Chicken or salmon” was the choice. Everything was served on one tray and there was no warm bread, just packaged breadsticks.



The chicken was dry but the veggies were pretty good, as was the small red velvet cake for dessert.

I ordered a Woodford after lunch and watched the movie Game Night, which was pretty funny. I usually like to watch dumb comedies or action movies on IFE as the constant PA interruptions make it hard to watch anything more substantial.



The Woodford tasted a little bit off, but I assumed it was due to the altitude. I ordered another and the FA said “Oh sorry, I gave you Dewars last time.” Well, that explains the taste issue! She gave me a Woodford this time and I watched the movie Kingsman based on my daughter’s recommendation and enjoyed it.

There was a snack basket and another drink run about 2 hours after lunch. No second meal or snack served on this 5 ½ hour basically transcon flight. We really get screwed out of Atlanta I guess. I watched the previous night’s episode of Succession on my iPad as we approached Seattle.

We got some great views of the mountains on our approach.





Also got a nice view of Mount Rainier behind the wing as we landed to the north at SEATAC



We landed on time at 12:20, but we had a long taxi back to the terminal. Then we waited for gate traffic and finally got to our gate at 12:45. We only had about 30 minutes until our HKG flight boarded at this point and a long walk through SEA from A13 to the train and then to the S terminal. As it was just about time to board by then, we skipped the Centurion Studio and the Sky Club. Unfortunately, boarding was delayed so we hung around the gate unnecessarily. Delta’s gate staff at SEA seemed a bit unorganized. Next up is the short 13.5 hour hop to HKG.

Last edited by pjs; Aug 16, 18 at 2:51 pm Reason: Pics
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Old Aug 16, 18, 3:03 pm
  #7  
pjs
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July 16-17, 2018 - Getting to Hong Kong

DL39 SEA-HKG – Seats 6C and 6D

The flight was scheduled for 1:57pm but the 777 did not start boarding until 1:30pm so it did not look great for an on time push back.

The seats were the old 777 seats as only one plane had been configured with the suites at this point and they would never use it on a route like this which is going away in a couple of months.







We were given slippers, amenity kits, and our Westin bedding. We were also offered beverages. I took a mimosa, even though I know they use cheap champagne for these drinks. The menu looked pretty good, especially the Chinese option:









Sorry, forgot to take a pic of the wine list, but the choices weren't too bad if I recall.

IFE was stowed during taxi and takeoff. Shockingly, we pushed back on time so we either had a light load or efficient boarding. Delta One looked about 30/37 from what I could tell. Once again, it was a long taxi and wait for our slot. We were airborne at 2:40pm. Time to get comfy:



During the first meal service, I watched The Commuter (basically Taken on a train). We were offered a warm(ish) towel service. Then we had warm mixed nuts and I tried the Pinot, which was surprisingly decent.



I decided on the Chinese meal. The appetizers were pretty much the same, except for the shrimp being prepared differently. They were tasty, and the pretzel bread was not stale. We had to wait a little while for spare ribs, but they were worth the wait. Meaty and spicy.





I had the sundae (forgot to take a pic but I expect you know what a sundae looks like).

After dinner (lupper, dunch?), I slept for a couple of hours. The mid-flight snack was offered and it was a bit weird so I just picked at it.



I finished my book as I was not that tired (it was only about 11pm Eastern at this point) and watched a really dumb comedy – How to be Single, definitely a chick flick but it had its moments. I finally slept another few hours and then it was time for the pre-landing meal, which was just OK.



Almost there!



As we came into Hong Kong, I listened to some podcasts (as the IFE had to be stowed). Of course, I couldn’t see anything as we were in the two middle seats. The people in the window seats really couldn’t see much either in this herringbone configuration. We actually landed on time and we had made it to Asia! Next up - Lots of Dim Sum!
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Old Aug 16, 18, 5:47 pm
  #8  
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Full disclosure, I am not a Delta flyer or Sky Team (i think that is their alliance). I am an AA Ow flyer. AA is pretty bad in bus & first. I am flying CX in sept. ord/hkg which I have flown a number of times over the years in both bus & first. The menu and pictures looked terrible. The presentation was pretty bad. I don 't know why anyone would fly an american carrier internationaly.

YMMV

Last edited by jmj9905; Aug 16, 18 at 6:25 pm
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Old Aug 16, 18, 7:24 pm
  #9  
pjs
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Originally Posted by jmj9905 View Post
Full disclosure, I am not a Delta flyer or Sky Team (i think that is their alliance). I am an AA Ow flyer. AA is pretty bad in bus & first. I am flying CX in sept. ord/hkg which I have flown a number of times over the years in both bus & first. The menu and pictures looked terrible. The presentation was pretty bad. I don 't know why anyone would fly an american carrier internationaly.

YMMV
I get what you’re saying but I’d rather fly up front for free than pay cash in the back, and this worked out for our dates. There’s a recent ORD-HKG CX biz review on here that wasn’t great either btw. The food on the SEA-HKG flight wasn’t bad, just not great. We flew all international carriers the rest of the trip so you will see the comparison.
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Old Aug 16, 18, 7:43 pm
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Thanks, I saw the cx review but i found it a little jaded. Looking forward to the rest of your tr.
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Old Aug 16, 18, 9:10 pm
  #11  
757
 
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Looks like you had a good flight in Delta One from SEA-HKG. Sorry to hear the meal between ATL and Seattle wasn't better. I've found lunch to be a pretty weak meal on most airlines' offerings in F. Delta usually does better with Breakfast/Dinner.

Thank you for sharing!
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Old Aug 17, 18, 4:31 am
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
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hope your trip is one that you will for ever remember, especially after all that planning.
My wife and I have had the chance to visit most of the places you are going to ... you will have a great time
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Old Aug 17, 18, 8:35 am
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Wow, an amazing amount of planning obviously went into this trip!! So looking forward to the rest. SE Asia is really an amazing area to visit. I have always the Millennium Hilton in BKK.
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Old Aug 17, 18, 9:06 am
  #14  
pjs
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Originally Posted by 757 View Post
Looks like you had a good flight in Delta One from SEA-HKG. Sorry to hear the meal between ATL and Seattle wasn't better. I've found lunch to be a pretty weak meal on most airlines' offerings in F. Delta usually does better with Breakfast/Dinner.

Thank you for sharing!
Thanks - it was a small blip on an otherwise fairly pleasant 19 hours of flying
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Old Aug 17, 18, 9:07 am
  #15  
pjs
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Originally Posted by roadwarrier View Post
Wow, an amazing amount of planning obviously went into this trip!! So looking forward to the rest. SE Asia is really an amazing area to visit. I have always the Millennium Hilton in BKK.
Spoiler alert - it wasn't great. Sure, it was a good location and the room was nice, but the staff was cold and it was nothing special compared to some of the other places we stayed.
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