On our recent trip to Vietnam, we had a couple of internal flights that we needed to book between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang return. When I looked up our options, I was surprised to see 3 airlines that fly internally in Vietnam, Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and VietJet.
Vietnam Airlines I consider a premium airline (they code share with Qantas internationally) and I consider Jetstar Pacific and VietJet the budget options. Now, I have to confess here, originally I had booked our internal flights with Jetstar Pacific, the reason being, the week that I was booking these flights, was the same week the Germanwings flight crashed and was believed to be a case of suicide by pilot. Basically, I had the jitters and it was a case of ‘better the devil you know’.
As it turned out, Jetstar Pacific flights were marginally more expensive, but I was prepared to pay the difference for peace of mind. Fat lot of good that did, when we arrived in Vietnam we had that many flight delays that I ended up cancelling both legs of our flights and rebooking with VietJet. They said they would refund the money for our delayed flights but 8 weeks later we haven’t seen a cent.
We got into HCMC at 7pm the evening before which is when we received notification that the flight had been delayed. Our 12pm flight was now leaving at 5, it’s a one hour flight to Nha Trang and another hour on the shuttle to the resort pier, then a 15 minute speed boat ride to get to the resort (takes a deep breath). This would mean that we would have arrived at the resort well after dark and I wasn’t too keen on the speed boat crossing in the dark. So we put the kids to bed and I jumped onto the net to look at VietJet flights. They had a flight at 11am so we decided to book it! All we had to do now was let the An Lam know that we would be there early and that was it. Hunky dory!
Originally we were going to stay with Jetstar for our return flight which was at 6.40pm. That was until we again received notification, that morning, that our flight had been delayed until 11pm. This wasn’t an options for us as it meant that we wouldn’t get to our hotel in HCMC, the Signature Saigon, until well after midnight. With 3 kids 10 and under we decided we would rebook with VietJet again.
I logged on that morning, the day of our flights, and was able to get a flight departing at 8pm. This was better but still wasn’t great. We had some dramas with our apartment in Nha Trang but that’s for another post when I can rustle up something suitable to post! Craig booked it, needless to say he isn’t allowed to book anything any more!
Because of the dramas we arrived at the airport pretty early and Nha Trang airport is very small, similar to a regional airport in Australia with only 3 gates. Once we checked our luggage and went into the departure lounge, we received an email to tell us that our flight had been delayed until 11pm. Ahhhhh! Frustrating, this was the time that our Jetstar Pacific flight was taking off.
Now, communication is hard over there and there is little of it. We met an American fella with his Vietnamese girlfriend and a couple of Korean guys that were on our flight. Together we managed to keep on top of things and keep each other informed. As it got later there seemed to be an awful lot of people in the departure lounge, I mean a lot of people, more people than one flight. Our new Vietnamese friend advised that there were still 3 flights to take off that night, two VietJet and one Jetstar Pacific flight. This was at 10pm and still no sign of anyone boarding let alone taking off.
Then I found out that there was another VietJet flight leaving at 10pm, now I cracked it! Anyway there was no one to speak to so I had to internalise it! The kids were getting very tired by this stage, they had been perfectly behaved up until then considering they had been sat in a tiny departure lounge for nearly 5 hours.
To cut a long story short, there were three flights still to depart that night, all to HCMC. Our flight was the first to leave at 11.30pm! Yes even before the flight that was scheduled at 10pm! This made me feel not too bad! I gave our card to our new Korean and American friends so if they are reading this please leave us a message and tell us how the rest of your trip was.
Keira and Caelan fell into a deep sleep on the flight, it broke my heart to wake them and drag them off the flight when we arrived in HCMC at about 12.15am! Caelan is particularly difficult when he has been woken and with so much luggage we couldn’t carry him. I had to wake him right up to walk and it really upset me. We then had to wait for luggage, get a cab into HCMC and check in to our hotel. We checked in to our hotel at 1am, the poor desk clerk was asleep on the couch in reception! Imagine that with a 6, 8 and 10 year old. But we managed as you do, not my finest mummy moment though!
Fantastic, couldn’t fault them on the way over! The domestic airport is an experience, I call it organised chaos! We got there really early, firstly because we had to check in luggage and secondly because I knew it was going to be crazy. I wasn’t disappointed, its was mayhem. The queues are enormous, people push in and don’t care, a lot of people have luggage not securely packed and there seems to be a lot of people just hanging around. There are security guards at the door attempting to minimise the amount of people entering that do not have flights. HCMC is also a busy airport so it can be confusing so please give yourself plenty of time.
The flights disembark and embark at a cracking pace, there is no messing around and the flight turned around within 30mins. VietJet saves money by not having gates, you line up at the door to get on a bus which takes you out to the plane parked on the tarmac. I suggest you listen carefully and check the departure boards, regular gate changes are not uncommon. There’s no ‘could rows 20-28 please get ready to board’ over the announcement, its everyone for themselves. Buses are mostly standing room only, so try not to take too much hand luggage like us silly buggers did!
The actual flight from HCMC to Nha Trang is just over 40mins so by the time the service trolley is out, its nearly time to put it away. Its a budget airline and you get what you pay for, don’t expect a hot meal and free alcohol to be delivered!
Both planes were Airbus A320-200’s and seemed to be fairly new. They were comfortable and seemed to have a little bit more space than budget airlines in Australia. This is always an issue for me as I have a fairly long thigh bones, I know it sounds silly, when Craig and I sit next to each other we are the same height even though I’m an inch taller than him standing. Normally when I sit on a plane my knees touch the seat in front and I have to sit with my feet under it. This is ok on short flights but pretty uncomfortable on longer flights as I like to cross my legs.
As it was my first flight with VietJet, I must admit I was nervous and wondering if I’d made the right decision. I was trying to relax when the captain came over the intercom, with a crystal clear Aussie accent! Now that was so calming! I instantly relaxed. As I always say, there’s an Aussie everywhere!
Next time I wouldn’t bother with Jetstar Pacific. VietJet is safe and very cheap. I booked our flights same day both times and the flights never cost us more than $50AUD per person, if I had of booked when I first looked back 6 months ago, the flights were close to $20AUD per person.
The only thing I can advise is expect chaos, get there early and lower your expectations. Its not like flying in the west and while it seems unconventional, it works! We got there and we got back. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them again but I have learnt something, if travelling with kids book the flights for as early as possible. This should ensure that you aren’t caught out like we were with flights delayed until very late at night.
I’m guessing that if they can’t fill a flight they will cancel it and combine them to save on costs. The flights are so cheap that they don’t really care if they upset the customers because they know we will come back because they are so cheap. I’m an example because I would definitely fly with them again even though we had a few dramas.
As my mum always tells me, you get what you pay for! That is so true, when paying for 5 people the cheaper the better, even if it does inconvenience us every now and then. It hasn’t scarred the kids, in fact they haven’t mentioned it since we got home. My advice is give them a go, they have funky uniforms too, they remind me of Virgin when they first arrived on the Australian market.
Sal & Co.
PS If you want to read about that we did in Vietnam, here’s some of the links Cyclo City Tour, Vietnamese Water Puppets, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong Delta. Here’s were we stayed, Signature Saigon Hotel in HCMC and An Lam Resort in Nha Trang.