Another early flight, another crazy connection. It’s time to say goodbye to beautiful Hoi An, fly back to Ho Chi Minh City and then onwards to Malaysia. A hotel car drives us to Da Nang Airport as the orange sun peeks above the tropical clouds.
Da Nang shows signs of recent development. There are golf resorts springing up on the outskirts, one of the bridges has metal supports in the shape of a dragon and there are King’s, Queen’s and numerous other “Palaces” for functions, despite this being a socialist country without a monarch.
Oh, and there’s a Mr Bean massage parlour with a huge photo of his face on their banner.
Once we arrived at Da Nang’s International Airport we hurried over to the Jetstar check in. The ladies seemed in no hurry to process the two or so passengers in front of us. When our turn finally arrived she told us that our 8 am flight had been delayed – to 4 pm.
No way we’d make our connection to Malaysia with that flight.
Right, straight over to the VietJet ticket office for their 7.45am flight and US$150 later three tickets to Ho Chi Minh. Then back to the adjacent Jetstar counter where they refunded the original ticket cost to my credit card.
I can’t say that I was shocked by the delay. I’d been warned – there’s even a warning about Jetstar Pacific in the Hoi An Wikitravel page. The only reason that I’d booked with them was that this trip was partly funded by Jetstar and I thought it would be a nice move to fly on all their subsidiaries in one year. So I did a price beat on VietJet, but with the knowledge that I might end up on them anyway. Fortunately, their fares are low.
Still, it’s not a good look for Jetstar. Sure, we’ve had the odd delay on flights back from Japan, but then I’m never in a hurry to leave, and most of the time they are very good. But here we were adding another low cost airline to our list. It wasn’t until I reached KL and got internet access again that I discovered that Jetstar had sent me an email about the delay – at 6.15 am when we were already in the car to the airport.
For the first time on this trip our cabin baggage was weighed and found to be overweight. The counter attendant encouraged us to rearrange our goods between bags and then tagged them as cabin baggage.
VietJet, who used to be part owned by AirAsia, use sexy women to promote themselves online and in their aircraft and in my opinion come off looking rather trashy. But the boarding was done efficiently and the English levels seemed good on board. The captain came, I think, from Europe though his accent was a bit indeterminate. The blue leather seats and interior of the Airbus A320 looked a bit run down, but nothing too bad. VietJet recently made headlines in the aviation world with a big order for new Airbus A320 Neos when most had not heard of them. Interestingly, they also had an aircraft painted in Disney Planes livery.
Da Nang Airport has many semicircular concrete revetments alongside the runway, which probably date back to the Vietnam War. Many of these are now home to MiG-21s, though not all of these Vietnam War era fighter jets look to be in a good state.
It was an unremarkable flight, mostly above the tropical cloud, a few bumps here and there. We ate the breakfast of sandwiches, fruit and eggs prepacked by the hotel, though a flight attendant asked us not to eat the open up the egg container due to their smell, which I thought a fair call.
We arrived once more at Ho Chi Minh City’s airport, then had to quickly exit the Domestic Terminal and walk to the adjacent International Terminal. Unfortunately, the entrance to the upstairs departures area is at the far end of the International building away from Domestic. Still, we made it up to the counter with plenty of time to spare.
This was our second leg on a full service airline this trip. I am always curious to see how Malaysia Airlines fares on each flight, after bad long haul experiences with them and, so far, great short distance flights.
The security and immigration checks all went very smoothly, although they seemed to pay more attention to Alex than at any other country’s airports. Perhaps it is because of child trafficking.
I was happy to see that we would be flying on one of Malaysia Airline’s newer 737-800s, our only Boeings of this trip, though with a registration of 9M-MSG I hoped we wouldn’t get too thirsty. Thanks to our child travel accessory (Alex) we boarded early and were soon sitting in our burgundy leather seats replete with modern seatback entertainment.
Unfortunately, only a limited number of programs out of the guide were loaded, and none of the games, which disappointed Alex immensely.
Once up in the air, through thick tropical clouds, we were well fed sweet and sour fish and untouched noodles for a sleeping Alex. I found the service to be quite poor. Unlike the enthusiastic gaiety (and I use that word deliberately) of our flights to Taipei earlier in the year, the crew seemed resentful of any request and had their serious pouty faces on.
At least we were seated in the right spots this time.
After a somewhat rough flight through tropical skies we landed after two hours at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It was nice to be in the familiar main terminal again, but we had to hurry to catch the train to the city.
Once inside we felt like we could finally relax, that our travel worries were over for the next couple of days.
A taxi took us from Stesen Sentral (the main station) to the Parkroyal Hotel in Bukit Bintang. We’ve stayed here twice before, but I was disappointed that they couldn’t upgrade us as per my loyalty status.
B couldn’t wait to get out an eat. We used the internet access to locate a Nyonya (blend of Chinese and Malay) restaurant out in Petaling Jaya, which is the area she once lived. So we jumped in a taxi (metered) to drive us there. The numbering system in PJ is district/street and we wanted to get to SS2/6. We could find SS2/2 and SS2/6. Even SS2/5 and SS2/8. But no SS2/6. Nobody else the poor taxi driver asked seemed to know either. He kindly stopped the meter as we drove around searching.
Finally, we found it across by a few blocks. The restaurant was shut.
Permanently or just until the evening? Nobody had an answer. Oh well, there looked to be other food around and we walked down to the corner where the busy Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandur food centre sat, whith substalls selling rice, naan bread and tandoori chicken baked in an actual clay tandoor.
Alex had demanded an ice cream and B encourage him to try what would be a Lime Splice in Australia, her childhood favourite. Meanwhile we ordered a roti canai (soft flatbread with curry), tandoori chicken, Milo ice and a garlic naan.
It was sooooo good. Alex devoured the roti canai, which was one of the best that I’ve tasted. So good it spoiled the subsequent roti canais that we ate.
But we were careful to leave room in our stomachs for Tanjung Bunga, which was now open for dinner. Nyonya food is different to other forms of Malaysian cuisine and it is absolutely delicious. We had kapitan chicken, which had hints of lime, inchi cabin fried chicken, assam (tamarind prawns), so sweet, and green mango kerabu salad. So good (Alex loved the curry kapitan) and it’s no wonder some many other tables were reserved.
After a bit of a walk to the main road we caught a taxi back to what was supposed to be a pasar malam (night market) along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. The taxi seemed to be falling apart and the very fat Indian driver liked to talk, but he used his meter and we saw quite a few sights, including the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation, the power behind the government) building which has been completely decked out in a large electronic display, in complete contrast to the government’s call to save energy.
The pasar malam was a complete disappointment, kind of a mini Petaling Street, with lots of knock off jeans and watches. The surrounding area seemed quite seedy as well, so we made our way quickly to the Chow Kit monorail station for a ride back to the hotel.
In contrast the Bukit Bintang area was alive with light and people. We walked through high end foreign shops and the more downmarket Sungei Wang Plaza until our feet gave way, the shops were closing and we needed a bed to lie on.