Friday, July 29, 2011

Tokyo/Vietnam July 2011 - Japan Airlines 751 Economy Class (NRT - HAN)

***This post is part 5 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wanted to avoid the Tokyo Metro on my way to NRT. Despite finally getting slightly comfortable with finding my way through the maze of tracks and transfers, I didn't want any last minute snags that would cause a repeat of my adventure to the airport at the beginning of this journey.

I booked the Airport Limo Bus for $37 from my hotel, which sounded a little steep, but since NRT is about an hour and a half outside of central Tokyo, it really wasn't bad at all. Pickup was directly in front of the hotel, and we continued on to three other pickup points before going on our way. The bus was quite comfortable, and another plus is the Tokyo scenery you get to see along the way.

Once at NRT, I noticed that Japan Airlines had a number of self check-in kiosks which I tried to use, but since I had applied for a Vietnam visa on arrival and didn't have it with me, an agent eventually directed me to the counter where the lady had to ask a supervisor how to deal with my situation, and then proceeded to made copies of my passport and visa approval form.

I made my way through security (love security checks at Asian airports - extremely fast and courteous) and grabbed a bite to eat upstairs at the food court. I must say, NRT seemed a bit bleak when it came to shopping and eating, especially compared to the newer mega-airports all over Asia. A quick tram ride over to Terminal 2 and I arrived at Gate 81 to wait for my flight to Hanoi.

Japan Airline 751
Boeing 767-300
Tokyo Narita (NRT) - Hanoi (HAN)
Monday July 4, 2011
Departure: 5:55 PM (scheduled) / 5:53 PM (actual)
Arrival: 9:40 PM (scheduled) / 9:29 PM (actual)
Duration: 5h 45m (scheduled) / 5h 36m (actual)
Seat: 18C (Economy)

The seats on our 767-300 were a bit more dated than my previous flight, but overall, the interior looked extremely well-maintained. There was AVOD at every seat, which surprised me a little considering the flight was a relatively short 5 1/2 hours. Initially I had an aisle seat on the left side of the plane, but by the time boarding had ended, the window seat next to me at 18A remained empty, so I quickly moved over to snap some pictures along the way. Typically I like to choose aisle seats for any flight over two hours since I have a tendency to drink a lot of water on the plane, resulting in... well, you know.

Takeoff was uneventful. There was quite a bit of turbulence leaving NRT, but seatbelt lights were turned off about 20 minutes out. Drinks and meal service started shortly after that. Dinner consisted of a simple Japanese-style beef bowl with a side of wasabi-seasoned cold noodles. A separate dish contained small appetizers such as fish cake, pickled radish and steamed egg. Dessert was a Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream.

While the taste was not as great as the previous JL flight from SFO, this was definitely good and filling enough for a flight of this duration. Green tea was offered after the meal. For some reason, I just enjoy Japanese green tea a lot more than other types... maybe the deep flavor makes me think it's healthier for some illogical reason.

After the sun had set, I decided to explore the AVOD system. Choices were rather limited, but one movie was all anyone could really fit in on this flight anyways. There were a couple of newer Hollywood movies, and I decided to watch the Disney animated film "Tangled" since it was short and probably didn't require a lot of concentration. By the time the movie ended, I still had about two hours of flight time left, but with a quick nap, and I awoke to the start of our descent into Hanoi.

There was no trouble with landing today (thankfully), but once inside the arrivals area, I quickly realized I was in trouble. As I mentioned above, I had a Vietnam visa on arrival approval form, but I didn't know exactly what to expect once I got there. Well, first, I stood with my form in the foreign passport holders line, waiting for entry. A security officer noticed that I was holding the approval form and asked me if I had a visa already. I shook my head, and he casually pointed for me to go back around the corner.

I looked around and saw a small visa office with glass windows. I first stood in a line with number of other Westerners. I asked if this is where I get the visa on arrival. Someone said yes, but I needed to hand over my approval form and my passport first at another window on the other side of the office. The whole thing was just strange and a little confusing since there were no clear signs as to where to go or what to do. In any case, I went over and gave them my passport and forms (along with a passport photo), and then went back to stand in line.

At that point, my heart suddenly sank as I realized I needed to pay the visa on arrival fee of $25 in US dollars - no Vietnamese dongs, no credit cards. I quickly looked around and saw no currency exchange booths, and all I had in my pocket were Japanese yens that I had hoped I could exchange once I arrived. Freaking out a little, I started to ask people in line if they had any dollars I could borrow. Most looked at me as if I were insane, but the lady in front of me was nice enough to suggest that I ask the officers inside first if there were any other methods of payment, and if not, she would help out.

It was then that I suddenly realized that I still had a reserve of US dollars hidden on my carry-on backpack. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I looked and saw the stash of bills folded up. Sometimes when traveling, I lose track of these important things... I will definitely have to be more on top of rules and regulations next time.

Finally, I located my checked luggage and saw my hotel driver the moment I stepped into the arrivals hall. We headed out into the heat and humidity of Hanoi - even at 10:00 pm - and needless to say, it was a bit of a culture shock to go from the well-organized and seamless Narita to the literal cluster%@#* that was Noi Bai International. Taxi cab peddlers approached at every step practically grabbing at your luggage directing you to their car. Luckily, my driver shooed them away and soon we were out of the airport for the 40 minute drive into town.

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