Vietnam Airlines, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
Sydney to Ho Chi Minh.
Lotusmiles program, with SkyTeam alliance compatibility
A speedy eight hours
Daily from Melbourne and Sydney
No business class queue means a speedy check-in with express lane passes for immigration and security
Business, seat 4G (aisle)
The wide-bodied Dreamliner has 28 roomy, fully lie-flat angled business seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Interior design offers serene, lotus-embossed pale green-gold. All seats have aisle access so no mountain climbing required. Seat pitch is 42 inches (106 centimetres); width is 21 inches (51 centimetres). There is no privacy screen, only a (reasonably large) bulkhead between middle seats. With this in mind, solo travellers might prefer the window seat, especially when adjusting the seat forward for dining, and to avoid disturbance if the companion entertainment screen is inadvertently left on when locked in place. In-seat and ceiling lights are adjustable. Seat storage is perfectly adequate. Armrest can be lowered for easy seat access. No overhead bins for middle seats but there are large aisle bins – this design gives a spacious feel and lots of headroom.
A maximum of 40 kilograms for checked baggage and two carry-on bags weighing a total of seven kilograms.
My 165-centimetre height means I am extremely comfortable, though my 185-centimetre partner can't fully extend his legs into the tapering ottoman foot area when lying flat. He isn't complaining, sleeping like a baby. Slippers are a nice touch. There's a pillow and acrylic blanket, rather than quilted duvet. Vietnam Airlines says it will be introducing new pyjamas, blankets and bed linen for long-haul flights. A Swiss Charriol toiletry bag contains pleasant handcream and lip balm, folding brush and comb, proper sized toothbrush and paste, earplugs and socks. I would prefer a better-quality eye mask – it was a bit tight with a synthetic feel. Bathrooms were consistently clean and available, with mouthwash and hand lotion.
A large 16-inch HD touch screen pops out at the press of a button and there are standard noise-cancelling headphones. The airline has recently doubled the number of entertainment channels and varied the content. While there's a perfectly good selection (and a good Asian assortment), I would still like to see more first-release movies and latest TV series. Feeling extremely comfortable, I entertain myself by reading.
Very good, though, due to an English issue, the wrong entree arrives for me, and the wrong main for my partner – a small price, quickly remedied, for genuinely helpful, efficient and courteous service. Hot towel and Heidsieck Blue Top Brut, orange juice or water are offered on boarding and, a big plus, water is replenished throughout the flight, as well as wine with meals, if so desired. Women cabin crew are smart in turquoise ao dai (yellow for senior crew) while male crew wear smart black pants, white shirts with blue tie.
Mostly Vietnamese cuisine, which suits me fine, with one Western offering per meal. An upcoming refreshed business menu by chef Luke Nguyen will continue to reflect Vietnam's cuisine and culture. The abundance of fresh vegetables, lightly steamed broccoli, asparagus, snow peas, carrots and salads accompanying meals is wonderful. Cabin crew take meal orders – a three-course lunch in our case – shortly after take-off, with matching drinks offered for entree, then main course. I feel duty-bound to try a "signature cocktail", so enchanting are the names – Phan Tiet red dunes and Gongs dance – but can't go past the Beloved Hue with its accompanying bowl of wasabi peas, cashews and crunchy chickpeas. My grilled prawn and jellyfish salad with chilli and cucumber appetiser is juicy and fresh. There's a crisp vegetable salad, then asparagus cream soup. I choose the stir-fried beef with lotus root and fresh chilli, fried rice with egg from a choice of four, with a glass of lovely 2016 syrah from the Northern Rhone Valley. Garlic bread, French brown, sourdough, oatmeal and ciabatta are offered from a basket. The little cakes are tempting but I go with the French cheeses. An hour before landing, refreshments are served – barbecue pork with oriental sauce and steamed rice, then fruit is my choice.
ONE MORE THING
The cappuccino – steer clear of it. It starts its life as a packet of sweet cocoa substance. Stick to tea or filter coffee – it's fine.
Vietnam Airlines' competitive business fares (currently from $4400 return to Paris via Hanoi or Saigon) make this airline an attractive option. Vietnam has just received a new Global 4-star certification from APEX (which rates solely on passenger feedback) and a 4-star Skytrax rating for three years running.
Our rating out of five: ★★★★
Alison Stewart was a guest of Vietnam Airlines and Mat McLachlan Battlefields Tours.