Back in 2012 I decided to get into the points and miles game. I had many e-mentors in my journey, among them Gary Leff, Ben, and Chris Guillebeau (I talk more about my travel inspiration in this post). I had taken a few small trips here and there, and, through manufactured spending and credit card bonuses, built up a nice little amount of American AAdvantage miles. I decided I wanted to use them for a special trip: my first time to Asia.
So where would I go for my first trip to Asia? Well, odds are by this point you’ve seen the title of this post, which kind of ruins the surprise, but imagine you haven’t: VIETNAM! Now, why in the world would I decide to go to Vietnam? Well, some of you might be new to the blog, but my loyal and faithful readers (hi Mom!) will probably guess that it has something to do with a British television show by the name of Top Gear. And you’re right.
I get a lot of travel ideas from Top Gear, cases in point here, here, and here. They go all over the world and do cool things. Granted, they have a bigger budget than I do, but still. Anyway, they drove scooters up the entire coast of Vietnam (nearly) from Saigon to Halong Bay. That episode was the first time I had ever heard of or seen Halong Bay, and immediately it grabbed my eyeballs and hit me right in the bucket list. So, as I formulated my trip, I realized I didn’t have nearly the time nor budget to attempt a 1000 mile motorcycle/scooter journey. In fact, I had just under a week in which I could take the trip (around the 2012 Labor Day holiday in the United States). Could I pull it off? I mean, how hard could it be?
Well, it turns out it’s pretty tough to do that amount of time zoning in such a short amount of time. As I planned, I saw that Vietnam was exactly 12 hours ahead of Central time in the US. So everything would be directly backwards. I made the decision: I was going to HAVE to sleep on the plane if I wanted a chance to enjoy the trip. I’m a big dude (all of the muscles), so I don’t sleep well on planes typically. But I needed to sleep on this trip.
So let me introduce you to Cathay Pacific First Class. I’ve previously reviewed the Cathay First experience here, but this trip actually took place before the one I linked to. This was my first ever trip in international First Class and I fear I kind of ruined myself, because few flights since have stacked up.
My journey began in the Admiral’s Club of DFW Airport’s Terminal D. My drink of choice when I get ready to fly is a Bailey’s on the rocks, because apparently I’m a wuss, according to friends. But I like it, so hush. Since I was flying First Class on a Oneworld flight, I got some free drink coupons as well, a nice touch before a great trip.
We got the call to board our flight out of D17, which is in the section of DFW that is currently being renovated to accommodate the A380’s imminent arrival at DFW. I always figured this was the case, as D14-D17 have always had comically long jetways. I felt like I was actually walking about halfway to LAX and we’d just hop on the plane for the rest of the journey.
I arrived into LAX in that little circular area that all LAX American flyers know well. I made a stop at the LAX Flagship Lounge (on account of me flying First Class on an international flight, I didn’t have Executive Platinum status at the time) and saw Michael Douglas talking with someone famous looking. So that was cool. I don’t like bothering celebrities, especially when I don’t remember any of their movies (“Michael! Loved you in that one where you kind of grimaced while looking down your nose at someone!”) so I didn’t make a scene. I did grab quite a few pictures of the lounge, which have since gone the way of the Dodo, and by Dodo I mean I upgraded my iPhone and let a buddy use my old one and he formatted the phone when he got it.
After the Flagship Lounge I made my way towards the (at the time, pre-renovation) Tom Bradley International Terminal, affectionately known by frequent flyers as TBIT, also as “that dump”. From all accounts the renovations were wonderful and it’s great now, looks like I need to take another trip to find out myself. I was pondering these kinds of thoughts (“I wonder what I’ll be doing 22 months from now, writing about this I bet”) as I found the Cathay Pacific check-in area. More specifically, MY Cathay Pacific check-in area.
A Cathay agent stood at the beginning of the above carpet and confirmed that the mostly homeless looking person in front of her was in actuality traveling in the First Class cabin that night. I handed her my passport and that started about 15 hours of wonderful service. She quickly tagged my luggage, checked me in, exchanged my lame-o American printed boarding pass for the Epic and Colorful Cathay Pacific boarding pass to which I was apparently entitled (she made a big deal out of it). She printed out my lounge invitations for the Oneworld Lounge at TBIT as well as the lounges at Hong Kong’s airport.
I stopped by the Oneworld Lounge for a bit but decided to head to the gate early in case boarding started earlier than normal. It didn’t. It started right on time. Like “the gate agent was staring at his watch and counting down the seconds until it was boarding time” on time. I was standing in the First Class line with a big smile on my face like a big dumb idiot, worried that someone would come along and say “ok, fun’s over, you didn’t think you were going to actually fly First, did you?” For some reason I could totally see Michael Douglas saying that.
Boarding was announced, I heard an affirmative-sounding beep when my boarding pass was scanned, and I walked down the jetway towards one of the most pleasant feelings in all of flyingdom: turning left when you enter the plane. One of the flight attendants expertly spotted my boarding pass. She welcomed me to First Class and promptly walked me to my seat/suite, 1K, on our 777-300ER.
I started snapping pictures like whoa, and she insisted on taking a picture of me before another glass of champagne was served. Well, ok.
I was getting nice and settled in, thanks to my friends from Dom Perignon.
The flight departed after a modest wait (completely full back in coach) and I began to peruse Cathay Pacific’s massively thorough in-flight entertainment system.
Then, lo and behold, you’ll never guess what show was available!
They even (a bit randomly) had my favorite movie of all time, The Rock. You bet your butt I watched it during dinner too.
After takeoff, I enjoyed some mixed nuts before dinner.
Dinner started with Cathay’s famous (and now no longer available) balik salmon and caviar.
I had actually never had caviar before this flight. It was good! I don’t know if I’d ever pay the premium to have it here, but it was nice to have on a flight, very powerful taste, which is tough at 38,000 feet.
After a soup, they then brought out a prawn salad.
By the time I ate all of that, I was pretty full. But then the steak came.
It was cooked to a nice medium-well. I normally eat my steak medium rare, but a nice medium-well is hard to do on a plane (it’s usually much more done). It tasted great, one of the better beef courses I’ve had on a plane, even since.
I was too full for dessert, and instead had the flight attendant make up my bed so I could get some sleep. Although the cabin was a bit warm, I ended up getting a good 7 hours of sleep. I watched some other episodes and before I knew it a light breakfast was served.
I’ve failed you, loyal blog readers, in that I cannot find the picture of the absolutely outstanding scrambled eggs that followed the fruit plate. They were simply divine, better than almost any I’ve had even on the ground (maybe the exception would be the Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, you’ll have to wait a few weeks to see!). But nevertheless, we began our descent into Hong Kong, and the flight map screen was my first clue that things were going to get a bit…foreign.
I opened the shade and was greeted with a great sunrise to usher in a great day in Hong Kong.
The service was impeccable. There are only six seats in Cathay’s First Class on the 777-300ER and there were only four of those seats filled. Dinner service was perfect in every way. I will tell you something I wish I knew though: Cathay’s flight attendants do not want to bother you on the flight so they do not roam the aisles looking for opportunities to help. They prefer you let them know when you need something and will instantly be at your side as soon as you press the flight attendant call button. I did not know that going into the flight. It did not make the service worse by any means, it is just one of those things that is good to know.
Quite a few frequent flyers will tell you that Cathay Pacific First Class is the best, most consistent experience in the world. I think I have to agree, at least until we get to my Etihad trip report in a few weeks. For now, enjoy this throwback trip report. Up next, Hong Kong!
All the best,