Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Business Class with Vietnam Airlines

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. This is part of my series on Vietnam, which started with my flight over, and which, logically enough, would conclude with this, my flight back However, I’ve long since given up on assuming that there will be any logic to the order of these posts, so while you still await my thoughts on Vietnam itself, the final instalment of my three-part series on Vietnamese Coffee and the culmination of my trip up the coast by train, here’s a piece on my flight back from Vietnam, which marked, in another first for me and the Coffee Spot, a long-haul flight in business class.

I should point out that I do have this dream that at some point in the (hopefully not too distant) future, loads of free time will magically appear, allowing me to go back and complete the outstanding Travel Spots. These will then form a coherent narrative, full of useful information for the fellow traveller. Of course, knowing how these things go, it’ll take me ages, by which time they’ll be hopelessly out of date. Plus, of course, I’ll have to completely re-write this introduction.

I’ve clearly not thought this through…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam By Train

My sleeper compartment on the TN2 train from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, the occasional series in which I attempt to catalogue my travels by means other than the coffee shops I visit. This trip began just over a week ago, when I flew out to Vietnam, a new destination for both me and the Coffee Spot. Since then I’ve been in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as was), first exploring the city (through the lens of its speciality coffee shops), then attending a week-long meeting for my day job.

In an ideal world, I’d be writing things up as I go, letting you know what I made of the city, with regular updates documenting my various adventures and experiences. However, if the last year has taught me anything, it’s that trying to combine travelling, working, keeping the Coffee Spot regularly updated and writing Travel Spots in real time just doesn’t work. Something has to give and, sadly, it’s the Travel Spot.

Instead, let’s skip over Ho Chi Minh City to the second part of my trip, which began yesterday. It’s an epic 36-hour train journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, stopping along the way at Hoi An and Hué.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Vietnam

My Vietnamese Airlines Boeing 787-9 waiting at the gate at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to take me to Ho Chi Minh City.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, featuring Vietnam, a new destination for the Coffee Spot and for me personally. Having previously hardly set foot outside Western Europe and North America, the last 12 months have seen me visit China, Japan and now Vietnam for the first time. As it was with the two previous trips, this is for work, with time for some Coffee Spot duties tacked on at the start/end.

In another first for me, I flew out (and will be returning) on Vietnam Airlines. Again, this last year has seen me flying on a variety of airlines, having previously tried to travel only on British Airways or Virgin for long-haul flights. Other than the annoyance at having my airmiles spread around all over the place, my (long haul) experience has been very positive. Hopefully Vietnam Airlines will continue the trend.

The trip itself will take in a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, followed by a week there for business, then a week-long trip all the way up the coast by train to Hanoi, with stops at Hoi An and Hué along the way. I then fly back from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and, from there, home.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Tokyo

A quiet, narrow Tokyo street 10 minutes' walk from the madness of Shibuya but feeling a million miles away.It’s almost been two weeks since I set off from Heathrow to fly, for first the time, to Japan. You can read about my (lack of) preparation for the trip and my thoughts about it in the previous Travel Spot. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of my trip, including where I went and what I did, I’m taking a different approach with this Travel Spot, concentrating on my general impressions of Tokyo and, in another post, Japan (at least, those bits that I visited).

My trip’s been split into three parts. Part I involved three nights in Tokyo where I was pretty much getting over my jet-lag and gentling exploring random parts of the city. Part II was work, a Monday to Friday meeting that was ostensibly the purpose of the trip and involved moving to a swanky hotel in Shibuya (think Piccadilly Circus/Oxford Street or Times Square). Part III, the bit I’m on now, sees me exploring Japan by train for a week and will be covered in another Travel Spot.

Back to this Travel Spot, where I will kick off with some general observations about Tokyo, before moving on to talk about coffee shops and other matters.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Japan

This is a slight departure from my normal Travel Spot series, less recording what I’ve done, more advanced warning of what’s coming. Whether I expand it to recap my travels remains to be seen, but for now it can stand as a reminder of an increasingly busy year!

You see, I’m off to Japan. I’ve known about it for a while now. I booked the flights in early February, but only really started planning the trip at the weekend. For reference, today’s Wednesday and I’m leaving for the airport at noon!

This is very unlike me. Normally I’m a thorough planner and preparer, even if I then use my plans as a basis for improvisation rather than rigorously follow them. I suspect that I’m a bit of nightmare to travel with, so it’s just as well that I travel alone most of the time.

I’m back with British Airways after dabbling with various airlines over the last year. It’s the one part of the trip I have planned: my exit-row aisle seats are booked and I’m looking forward (honestly, I am) to 12 hours on a 787. It might give me a chance to do some preparation for this trip!

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part I

My hire car for the drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, parked up on the side of the road in the Joshua Tree National Park. The striking blue paint job made it easy to find in car parks!Welcome to the third instalment of this, the latest in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series, which document my various travels. The first two parts of this particular Travel Spot, which covered my first visit to Phoenix in October 2016 and my return in January 2017, were rather portentously entitled “Phoenix and the Grand Adventure”. This, the third part, is the start of the Grand Adventure itself, a road trip that would ultimately see me driving over 1,200 miles, starting in Phoenix and ending, almost exactly seven days later (to the hour!) in San Francisco.

However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. After spending a week in Phoenix, where I was attending a four-day long business meeting, I set off in my hire car, a rather striking blue Ford Fiesta, with the intention to drive west to Los Angeles, then north up the California coast, mostly along Highway 1, ultimately ending up in San Francisco.

You can following my journey in this post, starting with my drive west from Phoenix. As is usual with my Travel Spot series, I will update this post as I go, so don’t forget to check back regularly for updates.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: My Return to Phoenix

Improving hotel coffee one Aeropress at a time with a little help from my Knock feldfarb hand grinder.Welcome to second instalment of the fifth in the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series. In the first part of this, the first Travel Spot of 2017, I explained how I was returning to Phoenix and took the opportunity to regale you with my adventures the first time around. We ended Part I with my arriving in Phoenix Airport having flown in via Salt Lake City, which, it turn out, was an excellent idea. Apart from the vile cold that I caught on the short hop from Salt Lake City to Phoenix and which I’ve just about got over now, a week later.

However, that’s enough moaning. I really enjoyed my return to Phoenix, confirming my original impressions that it’s a fabulous place both to live and to visit. What I hadn’t fully realised (although I knew it conceptually) is that Phoenix the city is quite small and what I think of Phoenix is in fact the greater Phoenix area (I may have made that term up!) which includes the surrounding cities such as Scottsdale (where I was last time) and the likes of Tempe, which is where we’ll start the tale of my return, after a quick word about my motel…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Phoenix and the Grand Adventure

Making coffee with my Travel Press on the flight on the way to Phoenix, October 2016. Grinding by Knock.Welcome to the fifth of the occasional Brian’s Travel Spot series, where I attempt to document my various travels around the world. The first of these was back in 2015 when I did my coast-to-coast trip across the USA by train, followed by a return visit to the US this time last year. 2016 was a good year for travel, with a brief sojourn in Porto, followed by a round-the-world trip via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago.

This, the first Travel Spot of 2017 sees me off on a Grand Adventure around the US, starting with a return to Phoenix. Since I’m actually writing this at the gate in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, I thought I’d kick this Travel Spot off with a brief recap of my first visit to Phoenix which took place at the end of October last year, followed by what happened when I flew out this time…

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Chicago

The Willis (was Sears) Tower, Chicago's tallest building.Welcome to fourth and final instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong, continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself and then moved onto Shanghai, where I was spent a week on business before having the weekend to explore. This instalment covers the final leg of the trip, Chicago, where I spent 10 days staying with friends before flying home, completing my first round-the-world trip in the process.

The more observant amongst you will notice that I haven’t actually finished my Hong Kong or Shanghai posts, but I wanted to get this post on the Coffee Spot before I actually completed my travels. It’s been a weird trip for me: because I was working in Shanghai and then staying with friends in Chicago, I’ve had very little spare time, so between keeping the Coffee Spot up-to-date, doing the day job, and socialising with my colleagues (Shanghai) and friends (Chicago), I’ve had very little time to do these Travel Spot posts. As a result, you can expect to see regular updates coming along for all three posts between now and the end of year!

A quick word about Chicago: although I say I was staying in “Chicago”, my friends live in Chicago in the same sense that I live in London (the point being that I actually live in Guildford). With that out of the way, let’s get on with the Travel Spot.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Shanghai

The futurist Oriental Pearl TV tower on the Pudong side of Huangpu River, as seen from the Bund at night.Welcome to third instalment of my Brian’s Travel Spot series, which started with my flight out to Hong Kong and continued with my adventures in Hong Kong itself. This post covers my time in Shanghai, which is the second leg of my trip. I’d never been to China before, so when I got an opportunity to go there on business, I took it with both hands.

I’ve been in Shanghai all week, but that’s mostly been spent in a meeting room on the first floor of the Hyatt, an interesting mix of modern western hotel, with Chinese architectural influences. So far I’ve not seen much of the city, although from just my limited exposure, I can say that it’s very different to Hong Kong.

I’ve now got the weekend to explore before I fly off on the third leg of my trip. Even though I’m still posting updates about my Hong Kong adventures, I wanted to get this post out while I was still in Shanghai, starting with my flight over. As with all the Travel Spots, this post is split into a number of sections which I’ll add to on a regular basis, so don’t forget to check back regularly for updates.

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