Index:

The Danang airport is fairly modern and new, and not nearly as crowded as Ho Chi Minh City.

This flight from Danang, Vietnam to Siem Reap, Cambodia was notable (to me) for two reasons. It was my first-ever time having to pay checked baggage fees, and it was the first time I was in an airport with a lounge that I had no access to.

I was on a paid coach ticket for $135.

Each flight had its own check-in queue and since the aircraft was going to be a one-class ATR-72 turboprop, there was only a single line (no need for a separate business class line).

I got to the front of the line, behind a couple of other passengers, and they weighed my checked bags. And they insisted on weighing my carryons. Their maximum carryon weight is 7kg (~ 15 pounds) and my carryons are always over that.

The checked baggage limit is 20kg ( ~ 44 pounds) which would have been plenty had they not insisted on checking my rollaboard. But taken together, the bags were over the allowance. I was sent to the ticket office 180 degrees behind me to pay the bag fees. At US$5 per kilogram I had to come out of pocket $50. They gave me a receipt for the charge which I then had to bring back to the check-in counter before receiving boarding passes and baggage claim checks.


Then I could proceed through passport control and security into the international side of the terminal. There were a couple of shops upstairs, and a restaurant/bar.

My gate was downstairs, as we’d be bused out to the aircraft.

Downstairs was also where the lounge was located. And for the first time I would stare at the entrance of a lounge, without any right of access.

I was a coach passenger, flying without status on any Skyteam airline, and unable to unlock the doors with either my American Express Platinum card or Priority Pass (or Lounge Club) card.

I was sure wishing I had picked up a Skyteam status match because the extra baggage allowance would have saved real money, and I would have had lounge access — not that I much needed a lounge for a short wait. The terminal was fine, and I imagine that the lounge itself wasn’t impressive. Nonetheless this was a situation I was very much unfamiliar with!

Nonetheless I didn’t have to wait long for boarding and being bused out to the aircraft.

We made it out to the aircraft and I started to think, I’m flying this internationally? It’s a 345 mile flight, blocked at 2 hours 25 minutes, because the ATR-72 is not a very fast aircraft.

We boarded the aircraft from the back stairs and made our way to the front of the aircraft — I had row 1, bulkhead, which would provide a bit of extra legroom and less of a sense of being in the midst of a plane full of people. (I actually like the illusion of sitting in the front of the plane and not seeing everyone behind me. I find it less stressful, but then I’m an introvert and large groups of people are anything but relaxing for me.)

Once onboard there wasn’t much of a wait to get underway. Everyone was seated quickly and there were no departure delays.

As soon as we were airborne the flight attendant went through the aircraft offering a boxed snack. Not the greatest, but this was coach on a prop plane and a sub-400 mile flight so it was still fairly impressive.

I plugged in and watched a couple of tv shows on my laptop and soon enough it was time to descend into Cambodia. We were on the ground and up to the terminal in no time. We deplaned again from the back stairs so I was last off the aircraft.

It was a short walk into the terminal to take care of immigration formalities.

I had obtained visas by mail in advance from the Cambodian embassy in DC. It’s $25 and shipping both ways. But they do visa on arrival as well. The only thing is that when your flight comes in at the same time as others the queues can be long. I breezed right through, waited for bags, and walked directly out through customs (dropping my form into an unattended box) and out the terminal.


  1. Susan said,

    Cambodia has had electronic visas, available online, for several years. We have used them for our last two trips to Cambodia and they save a lot of time over queuing for the visa on arrival. The instructions tell you that it takes a day or two for them to get approved, but in both cases it was instantaneous for us. You print out the visa and bring it with you. The first time we entered through Siem Reap (2008) and there was a special queue for people with e-visas, which went very fast. Last year we entered via Pnomh Penh and there was no special queue, but it was still quite quick. And with an e-visa, you don’t have to mail your passport off anywhere, so no mailing costs and no risk of loss.

  2. Gary said,

    @Susan – I wanted to go that route but could never get the evisa site to work. So certainly YMMV, and perhaps I just wasn’t quite competent enough to manage it, but as I say they do visa on arrival.

  3. RDimperio said,

    I’m sure that you’d like to imagine that, “the lounge itself wasn’t impressive.” But the fact remains that behind those doors, the ones secured by Dragons, was an airport oasis comparable to the FCT in Frankfurt minus the rubber duckies.

    And perhaps also minus the champagne, food, international water bar, cigar room, and private Mercedes.

  4. Susan said,

    We found the Cambodian e-visa site easy to use – from Canada, if that makes any difference – and we know quite a few other people who also got e-visas over the last few years, but as you say, YMMV. I just wanted to point out the existence of this option to anyone heading over there, since your piece didn’t mention it.

  5. Gary said,

    @Susan – for sure. I should have mentioned more about the visa process, the links didn’t work for me, there’s not any sort of requirement to do it in advance and most people don’t. I just had the time in between trips and did a bunch of visas back to back to back and figured might as well do this one the old fashioned way. And I hate long lines when i land :)

  6. Susan said,

    I totally agree – and I suspect so do all your readers

  7. Amol (@PointsToPointB) said,

    I paid $28 for an online eVISA, approved within 2 days. Didn’t have to mail my passport.

  8. Jeff W said,

    Regarding the e-visa site…I remember having trouble getting it to work. Every time I would submit info the site would say it “timed out” even though I was doing it quickly. After some trial/error I realized I had only a few seconds to type all the info in before it would time out, so it became a frustrating typing exercise. Finally got it to work and cheered out loud.

  9. iahphx said,

    That’s a pretty hefty bag fee for a not very hefty bag. :)

    Was there no way to take the heavier stuff out of your carry-on to meet the stingy carry-on weight limits, and put them either on your person or in your checked bags?

    I always try to be creative when it comes to foreign airlines try to “mess with me” over baggage weight. It usually involves that pesky 15 lb carry-on limit. If I just have a rollerboard, I don’t want to check it on an int’l flight — especially if it’s a connection — even if it’s free. The best strategy is to try to get your boarding pass in advance so you don’t have to go to the ticket counter. If that’s not possible, and I think they’re going to bother me, I take heavier things temporarily out of the bag.

    I did recently just pay my first checked bag fee, and it was in Asia, too. But I knew about the problem and paid it in advance. It was a family flight on AirAsia, which has stingy carry-on limits, but very cheap checked bag fees based on weight which you can share amongst your companions — IF you pay for it in advance. I’ll never fly a new overseas airline without checking their bag rules.

  10. Becky said,

    Gary – Brilliant tip to secure a visa ahead of time to avoid the lines and thanks to the many readers above who also shared their e-visa experiences.

    Glad you survived travel the way some of us do every time ;) Better luck on bag fees next time.

  11. Ken Y. said,

    You boarded in broad daylight and it was pitch dark upon arrival?!

  12. Gary said,

    @Ken Y yes that’s correct

  13. ED said,

    My first thought when seeing the pictures inside the ATR-72 was waiting for an AA flight attendant to ask for a Motts Tomato Juice, and then realizing [I] was flying out of Vietnam.

    Thanks for the reviews, Gary! Keep ‘em comin! I’m reading them all.

    ED

  14. Denis said,

    Gary, was this your first time flying an ATR? Cause, best as I can recall, all of them board only through the back door….

  15. Andrew said,

    We did Danang to HCM on Vietnam Airlines. I was pleasantly surprised. We checked in way early and I was asked, “Would you like the exit row?” and I responded, “How much does it cost?”. To my surprise it was free. I flew first class in and out of the trip, but with this kind of treatment I felt like a VIP. Also if you are guest at the Intercontinental they have a pretty decent lounge there. Of course I can’t recommend the hotel in its current state.

  16. Pablo said,

    Just came back from Cambodia. The temples were absolutely beautiful. However one thing I cannot stand are those immigration officers who were always trying to ask you to tip them when you go through passport check, those people really ruined the image of this country.

  17. Arthur H said,

    I kinda like to get my visas/passport stamped. It’s a way for me to remember where I’ve been. And besides, I got 48 extra pages added to my passport, so I need to get them filled.

  18. Gary said,

    @Denis no hardly the first time

  19. James said,

    First time without lounge access – as in, ever? Your whole life? The baggage fee thing, I understand, as there was a time when bags were free for everyone. The lounge thing is crazy if true!

  20. Gary said,

    @James – sorry, no, not ever… but in many years. Thinking back… I honestly can’t remember the last time I was in an airport with a lounge* where I did not have access to it.

    * I’m limiting the discussion to airline lounges and contract lounges, and ignoring special VIP/military/political lounges. And of course I haven’t had access to ALL lounges, just *A* lounge.

    Although actually as I write this I realize I am mistaken. I was at GCM only a little more than a year ago and I did not have access to the Cayman Airways Sir Turtle Club.
    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2013/01/22/enjoying-a-special-rate-at-the-ritz-carlton-grand-cayman/

  21. walter said,

    First the turtle club and now the danang international lounge,… what would Randy say?

    Seriously, great trip report, you drop more pearls of travel insight and great tips in your trip reports than most travel articles Nice work.

  22. P T said,

    We just returned from Myanmar. Flew quite a few ATRs there on several National airlines and none had assigned seating! We always made a beeline up to the bulkhead.

  23. Chris S. said,

    For what it’s worth, the Visa on Arrival process is totally harmless. My wife and I arrived from Bangkok just after a couple international flights (the biggest of which was a Vietnam Airlines A320 — REP is pretty small, after all). Most of them had e-visas and went straight through immigration. I probably waited 10 mins from the time I was in the queue until I had my visa in hand. It was $21 — the extra $1 was a penalty for not having a passport-sized photo (which I would have paid money for, probably).

    Not saying this is for everyone, but if you find yourself unable to secure an e-visa or don’t want to deal with mailing your passport off, it’s a perfectly viable option.

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