After our time in the VN Lounge in Hanoi, Anthony and I have decided that lounge life is officially the only way to travel. When you’re backpacking long-term, getting anything for free always feels great and even spending a few hours in comfort and luxury without having to pay for it is a nice break from reality. Most of the time we walk, take public transportation, long bus rides, or hot dusty tuk-tuks, so to spend a few hours in a comfortable (and SWANKY) place is always a plus.
Unfortunately for us, we’re not always going to be able to fly business class (although we’re working on getting there!) so sometimes we have to get creative. Awhile back Anthony signed up for some promotion that rewarded him with two United Club passes, and while flying from Hong Kong to Taipei we were finally able to put them to good use.
The morning of our flight was hectic. We’ve finally learned to pack the night before we leave a place instead of the morning of, but as our room in Hong Kong was TINY, things still managed to seem overwhelming. We took public transportation to the airport, and it was a very long bus ride there after three VERY fast nights in Hong Kong. Needless to say, by the time we got through security we were itching to get to the comfort of that lounge. The United Club in Hong Kong is located in Terminal 1 on the second floor by Gate 61. It was recently renovated and just reopened within the last six months so we had fairly high expectations. I’d read a few reviews online beforehand and they were kind of all over the place, but we figured it had to be better than sitting at our terminal for hours since our backpacker budget definitely wasn’t going to cover any food or drinks at the Hong Kong airport. It is basically a luxury mall with a few terminals built in.
The lounge itself was easy to find, and when we arrived we were pleasantly greeted by two attendants who checked our passes and reminded us to keep an eye on the time as they don’t have people who go around announcing when flights are boarding (one point for the VN Lounge). We did a quick lap before finding some comfy chairs in the middle of the lounge. First and foremost the biggest difference between the United Club and the VN Lounge was the fact that the United Club was very sectioned off. There were walls everywhere which I think was done in order to make areas seem more private, however, to me it made the lounge seem smaller and more cramped than it actually was. It sits above the terminal with a nice view of the runway and gates below it, however, if you’re stuck in a corner you can’t see either of these. Anthony said he preferred the sectioning though so maybe it’s just a personal preference.
After setting up our little area we went about getting drinks and snacks. Another difference between the United Club and the VN Lounge is that alcoholic drinks are self serve at the United Club, as opposed to the bartender at VN. There is a full bar with a variety of spirits, fridges with a selection of Asian beers in several places, and one area with wine. The spirits themselves were all mid-shelf, and the wine was Rex Goliath. Not a great brand, but certainly not the worst. They carried Pinot Grigio, a Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay blend, and Pinot Noir, nice light options which I’m sure please a majority of the guests.
They even had a designated “Cuba Libre Station” with all of the fixings to make your own rum and coke. I found it interesting that this was separate from the actual bar itself, but I feel as though maybe they rotate the drink on a daily basis. I also find it HILARIOUS that they call a rum and coke a Cuba Libre everywhere in Asia. I know this is the technical name for the cocktail, but it’s like hearing someone order a “Cape Codder” instead of a vodka cranberry…just seems silly.
While Anthony made us each a gin and tonic, I wandered around and checked out the food. They had a variety of hot and cold options, as well as fruit and two salads. I liked that both the hot and cold options had both Asian and Western style food. At the VN Lounge it was predominantly Asian, which was delicious, but having a variety is always nice. I tried a few of the finger sandwiches and of course had cheese (the one thing I’ve been missing more than wine) and everything was very good. My favorite by far were these mini rollatini wraps that were filled with roasted red peppers, spinach, artichokes, and feta cheese. Anthony had the Thai Green Curry, mixed vegetables, braised pork with peppers and mushrooms, and rice and said they were all very tasty.
After we both ate our fill, Anthony promptly fell asleep which left me alone for a good two hours to explore the lounge and people watch. I made sure to keep an eye on the time and luckily there were four departure screens easily read from the balcony overlooking the terminal. I found it interesting that at this lounge you had to make an appointment for a shower (probably to keep trashy backpackers like ourselves from hoarding the toiletries), and all of the outlets were for British plugs. Now I know Hong Kong was a British colony, but I would think at such a busy international hub they would have a variety of outlets available. I meant to ask at the front desk if they had adapters, but never had the chance so maybe that would have been the case. This particular lounge also had only two chairs in the napping area, and no massage chairs or smoking lounge. However, they did have four or five rooms with desks that were closed off in order for people to get work done if they needed the quiet, and they had large cubbies for people to store their luggage if needed.
Overall I would say the United Club was very nice, but after spending time in the VN Lounge it seemed a little lacking in comfort and quality. To be honest, this kind of goes along with my experience that most American airlines aren’t nearly as good as their international counterparts, but then again, none of our airlines are subsidized by the government to the extent of their overseas counterparts. If you do have a layover in Hong Kong and have access to the United Club it is definitely worth checking out, but just about any lounge is better than the terminal itself.