Sunset on the short-haul: Phnom Penh to Vientiane by air

Sunset on the short-haul: Phnom Penh to Vientiane by air

Modern Traveller soared on Vietnam Airlines’ short-haul to Vientiane – and saw something truly stunning on the way.


Rarely are short-haul flights something to write home about: barely is one up in the air than the plane is descending to the destination; cabin crew rush to serve meals before the seatbelt sign is re-illuminated; and small children still feel the need to wail.

Set to fly from Phnom Penh’s newly upgraded International Airport to Wattay International, Vientiane, MT expected nothing different from Vietnam Airlines’ regular through service to Hanoi.

Having bagged flights on VN920 for a little more than US$100, MT accepted this expenditure as a necessary evil – keen to avoid a weeks-long slog through the Khmer Kingdom – but not one likely to come complete with in-flight entertainment of a different kind.

With the clock ticking toward 6pm and the Airbus A321 all set to fly, Modern Traveller buckled in and settled down for an 85-minute hop up to the Laos capital.

Soon after takeoff, though, something rather strange started to happen: passengers in the left-hand window seats ogled and awed alike, as beams of beautiful Asian sunset streaked through clouds and in through the Airbus’ circular windows.

Far from pulling down the window blinds and cursing the blinding light, fellow passengers were nudged awake, whilst iPhones and Nikons set to work snapping brush-streak shots of a sun-down view like no other.

The further the tin can flew, the more beautiful the aspect became: tumultuous cloud forms entered the vista as storms crackled menacingly, bolts of lightning bursting in the sky – safely distant, yet terrifyingly close.

Delicious orange became pastel yellow became dusky, farewell amber, as this sun pursuit was lost to the burning ball, and twilight became night.

Like an imagined moment with added saturation, the sun was gone and, shortly after, the plane touched down safely on Lao soil, carrying a cabin of captivated passengers back to a reality darker than the day, but all the brighter because of it.

Oddly silent was the aeroplane as it nudged up to the gate: stunning sunsets are nothing new in Southeast Asia, but to see one spilling through cotton wool clouds at 30,000 feet is something truly special.

Not sure whether it’s worth shelling out to soar? Sure, it shaves days off your journey and gets you there a whole lot less sweaty, but time it right – and book a seat on the left – and the real value comes as a treat that no tour could ever offer.

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