An experimental study of convective condensation of R134a in an 8.38 mm inner diameter smooth tube in inclined orientations is presented. This article, being the first of a two-part paper (the second part concentrates on the pressure drops and void fractions), presents flow patterns and heat transfer coefficients during condensation for different mass fluxes and vapour qualities for the whole range of inclination angles (from vertical downwards to vertical upwards). The results were compared with three flow pattern maps available in literature. It was found that for low mass fluxes and/or low vapour qualities, the flow pattern is strongly dependent on the inclination angle whereas it remains annular for high mass fluxes and high vapour qualities, whatever the tube orientation. The models of flow pattern maps available in the literature did not predict the experimental data well. In the inclination-dependent zone, experiments showed that there is an optimum inclination angle that leads to the highest heat transfer coefficient for downward flow. The heat transfer coefficient is strongly affected by the liquid and vapour distributions and especially by the liquid thickness at the bottom of the tube for stratified flows. Thus developing a mechanistic model of flow pattern maps is the first step in achieving a predictive tool for the heat transfer coefficient in convective condensation in inclined tubes.