Updated: Oct 27, 2020
I am a self-proclaimed itinerary-making, travel-planning guru. Some would call me OCD but it's a good quality to have when planning a trip. Behind the scenes, a lot of thought and effort goes into curating an itinerary that captures the essence of a destination.
Deciding how long to spend in one location, analyzing flight and train schedules that work best, figuring out how to optimize your time while including as much as you can without over-doing it - It's part art, part science. It's a skill I've been honing since 2007 when I went on my first long international trip backpacking through Europe for 7 weeks.
Our perfect itinerary may not be your perfect itinerary. You will need to do some soul searching and ask yourself some important questions about what is most important for you to see and do.
What is your travel style? Do you prefer to see as much as you can in one trip or do you prefer a more relaxed, pick one or two spots kind of approach? Or, perhaps you're somewhere in the middle.
Do you want to see all of the museums and history-focused sites or do you prefer relaxing time on the beach?
Maybe you are traveling with your friend(s) or significant other and have different interests and travel styles. Brandon is an adrenaline junkie who never says no to an adventure. If he could have it his way, we'd spend a day in each place and we'd cover as many places in a country or on a continent as possible.
That is not really my style. I prefer a good mix of adventurous activities, down time, and cultural activities, like the cooking class we did in Hoi An. If I could get a massage every day, I would. Brandon entertains me a bit on my preferences and I compromise with him to fit in an extra spot or two while we're traveling. The end result is that we both get out of the vacation what we want and need, so we are both happy.
Given only having eight days in country with so much to offer, we realized this trip would be more of a sampling, a tasting if you will, of Vietnam.
Qatar flight schedules made it more favorable to fly into Danang at the beginning of our trip and out of Ho Chi Minh on the return trip. Based on conversations we'd had with friends who have been there, we knew that Hoi An was a must-visit. So, we decided we'd start in Hoi An.
Our other must-see was Halong Bay. Who can go to Vietnam without seeing Halong Bay? Isn't that like going to Rome without seeing the Colosseum or going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower? Well, not quite, but you get the point.
The natural entryway into Halong Bay is Hanoi, although recently opened Van Don International airport offers travelers a closer entry and exit point into and out of Halong Bay. You could choose to fly into or out of this airport to cut out the commute time (~2.5 hours) between Hanoi and Halong Bay.
Hanoi was a bustling city with a lot of history, charm, and culture - the temples, the chaotic intersections, the foodie spots tucked away down hidden alleys, the egg coffee, the lake. It was all mesmerizing to say the least. We opted to take a motorbike tour with GayHanoiTours. Riding around Hanoi on the back of a motorbike, zipping through the winding streets, slow enough to take it all in yet fast enough to efficiently explore the city was one of our highlights from our trip.
In regards to Halong Bay, the hotly debated question is one vs two nights. We personally felt one night on Halong Bay was sufficient but if you have extra time, sure, stay for two.
We opted for a suite on Orchid Cruises. While it was a nice experience, I hate to say I expected a little more. Don't get me wrong - It was nice; it's just that it was 3 star nice, not 5 star nice like it was advertised. It was all in the details: the food was just ok, the service was mediocre, and the rooms, while well appointed, were cute but not the level of luxury advertised online.
The bathtub positioned near the floor-to-ceiling window, however, provided a wonderful backdrop of Halong Bay for an impromptu photoshoot.
Lastly, we knew we would want some downtime as well. There is only so much "touristing" one can do. Fortunately, we found the perfect place to end our trip: on a beach in Phu Quoc. This turned out to be a great decision because, at this point in the trip, it felt good to just lounge around by the pool and get massages on the beach. Also, at this point, we had built up the courage to hop on motorbikes and explore the island. So much fun!
We stayed at the Dusit Princess Moonrise Beach Resort. We got upgraded to the best room in the resort: a corner top level suite with two large balconies. The infinity pool, expansive buffet-style breakfast, and gracious hospitality all made this hotel a winner in my eyes.
What is your perfect itinerary?
Check out our's here:
Nov. 27 Wednesday:
Fly from Atlanta 7:10pm to Doha 4:40pm (Qatar Airlines)
Nov 28 Thursday:
Doha to Da Nang 8:10pm-6:59am
Nov 29 Friday:
Arrive Da Nang 7am
Private car to Marble Mountains
Check in at Hotel Royal Hoi An
Explore Hoi An
Boat ride on Thu Bon river
Dinner at Morning Glory (cao lau yellow noodle, yum!)
Nov 30 Saturday:
Get clothing made (Bao Diep)
Red Bean restaurant
Dec 1 Sunday:
Bike to An Bang Beach
Car to My Son
Cooking class (GioAn)
Massage & Facial
Dec 2 Monday:
Transfer to Da Nang by car service
Flight to Hanoi (11:00am-12:20pm) Vietnam airlines
Hanoi (Hotel La Siesta Diamond, free transport from airport)
City tour with Huan from GayHanoiTours 2-6pm
Water puppet show
Dec 3 Tuesday:
Hanoi - transfer to Halong Bay (Orchid Cruises) 9:10am
On board 12:30pm
Sites: Da Chong Islet, Trung Trang cave/Cat Ba Island, Tra Bau (cooking class/happy hour), candlelit dinner
Dec 4 Wednesday:
Kayaking at Frog Lake
Breakfast and tea ceremony
Ha Long Bay - shuttle transfer to Hanoi (11:35am-2pm)
Explore Hanoi (snack banh chuoi chien, bia Hoi beer, old quarter)
Sunset at Diamond Sky bar
Dec 5 Thursday:
Flight to Phu Quoc
VietJet airways (7:05am-9:10am)
Free hotel transfer to Dusit Princess Hotel
Explore Phu Quoc on motorbikes/Ong Lang beach
Lunch at Eco Beach resort
Dec 6 Friday:
Boat charter/Island Hop on PhuQuoc 8:20am-4pm boat tour
Dec 7 Saturday:
Beach time and massage on beach
Transfer to airport
Flight from Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh 3:15pm-4:20pm (Vietnam airlines)
Qatar Airlines flight from Ho Chi Minh to Doha 7:15pm-11:45pm
Layover in Doha (Uber to Mavenpick Hotel)
Dec 8 Sunday:
Early uber to Airport
Doha to Atlanta 8:10am-3:45pm