***This post is part 1 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***
I'm starting to realize that perhaps even more so than traveling itself, I really enjoy the planning aspect the most. The excitement begins with just an idea of a place, looking at pictures online from other travel blogs, and then really kicks in when I start looking for flights - usually through the use of miles :) Whenever I go about starting to plan a trip, the first thing I do is determine how to maximize the time I have at each location. If I'm traveling to a large city, I like to allocate a minimum of 3-4 days at the very least begin to experience the food, markets, historical sites, public transportation, museums, and so on and so forth. Outside of cities, it depends on whether or not my friends and I want to go backpacking through a national park, for example, or take a road trip through a more rural part of a country. Allocating 2-3 days traveling through smaller towns fills out the rest of my time.
For this trip to Tokyo and Vietnam, planning started in late January 2011, and with a large amount of BA and AA miles at my disposal, I knew I wanted to use OneWorld airlines to reach my destination. I also knew I wanted to do a quick stopover in Tokyo since my friend had just moved there for work, and it's a city I've been wanting to visit for a very long time. For my departing flights, there was very little availability all throughout my search in January, but I finally stumbled upon one open seat using BA miles on Japan Airlines 001 from SFO to HND on June 30, albeit in economy. The timing was perfect however, since I would be arriving on Friday night to experience nightlife in the city; take in a weekend of sights, sounds, and tastes, and then depart Monday afternoon... a perfect three day trip to this megalopolis.
Vietnam took up the bulk of this trip simply because there was so much to see with so little time. In two weeks, I was able to fit in the highlights of the country - starting in Hanoi (with a side trip to Halong Bay) and moving south through Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and finally Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). There is truly not enough time in two weeks to see everything each city has to offer, but at the very least, I can begin to scratch the surface by sampling a good variety of food, culture, and history.
My itinerary to Asia consisted of SFO-HND-HAN all on Japan Airlines with a 3-day stopover in Tokyo. It was booked using 25,000 BA Miles plus $170.60 in fuel surcharges and taxes. Intra-Vietnam flights were booked online for $172.43 on the Vietnam Airlines website. I was actually somewhat surprised at how cheap the fares were, and it would have been even lower had I not waited. The return itinerary consisted of SGN-(BKK)-(HKG)-SFO, with SGN-BKK being the positioning flight to get me on Cathay Pacific's first class service for BKK-HKG-SFO. AirAsia had some very cheap flights for SGN-BKK, and I was able to book that leg for only $82.00 including checked luggage. The rest of the itinerary, which I'm most excited about, was booked using 67,500 AAdvantage miles and a measly $60.30 in taxes and fees, including the $20.00 telephone booking fee. Finally, I plan on using a large chunk of my Capital One Venture Miles to offset the costs of several hotel stays during this trip.
So this is the rather long and extended introduction to my journey. More than anything else, I think this trip so far has been an exercise in extremes. That's probably the only way I can describe traveling from the well-oiled machine that is Tokyo to the downright maddening chaos that greeted me upon arrival in Hanoi. Read ahead for the full details :)