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We spent 28 days in Vietnam. Here is a collection of our impressions, travel tips, and the cost break down.
We came into Vietnam with the same mentality as when we landed in Beijing; with our guard up. We had heard numerous accounts from other bloggers of “Vietscam”. We walked around with our hands on our wallets, counted every bit of change we received, and questioned every price quoted to us.
Right away it was a culture shock, but not from the Vietnamese, but the tourists. Sapa was overrun with them, or at least compared to what we were used to in China. It wasn’t long before we started to warm up to things though. Our first dinner was delicious and the waitresses so gentle – we went back the next night. In China, I don’t know if we ever visited a restaurant twice.
When we finally arrived in Hanoi we were in awe of our $23 hotel. It was hands down the nicest place Vicky and I have stayed in to date (aside from our Condo in Phuket, paid for by Vicky’s parents for a lot more than $23). We were treated to breakfast, directions, etc. They even put us up when we arrived at 5AM in a spare room in their sister hotel. Everything a traveler could ask for.
Hanoi was a great fusion of Asian and European cultures and got us excited for the rest of Vietnam. Not before long Vietscam was a distant memory. It was just friendly people, good food, and lovely beaches from there on out.
If there was one added benefit to the number of tourists in Vietnam it was the number of people we were able to connect with. Firstly there was a slew of travelers and we connected with several groups early on. Long gone were the lonely, isolated roads of China. But it was more than that – Vietnamese people, who spoke great English and were interested in connecting on account of being interested in other cultures and tourism. It was a nice feeling, to be welcome and not just an observer.
We pretty much only have good things to say about this country. If there’s one thing I can recommend above all it’s to consider paying a bit extra for things. Don’t count the pennies. Taking a cab, springing for a nice hotel, or simply not aggressively haggling which give you great piece of mind and at the end of the day, the little things DON’T always add up to much at all.
Best food: Where to begin. We loved the food in Vietnam, from the spring rolls, to the baguette sandwiches, to the pho to the various noodle dishes. Even the drinks – smoothies and coffee were delicious! There are many regional specialties worth trying (Cao Lau in Hoi An, Ban Beo in Hue etc). One of our favorite restaurants though was Hoa Sen in Dalat. While the food there was strictly vegetarian everything was fresh, and delicious, with an extensive menu for all tastes.
Worst food: The worst food would have to be the worm paddies we bought on the street in Hanoi. We weren’t expecting much and simply tried them to be able to see what minced worms taste like but in the end it’s just too hard to get over the image of those worms wriggling all about and this takes over your taste buds and really makes it an unpleasant eating experience.
Best experience: Hands down the Easy Rider tour was simply amazing. It gave us a chance to really see the countryside and scenary in the Central Highlands of Vietnam as well as go on jungle treks, walk through waterfalls, receive intros into how many things are grown and made etc. We had 2 great guides who were with us from the moment we woke up until bedtime essentially. We really enjoyed getting to know them over our 2 hour long dinners with numerous bottles of rice wine. These Easy Rider tours seem to be only available in Vietnam and we would highly highly recommend signing up for one of them.
Best deal: Smoothies for 8000 VND (40 cents) and mini baguette sandwiches in Hue for 7000 VND (34 cents)!
Worst rip off: Sunglasses. We went through quite a few pairs of sunglasses in Vietnam and paid $6 for a pair that literally broke hours later.
Bucket List Activities: We ate insects in Hanoi (worm paddies) which was on Dave’s bucket list!
Most of the cities in Vietnam are fairly walkable and we never had to take a local bus the entire time in the country. OK maybe once when we went to the airport in Ho Chi Minh – no problems.
We did a few overnight trains such as Sapa (Lao Cai) to Hanoi and Hanoi to Hue. They aren’t great and in fact are worse than China but nothing dangerous or unsafe, just not particularly comfortable. Try to get the lower bunk if you can because you have more room, though everyone tends to sit on that one until they go to bed…
We tried to avoid cabs at all costs but the green ones (My Lai) are legit and won’t charge you more or give you a fight. Anyone that isn’t those, however, is likely to charge you more or perhaps have a rigged meter. That said, if you do find a legitimate green colors My Lai it is very cheap.
In most cases hotels are accustomed to travelers making their way from city to city and tickets can be purchased at the hotel (for no real extra fee, or maybe a minor convenience charge) and the bus would come and pick you up from your hotel. We did a few overnight buses and just some general city to city and buses and they aren’t the most comfortable thing as the seat/bed is rather small and they often lock the bathroom for some unknown reason. Be prepared and make use of pit stops…
Fairly useless in most cases, often even Vietnamese students don’t get discounts.
We never really had an issue with a lack of public facilities and were quite surprised to see the return of the toilet (not in all cases, but 90%).
We found Vietnam to be a very safe country and never once felt threatened there. Still I wouldn’t go waking around alone, at night, in seedy areas, but that’s a no brainer for anywhere.
We really loved the Vietnamese food. I think most people will agree the quality is generally excellent as are the flavors. We found the waiters and waitresses to be very polite and for the most part, speak fine English. Menus were also in English (and sometimes other languages like Russian and French). Food is also very cheap, perhaps more so than China. A typical bowl of Pho was around $2. Sometimes dinner for the two of us would only cost $5 total.
Again this is mostly a cash country, though some restaurants and things do accept credit cards. To be honest we’ve been traveling in Asia for awhile now and sometimes forget to even bother to try as we generally carry around enough cash.
In most cases this was not an issue as we simply left our bags at the hotel and when we made it to our new destination we were able to walk to it or take a quick cab ride to the hotel. If we got in early we could leave our bags there.
In general we found the internet to be pretty spotty. Some hotels had OK internet and others had rather poor internet. Sometimes you had it in the room, and sometimes only in the lobby. It’s really hit or miss and you can never go from what is advertised. Facebook is also blocked in most places but we were able to use other social media and YouTube.
Compared with China, for example, we did not do as many hikes and things of that sort in Vietnam. Still, the landscape is incredible. It has a very tropical feel (for obvious reasons). One of the most notable memories from our tour with the Easy Riders was simple riding through the Central Highlands outside of Dalat and watching the scenery change from jungle to vegetation and back again.
We found hotels to be extremely cheap in Vietnam and very nice, especially for couples where you pay per room and not per bed. As a result, we did all hotel stays. We did attempt a bit of CouchSurfing but in all instances they fell through and we could not get anyone. Here are the hotels we stayed at by city. We enjoyed all of them (except one, see below).
Note – When we did our EasyRider tour we checked into some local hotels but do not recall the names as the EasyRiders handled all of this.
There are huge CSing communities in Hanoi and HCMC, and we took advantage by going to a few meetups, but outside of that it isn’t particularly popular in Vietnam. In fact, we were even told that it is illegal to host foreigners, though I think that is somewhat exaggerated. We didn’t CouchSurf once as we weren’t able to find anyone when we looked and frankly, were very happy with our hotels for $15 a night.
We were counting on Vietnam to be cheap and it ended up being a bit more expensive than we thought, but this is mostly due to how we traveled and not a result of the country’s prices. We did A LOT of tours, almost one in every city we went to. Tours cost money. Halong Bay tours and Easy Rider Tours aren’t cheap (but we think they’re worth it). As a result of this we spent more money but had a great time. I think Vietnam is one of those countries where if you spend a little bit more the rewards are significantly more. For example, if you “splurge” an extra $5 or $10 to get a hotel, it can be really nice (and economical if you’re a couple). We kept track of every cost we had down to the purchase level and categorized it into 5 groupings:
So where did we end up?
$36 per person, per day. (NOTE: This DOES NOT include our visas, which add an additional $2 per person per day ($38 per person).
Would we go back to Vietnam? YES!