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Vietnam Wrap Up – Daily Average $36 Per Person

We spent 28 days in Vietnam. Here is a collection of our impressions, travel tips, and the cost break down.

Schedule 12/8-1/3

Sapa rice terraces

  • Sapa 3 days
    • The main reason to go to Sapa is to see the rice terraces. In December, they aren’t necessarily in “full bloom” but it was still very pretty and we were glad to do a trek with Sapa Sisters, a local Hmong tribe, which does tours there.

Hanoi streets

  • Hanoi 5 days
    • We really enjoyed spending 5 days in Hanoi. There is a ton to do in and around the city and it is very walkable since nearly everything is located in the Old Quarter (which, consequently is where most of the hotels are too). There is a huge Couchsurfing community as well which does a lot of meetups and trips if you’re interested. There are also free city tours organized by univeristy students.

Halong Bay

  • Halong Bay 2 days
    • We did a 2 day 1 night tour of Halong bay which we really enjoyed. See the review!

Hue

  • Hue 2 days
    • In our opinion the city of Hue is a bit overhyped. It’s nice but we weren’t blown away. It’s incredibly hot, even in December and most of the facades look very similar. That said, it has some very nice sites (the emperors tombs, for one thing) and if you go we certainly recommend you to take a tour (can be purchased at your hotel, most likely).

Hoi An Pier

  • Hoi An 2 days
    • Hoi an was a really charming city that had a bit of a European flavor to it. The river that runs through it is very pituresque, and while the sites available aren’t much (mostly just a few things around town), the city is worth a visit if you happen to be passing by. It’s a tad expensive and a popular place to go shopping for souvenirs and tailor made suits. There is also a nice beach about 3-4km outside the city.

Nha Trang Beach

  • Nha Trang 2 days
    • Be aware that this town is filled with Russians (not a problem for us, but may not be for everyone). The town is a bit pricey as well because it is a major tourist destination and primarily a beach town. The beach is nice, but we found the waves to be too aggressive which made it difficult to swim safely.

Central Highlands

  • Dalat and the Central Highlands 5 days
    • Dalat is a nice town with a great vibe. It wasn’t overrun with tourists, which was nice. Many Easy Rider tours begin at this location and go South, which is why we spent so many days in the area (we were actually cruising around the Central Highlands).

HCM City

  • Ho Chi Minh 4 days with a 2 day Mekong Delta Tour
    • Very different from Hanoi in terms of feel, architecture, and overall personality. It is much more centered around backpackers (at least, where we were), but we enjoyed it also.
Would we do it the same way? Yes!
Naturally this wasn’t exactly how we planned out the itinerary. We thought about going to Nin Binh. We were planning on going to Mui Ne as well, but it didn’t work out with our Easy Rider Tour. So in a sense, we saw less, but it was OK. It was nice to settle down a bit after China and we really liked the cities we were in, such as Hanoi and HCMC and were happy to spend several days there.

Our Route

Our Impressions

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.

Bests And Worsts

Hoa Sen food

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.

Worms_

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.

Our Easy Rider Guides  Bin and Hai

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!

Tips For Traveling

Transportation

Local Buses

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.

Trains

Overnight train to Hue

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…

Cabs

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.

Long Distance Buses

overnight bus

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…

Student IDs

Fairly useless in most cases, often even Vietnamese students don’t get discounts.

Public Facilities

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%).

Safety

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.

Food and Restaurants

pho

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.

Credit Cards

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.

Storing Bags

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.

Internet

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.

Nature

Central Highlands

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.

Accommodations

Star Grand Hotel Hanoi

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.

  • Sapa: Family Guesthouse. It’s a small hotel with good prices, lovely staff and a great view.
  • Hanoi: Splendid Star Grand Hotel was spectacular! Fantastic breakfast, helpful staff, great location, great room!
  • Hue: Tran Ly Hotel – nice and friendly hotel with breakfast included!
  • Hoi An: Hoang Trinh hotel with breakfast included, one of the highlights, super friendly staff who even gave us gifts when we left. Close to the beach and the main strip. So friendly!
  • Nha Trang:  Truong Giang hotel nice hotel close to the beach (walking distance)
  • Dalat: DALAT 24H Hotel, average cheap hotel, we were just there for one night before we went on our tour with the Easy Riders
  • Ho Chi Minh: My My Arthouse, awful, they screwed up our booking for the Mekong Delta tour and then when we returned “accidentally” gave our room away and we had to find another one on the fly. Room also had no windows.

Finding Couchsurfers

Couchsurfing Meet Up

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.

Cost Break Down

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:

  • Entertainment – Mostly sightseeing, we didn’t really go out in Japan.
  • Food and Water – Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as snacks (little things we bought in the middle of the day, chips, ice cream, etc).
  • Gifts – For couchsurfers, usually a bottle of wine or some chocolates, sometimes treated to dinner
  • Transportation – all forms
  • Utilities – Things like lockers for bags, pay phones, small purchases like detergent
  • Accommodation – All hotel stays

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!

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4 Responses to Vietnam Wrap Up – Daily Average $36 Per Person

  1. Great wrap-up, guys! Lots of great information here – it’s always so nice when other travelers share their budgets as it helps us update our plans for countries we have yet to hit. It does sound like Vietnam was a bit pricier than I would have expected, BUT it also doesn’t sound like you regret any of the money you spent and that is ultimately the most important thing! I completely agree that when it comes to LT travel, while it’s impossible not to keep an eye on the budget, it’s definitely more important to have the experiences you want than to scrape a few bucks off your bottom line. Like you said, an extra $5 or $10 here and there isn’t going to break your trip, but it can dramatically improve your quality of life in this part of the world!

    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) February 2, 2013 at 8:53 AM Reply
    • It’s true, Vietnam was more expensive than we thought but that’s because we were willing to spend the money. Many others have done it cheaper – the choice is yours!

      Dave and Vicky February 2, 2013 at 10:22 AM Reply
  2. That’s a good estimate for Vietnam – the main thing you spend money on in Vietnam is always the sightseeing and tours etc as everything else is so cheap. In fact if you miss the sightseeing and just check out the free stuff in the cities you could get by on $5 US a day, but even I wont stoop that cheap!

    One extra thing – you said the trains are safe. I’d have to say they’re not. 2 Australians I met had their bag stolen on the sleeper train Hanoi to Lao Cai, another couple had their cameras stolen and another girl I met was mugged in a train station. So you do have to be on your guard in Vietnam.

    Safe travels, Jonny

    Jonny Blair May 21, 2013 at 10:31 PM Reply
    • It was a bit more than we expected but it was worth spending a little extra money to do the things we wanted to do

      Dave and Vicky May 22, 2013 at 10:10 AM Reply

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