Dates visited: 18.09.14 – 18.10.14
# of Days: 30
Average Daily Budget: USD 36.62 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 21,000 Viet Dong (VND)
We stayed in hotel rooms throughout our time in Vietnam as they were very affordable. Our criteria for hotels were good location and cleanliness, with private double room equipped with AC, wifi, and an ensuite bathroom. Here is the breakdown by city:
Hanoi (8 nights) – Our stay in Hanoi was broken into three parts, as we had side trips to Sapa and Ha Long Bay. We started off with 2 nights at Time Hotel (USD 17 / night), located at the backpackers area in the Old Quarter. The rooms were kind of dirty and the staff shady and scammy, which led us to change hotels.
For the second and third stays, we chose Aranya Hotel (USD 20 / night), one of the nicest and cleanest rooms we had so far in our trip. The staff were so helpful and we booked our Ha Long Bay tour with them. Breakfast at the hotel was amazing – buffet plus a la carte with a variety of Western and Vietnamese options.
Hue (3 nights) – Friendly Hotel (USD 18.52 / night) and we also booked the day tour around Hue with them.
Hoi An (4 nights) – We stayed one night at Hoang Trinh Hotel (USD 24.68 / night), which despite the good reviews, had dirty rooms so we switched the next morning to Huy Hoang Riverside Hotel (USD 19.90 / night). The latter was cleaner at a better location.
Nha Trang (2 nights) – Suncity Hotel (USD 16.97 / night) was practically beachfront (2min walk to the beach). While Nha Trang disappointed us, this hotel didn’t have any anything to do with it.
Ho Chi Minh City (5 nights) – We didn’t book anything in advance in HCMC and walked up to a few hotels until we found Hoang Khanh Hotel (USD 15.00). The hotel was fine, but the staff attitude was terrible during check out, when we tried to enforce the exchange rate agreement we had made on checking in. In the end, they accepted it, but we left with a bad taste in our mouths.
In addition to the accommodations above, we also had tours that included overnight stays. Since it’s impossible to estimate the accommodation part of the total tour cost, we will treat them as part of the Entertainment & Tours section.
Money Saving Tips – Walk-in rates at hotels are usually lower than booking online in Vietnam, plus there are also no taxes/booking fees and you get to see the room before you commit. Use the internet to narrow down hotel choices and negotiate a better price in person upon arrival. Bear in mind that you should have at least a plan B, as some hotels might be fully booked or you don’t like the room you see. Agreeing on an exchange rate upon check in is also advisable (if you are paying in VND), as most hotels quote the price in USD.
Food & Drinks
For most cities, the food costs were the same, around USD 6.50 per person per day. There were some exceptions. For example, we spent only an average of USD 4.00 per day per person in Hue, but the daily average in Nha Trang was USD 17.00 per day per person, since it was a tourist heavy area. Some tours we took had meals included.
We tried our best to eat cheap, but we mostly ended up going to budget restaurants, as we were uncertain about the cleanliness of street food at some points. In addition, I spent a good 15 days or so having stomach issues (my adaptation period) and we didn’t want to make that any worse.
Typical meals, say a bowl of pho, would only cost USD 2-3 per person. Drinks were also very cheap – 15 cent beers and USD 1 smoothies.
Money Saving Tips – Eating street food in Vietnam can be dirt cheap, if you can handle it. You should expect to spend around USD 2 per meal eating street food, which doesn’t lack in quality when compared to restaurant food, but can certainly be less sanitary.
We dreaded all the moments when we needed transportation in Vietnam. We read countless stories of scams from cab drivers, bus companies or travel agents and none of them were trustworthy. We decided to rely mostly on our feet for sightseeing or when the distance was too long, we had tours take us around. Unfortunately, we couldn’t avoid all transportation methods forever and we had to take a few cabs, buses and trains.
Cabs – We took cabs three times in Vietnam (trust me, I wish this could have been zero). The first time our hotel arranged the pick up from the airport in Hanoi for USD 15. No problems there. The second time also turned out well, but only because we were with locals – Hanoikids – and they gave all the directions. Even then, the Hanoikids were picky about which cab to take, as they described most companies to be unreliable.
The third time, we attempted it ourselves to go from the train station in Hue to our hotel in the city. Even though we agreed on a price beforehand and I followed all the way on google maps, asking our driver why he took the longer route, we still ended up paying 10% more than our agreed price, since his meter showed a higher price. Needless to say, we got scammed. Fortunately it was only USD 2.45.
Trains – Most of our way from north to south Vietnam was on trains. They tended to be more reliable, cleaner and safer than buses, but they were also way more expensive. After being scammed by our hotel and overpaying for our train tickets to Sapa, we learned our lesson and always did it ourselves, going directly to the train station to get our tickets.
Buses – Buses were definitely a cheap way to travel in Vietnam, especially the “open tour” buses, that allow you to stop in different cities and continue your journey whenever you want. We didn’t choose to use those since we wanted a bit more of comfort and safety. The only overnight bus leg we took was from Nha Trang to HCMC and it was an awful experience, with cockroaches crawling everywhere around us. However, our proudest moment traveling in Vietnam did come from taking a public bus.
Using a combination of both trains and buses, we made our way from Hanoi to HCMC, including the RT train tickets to Sapa. The total cost of doing so was USD 169.40 per person.
Money Saving Tips – “Open tour” bus is a far cheaper option to travel around Vietnam. For example, the same itinerary we followed entirely by bus would cost around USD 45 per person. That’s roughly a third of what we spent. However, you get what you pay for. Vietnam is a place where each additional dollar buys a lot more, thus our decision to prefer trains.
Entertainment & Tours
Vietnam was best explored through tours – unlike Taiwan, it will only cost you more and add more hassle if you try to do it by yourself. We basically took tours in almost every city we stopped at and although we do not regret it, tours cost money and they drove our averages up by a significant amount.
- Sapa – USD 78.00 per person (excluding RT train tickets from and to Hanoi)
We booked our tour with Sapa Sisters and we highly recommend them. Besides the guide, the tour included an overnight at a homestay, as well as all meals during our whole stay in Sapa! Drinks were on us though.
- Ha Long Bay – 3 days / 2 nights cruise – USD 240.00 per person
We splurged here, but we did so willingly. The three days we spent on the cruise with V’Spirit were arguably the nicest of our trip so far. The tour included round trip transportation from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, two nights on the boat, as well as amazing breakfast, lunch and dinner. Entrance fees and kayaking gear were also included! Drinks were on us, but we made sure to bring lots of water from outside and control alcohol consumption.
- Hue Imperial City tour – USD 12.00 per person
The sights in Hue are quite scattered and far from the city center, thus the city tour was easier than finding transportation ourselves. The price just included bus with AC, an English speaking guide, and lunch. Entrance fees to the Imperial Citadel and the emperor tombs were not included. They summed up to a hefty USD 17.00 per person.
- Morning Glory Cooking Class in Hoi An – USD 31.50 per person
Hoi An was small enough that it didn’t require us to take any tours for sightseeing; however, we did invest in our skills in the kitchen, joining a cooking class at the Morning Glory restaurant. The course included an incredibly amazing breakfast, as well as transportation to the local market. We also got recipes for the dishes we cooked and a mango peeler at the end!
- Mekong Delta – 2 days / 1 night – USD 22.00 per person
We booked this tour with one of the thousands of travel agents in HCMC and thankfully, everything came through as promised. There was one night of accommodation included in the trip as well as lunch on the first day and breakfast on the second.
- Cu Chi tunnels tour – USD 5.00 per person
Taken with The Sinh Tourist company, this tour included transportation and an English speaking guide. Entrance fees to the park costed an additional USD 4.20 per person.
Besides all the tours, there were also a few entrance fees to museums which summed up to USD 14.00 per person. This was negligible compared to the insane amount of money spent on tours.
Money Saving Tips – Tours cost money, but in Vietnam they are a necessary evil. There are several reports of people attempting to do it on their own and ending up paying more (imagine how many more chances there would be to get scammed). There were way cheaper packages available for a few tours, like Sapa and Ha Long Bay. There are tours for every budget, so pick one that fits yours the best, but make sure to set aside money for tours when visiting Vietnam!
We had some considerable miscellaneous expenses in Vietnam.
- Visa on arrival authorization letter – USD 19.99 per person
In order to get our visas on arrival at the airport, we needed to get a letter of authorization from a Vietnamese agency. There are several companies out there providing this service; we used myvietnamvisa.com. Don’t be surprised when the letter you get back is not personalized and contains everybody that particular agency has authorized for that day of entry.
- Visa on arrival fee – USD 45 per person
In addition to the letter, there is a visa fee that should be paid upon arrival in USD. No ATMs at the airport so be prepared with the money before you arrive!
- Box mailed back home – USD 26.00
By this point in our trip, we accumulated a few souvenirs and such that we wanted to stop carrying. We paid USD 26.00 to mail our package from Vietnam to Canada. It made it!
- 30-day SIM card with unlimited data – USD 9.30
- Custom made dress in Hoi An – USD 30.00
- Stitch painting souvenir – USD 21.00
Other miscellanea, such as laundry, postcard postage, etc. summed up to USD 33.30.
We didn’t include the costs of flying from Taiwan into Vietnam in our summary (4,500 miles + USD 59.40 per person), as that flight will be spread out through the block of countries (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, etc) until our next flight out to explore another block.
Even though we were slightly over budget here (our budget was USD 35 per day per person), we do not regret a single extra dollar spent. The main culprit was our tour to Ha Long Bay, which costed way more than we initially budgeted for, but it was more than worth the money!