Budget Travel – Vietnam
We have just completed our super cool multi-stop journey in Vietnam and I am excited to share our best Vietnam budget travel tips here. First of all, I must admit that this country made a very good first impression and we left with equally as positive and warm feelings for it. Before arriving we heard a couple of horror stories about people and safety and stuff but fortunately none of the bad things happened to us. People were nice to us, we felt safe all the time and most importantly it turned out that Vietnam can be explored on a budget. Without further a do let us delve into the details.
Similarly to other south east Asian countries cash is king here. As far as our experience in Vietnam goes, card is for storing money not for paying for stuff. Although local bank card holders do not pay fees (HSBC card is a good idea in Vietnam) for withdrawing money from the ATMs, foreign bank card owners will unfortunately have to pay for this privilege.
In some countries like Thailand and Philippines ATM fees are super high (£3-5 per withdrawal) and can not be avoided. In Vietnam, however, these fees depend on the bank and can vary between 0 to 90k VND (Vietnamese Dong). This is the equivalent of £0 to about £3. One bank called SHB did not charge us for withdrawal but all the others did.
Reliability of ATMs appeared to be reasonable apart from this one occasion (Sunday!) where in Da Nang I had to check something like 8 different ATMs until I got some cash. All the other times we had no problems whatsoever with finding an ATM nearby and/or withdrawing money.
One significant downside is that you will most likely only be able to withdraw 3 million Vietnamese Dong at a time which is a mere £100 or $130. Of course, in Vietnam this is a lot of money and can buy you many dinners but when you do all the touristy things it runs out pretty quickly.
Note: At the time of writing (March 2019) £1 = 30240 VND, 1$ = 23225 VND, 1Euro = 26040 IDR.
Although we did spend a little bit more than we anticipated for food, I have no regrets whatsoever. I think in Vietnam we have had some of the most unique dining experiences so far. The two particular meals I have in mind are grilled meats and the “hotpots”. For the grills (best ones we had were in Mui Ne) you are given a pot of red-hot ambers and you grill whatever you pick yourself. Beef was by far the best choice.
If you go for a hotpot, you are given a pot of soup and you need to throw whatever you are given into it to get it cooked. Usually you are served a variety of fish/meat/veg/noodles but you can pick what you like.
Although both options require you to “cook” the food yourself it is super easy and does not require any culinary skills. I managed to do it and so will you!
Here are a couple of examples of meals and beverages with costs.
Big Water bottle – 10k VND (same almost everywhere)
Hotpot – 80-100k VND per person
Grilled meats – 100k VND per person (but each portion is huge and is too much for one person really)
Veg cooked with garlic – 50-60k VND (spinach and okra are amazing and also very popular)
Bottle/can of beer at a restaurant – 10-30k VND (some places serve “Fresh beer” which can be as cheap as 3k VND per glass)
Latte/Cappuccino Coffee – 50k-60k VND
Tea/Local coffee – 30k VND
Bus vs. Train
We had to put a lot of effort into figuring out what is the best and safest way to travel in Vietnam. In places like Tripadvisor we read a lot of very strong statements from people about travelling by bus. Many people were basically saying that if you travel by bus there is a high probability you will get killed in a traffic accident. And even if you don’t you will get your stuff stolen at the very least. They would reinforce their statements by throwing in a link or two about a bus crash or something like that. Others went as far as saying that even locals avoid buses because they are so dangerous.
It seemed the online community was divided into two camps – the bus travellers and the train travellers and both sides communicated their views with a lot of passion and confidence.
Now, we only spent 3 weeks in Vietnam and had about 5-6 bus trips in total. Clearly this is not a representative amount of experience for me to start calling myself an expert and start handing out advice but all I can say is that buses for us were absolutely fine. We felt there was a good mix of locals and tourists using bus services but none of the journeys felt “dodgy” or unsafe. We were not stopping in the middle of the night to pick up other passengers, there was no one standing or sleeping in the aisles/on the floor – it was the most average bus experience I can imagine.
We have not tried trains, but you might want to.
Our friend Antonio who is an expert in travelling in Vietnam has a post detailing train (and other modes of transportation!) in his blog post which you can access by clicking HERE.
Our Bus Journey Through Vietnam
When it comes to prices we paid a reasonable 865k VND per person for a journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi stopping in:
- Mui Ne – things to see: White Sand Dunes, Red Sand Dunes, Fairy stream
- Nha Thrang – things to see: Russians sun tanning in the beach? I don’t recommend Nha Thrang.
- Hoi An – things to see: Hoi An night market, My Son Sanctuary, Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge and the Marble Mountains temple complex.
- Hue – things to see: a big fort (we did not go) and the abandoned waterslide park (a bit creepy but might be worth checking out).
- Hanoi – things to see: train street, central lake with a temple in the middle, all the awesome coffee shops.
We also rented a motorbike in Hoi An for a few days during which we visited My Son Sanctuary, the Marble Mountains in Da Nang as well as Ba Na Hills Sunworld and the Golden Bridge. I have a separate post about our evening tour to Ba Na Hills – you can read it here.
Motorbike Hire was 130k per day, fuel costs around 18k per litre. By hiring a motorbike and visiting attractions ourselves we probably saved in the region of 3-4 million VND (£100+). All the tours offered by the hotels and agencies appeared to us unjustifiably expensive.
Both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi airports are well connected by public transport. You can save a bit of money by opting to travel by bus instead of taxi. In Ho Chi Minh City we paid 20k VND per person to get to the city centre and in Hanoi (city centre to airport) we paid 35k VND per person.
If we went for a taxi, either of the journeys would have costed more than 200k VND. Considering this is still not a whole lot of money, those wanting some comfort and a door to door service might still want to choose a taxi. If you do, make sure you either agree a reasonable price in advance or you make sure drivers are using their fare meters.
We felt accommodation in Vietnam was very reasonably priced. We did sleep in hostels in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi which brought the average price down quite a bit, but even some really nice places such as Jolly Guesthouse in Hoi An were less than £10 a night.
Ho Chi Minh City – 100k VND per bed per night at a hostel
Nha Thrang – 200k VND bedroom with private bathroom
Hoi An – 200k VND very nice room with private bathroom and balcony
Da Nang – 180k VND 2 bunk beds in a hostel
Hanoi – 200k VND for a double bed in a shared room in a hostel
Attractions in Vietnam are generally really affordable.
Museums in Ho Chi Minh City – 40-60k VND
Mui Ne Fairy pools – 20k VND per person
My Son Sanctuary – 150k VND per person
Traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet Show – 80k VND
Marble Mountains temple complex – 40k VND per person
Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge – 550k VND per person (awesome!)
Tour to Ha Long Bay (6hr) – $30-35. Don’t fall for this one – the first price you will be told will be something like $80 per person. Don’t accept it and tell the agents to give you a reasonable price.
The attraction which we enjoyed the most was the Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge. The biggest disappointment was the wonder of the world Ha Long Bay. Even on a rainy Monday Ha Long Bay was too overcrowded for us to enjoy it.
Vietnam Budget Travel
Vietnam is a really cool place to visit. It did not necessarily have this immediate “Wow” factor, but it continued surprising us in these very special, unexpected ways as we travelled along. We felt the people were kind to us, the food was great, the transportation was cheap and there were also so many things to see and do.
Just in case you decide to visit Vietnam (and I suggest that you do!) this is a useful list of our price estimations so that you know how much to budget for travelling in Vietnam:
Return Flights – £450 (use skyscanner to find best flight deals)
Accommodation (budget hotels for 14 days) – £100 ($132)
Food (14 days at 300k VND per day) – £140 or $183.
Transportation – £60 which will allow you to travel through Vietnam by bus or train as well as hire a motorbike for a couple of days.
Sightseeing and Entertainment – £100. This should cover you for the main tourist attractions as well as plenty of cheap Vietnamese beer!
Total – £850 or around £61 ($80) per day all included.
Note: Check your personal Visa conditions. As Lithuanians we had to pay around $30 (for two of us) to get a letter of invitation. It was only a quick form online and the letter arrived in a couple of days so there was not a lot of hassle with that. Make sure you print the letter and bring a hard copy to the airport though.
Another $25 per person stamping fee has to be paid on arrival before passing through immigration.