Tag: Vietnam

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam • Travel with Mei and Kerstin

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam

 

 

It was raining cats and dogs when we arrived in Halong Bay. When we left Hanoi earlier that day, I had no idea we would need 4 hours to reach the Gulf of Tonkin. In Europe, we would have needed only 2 hours to reach a destination of 170 kilometers. But in Vietnam, things were a bit different, especially back in 2014.

 

Are we on a highway? Oh yes, of course this is one of the most popular highways in Northern Vietnam. Our guide Than sounded proud to be a Hanoi native. So, you cannot drive faster than 65-70 kilometers per hour on this highway? No, no. Not faster! The road is in a bad condition, there are too many motorbikes. And lots of holes. Look, look, here! As our guide pointed at a pothole, our driver suddenly hit the brake. And then accelerated again after bypassing the depression and a few motorbikes hunting from right and left.

 

 

You see over there? Now Than was pointing at roadworks in the distance. In a few years, there will be a new highway. Maybe in 2018, you can drive to Halong Bay in only 2 hours. Imagine, you will win 2 hours for one way! You won’t have to sleep in Halong Bay, when you visit us again in a few years. You can make a quick day trip to Halong and come back to Hanoi in the evening. You will save a lot of money and see more of Hanoi!

 

I looked at Kerstin and we both shot our guide a polite smile. I resisted the urge to explain that we wanted to stay a night in Halong Bay. That we didn’t like to rush when traveling. But I decided to change the subject and ask him about Hanoi’s architecture…

 

It is still raining, please wait in the “waiting room”. What waiting room, we asked. Oh, the room where you wait for me! I go get the tickets for your boat trip. And you wait here in the room, OK? When we walked into the “waiting room”, a brouhaha of dozens of different languages filled our ears. Hundreds of tourists were sitting and standing in the hall. Americans, French, Brits, Russians, Chinese, Germans… Despite the rain, the heat was still palpable. And in this jam-packed hall, sweat was running down everyone’s neck.

 

Do you think we’ll be on the same boat as all the tourists here? I sensed Kerstin’s worried tone and didn’t know what to answer. Well, I hope it will stop raining soon. Or what view of Halong Bay will we get?

 

Victory Star Junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

I wasn’t done worrying when Than’s smiling face popped up behind our shoulders. Here, look, I have your tickets! We can go now. He pushed open the misted glass door and held up a rainbow colored umbrella over us. For a moment, I wondered if the travel agency revealed to all our private guides that we’re a lesbian couple. Clutched to our rainbow umbrella, we followed Than down to the dock. As we boarded the Victory Star Junk Boat, I swiftly heard my father’s voice in my head: never sleep on a boat! Never go on a cruise!

 

When my family fled Vietnam in December 1978, they became boat people. For eight months, they were “prisoners at sea”, sitting like sardines on the Tung An freighter, off the coast of Manila. Before being moved to Tara Island for four more months, waiting to be resettled overseas.

 

I was not on that ship. I was not part of the boat people. I was not a Vietnamese refugee, for I was born in Luxembourg a few years later. But growing up, I kept hearing my family’s creepy stories on the sea. My fear of the ocean could never be compared to that of my family’s, nor other Vietnamese boat people’s thalassophobia. However, the terror of a possible death in an ocean was great enough to make me swear I would never get on a cruise.

 

 

But then, the idea of spending a night on a boat, feasting on the spectacular seascape of limestone pillars, really tickled me. After all, it was just one night. Aboard a luxurious five-star junk, with only 32 cabins… absolutely human-scale and safe. And it’s not in a big scary ocean, but in a bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site to be exact.

 

Are you OK? Kerstin shot me a worried look, snapping me out of my daydream. I grinned bravely and we entered our cabin. Our luggage was already waiting for us, next to an ebony bed. The sea breeze waltzed with the gilded curtains and uncovered a private balcony. I walked over to close the window and caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a sunbeam, fighting its way through the dissipating grey clouds.

 

Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

When you come from a country as Lilliputian as Luxembourg, chances are that you get to hear welcoming words followed by an exclamation mark. Sometimes by a question mark. But usually an exclamation mark: Oh, you’re from Luxembourg! That’s unusual! How rare to meet someone from such a tiny country! But then, when you really come from a country as small as Luxembourg, you’re probably used to these exclamation marks. We usually simper, nod our head and say nothing more. That’s exactly what we did when the waiter of the restaurant onboard led us to our table.

 

Each couple had a dedicated table. Each table showcased the national flag of the guests’ country. All the other couples had a flag made of fabric. Ours was made of paper. Clearly it had just been printed less than an hour ago. I hope this is the right flag? The waiter asked nervously, before pulling out another red-white-blue flag from his pocket. Kerstin laughed out loud and said: No worries! This is the right flag. The one you’re holding in your hand is that of the Netherlands. They’re similar, but the blue stripe on the flag of Luxembourg is lighter. Oh yes, I see now! The waiter giggled, nodded his head a few times and finally withdrew to the kitchen.

 

On the Victory Star Junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

The rain stopped after lunch. When we were getting ready to visit Vung Vieng fishing village, the sky was clearing up. The sunbeam that I’d seen earlier finally managed to find its way through the clouds.

 

From our junk boat, we climbed into a speedboat which brought us to a floating platform in the middle of Halong Bay. There, four by four we climbed into a bamboo boat, welcomed by a slender lady in a conical hat. When a couple of baby-boomers settled down behind us, the boat started to sway.

 

Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

The noise of their orange life jackets squeezed between each other and against the vessel’s rim made us edgy. Is the lady strong enough to row our boat? Kerstin whispered in my ear that perhaps we should help her. What? To row? As I turned around, I was even more worried to see the face of an elderly lady hidden under the hat. But when our bamboo boat started to glide on Halong Bay’s emerald waters, she rowed faster and faster, overtaking the other boats.

 

None of us spoke. We were all savoring the sound of the wavelets pushing against our tiny boat. And marveling at numerous caves inside conical peaks, arches between towers made of limestone and hundreds of virgin islets and uninhabited islands…

 

Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

The peace and quiet of Halong Bay ceased as soon as our boat approached the Hang Sung Sot caves. Hundreds of tourists were lining up at the grotto’s entrance. We were told to queue up behind them. The family of four in front of us were too polite to not let a group of French students jump the queue. Kerstin and I both agreed that they must be British. Or Buddhists. Or perhaps they didn’t want to offend any representative of France, since it was the French who discovered this cave in 1901?

 

Our British friends seemed to be familiar with speleology. Since Kerstin is a big fan of grottoes and caves, we decided to follow them for a while, listening to the father as he explained to his teenage son how the karst features were formed. We stopped more often than the other visitors but moved past those who were taking selfies with a massive rock formed as a phallus and lit by a pink spotlight.

 

Hang Sung Sot Caves in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

The trip back to the Victoria Star Junk took place on a motorboat. It was shorter and faster. Still, I missed our lady friend who brought us to the cave. And regretted that we had not given her more tips for her hard work. A few hours later, we kept talking about her when we settled down on the upper deck. We guessed about her age, her name, the number of hours she had to row in a day, the number of passengers she had carried on her boat…

 

Slowly, the sun was setting across Halong Bay. Soft pink clouds settled above the faint outline of the limestone islets.

 

Sunset in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

When I woke up at 5am the next morning, the pastel colored sky from the previous evening was replaced by hues of midnight blue. But on the horizon, I spotted a hint of orange. Catching a sunrise has always been a challenge for me. As a night owl, I get creative when the world goes to sleep. Kerstin always says that I write the best stories when the clock strikes midnight. So, I get to watch a sunrise only once in a blue moon.

 

Standing on our private balcony, I kept my eyes on the orange tinge, which soon turned into flaming red. It slowly stretched across Halong Bay, revealing one by one the many limestone pinnacles, looming out of the water. Fog patches began to dissolve. But the world remained bathed in silence. Kerstin discreetly joined me on the balcony. Together, we were glued to this blissful spectacle. A daily spectacle that is often overlooked…

 

 

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Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

 

Tales from Vietnam: Surprised by Rach Gia

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Rach Gia wasn’t supposed to be more than a layover stop on the way from Phu Quoc to Can Tho, and I at first I didn’t even plan to spend the night there, thinking I could take a morning ferry from Phu Quoc, and upon arriving in Rach Gia take a cab straight to the bus station and hop on the next bus into the heart of the Mekong Delta. Upon second thought though, I decided the journey would be quite long (30 mins to the port, 2.5 hours on the ferry, 30 mins taxi, 3.5 hours on the bus, which makes this a 7-hour travel day), and why stress myself? I had time, I wasn’t in any rush, and if I spent the night in Rach Gia I could also take a later ferry and maximize my time on the island.rach gia street with blooming treeI looked up hotels in Rach Gia and when I saw that the second best rated hotel was a $10-a-night hotel right across the street from the ferry port (the best rated hotel was an $11 homestay, btw), my decision was made. I was also intrigued by the advertised “8 free taxi rides per day included in your stay”, making me wonder how in the world this hotel was making any money.rach gia pierLucky them: I love walking, so instead of calling a cab I used my two feet and set out to explore the town.

There aren’t many sights in Rach Gia, but I decided to still check out what the guidebook recommended I should see in Rach Gia. The temple the Lonely Planet thought was noteworthy, Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, was just a 5-minute walk from my hotel, and since I do love me a good temple, I decided to start my exploration of the town right there.rach gia nguyen trung templeThe temple is dedicated to a Vietnamese resistance fighter, Nguyen Trung Truc, who led a raid against the French army when they arrived in Vietnam in the 1860s. He burned a French war ship and was eventually executed for this in the market place of Rach Gia. The temple features a sculpture of Trung Truc on the altar, and various interesting details inside the main temple as well as the grounds surrounding it, including beautiful dragon-shaped bushes and an altar built into the trunk of a majestic old tree.rach gia nguyen templeI crossed the footbridge across from the temple, crossing the first of two rivers that cut through the city. After reading the lackluster description of Rach Gia in my trusted Lonely Planet, I didn’t expect much beyond a boring port city, but to my surprise, I found the town rather charming. I wandered along tree-lined streets, flowers blossoming in big flower pots on the sidewalks, a few chickens and roosters roaming the streets, and many cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks. The many trees on the sidewalks offered natural shade – perfect to have a glass of iced coffee underneath one of them.rach gia sidewalk cafeMy first stop was Lau Chay Hoa Sen – the vegetarian restaurant Hoa Sen – which I had found thanks to Google (thank God for GoogleMaps and modern technology – it is now so much easier for vegetarians to find meat-free restaurants!), and which turned out to be a Hot Pot restaurant. If you ever had Hot Pot, you know that it is usually a dish that’s to be shared, but since I was starving, I ordered it anyway, even though I was by myself.rach gia vegetarian hot potAs the family who runs the restaurant started setting up the food in front of me, I realized that I had no idea how to cook all the vegetables the right way. And while I was still looking at the hot pot and the large plate with raw vegetables (half of which I had no clue what it was) and herbs with a puzzled look on my face, the family’s grandpa came over and motioned to me if he could add some veggies to the sizzling mixture of broth, tofu and mushrooms. English was not spoken here at all, but luckily, body language goes pretty far, and after I nodded and gave him my brightest smile, he started to break the large vegetables up into smaller pieces and added them to the mixture.rach gia hot pot chayHe then showed me how to add the rice noodles that they’d served on a different plate, and how to get the right mix of herbs, veggies, tofu and broth in the little bowl they put out there for me. The entire family was sitting at a table across the room from me, laughing and watching me enjoying my first hot pot experience. And how I enjoyed it! I kept thinking how flavorful the herbs were, how fresh everything tasted, and how I didn’t want the meal to end (just like with all the other meals I’ve had in Vietnam so far). But an hour later, I left the restaurant stuffed and grateful for their hospitality.rach gia streetOne thing I noticed on my stroll through town was how much more welcoming the people here were – every cafe I passed I heard excited ‘hellos’, every kid I passed waved at me and also practiced their limited English skills (‘hellooooo’), people who drove by me on their scooters waved at me. I hadn’t felt that welcome in any of the places I’d visited so far, but that said, Rach Gia was only the third stop on my Vietnam trip after Saigon and Phu Quoc. People in Saigon seemed to have the typical “big city grumpiness” to them, and people in Phu Quoc seemed mostly annoyed with all the foreigners on their little island. One bar owner told me that Russians, who make up the majority or tourists there, could be pretty obnoxious, so I can’t blame them for their indifferent way of acting.rach gia nguyen trung temple sculptureIt seemed like I was the only white person in town, and I was so aware of this that I got excited when another “mi chang”, as the Vietnamese call white people, passed me on his scooter, barely able to resist the urge to excitedly wave at him. What I found so pleasant about Rach Gia was the fact that this wasn’t a touristy place whatsoever. Instead of ticking off sights I was able to just wander and soak up the atmosphere, take in the local life, people watch and observe.rach gia gateOn Nguyen Trung Truc Street, I was walking by plenty of fancy-looking boutiques and clothes stores, intercepted with little areas on the sidewalk where people set up their street food stalls and sold banh mi sandwiches or noodle dishes. I stopped at a cafe for an iced coffee, and somehow ended up with three drinks.rach gia drinksThe main street of the city, Lac Hong, is a wide 4-lane boulevard that leads all the way down to the waterfront, and is lined with shops and small cafes, some of which were so hipster-cute that they could’ve been straight out of Seoul or Bangkok. I strolled down the boulevard to the very end, where it merges into Park Cong Vien Bai Duong (Ocean Beach Park). Stone tables are set up right on the shore here, so that people can enjoy the vast sea views.rach gia sunsetThis is a place that is particularly scenic during sunset, and I lingered for a while before I headed over to Eden, a stylish Korean restaurant / coffee shop right next to the park.eden coffee drinkThe hotel had recommended it to guests in an old-fashioned folder with restaurant and bar recommendations (which I truly appreciated, considering the Lonely Planet didn’t have a single food recommendation), along with Boulevard Cafe, just one block away, and where I had to stop for a quick coffee simply because it was so pretty with hundreds of lights installed in the many trees right in the courtyard of the cafe.rach gia cafeIf you’re looking for something to do at night, head to Ton Duc Thang, which I walked all the way north from Lac Hong until I reached the bridge. I don’t know how many karaoke bars I’ve passed – it seems like people in Rach Gia take karaoke very seriously, considering the karaoke bars were all so big that from afar I assumed they were casinos. There are also a number of bars on this street were DJs were playing loud house music – the bars all felt like clubs to me, only that nobody was dancing. Instead, people were sitting around the tables, sipping beers and watching the DJs spinning records (can you still say that when they actually use a laptop?).rach gia barIf you’re looking for a quieter place, head to Cafe Seaview, which is right across the street from the river front and in addition to coffee has a large food menu.

While I was out on my stroll, I walked by the Phuong Trang bus office to buy a ticket for the bus to Can Tho. According to Travelfish, they offer free hotel pickup which seemed too good to be true, but the lady in the ticket office confirmed that I’d be picked up the next morning at my hotel. We communicated entirely via GoogleTranslate – me typing questions into my phone and her typing her answers into her phone. I am starting to wonder how people traveled before everyone had a smartphone! How did I travel before I had a smartphone?! She didn’t speak a single word of English, my Vietnamese is limited to Hello and Thank You, and yet I was able to tell her when and where I wanted to go.rach gia pineapple vendorI would’ve happily spent another day in Rach Gia,but I was also excited for my next stop: the Mekong Delta, a place that’s been on my travel wish list for quite some time now.rach gia river

Rach Gia Practical Information:

Buses to & from Rach Gia

If you’re taking the bus from Rach Gia, be aware that the bus station is in Rach Soi, just south of Rach Gia (it took me almost 25 mins from my hotel to get there).

I used Travelfish.org for bus schedules and companies, and you can also find ferry information on Travelfish.

The Ferry from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc

There are several ferries per day from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc – passenger ferries as well as car ferries, slow ferries and fast ferries. You can find a good overview over ferry times and ferry prices here.

rach gia hotelWhere to stay in Rach Gia

When I visited Rach Gia, there were no hostels in town, but since my visit, a hostel opened, and it looks great:

  • STAY hostel – a double room is US$11, a dorm bed is US$6.
  • Kiet Hong Hotel – the basic hotel I stayed at, right across from the ferry terminal. A double room for two is around $12.
  • Nho Hotel – a brand new (2020) hotel that is also right by the ferry terminal. Double rooms from US$9.

 

How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Vietnam?

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The one thing people are usually the most curious about are my travel expenses… so let’s get to it: How much does it cost to travel Vietnam?

Of course there is a big difference in how much people spend – everyone has different needs and standards. I am sure that there are people who spend in only one weekend what I spend in an entire week. While I’m not a rock bottom backpacker who traveled Vietnam on $10 a day, I do consider myself a frugal traveler and don’t tend to stay in fancy hotels. Since I also prefer street food over nice restaurants, my costs for food are much lower than what people spend who prefer eating in proper restaurants all the time. I want to share my expenses to help you figure out your own Vietnam travel budget.

So, how much does it cost to travel in Vietnam? Or more specifically: how much did traveling in Vietnam cost me?vietnam hoi an

Vietnam Pre-trip Expenses

I had quite a few expenses before I went to Vietnam. First of all, if you’re planning to stay for more than 15 days, you have to get a tourist visa before entering the country. This can be obtained hassle-free online now, but allow at least four days for it to be processed. You have to print out this visa once you receive the confirmation that it was approved, or you will not be allowed to board your flight. Here’s a list of all the countries whose residents can apply for the visa online.

Cost of e-visa: US$25

There are several websites that offer to obtain the visa for you, and they will charge you a fee for it. The first website I came across when googling the e-visa only charged $17, so I assume it is a scam. Be careful which website you use when applying for the visa. Knowing that it should be $25 saved me from sending money into the void of the World Wide Web and most likely NOT get the visa.

I followed these instructions on how to get the Vietnam e-visa and got my visa approved only hours before my flight, so if you don’t want to sweat over getting your visa in time, don’t wait until the last minute like I did. (The reason I waited so long is that I’d applied for a visa appointment with the Vietnamese consulate in New York to get a 3-month visa, since I knew I’d be staying longer than 30 days and wanted to save me the hassle of having to get a visa extension or going on a ‘visa run’. But that’s a topic for a whole other post.)

This is the official link to apply for your Vietnam e-visa online.

If you’re staying for less than 15 days, there’s still a small processing fee involved, which varies from country to country. Note that you have to have two passport photos on you to get the 15-day visa on arrival, or you will be charged an extra fee.vietnam mekong delta

Travel insurance for Vietnam

The other pre-trip expense you should factor into your Vietnam travel budget is travel insurance. Since I knew I’d be renting a scooter and that bag snatching was a regular in occurrence in Saigon, I wanted to play it safe. Prices for insurance policies vary depending on your nationality, the duration of your trip and if you are planning to do any activity that require additional coverage. WorldNomads has two options, the Standard and the Explorer.vietnam easy rider tour

Items I bought before my trip to Vietnam

As for items I didn’t want to have to buy in Vietnam:

  • Sunscreen (usually more expensive in tourist destinations than back home)
  • Body lotion / face lotion (because it can be tricky to find items that are not ‘skin whitening’ in Asia. Even deodorant usually has whitener in it)
  • Mosquito Spray
  • Contact Lens Solution
  • Travel Adapter (only needed if you’re from the UK or Australia. North American and Continental European plugs fit in Vietnam, as long as you don’t have three pins. I had a simple two-pin plug which worked fine, but for my next trip to Vietnam I’d buy an adapter that has USB chargers integrated)
vietnam bicycle

How Much is Accommodation in Vietnam

You can pay for as little as $2 a night in a dorm room in Vietnam – the going rate for dorms seemed to be around US$4 – US$5. I also saw some pricier dorms around $10, but judging from the photos on the online booking websites I use, they never looked nicer than the cheaper ones. The most expensive dorm I came across was at a hostel in Phu Quoc that charged $15 for a 4-bed dorm with AC.

I usually stayed in private rooms, which ranged from basic guest houses and hostels to homestays and small hotels. The most expensive hotel room I stayed in was $36, and that’s because I wanted to treat myself to a rooftop pool in Danang. The cheapest room I booked in Vietnam was $9: a homestay in the Mekong Delta. I usually averaged around VND330,000 (~US$14) for a private double room at single occupancy. Double rooms for two people are around the same price, or maybe a dollar more. When you’re wondering: How much does it cost to travel Vietnam? Remember that how much you’re spending on accommodation makes a huge difference! If you’re someone who likes a bit more luxury, you will spend much more in Vietnam than I did.

I used Booking.com exclusively to book my accommodation, because I find the site more transparent than Agoda (which is the more popular booking website in Asia). Booking.com shows me right away the total price for the entire stay including fees and taxes (Agoda shows price per night without taxes/fees), and Booking.com also lists hostels (dorm beds and private rooms), homestays, apartments, and even cruises (in Halong Bay).how much does it cost to travel in VietnamDaily Accommodation Budget: This can vary drastically depending on your travel style. Dorm rooms all the way? Expect to spend around US$5 a night. You prefer your own hotel room, and enjoy global hotel brands? Those can easily cost you US$100 a night and more. Plan your Vietnam travel budget according to your travel style.

How Much Is Food in Vietnam?

If you love street food, you’ll never pay more than US$1 or $2 for a meal. A bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup can usually be found for VND25,000 (US$1.08), a banh mi sandwich is between VND20,000 and 25,000 (US0.86 – US$1.08), but can be slightly more expensive in tourist areas.

If you prefer a proper sit-down restaurant, expect to pay between VND60,000 and 120,000 (US$2.60 – $5.20). Western food is a bit pricier – a high-quality pizza for example set me back at VND222,000 (US$9.55).

My most expensive dinner in Vietnam was VND265,000 (US$11.40).

Snacks: Whenever I picked up some snacks in a grocery store or convenience store, I never paid more than US$1 for nuts, a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, etc.

Daily Food Budget: US$10

vietnam noodles

How Much Are Drinks in Vietnam?

I love that Vietnam has such a thriving coffee culture, and splurged on some fancy coffee drinks such as iced coconut coffee, which would cost anything between VND39,000 (US$1.68) and VND75,000 (US$3.23) for a pricier place. Exotic creations like a yogurt coffee cost around (VND30,000 / US$1.29), and Vietnam’s famous Egg Coffee is around (VND35,000 / US$1.51).

A coffee in a hipster coffee shop starts at around VND40,000 (US$1.72), a cappuccino is around VND50,000 (US$2.15). The cheapest coffee I had was VND10,000 (US$0.43).vietnam hoi an espresso stationA large bottle of water is around 10,000 (US$0.43) (You cannot drink the tap water in Vietnam, so daily drinking water is something you’ve got to factor into your Vietnam travel budget).

There are fresh fruit smoothies everywhere, and they range from VND20,000 (US$0.86) – VND80,000 (US$3.44). On average, I spent VND40,000 (US$1.72) on a smoothie.

Beer ranges from VND10,000 (US$0.43) to VND30,000 (US$1.29). There are quite a few micro-breweries and craft beer bars in Vietnam now – expect to pay more for craft beer. I paid VND60,000 (US$2.58) for a micro brew in Ho Chi Minh City.

Wine: a glass of wine in a wine bar is around VND130,000 (US$5.59). The cheapest wine I found was VND55,000 (US$2.37).

Cocktails are a bit more expensive: I spent VND208,000 (US$8.94) on rooftop drinks in Saigon, and in the fancier cocktail bars like Snuffbox cocktails average VND210,000 (US$9). The cheapest cocktail I had was VND132,000 (US$5.68).

Daily Drinks Budget: Depends on if you drink alcohol every day or if you have, like me, an expensive coffee habit, but I think US$5 – US$10 is realistic.vietnam craft beers

How much is Entertainment in Vietnam

Here are some examples for admission to attractions, museums and other entertainment:

  • Art Museum Ho Chi Minh City: VND30,000 (US$1.29)
  • War Museum Ho Chi Minh City: VND40,000 (US1.72)
  • Massage: VND150,000 (US$6.45)
  • Crazy House in Dalat: VND50,000 (US$2.15)
  • Skylight observation deck in Da Nang (includes one drink): VND 160,000 (US6.88)
  • Historic buildings in Hoi An’s Ancient Town was VND120,000 (US$5.16)
  • a ticket for the Marble Mountains was VND40,000 (US$1.72)
  • Admission to the ancient ruins of My Son was VND150,000 (US$6.45)
  • Bicycle rental VND20,000 (US$0.86)
  • Waterfall admission: VND20,000 (US$0.86)

Daily entertainment budget: This depends on how many attractions you want to visit, but as you can see, museums are very cheap in Vietnam, and I never paid more than US$7 for an attraction. I recommend adding US$10 per day for entertainment to your Vietnam travel budget.vietnam historic home hoi an

How Much are Excursions in Vietnam

I joined several excursions during my time in Vietnam, here are some examples:

I took a tour from Hoi An to the UNESCO site My Son, which was VND120,000 (US$5.16).

A private walking tour in Hanoi, booked through WithLocals.com, was around US$50.

A tour to the sand dunes in Mui Ne was VND150,000 (US$6.45), plus another VND150,000 (US$6.45) for a jeep tour in the sand dunes.

I toured the area around Dalat for a full day with an ‘Easy Rider’ which is basically a tour on the back of someone’s motorbike and paid VND800,000 (US$34.40).

A snorkeling boat trip in Phu Quoc cost VND345,000 (US$14.84).vietnam phu quoc beachI also did a couple of Airbnb Experiences: A food tour by scooter in Saigon, which cost US$24, and a half-day boat tour in the Mekong Delta (US$25, plus a tip and breakfast for the boat driver around US$8).

Daily Excursions Budget: I don’t think that you’ll do an excursion every single day on your trip, but when trying to figure out how much it cost to travel in Vietnam, excursions should definitely be factored in. Think about which things you really want to do while in Vietnam – for me the main things were UNESCO sites, food tours, the Halong Bay cruise and the boat tour on the Mekong. As you can see in the examples above, most of the excursions I went on were under US$15, but if you enjoy private tours over group tours, you’ll have to budget accordingly.

How Much is Transportation in Vietnam

Flights

Domestic flights in Vietnam are cheap – the most I paid for a flight was around US$50. I used Skyscanner and GoogleFlights to look for cheap flights and booked around 2 – 3 weeks before each flight. Some airfare examples:

  • Ho Chi Minh City – Phu Quoc: US$43
  • Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City: US$52
  • Da Nang – Hanoi: US$46
vietnam vietjetBuses in Vietnam

A 2-hour bus ride was usually VND70,000 (US$3), a 4-hour bus is around VND140,000 (US$6).

Trains in Vietnam

I took trains several times and found train rides in Vietnam to be an enjoyable experience. I paid between VND145,000 (US$6.24) and VND177,000 (US$7.60) for the train. I booked all my train rides in advance online via the website Baolau.com.

Taxis in Vietnam

The most expensive taxi rides were in Phu Quoc and Saigon: VND230,000 (US$9.89) from the airport to my guesthouse in Phu Quoc / VND180,000 (US$7.74) from my hotel in Phu Quoc to the ferry. In Saigon I paid VND250,000 (US$10.75) to get from my hotel to the airport.

A taxi in Ben Tre was VND85,000 (US$3.66), in Da Nang I paid VND100,000 (US$4.30) for a 15-min ride.

Moto taxis in Vietnam

Moto-taxis, where you sit on the back of the driver’s scooter (the most common taxis in Vietnam) ranged from VND40,000 (US$1.72) to VND60,000 (US$2.58). The most I paid was VND70,000 (US$3) for a moto taxi.vietnam moto taxiFerries in Vietnam

The ferry from Phu Quoc to the mainland was VND330,000 (USS$14.19)

Scooter rental in Vietnam

I paid VND120,000 (US$5.12) per day for my scooter rental on Phu Quoc. Filling up gas was VND35,000 (US$1.51).

Bicycle rental in Vietnam

I rented a bicycle in Hoi An for VND20,000 (US$0.86) per day.

Daily Transportation Budget: The slower you travel, the less you spend on transportation. It also depends on if you’re planning to take domestic flights or if you plan to stick to buses and trains.vietnam scooter

Other Expenses in Vietnam: SIM Card & Laundry

SIM card: I got a SIM card right at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and paid VND230,000 (US$9.89) for it. If you want to do a bit more research, I recommend this guide to the best SIM cards for tourists in Vietnam. I topped up my SIM card about four weeks into my trip and spent VND100,000 (US$4.30) for the top-up.

Laundry: I usually paid VND50,000 (US$2.15) to get my laundry done.

Other expenses to take into consideration when trying to figure out how much it cost to travel in Vietnam are things like souvenirs (many people get suits or dresses tailor-made in Hoi An), postcards, haircuts and toiletries.vietnam shop

How much does it cost to travel in Vietnam?

I spent between US$30 and $40 per day while I was traveling around Vietnam – and I stayed in private accommodation, went on excursions and treated myself to fancy coffees and cocktails along the way, which is why my daily budget was usually on the higher end (US$40). Had I stayed in dorm rooms and stuck to beer and cheap and Vietnamese coffee, I’d be able to stick to a US$30 per day travel budget.

My total Vietnam travel budget for one month: US$1,214.52

So when you set your Vietnam travel budget, think about your travel style. I am a frugal traveler – I don’t need fancy hotels, and I wanted to travel Vietnam on a budget. But if you are traveling for a shorter time and want to spoil yourself, your budget will certainly be higher than what I spent during my seven weeks in Vietnam. It also depends on how many places you’re planning to visit – I visited a dozen different places, which means there were a lot of transportation costs involved. If you visit less places, you’ll spend less on transportation, unless you fly in between each city you visit. If you’re pressed for time, do your research and decide before your trip which top destinations in Vietnam you really want to visit.how much does it cost to travel in Vietnam

I hope after reading this article you have a rough idea how much it costs to travel Vietnam – if you have any other questions about traveling Vietnam, leave a comment below!

I tracked my travel expenses, as always, using the TrailWallet app.

how much does it cost to travel in vietnam

Backpacking Vietnam: My First Solo Trip In Two Years

vietnam dani backpacking

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Hello from Vietnam! It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update, and what better occasion to do exactly that than my first solo trip in two years.

“Two years since my last solo trip, can this really be?”, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out the last time I’d traveled on my own. But yes, the last time I set off on a solo adventure was in February 2017, when I headed to Ecuador, the second-to-last country on the South American continent I wanted to visit (I have only been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – but Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname are currently not high on my list – the big one left there is Brazil).

Technically, I set off on a solo trip in September 2017, when I flew from Germany to France to walk the Camino de Santiago, but since I quickly learned on that journey that is actually pretty difficult to get some alone time on this famous pilgrimage across Spain and ended up walking over three weeks of the Camino with someone, I feel like that one doesn’t count. And all the other trips I’ve taken since were with other people. I felt like it another solo trip was long overdue.

Why Vietnam?

So, why Vietnam? Some friends were surprised by the country I chose for my ‘Winter Escape’, but to be honest, Vietnam has been on my travel wish list for a long time. In 2011, when I traveled to Asia for the very first time, I was sure that Vietnam would be part of that trip, but back then, my travels were much more on the fly than they are now. I’d follow the path as it appeared in front of me, without much planning. I lingered in Thailand because it was convenient and easy, I spent more time in Malaysia than I needed to, and before I knew it, I had only three weeks left before I was flying to India for what would be a life changing experience.

Three weeks to squeeze in all of Vietnam, all while working remotely? No way. I didn’t have any interest in rushing through the country, and decided I’d rather leave it for my next trip to Asia, along with the other countries I ran out out of time for (the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia). And then, upon returning to Asia three years later, life happened once again, leading me to different places I had anticipated, ticking off only one of the countries on my list (the Philippines).

In the fall of 2016, I planned to return to Asia for the winter, and this time I would start in Vietnam. Yet again, however, destiny had other plans for me, this time in the form of US Immigration, informing me that my final visa interview and Green Card decision would happen in early January in Germany, and not in April or May, as they had previously indicated. Once again, I had to scrap my plans to finally visit Vietnam. And that’s why, when I made the decision to take a big trip this winter, I didn’t have to think about my destination for too long. I would finally visit Vietnam!

Hitting The Reset Button On Life

So how does it feel to be on the road again by myself? The last time I traveled to South East Asia by myself was in 2015, exactly four years ago. I had gotten over a bad breakup not long before that trip, I was happily in love, and I wanted to escape the New York winter. Not much about my situation has changed, I guess, only that I haven’t had to get over any heartaches recently.

The big difference between my last solo trips and this one: I am not nomadic anymore. I packed stuff I thought I’d need for the duration of the trip, and that’s it. For all my precious solo trips, I was carrying everything I owned on my back, in a giant 65-liter backpack.To commemorate the start of this new era of my travel life I decided to treat myself to a new backpack and retire the one I’d used ever since I took up the vagabond life in 2010. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t pack light – I tried hard to go for a 40-liter pack that I’d be able to carry on in airplanes, but I was quick to admit to myself that this just wouldn’t happen. (This is the backpack I eventually opted for – and so far, I am loving it).

As I prepared for this trip, I realized how much I needed it. I was hemming and hawing over going at all, now that I am more settled in New York and have a home, I find it harder to leave for long trips. There were also worries about money (I never had to pay rent before for a place I wasn’t using while I was on the road, and I’d already paid rent for two months while I was traveling in November and in December/January – a lot of rent for a place to sit empty) and taking too much time off, but then I remembered that I used to be location independent and that I’m still lucky enough to be able to make money while I’m traveling. So I finally clicked the ‘book’ button after having hovered over it for too long. And of course I am glad I did!

This wasn’t just about a ‘winter escape’ though – and the ever-present urge to explore a new country – it was just as much about hitting the ‘Reset’ button and getting away from my busy New York schedule where I rarely get the chance to spend time with myself, to think about what’s happening in my life, about relationships and successes and failures of the past year, and to simply be. After traveling without much of a schedule for the better part of the last decade, I am still surprised how quickly I adapted to city life again, booked up weeks in advance. I felt the same urge to hit ‘pause’ on my busy life when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2017 – and that was after only having been in New York for three months. You can imagine how much I was craving a slower pace now, after having been in New York for a while (even though, admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time there since last October.)

Traveling Solo

Until 2015, I had never traveled alone. I was already in my thirties when I set off on my first solo adventure, always thinking that I was a person who needed someone to travel with. Well, as it turned out, I did not need anyone to enjoy myself. I treasure my alone time, being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, what to eat, when to eat, when to sight see, what to see, when to have a lazy day, when to socialize. I don’t mind eating by myself, I enjoy my own company, and these days I never even get the chance to feel lonely because I am always connected. I usually wake up to a number of Whatsup notifications, which I sometimes even find overwhelming. But I also have yet to go on a solo trip and not make new friends along the way.

Speaking of family and friends afar: Feeling so connected to people all over the world is definitely something that I didn’t experience on my first trip to Asia in 2011, which happened before Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other ways we have these days to stay connected with our loved ones back home. Back then, people had to wait for me to post a photo on Facebook to see where I was. I had to wait for an email from them to see how they were doing.

These days, I turn on the camera on my phone and take them on a tour of the beach I’m lazing on, while chatting on a chat app. The first time I went to Asia, I didn’t even have a phone (although admittedly, my iPodTouch was pretty much like a smartphone, just without the call function) and had to find a decent enough WiFi connection to make a Skype call back home. These days, the WiFi is so good that it even reached from a restaurant all the way out into the ocean, where I was chatting with someone back in New York while enjoying a relaxed morning as she was getting ready for bed. Oh, the joys of modern technology. While I appreciate many aspects of it, part of me wishes I wouldn’t just be able to pull up GoogleMaps on my phone to look up directions, to just get lost, to randomly stumble on a remote beach instead of just following travel guides that tell much which beaches are the prettiest.

South East Asia Is Changing

Not just the way most of us travel has changed – Asia has also changed. Remote beaches aren’t all that remote anymore, since roads have been paved and more tourists are coming, particularly noteworthy: Chinese tourists. Making beaches more accessible of course also means more crowds, and in places where you would have not found much beyond a few palm trees six to ten years ago, there are now makeshift restaurants and beach chairs. The roaring sound of jet skis breaks into the calming repetitive sound of the clashing waves.

But it is not just off-the-beaten-path islands that now have been discovered by mass tourism: Life in general is changing here, too. The last time I was in Asia, the people you’d see with a smartphone in their hand were usually tourists, but now it seems like everyone has a smartphone, from the fishermen I see in the ports to the children I see play video games on their phones in small villages.

And then there are the cities – Saigon for example, where more and more of the old French-colonial buildings are being torn down to make room for new shiny skyscrapers which spring up like mushrooms everywhere. Most places I’ve visited on this trip feel like giant construction sites, with jackhammers and stone saws and creating a steady background soundtrack from early morning till long after the sun sets.It’s not just Asia who has evolved: So have I. The bright-eyed backpacker who looked at everything in awe when she first came to Asia almost eight years ago – that’s not me anymore. And not only have I turned into a seasoned traveler, I also have a bigger budget now. The $10 room off of Bangkok’s Kao San Road I stayed in during my first Asia stint resembled the room Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach) was staying in when he arrived in Bangkok, more than I am willing to admit. But back then, I was traveling on a tiny budget, following the South East Asia On A Shoestring guidebook religiously, trying to make my money last as long as possible. Did I have less of a great time back then? Certainly not! But I wouldn’t put myself in a room like that anymore only to save a few dollars.

That said, I still consider myself a frugal traveler, and see it as a waste of money to spend tons of cash on a place for just me. When I am traveling with someone – different story. Especially when traveling with a partner, I want it to feel special. And no question: I do appreciate being able to afford the occasional splurge, and I know that it’ll be a completely different feel to sail through Halong Bay (one of the places I’m most excited to visit) on a luxury boat rather than a backpacker barge filled with roaches and mice. I guess I am now what they call a flashpacker, even though I dislike this term.

Getting My Travel Mojo Back

One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to quickly fall back into a traveler’s life, a life on the road as I lived it for so many years. I fall back into the routine of unpacking my backpack when I arrive in a new place (read: I turn my room into a huge mess in two minutes), laying down on the bed and researching vegetarian restaurants and the best coffee shops in town. Then I head out for a first exploration of the town I am in and plan how many days I want to spend there and how I want to spend them. A few days later, I move on to the next place, rinse, repeat.

Even though I have almost two months to explore this country, which is longer than most people have, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit rushed. Having an end date looming over my trip is something that I am still not used to, and traveling at a rather rapid pace is something I find hard to adjust to. It has happened a few times on this trip already that I found myself in places where I wished I had more time, but had already booked a hotel in the next city, eager to see as much of Vietnam as possible.When I arrived in New York at the end of 2017 after an exhausting year of travel, all I wanted was to take a break from being on the road, and not travel anywhere. Well, I am glad I gave myself this break because leading up to the trip, I could feel my excitement grow each day, consulting my guidebook every night before I went to bed to figure out which places in this huge country I wanted to see, and to map out a route.

I remember that during the last few months of my nomadic life trip planning had started to feel like a chore, and I dreaded the long hours of researching places to stay, things I wanted to see, and finding good food options. When I began to prepare my Vietnam trip, everything got me more stoked for the journey: picking out a new backpack, buying a new bathing suit, making sure all my gear was still in good shape, trying to decide which clothes and tech to bring.

And then, finally arriving in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, felt like a dream come true, as corny as this might sound. I don’t take it for granted that I am able to go travel for such a long time – especially now after meeting so many people in New York who have a very limited amount of vacation days – and in the case of Vietnam, which I’ve been wanting to explore for such a long time, I feel even more grateful that my lifestyle allows me to do this.Expect more Vietnam articles shortly – in the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram.