Arienne Parzei is a travel writer, videographer, and photographer from Toronto, Canada who loves learning about different cultures first hand. In 2009, she moved to South Korea and taught English for two years and followed that up with an eight-month backpacking trip through China, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. She shares her travel experiences, advice, and tips on her website SeeYouSoon.ca, inspiring others to get out and explore our incredible planet. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter: @seeusoontravel.
Budget Travel in Vietnam
Southeast Asia is the best region in the world to travel on a budget. There’s no other place where you can sleep comfortably, eat ridiculously well, and see a variety of incredible sites without blowing the bank. Vietnam is definitely one of those countries where your money can go very far. For example, my boyfriend and I travelled through the country at the end of 2011 for 20 days and averaged about $56 USD a day…for the two of us. We used the well-connected bus system to travel down the length of the country, stayed in private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, and experienced a variety of activities and sites.
Getting around Vietnam is very easy and straightforward. There’s both a rail and bus network that links the entire country, north to south. Both options are comfortable and nonsense free.
If you’re planning to travel the length of the country and want to make a number of stops along the way, consider picking up an “Open Bus” or “Open Tour” ticket. For around $50-60 USD (note, prices vary by bus company), you can get a ticket that will allow you to stop into six of Vietnam’s main destinations, including Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Da Lat, and Ho Chi Minh City. You can stay in each destination as long as you want, but you must notify the bus company 24hrs in advance to reserve a seat on the next bus. For travel between Hanoi and Hue, and Hoi An and Nha Trang, opt for the overnight bus and save on a nights accommodation. Check out Sinh Café for a complete list of bus routes and ticket combinations.
Once you’re at your destination, your transportation options open up. Most of Vietnam’s cities are small enough that you can walk the majority of them or even rent a bicycle and explore them on your own. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the traffic is so dense and chaotic, you’ll want an experienced driver to get you around. Cyclos are popular for a leisurely tour in Hanoi as is flagging down a motorbike, hopping on the back, and holding on for dear life. Make sure to negotiate the rate beforehand to avoid any disagreements once you reach your destination.
There’s a lot of nice accommodations to be found throughout Vietnam within the $12-$16 USD price range. For this price, you’ll get two twin beds or one double bed, an ensuite bathroom, a fan (sometimes even air conditioning), and usually breakfast and free wifi. It’s difficult to book cheap accommodation in advance as many hotels and guesthouses don’t have websites. When you get to your destination, find out where the backpacker area is and check out a few places. Always ask to see the room first and don’t be afraid to visit a few places before choosing on one. Ask about whether or not breakfast and wifi is included. It could be worth paying an extra dollar or two if both of those are included.
Activities and Attractions
There are so many things to do in Vietnam from cruising Halong Bay, to visiting the museums and palaces, to some thrill seeking activities for the adventurous traveller. Some activities are best experienced on a tour or with a guide, including Halong Bay, Sapa, the Cu Chi Tunnels, and any sporting activities in Da Lat. A number of other attractions can be done on your own and only cost a few dollars to enter, including a water puppet show, the Army and Prison Museums in Hanoi, the Citadel and Imperial Palace in Hue, and the Reunification Palace and War Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
Travelling through Vietnam on a budget doesn’t mean you’ll be sacrificing quality when it comes to your food choices. In fact, you’ll be so amazed at what you’ll be able to get for just a few dollars. How is this possible? Two words: street food.
One of the best and cheapest dishes you can get is pho. Made with either chicken or beef, this noodle soup is a street-food staple and will only set you back about $1.50 a bowl. Little sandwich carts also set up on most corners making banh mi, a sandwich made with meat and vegetables, stuffed in a large baguette, perfect for breakfast or packed for a long bus ride. For fresh fruit, make a stop into anyone of the many markets throughout the country.
For the coffee lovers out there, you’ll definitely want to try Vietnamese iced coffee. Made with crushed ice, dark roasted coffee, and a fair amount of sweetened condensed milk, this drink will have your taste buds dancing, for under $1.
If you like to drink, you’ll want to keep on eye on your alcohol spending, because at around $1 for a bottle of beer, you could blow your budget in no time.
Most guesthouses offer laundry service priced by the kilogram, with the going rate around $1USD per 1kg. I personally don’t like hand washing my clothes in a sink, so to pay $5 to have all my clothes cleaned is a bargain for me. Postal service in Vietnam is the cheapest in the region (compared to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand). We paid around $30USD for a 6.5kg box, which arrived about a couple months later. Internet is widely available throughout Vietnam and many guesthouses and hotels offer them as part of the room rate.