Overall score (Dan) = B+
Overall score (Jocelyn) = A-
Total days = 15 nights, 16 days
Total cost = $1,672
Cost per day = $105/day
Flight costs = Took the bus from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cities visited = Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa, Ha Long Bay
The word “Vietnam” seems to conjure drastically different images based on age group. For Jocelyn and me, it was a place defined by a different time when we weren’t alive yet, but the stories we heard meant it must be a bad place. For the generations who suffered through the Vietnam War, the very word seems to insight shivers throughout the entire body as they relive the horrible images and memories from a very real event.
It’s easier for younger generations to look past what Vietnam was previously defined as and look forward to what it might offer. This is how we viewed Vietnam.
Vietnam offers a more complete package to tourists than any country we’ve explored. From a unique culture where hill tribes still don their traditional dress while living the same lifestyles as their ancestors centuries ago, to incredible natural wonders from caves, to mountains, to beautiful beaches. The 16 days we spent in Vietnam didn’t feel like enough, and there are many more places we would’ve liked to visit… but we were very happy to see the places we did see.
How far does your money go in Vietnam?
Overall, Vietnam seemed to be one of the more expensive SE Asian countries when it came to total spending. However, great lodging can be found for cheap and if you’re willing to survive on street food, you could compete with cheaper places such as Thailand.
One US dollar equals approximately 20,000 Vietnamese Dong, making for more tough mental calculations as I tried to figure if a 80,000 Dong meal is a good deal. It was even more astonishing when I went to the ATM and pulled out 8 million Dong… until I remembered it was only $400 US.
Here are our per day spending highlights:
Transportation = $40/day
Food = $21 / day
Excursion = $19 / day
Lodging = $19 / day
Total hotel points used = 30,000 Hilton points (Hilton Garden Inn, Hanoi for three nights)
The Good –
There were a lot of good aspects of Vietnam, the most surprising to us being the hospitable locals. Jocelyn and I had planned to adopt Canada as our home country since there would be obvious reasons for them to still spite the US, but after we met many Vietnamese and talked to other travelers, we realized our USA badge was okay. It seems many of the Vietnamese have looked past the “American War” and are thankful for Bill Clinton’s actions in 1996 to end US sanctions and open Vietnam up to the world. In fact, the US flag has become a fashion icon in Vietnam just as it has in many other SE Asian countries.
Just as in Cambodia, we were thrilled with the lodging options and the low prices we paid to get them. It was easy to find a quality hotel with excellent service in the $25-$30 per night range which kept our per day spending on lodging at $19 when combined with the three free nights from hotel points and two overnight train rides.
Vietnam also offers an incredible diversity of sites and cities. Much to our surprise, much of the country developed around French influences which were identified in the architecture and food. One of our favorite cities, Hoi An, felt like a mini New Orleans, minus the beads, bars and Saints. Nature’s sites were even more impressive as Vietnam boasted beautiful beaches, karst lined bays, and stunning mountain vistas.
The wide geographical diversity did come at a cost; specifically it cost us $40/day between flights, trains, and taxis! Vietnam is huge and unless you want to take 16 hour train rides or 18 hour bus rides often referred to as “death rides”, the best option is to hope to find a cheap flight. We started in the the southern end of Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City, flew to Hoi An (via Da Nang) in the middle of Vietnam, and then flew up to the north of Vietnam in Hanoi where we took shorter trips to Sapa and Ha Long Bay. Luckily, the flights weren’t too bad ($50 each and $75 each) but the trains did cost more than in Thailand ($75 each roundtrip to Sapa).
The beautiful mountain vistas of Sapa and bays of Ha Long also came at a price as the excursions were more expensive in Vietnam than in other SE Asian countries (although still much cheaper than New Zealand or Australia). We hired a local villager as a guide to take us through the stunning scenery of Sapa for $30 each, and our 2 day / 1 night boat trip through Ha Long Bay was $95/each. We were happy with both of them, but they did have a clear impact on our per day spending.
We loved the food in Vietnam but it also came at a little higher price than otherSE Asian countries. Much like Cambodia, it was partially due to our searching out great restaurants which we found worth it.
Vietnam may be newer to the tourism scene than other Southeast Asian stalwarts like Thailand, but that doesn’t mean their scams artists are any less advanced. In fact, nearly everyone we talked to had been taken at least once by a dishonest taxi driver. We were too.
Our bus from Phnom Penh pulled up to the bus station in Ho Chi Minh City and the taxi drivers quickly approached the bus to offer their services. Thanks to our reading ahead, we knew to expect this and also knew to be weary drivers who want to take you for a ride. However, we weren’t real sure what our ride would cost.
As we came off the bus, we sidestepped some of the drivers who seemed too eager and found a nice little man. We told him where we were going and firmly told him we wanted to use the meter. “Yes, of course, the meter” he assured us. As our taxi took off, the starting price seemed too high, but we were unsure of what it should be, so we couldn’t fight it. As I watched the meter, it didn’t seem to make any crazy jumps, but when I looked away and looked back it seemed like there were big jumps. By the time we pulled up to our hotel (actually a few hundred meters away because he didn’t want to get caught by our hotel staff) he gave us the total – 490,000 Dong ($25 US). I knew this sounded way too high, but I couldn’t knowledgeably retort the price because I wasn’t exactly sure. I unhappily paid but knew we had probably been taken – which was confirmed later when we took a taxi a similar distance for around 60,000 Dong ($3 US).
After many curse words my anger from being taken subsided, and I was able to agree with Jocelyn’s affirmation that if $20 was all we’re scammed for on our whole trip, we’d be in pretty good shape. Knowledge is power when traveling!
Oh yea, we also go taken by the customer tailors in Hoi An but that was our own fault! They didn’t scam us, they just “helped us” buy way more than what we wanted. I bought two custom suits and four tailored shirts while Jocelyn bought two customer dresses for a total of $470 US. I didn’t include it in the Vietnam spending summary because I didn’t want to skew the actual travel numbers, and because I was a bit ashamed :).
In Conclusion, Vietnam has catapulted to one of the favorite countries on our trip due to the beautiful scenery, great cities, delicious food, and its geographical marvels. We could’ve easily spent a few more weeks exploring Vietnam’s sites, but that’d mean we’d probably miss another beautiful country to marvel at!