When you think of Vietnam, you probably think of moody landscapes, thick jungles, and the hectic nature ofHanoiand Ho Chi Minh City. Very rarely do people think of tropical islands when considering a trip to Vietnam.
There are actually quite a few islands that tend to be less touristy than the mainland, because, well, not that many people know about them. I finally had my own tropical Vietnamese island experience this year on Phú Quốc.
Hello friends and welcome to my new monthly wrap-up series! In an effort to stay relevant and keep you informed on my current travels (since this blog is usually a month or two behind on where I actually am), I’ve decided to start writing personal wrap-up posts.
Where oh where do I even begin with wrapping up March?
As per usual, this last month flew by mainly because of the amount of curveballs life threw my way. Maybe I was trying to get through it all as soon as possible.
Kelsey and I quickly made our way to the Saigon Opera House, a short walk from where we were staying, and where we would be meeting our tour group for the day. We had signed up for a Mekong Discovery tour with Intrepid Urban Adventures, and we had a full day ahead of us of agricultural wonders and good food.
This was my first tour with Intrepid, but I had heard great things about them from other travelers and bloggers alike, which made me seek them out. They have tours all over the world, and their Urban Adventure tours specifically are meant to be more focused on the local side of a destination.
From the moment my friend Kelsey and I stepped into the Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint Hotel, we were welcomed as valued guests. After check-in, we grabbed fresh guava juice from the downstairs bar and sighed into our cushy chairs, taking in the expansive and open lobby with neutral tones and a clean design.
You can feel the vibrancy as soon as you touch down in Saigon – the motorbikes whizzing by, the smells, the sizzling heat.
Last time I was in the city, I was overwhelmed. It was one of the first cities I visited in Asia and my senses were doing overtime. I didn’t know how to cross the street without having a heart-racing adrenaline kick each time, and I soon found out that the motorbike thieves are a real thing when one tried to grab my friend’s bag from behind.
It was too much and I wrote off Saigon as a big city that I would never enjoy visiting. But as I sometimes find when I travel more, I couldn’t have been more wrong with my initial prejudice against the city.
One of my goals on The Atlas Heart is to break down travel misconceptions or judgments about places and ideas. Perhaps it could be that destination that everyone warns you not to visit because of how dangerous it is, or maybe you yourself had preconceived notions that were proven wrong once you arrived to where you were going.
My aim is to present a variety of different opinions and experiences through the eyes of other travelers. It’s important to hear travel stories from all different perspectives in life, I call it seeing the world through a kaleidoscope lens.
I know, there have been a lot of food posts on here recently! What can I say, my experience with Forktown Food Tours must’ve really inspired me to start looking at culture through the lens of food more often.
In any case, I promise I’ll be changing up my posts a bit more after this one, but I did want to share with you all a touch of international food culture with the help of a few friends in the blogging world. That’s right, this is my first collaboration post and I’m pretty excited that it’s about food – one of my favorite things in the world.
Since buying my plane ticket last week, Asia has been on my mind nonstop. Regardless of the fact that my trip is still a good 7 months away, I’m constantly daydreaming about dim sum, humidity, exotic wildlife, and life on the road again.
The other night, I spent close to 3 hours researching where I want to go in Asia. Let me be honest, I’m not heading back to Asia for awhile yet (Oct/Nov 2016), but I made the mistake of going to a bookstore and I quickly became lost in the travel section. And I’m not talking about just any old bookstore, I’m talking about the largest bookstore in the WORLD, Powell’s City of Books. It takes up a whole city block in Portland, and the travel section alone is a good corner of that block.
My last installation for Southeast Asia budgeting: Vietnam!
Note: All prices are in US dollars, and I rounded when necessary to keep things nice and easy.
The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong, and the conversion rate comes to about $1US = 21,150 Dong
Time spent = 14 nights, 15 days
Accommodation = $64 (averaged around $6/night)
Hanoi (4 nights) = $7.50/night ($30 total)
Hue (1 night) = $6
Hoi An (3 nights) =$6/night ($18 total)
Nha Trang (1 night) = $5
Saigon (1 night) = $5
The other nights were spent on a boat in Halong Bay and overnight buses.
I spent a couple of extra nights in Saigon when I flew from Singapore, but soon left for Cambodia and Thailand before making my way back to Vietnam. Those extra nights aren’t included in my budgeting.
In Hanoi, we decided to splurge on Hanoi Backpackers, because we kept hearing such great things about it from fellow travelers on the backpacker trail. It was well worth the money for the free activities offered (walking tour, bar crawl, etc), the free breakfast, free internet, helpful tour desk, clean facilities, cheap bar, and much more.
We were only in Hue for a night as a stopover and to get a quick glimpse at the historical city, but we had a lovely stay at a more traditional Vietnamese hostel called Tigon Hostel. The free breakfast buffet was the best free breakfast I had anywhere in Southeast Asia, and the staff were some of the friendliest I’ve come across in the hostel world.
In Hoi An, we found a double room for $6 each a night, and it was a welcome respite from dorm life. Hop Yen Hotel, was just off one of the main streets, and still within walking distance to town, as we found most things to be in Hoi An. It was a standard hotel, but it felt like a luxury to have our own room for the first time in a long time, and we even had a tiny TV to watch BBC News.
We continued to have our own room in Nha Trang, at one of the swankiest hotels we stayed at. We just walked around town with our heavy backpacks on when we jumped off the overnight bus and asked around at different hostels and hotels. When we found a nice looking hotel for $5 each a night for our own room, I was sold and happy to take a nice long nap from the bus ride.
In Saigon we stayed at the same place we stayed a month previously, when we had first arrived in Vietnam. It was the cheapest room we could find on a slightly quieter alleyway in the main backpacker district. It was $5 for a dorm, and the rooms were above a restaurant called the Alley Cat.
Again, we employed the same tactic of walking around into random restaurants and hotels to see what prices we could find. This particular dorm wasn’t the cleanest by any means but it was fine for what we needed…really, the worst part was the first time we stayed there, when our roommate left the remains of a durian in our tiny bathroom. If you have never smelled a rotting durian, count yourself very lucky.
Transport = $46 ($3.25/day)
The Vietnamese have the tourist transport down and it was a much easier system to figure out than Cambodia and even Thailand. Most travelers buy open ended bus passes through one company from Hanoi to Saigon or vice versa. There are designated cities along the route, the downside meaning less of a chance to get off the beaten path, and you choose how many of those cities you want to stop at. The price varies depending on the number of stops you choose. My pass cost $39 for 4 stops.
Be careful with the travel agent you buy it from and make sure to shop around. It’s fine to barter down the price, especially if you mention you found another company offering a cheaper pass, but also remember that you get what you pay for. I actually ended up getting scammed a bit in Hanoi because I didn’t have enough loose Dong in cash, and I had to use my credit card.
The travel agent took liberties guessing correctly that I wouldn’t know the currency rate off the top of my head if he charged my credit card in Dong. He told me one price and charged me about $5US more in Dong, sneaky guy.
Other transport costs consisted of local buses, a shuttle to the airport, and renting bikes for the day.
Food = $68 ($5/day)
As I’ve mentioned in pretty much every one of my Vietnam posts, I adore Vietnamese food, and the French influence I found via the perfect flaky croissants I devoured in Hoi An. I spent a lot of my money on pho, but tried a different local specialty in almost every town we visited. We kept the food prices down by eating a lot of street food and finding new foods to try in local markets. Although my guilty pleasure, the French bakery in Hoi An, was my weakness and took up a chunk of my budget.
Smoothies/juices = $3.25
I hardly had any smoothies in Vietnam, weird, right? Southeast Asia is a smoothie haven, but Vietnam had something more intriguing to me at the time, delicious Vietnamese coffee.
Vietnamese Coffee = $9.25 (around $1.25 each)
Since I replaced my smoothie habit with Vietnamese coffee, I thought I’d make a new category. Why I was so enamored with Vietnamese coffee, other than it being simultaneously the most creamy, tasty, unhealthy, and most caffeineted drink I could find, was that I had suffered through more than my fair share of disgusting Nescafe instant coffee throughout Asia.
I had given up coffee and switched to tea by Cambodia, even the smell of instant Nescafe made my queasy. You can imagine how happy I was to find myself in Vietnam, my last stop, and real coffee within my reach again. Addiction renewed.
Water (1500ml) = $8 (about $0.50 each)
Hydration is key. I made sure to keep myself hydrated on those long bus rides and humid days throughout the country.
Alcohol = $17
Close to what I spent in Thailand on alcohol. I didn’t party as much in Asia as I originally thought I would. Partly from wanting to save money, partly from wanting to enjoy traveling without the hangover, and partly because I enjoyed saving my alcoholic nights for the big ticket items like The Full Moon Party and Halong Bay.
Even with cheap drinks on the boat, I spent most of my alcohol budget for the Halong Bay party cruise. I also went on a pub crawl in Hanoi and had a few cheeky drinks here and there in random places, trying to reach my goal of tasting the endless supply of different Vietnamese beers that taste the same.
Miscellaneous = $200
Breakdown of my miscellaneous purchases:
Halong Bay = $120
Snake Village = $18
Entry to Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi = $1
Handmade shoes (Hoi An) = $23
Handmade dress (Hoi An) = $36
Chair rental on the beach (Hoi An) = $1.50
Including everything (except Halong Bay), I spent about $19 a day, or $286 total ($406 with Halong Bay)
Overall, Vietnam was almost as expensive as Thailand, but I enjoyed my time here the most (along with Cambodia) out of the other countries I visited in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is a place I’d want to go back to and explore more in depth, I felt like I barely touched the surface. I was also surprised at how beautiful and romantic of a country it turned out to be.
Next time I want to travel the country on the back of a motorbike, wind through my hair, mountains and the sea beside me, and the open road in front of me. I can see it now. Vietnam, I’ll come back for you someday.