I never expected 2017 to be a year to myself, but then again, I guess you never really know what life will bring you with each new year.
I should know better by now.
Even though I didn’t expect it to be a year to myself, I can say with full clarity now that I’m so very glad that it was. This was the year that I found my independence again, understood fully what I deserve in my life, and embraced my alone time.
I’m someone who is already pretty good at being alone. I’m an introvert, most of my pastimes are solo ones – reading, playing my guitar, listening to music, cooking. And my work is very much a solo pursuit, from writing to doing digital marketing for clients.
I’m used to being alone, but 2017 was a year where I really just had myself to pull me back up from my bootstraps, to lean on, to make sense of stressful, happy, and sad situations.
“‘Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to simply try and be good and courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard…something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.” // Emma Morley (Excerpt from One Day)
When I stepped on that flight to Hong Kong last October, I had no idea how much my life would change in the course of eight months.
Explore the stunning tropical Vietnam island Phú Quốc – a side of Vietnam that most people don’t see. Soak in the sun and enjoy these 6 things to do in Phú Quốc.
When you think of Vietnam, you probably think of moody landscapes, thick jungles, and the hectic nature of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Very rarely do people think of tropical islands when considering a trip to Vietnam.
There are quite a few islands that tend to be less touristy than the mainland because not that many people know about them. I finally had my own tropical Vietnamese island experience this year on Phú Quốc.
But is Phú Quốc worth visiting?
There are a lot of fun things to do in Phú Quốc, and with white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, the island is Vietnam’s paradise. I would 100% recommend visiting the island to anyone who is exploring Vietnam.
One of the most interesting things you can do near Ho Chi Minh City is a Mekong Delta Tour. This was my experience learning about agritourism in Vietnam.
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 on their Mekong Delta tour.
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.
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City! Find out what my favorite hotel in the city is and why I loved it so much (hint: It wasn’t just for its stunning rooftop pool).
Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint Hotel was by far one of the best hotels I stayed at in Asia. If you’re planning a trip to Vietnam and wondering where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, I’d recommend checking out Liberty Central.
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 clean design.
Discover the food scene and nightlife of Saigon on a Saigon food tour guided by XO Tours, Vietnam.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
You can feel the vibrancy as soon as you touch down in Saigon – the motorbikes whizzing by, the smells, the sizzling heat. At first, this whirlwind of motorbikes and smells turned me off of Saigon. But as I embraced the culture through a Saigon food tour, I soon discovered the beauty of the city and fell in love with Saigon.
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.
So, I’m starting my first ever guest posting series about these travel misconceptions we find throughout our lives and epic journeys. I’ve asked a few writers to talk about their own misconceptions and perhaps how they were proven wrong in their travels.
Without further ado, I’m happy to introduce the next guest poster on this blog – Joaquim from The Alternative Ways, who is discussing his time in Vietnam and the misconceptions he had about the country before he saw it for himself.
I know, there have been a lot of food posts on here recently!
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.
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
Ho Chi Minh City (1 night) = $5
The other nights were spent on a boat in Halong Bay and overnight buses.
I spent a couple of extra nights at an inexpensive accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City 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 also had our own room during our visit to 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 Ho Chi Minh City 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 Ho Chi Minh City 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.