Vietnam recap and budget breakdown (our cheapest country!)


Posted by Beth | December 31, 2016

Days we spent in the country: 30 (The most we could stay with the 30-day visa. Vietnam is one of only a few countries we had to get a visa in advance. We used an online visa service, which was cheaper and faster than mailing in our passports or visiting an embassy. Do make sure you have new, crisp US dollars with you unless you want to be held up at customs for awhile over a ripped bill like us). We were there in June.

Cities visited:

  • Hanoi
  • Halong Bay
  • Hue
  • Hoi An
  • Da Nang
  • Nha Trang
  • Dalat
  • Ho Chi Minh City

Ancient Town Hoi An

Favorite lodging: The best hotel we stayed in was the Hyatt Regency Resort Da Nang. We had to book a club room because it was all that was available on points, and was a bit pricey at 17,000 Hyatt points per night, but our room walked out to the pool/beach and the lounge was spectacular, including a private pool, nice wine selection and these homemade spicy potato chips I still crave.

Favorite food: Pita GR restaurant in Nha Trang. Incredible and cheap Greek food. Do yourself a favor and order the chicken souvlaki and passion fruit sangria.

Least favorite food: Pho. Adding a special category this time because we really struggled with the food in Vietnam. We got really ill our second day in the country (likely) from bad pho and struggled with sickness for the better part of the next two weeks. We didn’t love Vietnamese food to begin with anyway, but had a hard time eating it at all after we got so sick. On the plus side we both dropped quite a few pounds, but the downside was we spent way more money on Western/International food than we would have liked this month and didn’t really take the chance to appreciate the local foods the way we usually do.

Favorite activities: The Halong Bay cruise was phenomenal, or at least it would have been if we weren’t so sick. We had great weather, a fun tour group, a nice boat and of course the scenery is stunning and world famous. Another favorite activity was the Easy Rider countryside tour in Dalat with our hostel owner.

What we enjoyed the most: Hoi An and Dalat were hands down our favorite places in Vietnam. Hoi An was quaint and charming and the perfect place to settle in for a week after our rough start to our month in Vietnam. We loved the experience of getting clothes custom tailored, wandering the streets and alleys of the Ancient Town and biking to the beach.

Ancient Town Hoi An

In Dalat the weather was much cooler, making it so much more enjoyable and the scenery is beautiful. We’re talking a difference of 105 degrees Fahrenheit versus 65 degrees!

Throughout all of Vietnam there is a strong cafe/coffee culture that we really appreciated.

What we enjoyed the least:

  • The heat and humidity
  • Cigarette smoke everywhere
  • Hard beds
  • Poor food sanitation
  • Omnipresent smell of dried fish
  • The extreme sweetness levels of the drinks. Hello, sweetened condensed milk!
  • Bus loads of Chinese tourists (oh wait, that’s everywhere in Southeast Asia).
  • There’s also the issue of having to cross the street into an endless sea of motorbikes and cabs merging into an intersection from all directions at once, though we got quite good at it by the end of the month and it’s slightly alarming how non-phased we were by the end at walking out into the middle of traffic trusting they’ll go around you! Children never wore helmets on motorbikes, which really bothered me.
  • It felt more than anywhere else on this trip we were being deliberately ripped off. For example we would get our bill at a restaurant and it would be drastically higher than prices listed on the menu, a tourist attraction vendor would give us way less change than we were owed, cabs tried to overcharge us rather than using the meter, and street vendors jacking the price of things up five to ten times what it should be (someone tried to charge me $7 for a fresh coconut that’s usually $1 and we heard a story of a guy being charged $14 for a pineapple). In general we felt these scenarios were more common in the north and found the people in the south to be much friendlier, with the notable exception of the little grandma who lived in the alley near our Airbnb in Saigon that growled at us constantly.

What surprised us: 

  • The Vietnamese people LOVE Obama. We were in the country at the same time as his trip to Vietnam so we really felt the love.
  • Vietnam was cheaper than we expected, and if done frugally probably the cheapest country in Southeast Asia to backpack through.
  • For some reason I had an expectation in my head that Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many) would be awful. It seems to be people either love it or hate it and we were surprised to kind of love it.

typical stools at local restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City

What we would have done differently: Booked our train tickets as soon as we knew the date and time needed. We ended up booking an overnight train too late and the sleeper cabins were sold out, which led to a rough night. One of the advantages to our time in Vietnam was it was the only section of our trip we truly had an open itinerary and the opportunity to travel slow and make decisions about where to go and what to do one day at a time. But honestly for me there wasn’t as much freedom in that as I had hoped and it occasionally led to situations such as the train fiasco or paying more for a last minute flight.

Favorite person we met: We used Airbnb a lot in Vietnam and had mostly positive experiences. The best by far was in Hoi An with our host Anh and her sweet family. She invited us to meals and sent food up to our room, let us use her bikes, gave me a manicure, took us to the market to help us not get ripped off buying fruit, and ensured we found high quality, affordable tailors and massage places. We ended up staying there six nights, which other than the CLD Basecamp in Uganda, is the most consecutive nights we spent in any bed on the trip.

Pro tips: 

  • As in any southeastern Asian country, try to eat when the locals eat.
  • You’ll need a jacket in Dalat almost year-round.
  • Carry a poncho/umbrella with you if you are out in the afternoons. We got caught in countless downpours.

Currency: Vietnamese Dong. $1 = 22,300 VND

Hotel points redeemed: 

  • SPG: 8,000 points (2 nights @ Sheraton Hanoi)
  • Hilton: 10,000 (1 night @ Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi)
  • Hyatt: 17,000 (1 night @ Hyatt Regency Da Nang)
  • IHG: 75,000 (3 nights @ Intercontinental Nha Trang)
  • Marriott: 2 free night certificates (2 nights @ Renaissance Hotel Saigon)

Flexible points redeemed: 

  • Citi Thank You Points: 17,292 (flight into Hanoi)
  • Barclaycard Arrival Points: 69,831 (flight from Dalat to Saigon, visas, non-hotel accommodation, souvenirs).

Total out-of-pocket expense: $1,658.79

Daily average: $27.65 per person, per day

Click on link to view our Vietnam expenses.

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