Average costs in Vietnam
Stay – As you may already know, Vietnam is a dirt-cheap country. The cheapest places to stay are of course youth hostels. In these, you share a room with other adventurous travelers and that’s already possible for about $1/€1 per night! If you prefer to have more privacy then you can book a budget room in Vietnam from $17/€15 per night. Three stars will not cost you much more than $30/€25. And four stars can already be booked for $50/€45 per night.
Eat – Just like everything else, food and drinks are also very cheap in Vietnam. A bottle of water costs 10,000 to 20,000 dong (don’t forget that you can’t drink tap water here!), a beer usually between 10,000 and 30,000 dong. Soft drinks are generally slightly more expensive.
Streetfood is the cheapest way of eating and, in my opinion, the tastiest! For barely 30,000 to 40,000 dong you often can find really delicious Vietnamese food. Do you want to alternate the Vietnamese cuisine with fast food? Then you’ll pay a bit more. Let’s say prices start at around 60,000 dong. Eating in a restaurant costs a bit more, but it still is quite cheap: here you can fill your stomachs for around 100k to 200k per person.
Transport – Taxis and mopeds can be found just about everywhere in Vietnam. It’s important that you always agree on a price in advance.
In order not to have to negotiate constantly (believe me, it get’s frustrating after a while), I think the smartphone app ‘GrabCar’ is a gift from heaven. It’s a kind of Asian Uber. You fill in your final destination and then you get a suggested price that you pay cash to the driver or you link your credit card to the app. Once installed, you get around for correct (and still dirt-cheap) prices and you don’t have to spend a single minute haggling anymore.
A ride on the motorcycle is the cheapest, a ride with a local car comes second and transport with a taxi is the most expensive. To get from Hanoi airport to the city center you pay about 200k Vietnamese dong (+/- eight euros or ten dollar at the time of writing). Short trips with a GrabCar or taxi in any city center of Vietnam often cost no more than 25k – 50k. Converted, that is only one or two euros or dollars…
Flights – I flew with Cathay Pacific from Brussels to Hong Kong in Premium Economy Class (definitely recommended for long flights. If you want to read my thoughts on this class, make sure to read this article too.) and from there I flew to Hanoi. You can check prices and availability for flights to Hanoi or elsewhere in Vietnam here.
Saving money in Vietnam
Eat street food – The best food in Vietnam can be found on the street! Well … Of course you shouldn’t take that too literally. In the small houses along the busy roads you can find hundreds of street restaurants (or stalls). Sit on one of the colorful stools and order one of the local specialties. Usually you don’t pay much more than 30,000 Vietnamese dong for a freshly prepared bowl of yummy food.
Use GrabCar – Once I got to know GrabCar I used it constantly. Even if you negotiate with taxi or scooter drivers, they often charged way more than the rates used by GrabCar. A ride for barely one euro or dollar? You really can’t complain about that!
Haggle! – Are you planning to buy souvenirs on one of the markets or in one of the shops that seem to have exploded with literally all sorts of items? Then don’t forget to haggle. You always get a discount somewhere. Don’t exaggerate though, because even without negotiating the souvenirs are already very cheap.
Things to do in Vietnam
Ninh Binh – This is without doubt my favorite place in Vietnam. Ninh Binh is often called ‘Halong Bay on land’ because you also see beautiful limestone landscapes here, but –how could you have guessed it– on land. Dramatic landscapes that are divided by winding rivers and hundreds of green rice fields on the side. Be sure to rent a scooter in Ninh Binh! Without your two-wheeler you would miss out on too much of the beautiful nature of this place.
Halong Bay – Halong Bay is often mentioned as one of the wonders of nature and I must admit that this place is very impressive! The city (Halong) isn’t particularly attractive, but the nature that you find nearby is dazzlingly beautiful. Thousands of islands emerge from the milk-blue water and create a mysterious landscape that hundreds of boats sail through every day. I recommend booking a multi-day cruise if you plan to visit Halong. Waking up and being greeted by the magical landscapes of this place is really something for everyone’s bucket list.
Sapa – Hanoi is located about six hours from Sapa; the highest point in Vietnam. These mountainous landscapes were transformed into breathtaking valleys with countless rice terraces by hard work. During a trek through these green and yellow landscapes, your eyes will definitely go in overdrive! Not only the nature impressive here. There are still a lot of hill tribes living in this area with whom you are guaranteed to come into contact with. If you organize a trekking in Sapa you’ll be taken along by the women of these tribes and you’ll get to know them and their habits a lot better.
Feast on street food – Vietnam is known for its delicious cuisine and the best way to get to know it is by trying some of the street food. In large cities you’ll find stalls or tiny restaurants along the pavement just about everywhere and you can try out just about all the specialties of Vietnam.
Getting to know Vietnamese history – Scattered throughout the country you’ll still find many commemorative monuments about the tumultuous history of Vietnam. In Hanoi you can find the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, where the French treated the Vietnamese resistance fighters in a gruesome way, but also
Things to avoid in Vietnam
Don’t stay too long in the cities – The big cities of Vietnam are fantastic for the first few days, but you’ll soon get enough of them. The unhealthy air, the uncontrolled crowds and the relatively few sights become very tiring after a day or three. Usually you can arrange one or multi-day tours from the cities to the beautiful nature of Vietnam. And that should really be the reason why you visit this country in my opinion!
Don’t drink tap water – The tap water here isn’t purified. If you don’t want to get sick, it’s better to drink bottled water. If you really want to drink water from the faucet then make sure that it is first boiled.
Don’t book tours without (real) photos / reviews – Buses, tours and excursions are offered almost everywhere to the beautiful sights of Vietnam. However, you don’t always get what you had hoped for. Always ask for photos (and detailed itineraries) before you book anything. This way you’ll not face any unpleasant surprises. I booked a bus from Hanoi to Ninh Binh and the seats were so tight that my knees hurt. If you want to book tours or buses online, you can also read reviews and see photos. Websites that I trust are, among others, GetYourGuide and Viator.
No visa – I myself found the information about a visa for Vietnam very unclear and it was only at the last minute that I realized that Europeans should always apply for a visa. More information about that topic can be found in this blog post that I have written.
Don’t rent scooters in big cities – I definitely recommend renting a scooter in the less crowded places of Vietnam (Ninh Binh for example), but once you’re staying in a big city (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hoi An, …) it seems a bit mental. Scooters and cars fill up pretty much every gap and they don’t seem to be knowing any of the traffic rules. They drive through red lights (without lights), come from the wrong direction or literally drive only inches away from other drivers or pedestrians. Navigating on foot through the Vietnamese cities is already difficult enough! On the way I met many tourists with a scar as a result of them trying out driving in one of the cities…
Wearing expensive things too loose – There’s not a lot of crime in Vietnam, but in the evening you should pay more attention to your belongings.
Because there are fewer people on the street, some criminals try to drive very close to tourists and then just rip off everything that they can get.
I experiences this too! I was reserving a GrabCar via my smartphone while a thief tried to tear my phone out of my hands. Fortunately I noticed him right on time and could quickly put my phone away!
Excursions in Vietnam
Vietnam is a giant country and there is a lot to see and do! If you want a little more inspiration on the highlights of this country, or perhaps if you already want to book a few day trips, then make sure to check some of the deals below: