As some of you may know from twitter, I was a bit MIA for about two and a half weeks. I know what you're going to say- “WHAT?! She has a mortgage and she's going traveling again?! How the heck is this possible?”
Well, I understand what you might be thinking. In my defense, I did buy my ticket to Vietnam before I bought the place, and the cheap airfare I booked with Kayak.com to Vietnam was only $1000 return (including taxes) which is a steal! Usually it costs anywhere from $1300 to $1600 return. I have always wanted to go to Vietnam and it's on my bucket list (I love the food so much, I could literally drink fish sauce all day).
My motto is- life is short. Live without regrets. I don't eat out for lunch every day at work and don't have a latte factor, so traveling is what I spend my money on and what I value in life. I tell myself this every time I mumble and grumble to myself about having to make lunch for work instead of eating out.
Vietnam is a very economical country to travel in. It's definitely on my “exotic doesn't always mean expensive” list. For example, a bowl of Pho (beef noodle soup) is $1.10 USD. A cup of Vietnamese Coffee (super strong coffee with condensed milk, YUM) is $0.50. A hotel room can range anywhere from $5-$10USD. I traveled like royalty for about $15 a day.
Here are some tips on how to travel on the cheap in Vietnam
(during Tet, which is Lunar New Year and notoriously difficult to travel around because all the locals are on vacation and the ENTIRE COUNTRY IS MOVING TOO!).
- Plan ahead– book your planes, trains and buses ahead of time- think WAY ahead. Like weeks- will save you money and headaches! We spent a lot of our time in Vietnam asking around for availabilities on transportation, only to find most places were full, buses were full, trains were full, and discount planes were full (namely Jetstar; we ended up having to use Vietnam Airlines)
Here are a few examples of the cost- A bus ride (tourist “sleeping” bus) from Hue to Hoi An (4 hour ride) $6 USD. An overnight train ticket from Hanoi to Nha Trang (basically halfway across the country lengthwise) $45 USD. Still super cheap compared to North American standards.
- Bargain-I found that people in Vietnam didn't seem as keen on bargaining and negotiating as other Asian countries, but it doesn't hurt the try. The main thing is to keep it friendly, smile, and keep it fun. You're much more likely to get ahead that way than not. We bargained for our hotel room costs (got our hotel in Hue down from $20 USD a night to $15 USD a night for three people sharing a room), for tailored clothes, and for taxis. Though I notice that pretending to walk away and acting disinterested (when you really want it) doesn't seem to work as well here as say, China.
- You just might have to accept it- Traveling during Tet is notoriously expensive. Tet runs usually for two weeks from January to February. The entire country seems to come to a halt, shops are closed, restaurants are closed, people are celebrating and drinking their faces off (though no firecrackers anymore because that was banned in the mid-90's). Restaurant owners even ask their employees to work during Tet for double pay and they still refuse. The Vietnamese save all their money up the entire year to celebrate these two weeks. Items and services (like hotels, tours, transportation) can be double or triple the price during the Tet because of this. They charge a premium because they can. It's Tet.
- Certain things can be last minute– This might sound contradictory to my advice on booking , but you can save money by booking last minute. We were looking at Halong Bay (the beautiful picture you see above) tours on the internet, and they ranged anywhere from $89 to $249 for a 2 day 1 night tour from Hanoi to Halong Bay. My lassez-faire friend who I was traveling with, insisted we book last minute. The tours usually start at 8am and she went to a travel agent at 7am and they told her the cheapest they could do was $79 (it was usually $149). She spoke to another traveler earlier in the trip who said she booked the same tour for $39 by going last minute. The travel agency agreed to $39USD for a two day one night tour, and when the tour company picked us up at the hotel, they told us not to tell the other travelers how much we paid (I guess that's how good of a deal we got!) or else the other travelers might get mad.
- Research up on relative cost for services/goods before the transaction is made- I know this is very typical advice for any traveler, but knowing how much things generally cost will help prevent you from getting scammed. We had a taxi driver who took us from our hotel in Hanoi to the train station (a 5 minute drive) and instead of 35,000 Dong (about $1.50 USD) he asked for 350,000 Dong (about $15 USD). He acted quite confident that it was 350,000 Dong but at the same time didn't demand that we pay it when we said we knew it should really cost 35,000 Dong. Also, in taxis, you have the option of negotiating for a fixed price, or using a meter. Sometimes using the meter can cost more than negotiating a fixed price, so it pays to read ahead (everyone has their copy of the Vietnam Lonely Planet glued to their hips).
Just in case you were wondering how my trip went, it was amazing! I saw so much but I think we did do a bit too much in a very short period of time. I'm going to try to see if I can describe the trip in a nutshell. Went to Nha Trang (beach town), not sunny, rode a scooter, fell, and got a lovely calf burn, tried scuba diving for the first time (realized I am quite claustrophobic), flew to Hanoi, went to Halong Bay (even kayaked there- amazing experience), Hanoi was intense (scooters EVERYWHERE!!), took a train to Hue, spent time in Hue sick (Travel tip- don't be too adventurous on street food to the point you think cooking raw meat over your own little barbeque is a good idea), bussed to Hoi An, learned to cook Vietnamese food in Hoi An, and took a three day two night motorbike tour through the Central Highlands to see the “real Vietnam”.
Readers, have you been to Vietnam (especially during Tet)? Any travel tips you would like to share?