I spent 5 months in Asia visiting 6 countries, and traveling in Vietnam was quite possibly my favorite part of it.
I don’t even know why. Nothing really stands out to me when I think back about the 3 weeks I spent there. If anything, I recall how I was without my SLR camera and was battling some nasty ringworm the entire time. Vietnam was not where I completed an epic trek, met a boy, or stayed on breathtakingly-beautiful islands. I can’t refer to a Top 5 list or the thousands of photos I took in Asia to reveal the answer.
It all comes down to feeling. I can’t explain why, but I felt great in Vietnam. It felt right to me. I was finally in the backpacking groove, no schedule to meet or friends to compromise with. It was the first time I felt like I could just travel at my own pace, on my own terms, coming and going as I pleased. I got into the habit of booking my bus out of town the night before. I finally felt comfortable(-ish) haggling with moto and rickshaw drivers. I finally had consistently good, strong coffee. I wasn’t constantly hassled like I was in India or Cambodia, nor was I overwhelmed by smiling faces like I was everywhere I went in Thailand. Vietnam gave me the balance I so craved.
Before my trip, I was worried that I wouldn’t like Vietnam. I’d heard several stories about tourists being ripped off and disrespected, but I figured it couldn’t be any worse than in India! I found the Vietnamese to be friendly, industrious, and direct, which I really appreciated.
As much as I hate admitting it, I fell into somewhat of a routine in Vietnam, and it felt good.
I’m still lamenting the fact that I couldn’t make it to Northern Vietnam (long story involving a soon-to-expire passport and having limited options when changing my flight home). Halong Bay and Sapa were 2 of the things I was most looking forward to on my entire Asia trip and I didn’t even get to see them. If anything, it gives me more reason to return to this fantastic country someday so I can tour Northern Vietnam.
For a brief photo tour of my 3 weeks in Southern Vietnam, check out my Vietnam instagram photo post.
My Vietnam Adventures
- Worked out without shoes and drank insane amounts of coffee in Saigon
- Constructed my own Mekong Delta DIY Tour, where I took a floating market boat trip and did a homestay on an island
- Was disappointed by the Cu Chi tunnel tour – stay away from this tourist trap!
- Visited the other-worldly Mui Ne and couldn’t believe I was still in Vietnam
- Went on a motorbike tour around Dalat and the Central Highlands with the Easyriders and sampled some “weasel coffee”
- My Jungle Beach paradise was overrun by a tour group
- Tried to get a tailored dress in Hoi An and failed, so I ordered a custom-made leather camera bag!
- Took a cooking class, biked around the countryside, and went to the beach in Hoi An
Budgeting for Vietnam
Money-wise, I did very well in Vietnam. I spent about $712 US in 22 days in Vietnam (excluding transportation to/from the country and the items I had custom-made in Hoi An), which equates to about $32/day in Vietnam: this includes food, accommodation, transport, visa, an absurd amount of coffee, and any extras.
If you exclude transportation and visa costs (i.e. looking at just how much it costs, on average, to spend *a day* in Vietnam, not going anywhere), it breaks down to about $29/day. This ended up being on par with what I spent in Cambodia and Northern Thailand, and significantly less than what I spent in the Thai islands.
About 13% ($96) of my total expenses went toward transportation costs, which shows just how inexpensive it is to get around Vietnam by bus. About 60% of my expenditure went toward food, drink, and accommodation (sometimes guesthouses included meals, so it’s hard to break these expenses apart).
The only thing that was exorbitantly priced in Vietnam was the visa: I paid $65 for a 30-day Vietnam visa in Cambodia. Between the recent visa price hike in 2013 and the fact that you cannot obtain this visa at the border, I can’t help but think Vietnam is trying to curb their tourism. Intuitively this doesn’t seem to be the case, as the Vietnamese are so obviously capitalizing on foreigners who come to stay at their guesthouses, book their tours, and buy their goods. But the number of foreign visitors has dropped 5% since the Vietnam visa about doubled in price at the start of 2013, so there may be a correlation there.
Still – no matter the price, Vietnam is absolutely worth visiting.