Sandy beaches, incredible food, a variety of climates and terrain, ancient temples and architecture, French-colonial influence, smiling people, and convenient transportation: it’s what makes Vietnam special. Vietnam is an excellent location to experience the bustling Southeast Asian lifestyle, do some sightseeing, or simply relax. Best of all, very affordable prices make this country a budget traveler’s dream destination. Take a look at our Vietnam travel guide.
At first glance, it may seem odd to claim that Vietnam is budget friendly. International airfare in recent years has seen significant increases, and Vietnam has not been immune to the price hikes.
But, when compared to any other locations in the region, Vietnam is usually right on par price-wise regarding airfare costs, and oftentimes considerably cheaper than more popular destinations such as Thailand. This is primarily due to the fact that Vietnam hasn’t yet gained the same notoriety as a popular vacation destination worldwide. This works to the budget traveler’s advantage in two ways: 1) Prices stay lower, and 2) Points of interest are much less crowded.
For anyone already living in Asia and planning to travel during one of the popular Chinese calendar holidays, choosing Vietnam is doubly clever. During major Asian holidays, huge price spikes at popular destinations are common, but Vietnam remains basically the same all year long.
Besides a flight, the only other unavoidable costly item for most travelers is the entry permit visa. Along with a letter of approval available online, this fee is paid upon arrival or purchased in advance through a Vietnam Consulate or Embassy Office prior to departure. The visa and approval letter will set most people back about US$45 per person for the stamping fee plus a handling fee for preparing the letter (if needed) of around US$10. Once inside the country however, the bargains begin.
While most budget travelers are happy to spend the night in a hostel to save a bit of money, and there is certainly no shortage of hostels in Vietnam, the better option is to find equally affordable, but significantly more comfortable, lodging online. Many hotels offer a clean room with en-suite bathroom, sometimes with air-conditioning and even free breakfast, for about the same cost as two people would pay to stay in a decent hostel for one night. Check out websites like Agoda.com for availability and locations.
Starting in the south, Ho Chi Min is the bustling economic hub of the country. Budget-friendly activities include the War Remnants Museum for a gritty account of the atrocities Vietnam has endured in recent decades (and is working to put behind them), numerous temples and cathedrals, the Fine Arts Museum, or endless people watching in any of the many markets and parks or the central business district.
A great way to get a feel for any city is to do a self-guided walking tour, and there is plenty to see in Ho Chi Min on foot with the modern city and colonial past vying for space. Just be sure to watch out for speeding scooters from both directions when crossing the street.
For more natural surroundings, beaches abound in Vietnam. Nha Trang and Da Nang have been famous for years for their white sand and laid-back atmosphere. Unfortunately, these are also the most expensive beach destinations. For less crowds and better deals, consider Hoi An, Qui Nhon, Phan Thiet, or the islands of Phu Quoc or Con Dao. Each has its own vibe, but all are relaxed and decidedly unhurried.
Up north, a visit to Hanoi is a must. The quaint Old Quarter is perfect for some souvenir shopping (prices negotiable, of course) as well as never ending photo opportunities. Take a stroll around and soak up the city, then enjoy dinner. All but the trendiest of eateries in this part of the city are still fairly affordable when compared to home, so anyone can afford to splurge a little.
When it comes to eating in Vietnam, there is no shortage of options throughout the country. Sticking to the exceptionally fresh local fare will always be the most budget-friendly choice, and the flavors will not disappoint. Bowls of pho (noodle soup) and bahn mi (baguette sandwiches) are about US$1.50 and both are delicious staples found everywhere in the country. Other not-to-be-missed dishes include fresh spring rolls, lettuce rolls, stir-fry dishes, curries, and every type of seafood imaginable. Plus, Vietnamese drip coffee is a budget coffee lovers dream for its exceptional flavor, strength, and affordability at just about US$1 per cup. Local beer and juices are also great and cheap ways to cool off.
Finally, missing Ha Long Bay would be a tragedy. This natural wonder is a bit touristy for sure, but it can still be seen on a very thin budget as a day trip from nearby Haiphong or Ha Long City. For a bit more money, stay on an overnight boat which provides a room for two, three meals, short excursions, and sometimes even transport to and from the ship harbor for as little as US$120 per night. Quite a bargain actually, and the view from the ship comes free.
Finally, be sure to pick up a recently updated travel guidebook from one of the many companies such as Lonely Planet or Frommer’s.. These guides can save lots of hassles and confusion, and provide interesting background information and useful reviews of available sites, transportation options, and accommodations. Guide books usually pay for themselves several times over on the trip by helping travelers avoid scams and rip-offs. Plus, many are now available for download electronically to a smartphone or tablet, usually for much cheaper than the hard copy, which makes luggage a little lighter and saves money too.
So don’t wait; go experience Vietnam before it gets expensive!