RTW Budget: Vietnam

Vietnam is lauded as one of the cheapest countries in the world to travel. Between street food, hostels, the acceptability of haggling, and the absolute least expensive beer in the world, the Backpacker Index claims you could conceivably get around even the country’s largest cities on less than $20 a day. Honestly, this was part of the draw for me to spend three weeks in Vietnam at the halfway point of my solo RTW trip. I knew my Vietnam budget would be minimal, and I could easily travel overland through Southeast Asia without worrying about the money. I didn’t know a ton about the country before visiting, so without those draws of ‘bucket list’ attractions, I needed to know I wouldn’t be going out of my way to travel in Vietnam. So was the Backpacker Index right? Read on for my detailed, penny-by-penny budget for Vietnam.

Table of Contents

Transportation $199.61

tuk tuk to Vientiane airport $6.11 flight to Hanoi $112 bus from airport to Hanoi center $1.75 rickshaw to Temple of Literature $4.41 overnight train to Hue $38.58 bus to Hoi An $3.32 taxi to Hoi An homestay $5 overnight bus to Nha Trang $0.62 taxi to Nha Trang train station $1.55 train to Saigon/HCMC $23.56 taxi to Saigon/HCMC hostel $2.71

Accommodations $153.40

5 nights in 10-bed dorm at Light Hostel in Hanoi $17.50 3 nights in 8-bed dorm at Kim’s Homestay in Hue $12 4 nights in private room at River Park Homestay in Hoi An $76 3 nights in 6-bed dorm at iHome Nha Trang $15 5 nights in 6-bed dorm at Saigon Central Hostel $32.90

Dining $158.16

1 week groceries at Hanoi train station $6.66 1 lunch at Vientiane airport $4.89 1 dinner at Al Fresco’s $10.54 1 snack at GooFoo $0.53 1 lunch at Bluebird’s Nest $2.42 1 dinner at Greet $2.65 1 lunch at Manzi $2.20 1 dinner at Mon Hue $3.09 1 lunch at Banmi Queen $3.09 1 dinner at Noodle & Roll $2.66 1 dinner at Xuan Trang Cafeteria $3.37 1 lunch at Kangaroo $4.43 1 dinner at Rustic Kitchen $3.54 1 dinner at Hoan Phuc $3.06 2 lunches at Highlands Coffee $6.57 1 dinner at Nguyen Tuyen $2 1 snack at Boulevard $1.42 1 lunch at Cocobox $5.72 1 dinner at Quang Minh $1.77 1 snack at Hoi An night market $1.33 3 breakfasts at Iced Coffee $10.64 1 lunch at Cappuccino $3.33 1 dinner at Good Morning Vietnam $4.79 2 snacks at Quan Romy $2.66 1 lunch at iFruit $4.66 1 dinner at Galangal $2.75 1 lunch at Iced Coffee $4.21 1 dinner at AM Food $2.22 1 dinner at OC Ken $3.90 1 snack at Fanny $2.88 2 lunches at ID Cafe $12.55 1 dinner at Pho 2000 $4.79 2 lunches at Loft Cafe $10.87 1 snack at The Coffee Bean $2.88 1 dinner at Loft Cafe $4.66 1 dinner at Air 360 $7.10 1 snack at Ben Thanh Market $1.33

Entertainment $83.28

Water Pupper Theatre $4.41 Temple of Literature $1.32 Vietnam Awesome “Food on Foot” street food tour $25 Sinh Tourist Halong Bay tour $31.04 Hue Imperial Citadel $6.65 Hoi An tourist ticket $5.32 1 drink at Blue Sea $3.55 1 drink at Why Not $3.55 Independence Palace $1.77 War Remnants Museum $0.67

Miscellaneous $140.11

visa processing fee $65 visa stamping fee $50 2 hostel laundry services $5.06 1 coffee at Elegance Cafe $1.33 3 teas at Ding Tea $5.90 1 coffee at Box Cafe $1.69 2 bottles water $0.88 replace lost t-shirt $6.65 replace toothbrush $1.91 restock Q-tips and wet wipes $1.69

Total $734.56 Average Spent Per Day $34.98

How I Saved

  • Accepting people’s hospitality Whether it was a dinner with the family at a homestay or a beer on the house at a hostel, I got a lot better about accepting people’s hospitality on my RTW trip. I’m an independent person, as I suspect many solo female travelers are, and I can be self-sufficient to a fault. I suspect a lot of women reach a point of priding themselves on saying ‘no thank you’ and not needing anything. Or maybe that’s just my fellow introverts. The budget-friendly side of this is simply a perk, and not a reason for accepting people’s hospitality in itself, but I figured I’d mention it all the same.
  • Letting hostel owners help with transportation I often didn’t sort out my bus rides between cities until the day before. The owners of my homestays in Hue and Hoi An were especially welcoming and helpful. As locals, they have an advantage in working with local transportation – they knew which companies were reliable and how to negotiate a fair price. A rate error at my Hoi An homestay even meant that the owner was willing to cover most of my transport cost, with me only paying the difference at under a dollar. Both of my bus rides handled by homestay owners were way better than the sleeper trains I booked myself online.
  • Actually haggling for once I am pretty shy about haggling. Not coming from a culture where this is normal, and hyper-conscious of travelers pushing too hard and taking advantage of locals, I often either pay the asking price or walk away if I think it’s too much. One place where I found I did need to haggle and could do so comfortably was with rickshaw drivers in Hanoi. I asked one driver how much it was to the Temple of Literature, and he quoted a price that was double the amount I was willing to pay. It was so high, I simply walked away (though this was no easy feat as he followed me for a while). I found another driver who quoted significantly lower than the first, but still higher than I knew would be fair. I made my counter-offer and he accepted no problem. It felt like a friendly, normal transaction rather than battle of the money grubbers and definitely made me more comfortable with the concept of haggling.
  • Walking, even on longer distances My homestay in Hoi An wound up being near An Bang beach, a good 5k from the historic town center. The taxi to get there from the bus station (about halfway between town and the homestay) was a total rip-off, and there wasn’t other public transport to use. (Bike rentals are available and popular but I never learned how to ride as a kid.) So I hoofed it into town and back every single day. It was about an hour walk one way. Honestly, I’m not even mad about it. The homestay was lovely, the walk was great exercise, and I saw the area in a very different way.
  • Limiting day trip time Most people recommend spending two days and one night on Halong Bay, and I’m sure that’s great, but I was on a shoestring budget and limited time. I would have loved to see Sapa or the Mekong Delta as well. But ultimately, one day on Halong Bay was all the day tripping I did on this particular trip. Many may frown upon spending most of your time in cities or traveling as slowly as I do, but I have no regrets about what I was able to experience in Vietnam.

Vietnam isn’t the only budget friendly destination in Southeast Asia. All countries in the region boast attractive prices, including Thailand and Laos.

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    1. I’m sure there are people out there more hardcore on their budgets than I am. But I’m a big believer in ruthlessly saving on the nuts and bolts (like transportation, accommodation, and most meals) to make room for bigger experiences like touring Halong Bay.

  1. You did a great job with your budget. One of the reasons Vietnam really appeals to me is that you do get a lot for your money. I am thinking of doing my honeymoon there because I was thinking we could actually afford really high end places. Still thinking about it thought.

    1. I’m sure wherever you end up taking your honeymoon, you’ll have a great time. You may want to check out my Thailand budget (linked at the end of this post) – Thailand is especially famous for its affordable accommodations and you could be in a really nice hotel for $100 a night or less.

    1. I do most of my booking through Hostelworld but Agoda is also a good platform for travel in Asia. In Vietnam, I definitely recommend booking anything titled a homestay. The women who run these properties are so warm and welcoming, and it’s not quite the same as being in a hostel, though it’s in the same price range.

  2. Love this blog concept!! & I especially love slow travel – I think less people should frown upon it and spend more time reading up and practicing it! I love SE Asia for how affordable it is. You give some very good suggestions for budgeting (which I will gladly put into practice for my next adventure !!)

    1. I definitely understand why others like fast-paced trips. If you have a limited amount of time you want to feel like you saw and did a lot. But I think many people don’t realize that you can still see and do a lot by staying in one place for a little longer than you think you need to hit the major highlights.

    1. Thank you Michelle! I’ve been doing detailed breakdowns of my real spending for every country I visited on my year-long solo RTW trip and will continue to do so. At the end, I’ll post a full summary — spoiler alert, I made it through the entire trip on a little over $20k!

  3. Wow you did so well! How great is it to be able to buy dinner for $3!!! Loved Hanoi and can’t wait to go back and explore more of Vietnam.

    1. I definitely miss being able to get a great meal for $5 or less. Hanoi was one of my favorite stops as well. What areas are you looking forward to exploring on your return trip?

    1. Glad to hear it! I hope you’re able to make a trip happen soon. I definitely recommend signing up for an airfare newsletter like Airfare Watchdog or Dollar Flight Club, so you can catch any extra cheap flights. There are often good deals arriving in Ho Chi Minh City.

    1. It is kind of crazy how little you have to spend to eat well in Southeast Asia. Some places it seems like it’s impossible to spend more than $5 on a good meal.

  4. Having lived in Vietnam a number of years ago, it was interesting to see how things have changed. What’s great about Vietnam is that it is really good quality even though it is cheap. We used to stay in a cabin at the beach in Mui Ne for $8 a night. For that we got a huge double room, a/c, a fridge, a TV, and breakfast included!

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