The most important thing I will take away from our visit to Vietnam is to always listen to that little voice inside telling you to explore, regardless of what anyone else says. I lost count of the number of people who said we wouldn’t like Vietnam and I’m incredibly glad we were able to prove them wrong.
Crazy, overwhelming, traffic like nowhere else, feeling like a walking wallet. We were told to expect all of these things both from people we met on the road and travel bloggers we admire and trust. The key thing to remember is that all of these people are entitled to their opinions but if somewhere interests you from afar, don’t be put off and take the time to form your own.
You will pay more for things if you’re not a local but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we’d expected. We actually had one taxi driver reduce the price of a negotiated fare because our guesthouse wasn’t as far as he’d thought. After buying a couple of bottles of water in one small shop the vendor came running out after Paul with change we weren’t expecting, she’d given us a discount purely because we’d bought 2. We didn’t feel hassled at all by street vendors or taxi drivers. The only time we felt slightly overwhelmed was in the craziness that is Ho Chi Minh’s Bến Thành Market.
I sat on a plane from Vientiane in Laos to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi feeling more than a little trepidation. I’d let doubts creep into my mind and was really quite concerned we would hate our time there. Vietnam ended up being our favourite country in the whole of South East Asia and we’ve barely scratched the surface, I can’t wait to go back!
Stats for Vietnam
15 days on the road, our budget was £40 (1,259,27.76 Dong) per day.
£50.15 (1,574,095 Dong) TOTAL spend per day
£10.14 (275,235.75 Dong) per day on accommodation
£10.31 (324,666.67 Dong) per day on food
£4.75 (149,818 Dong) per day on transport
£19.96 (628,544.08 Dong) per day on activities
We were over-budget by £152.25 but we knew in advance that would be the case . There were two reasons for this – the 30 day Vietnam visa for a British citizen is $60 which is a lot when you’re only in the country for two weeks. Secondly, we always planned to have a blowout luxury Halong Bay cruise and hoped to absorb the cost elsewhere in Asia. If we take this out then we would have been well under, you can do much cheaper cruises but it was a special treat for us. Vietnam day to day living is the cheapest we’ve found in South East Asia so don’t let this put you off.
Where we slept
7 nights in guesthouses – You can get a lot for your money in Vietnam. We tried not to be tempted by nicer places for the same price as we’d been paying elsewhere and stuck mostly to our standard budget rooms.
5 nights in a hotel – We got a great last minute deal in Hoi An for a lovely hotel with a pool, blissful after a hot and sweaty day wandering around.
2 nights on a boat – our fantastic Halong Bay cruise!
1 night on a train – Ha Noi to Hoi An night train. We always choose trains over buses where possible, at least you can walk around a train when you’re on it all night.
Top experiences in Vietnam
It’s been a bucket list item for a really long time and we wanted to do it justice. Our cruise was worth every penny and the memories will last a lifetime. As someone reminded me recently, sometimes you simply get what you pay for. Read about Halong Bay here.
This is completely bizarre because it ranks as such an uncomfortable experience and also one of our favourites. We decided to take the sleeper train from Hanoi to Hoi An and despite going to book tickets 4 days in advance there were none available at all for the train we wanted. The only option was a 2nd class berth on a different train that would take 20 hours! We took it simply because we really wanted to get down to Hoi An as soon as possible. 2nd class sleepers in Vietnam have 6 bunks crammed in and you will rarely find that 1 bed equals 1 person, ours had 6 adults and two kids.
It was hideously uncomfortable, smelly and hot but it brings such a smile to my face every time I think about it. The family we shared with didn’t speak a word of English and our ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ Vietnamese only went so far. However, we managed to spend the entire evening and following morning playing with the kids and being mothered by their grandma. Paul drank beer with the dad and I sat peeling lychees with the kids. It was great fun and I can now even laugh about having the contents of a rubbish bag dropped on me by a cleaner when we were exiting the train in Hoi An. Bin juice is not ok!
People either love Hoi An or hate it. A lot of folks think it’s too touristy and a parody of real Vietnamese life. We loved it purely because we took it for what it is, an incredibly stunning UNESCO protected town. Just in the same way as Luang Prabang in Laos, Hoi An is not reflection of modern life in Vietnam but a beautifully preserved example of an ancient port. The shopping didn’t hurt either!
Hanoi old quarter
We spent hours upon hours watching life go by in Hanoi old quarter. Narrow winding lanes with crazy traffic buzzing all over, street vendors parading their wares on bamboo carrying poles and baskets, noise and smells. It is a magical place! Authentic is a very overused term when describing travel destinations but Hanoi old quarter is just that. Of course there are tourists just like ourselves but it doesn’t disrupt local daily life by being the sole focus, this was so refreshing compared to elsewhere in South East Asia. Just wander the lanes, embrace the crazy and take a pew on a corner with a Bia Hoi, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
Always make sure to find out for yourself otherwise you might miss out on something magical. We still have so much to see and in hindsight we would have trimmed time off other countries in Asia to extend our Vietnam trip. Our verdict, we loved every minute and would go back in a heartbeat.
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