Vietnam is an intricate mix of bustling cities, bursting at the seams with sensory overload, and forgotten hill tribes basking in the serenity of their surrounds. Not for the faint-hearted, the country offers Western travellers a chance to forget about the luxuries of home and immerse in a lifestyle entirely unlike their own.
Planning a trip to Vietnam can be confusing, especially when you grappling with a new language, new culture and a seriously long country size-wise. Regardless of whether you settle on a single city, or plan on travelling the length of the country, your holiday budget is something that also needs to be considered.
Vietnam is a very cheap destination; however, that doesn't mean you should throw caution to the wind and spend willy-nilly. Preparing (and sticking to) a travel budget will not only help you feel slightly more organised amidst the chaos of Vietnam, but it gives you an idea of how much cash you need to exchange before you leave.
New to this travel budget business, or already too frazzled from planning your Vietnamese itinerary? No stress, we've broken down the basics below, and we've got a nifty travel budget calculator that does all of the hard work for you.
Before we fire up the calculator, let's take a look at what goes into a Vietnamese travel budget?
What goes into a budget for Vietnam?
Vietnam isn't too far away from New Zeland (at least when compared to Europe and America), so flights generally aren't too expensive. If you're flying economy, you should be able to secure flights under $1300. If you can't, you're being ripped off and should look for different travel dates.
As mentioned earlier, Vietnam is a very long country, so travelling across it can be somewhat time-consuming. There are 20 airports throughout Vietnam, so cross-country flights are an option if you're in a rush. They are generally pretty cheap; however, there may not be daily flights so you might need to juggle your itinerary.
If you've got more time on your hands, trains, buses and scooters are the next best way to get to new cities. Straight up, though, while cheap, the journeys can be unpredictable and tedious. If travelling by train, opt for the highest class/level you can afford. Trust me, the little extra cost is worthwhile, especially if it means avoiding the somewhat grim circumstances of cheaper cabin classes during a 10-hour train ride.
A lot of travellers opt to hire or buy a scooter/motorbike and ride the length of the country. This is an incredible experience, and fuel is super cheap, make sure you have reliable travel insurance that covers riding motorbikes and ensure you have a working cell phone to get you out of any trouble.
Finally, many people join group tours which take the stress out of travel completely as the guides organise transport for you. While slightly more expensive, it may be worthwhile if it's your first time to Asia or you don't have time to nut out the details.
Inner-city transport varies with each city. The cheapest option is, of course, walking, with bike hire coming in next. If the heat proves too much or you need to go a longer distance, taxis are another great option. Just be sure to negotiate the price fiercely before you get in to avoid getting ripped off.
Vietnam boasts plenty of accommodation options for every traveller; however, choices may dwindle as you get further out of the main cities. Hotels and resorts are a great option if you are seeking luxury, though they are quite expensive relative to other accommodation choices.
If you're happy to skip out on a bit of luxury, hostels, bed and breakfasts and homestays are very affordable options. No seriously, you can get a week’s accommodation for less than 30 Kiwi dollars. Read up on reviews if you are worried about staying there and make a decision based on those. I would highly recommend at least one night in a homestay though, especially in the more remote villages. They are incredible ways to have an authentic cultural experience, meet lovely people and save some cash. Chances are they will cook you a delicious homemade meal too.
Vietnam is renowned for having super fresh, flavorful dishes that will excite your taste buds and leave you wanting more. You can't go past Pho, Banh Mi, spring rolls, bun cha and all of the fragrant noodle soups and meat dishes. Street food is incredibly cheap, and you can get a full meal for less than 2 Kiwi dollars, beer and all.
While in Vietnam it is worth investing in a cooking class, not only do you get to learn the tricks of the trade but you also get to each your creations at the end.
If you're new to Asia and the street food scene, it's also worth joining a street market tour. The guide will show you where and what to eat, as well as give tips on getting the freshest cuisine. They allow you to step out of your comfort zone while not stressing about food poisoning or mystery meat in a new city. If you are still worried, opt for places with long lines. Chances are they are popular for a reason and are using fresh ingredients to service the longer lines.
If you get sick of the street food (unlikely), you can always head to a fast-food chain or restaurants. While more expensive than home, you will still be able to get a full meal for less than $10.
Eating aside, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy in Vietnam. There are heaps of history based day tours across the country that range in price. You can also opt for overnight sailing trips on the Mekong or in Halong Bay, or join hiking trips out to Sapa and more remote regions.
Tour prices will vary with companies, and it's worth going for a company that includes return transport (air-conditioned if possible) and lunch/ meals. It's worth doing a little bit of research on what different companies offer, or ask your hotel for their recommendation.
Finally, shopping is a huge past time in Vietnam with plenty of options for knock-off luxury goods and tailored suits. If you plan on indulging in some retail therapy, it's worth bumping up your daily budget and researching the best tailors in your city to ensure beautiful handicraft and a reasonable price.
These are particularly important for Vietnam, as visas, travel insurance and immunisations are all necessary. The Vietnamese visa is not cheap, so be sure to include it in your budget calculations and give yourself plenty of time for it to arrive, so you don't have to fork out for express service.
Head to your doctor and be sure to have any of the relevant immunisations. While they can be a little expensive, chances are they will cover you for a long time, and you won't need to worry about them for your next trip.
Finally, don't just opt for your credit card insurance. If you do, be sure to read the PDS and ensure you are well covered, especially for motorbike or moped riding. Some policies have this as an added extra that you need to account for.