Would you like to tour Vietnam, but are put off by visions of backpacker hell-holes, or the extortionate costs of tours?
Tour Vietnam For Less
If this is you, rest assured there is a middle ground. If your hostel days are firmly consigned to the past, and you prefer to indulge in a little more comfort, cleanliness and privacy, this doesn’t have to rule out a trip to Vietnam.
As with many places in Asia, accommodation, food and transport are surprisingly affordable but if you are on a tight timescale, you will need to PLAN. Of course, you could always invest in a custom travel itinerary consultation if the thought of that has you running for the hills!
Or you can tour Vietnam for less all by yourself.
Important things first…
Typical costs in Vietnam
- Massage: £3 – £4
- Beer: less than £1
- Evening meal: £5
- Hotel: £5 upwards for non chain properties
Travel around Vietnam is surprisingly easy, although be prepared for the unexpected. We were thrown off our pre-booked, pre-paid train with just a few days notice. The government’s needs clearly take precedence!!!
Thankfully the overnight bus was even cheaper, although I don’t think my husband will ever forgive me for torturing him that way. I couldn’t resist at £7 each!
Our itinerary followed a typical route for first-time visitors to the country on a tight timescale. Most people either visit Hanoi and head south, or do as we did and start in Ho Chi Minh City, and head north. I highly recommend the latter, as I think Hanoi trumps HCMC, and this way you save the better city until last.
Vietnam for virgins
So here’s a suggested Vietnam itinerary for those short on time.
Day 1 – 3 Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)
After two days in this city you will likely be desperate to escape the stench of fumes, the traffic and the cacophony of constant noise. I was actually grateful we had no window in our room!
If this is your first time in Vietnam, forget the Green Cross Code. The absolute first thing you must learn is how to cross the road.
IMPORTANT: How to cross the road in Vietnam
Crossing the road in Vietnam is a somewhat unconventional experience which will probably have you shaking with fear the first time you attempt it. Do not wait for the traffic to ease…you will likely be collecting your pension first!
Step SLOWLY into the oncoming melee of bikes (millions of them, it seems!) and shuffle slowly but determinedly across the road. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, those bikes somehow know just how to avoid you by weaving a wiggledy path! I know it sounds insane but you have to trust me on this.
Just be warned, you have to reacclimatise to the Green Cross Code on leaving the country. We had a terrible habit of just walking into the road when we first arrived in Laos so accustomed had we become to the road shuffle.
My top picks for HCMC
Head to the War Remnants Museum for a very harrowing insight into the devastation wrought by the Vietnam War. The pictures, and commentary, although imbued with Vietnamese propaganda encouraging children to kill Americans, are fascinating. The damage inflicted on this country has left a horrifying legacy which many born in the years after the war endure.
You will see maimed adults and deformed children in Vietnam on a regular basis. It’s heart breaking, and almost incomprehensible that the locals are as welcoming as they are to foreigners.
From the War Remnants Museum, it is a short walk to the old Reunification Palace. This is like a scene from an Austin Powers movie with gaudy, coloured carpets, it’s own rooftop nightclub and helipads. Sitting in the nightclub, my imagination runs riot, with images of girls dancing around handbags while a host of guys stand around the floor ogling.
Of course, you cannot visit HCMC without a visit to the notorious Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a fascinating excursion but beware, it is a good few hours from the city, and is not the cheapest thing you will do in Vietnam.
Once again, you suffer though videos of Vietnamese propaganda spreading hate towards Americans, and celebrating stories of great heroism from local peasants.
The museum cheerily displays a range of torture instruments designed to inflict maximum pain, and inventive traps designed to capture unsuspecting soldiers.
We Stayed: Saigon Mini 5 – £12.62 per night
A soul-less hotel in the heart of district 5; the only thing it has going for it is location and price.
Thanks to the windowless room, it was surprisingly quiet despite the busy thoroughfare of massage parlours, bars and restaurants immediately outside.
If you want a more luxurious experience with infinity pool and cocktails to die for, head to Liberty Tower. You will enjoy fabulous views of the city and Mekong, whilst also escaping the interminable stench which is strong enough to have you gagging at the side of the road (I kid you not…)
Day 4 – 6 Nha Trang
The budget conscious may wish to take the overnight train to Nha Trang. It leaves around 10pm and arrives around 5.30am. Beware it is designed with Asian heights in mind so anyone exceeding six feet in height will have to sleep in a foetal position.
There isn’t a whole lot of interest in Nha Trang, other than a few temples, but the main draw here is the beach and surrounding islands.
Unfortunately the sun gods were taking a break, and it poured for most of our stay. Nevertheless, it is a nice stop off if you crave a cosmopolitan city with a great beach, and some night-time action.
A pleasant consequence of the weather, was our spur of the moment decision to head to the I-Resort, a thermal pool resort set into the hillside overlooking Nha Trang.
Not only are the panoramas of the city pretty spectacular, the series of pools cascading down the hillside, with waterfalls and lush vegetation is a welcome break from endless travelling.
We indulged in a VIP day package including a hot mud bath, a foot massage, welcome drink, lunch and access to the VIP pools. Soaking in those pools was the highlight of my stay in Nha Trang. Covering ourselves in swathes of mud with childish abandon had us squealing with laughter. Cost: £13 each
We Stayed: Memory Nha Trang: £15.14 per night
This hotel is a few miles from the town centre, so you will need to pop on your walking shoes, grab a taxi or grab one of the free bikes from the hotel. I heartily recommend the latter, although you do need nerves of steel to face the Vietnamese traffic.
Rooms are comfortable, and the beds are actually not back breaking which is a relief. There’s a rooftop pool albeit with no sunbeds.
Day 7 – 9 Hoi An
Hoi An is an absolute must on any Vietnam itinerary. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and deservedly so. It’s picture perfect (except once again the weather for us was wet, and wild) with its thousands of temples, and quaint colourful shops selling tailor made clothes at bargain basement prices.
Multi-coloured lanterns, peeling shutters, and the best lemon meringue pie I have ever tasted, are to be found in its narrow cobbled streets.
If you can tear yourself away from the town, hire a bike ($1 a day) and cycle off to the beach. Bypass Cua Din beach, an ugly eyesore marred by building works, and head up to the coast to An Bang beach. It’s a long curve of perfect white sand, backed by rows of restaurants and bars, and views of the beautiful bay islands.
Ideal for a day of sunbathing, if only there were some sun. Typical of our stay in Vietnam, it was bloody freezing, and we huddled on the sunbeds in coats and jeans.
We stayed: Jackfruit Homestay: £13.39 a night
This is a great little B & B on the outskirts of the town, with a friendly host, the biggest room of our entire stay and it has a bath! What luxury!
Day 10 – Hue
Hue was my least favourite place in Vietnam but it may be because I was bloody freezing there. I had to wear a jumper and my coat for the whole duration.
It is a worthy stop however, as you must NOT miss the scenery of the Hai Van Pass. You can hop on the train, and take the leisurely journey up the coast, passing stunning scenes of pristine rainforest clinging to vertiginous hillsides tumbling into the sea.
You can admire fishermen’s boats bobbing in the water, sights of deserted beaches untouched by development, waterfalls cascading down the cliffs and sleepy little villages passing by.
For those seeking a little more excitement, you can hire a motorbike and ride the pass. Check out the Top Gear episode where they do just that!
Once into Hue, the highlight is the royal tombs. The easiest way to visit them, but not the cheapest, is to take an organised day trip (around $10 each) which will take you to the three principle tombs, Minh Mang, Khai Dinh and Tu Doc.
My personal favourite was the latter, as part of the temple lolls on a lake promontory surrounded by glorious woodland, and cherry blossom trees.
Be warned if you also wish to visit the Royal Palace, you will need to allow an extra day.
We stayed: Hong Thien: £10.63
This hotel packs a punch. It’s smack bang in the middle of the action, greets you with a welcome drink, includes breakfast and a further departure drink. It costs a paltry tenner for a great sized, boutique room with balcony. My best buy Vietnam!
Day 11 – 12 Halong Bay
You know Halong Bay is going to be beautiful before you even visit. You only have to google the place to find zillions of photos of jaw dropping panoramas to drool over. However nothing prepares you for the majesty of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Another UNESCO world heritage site, it is one of the highlights of my entire Asian odyssey. Thousands of limestone kaasts dot the waters of the bay providing endless photo opportunities, and plentiful oohs and aahs.
It’s pretty busy with flotillas of boats making the daily trip out to the bay, but once you are settled in for the evening, peace descends, and you can sit back and enjoy the views.
Be sure to hire a kayak and head out for a paddle. You can find tiny little beaches, coves and inlets to languish in. Dangle your feet in the water, lay back and revel in the knowledge that you are in a true nature’s paradise.
Back onboard, be prepared to be accosted by floating shops selling all manner of wares. Leave your curtains open in your room at your peril, as the sellers insistently try to charm you into parting with your money.
We stayed overnight but I would recommend two nights if you can spare the time. Two days is simply not enough time to tire of the amazing scenery.
We sailed: A Class Cruises: £151.47 total for two.
The boat had a reasonable sized en-suite room with picture windows, and lush mahogany panels. All food was included but alcoholic drinks were extra.
Also included were free kayaks and a hike to a summit for those feeling energetic.
Day 13 – 14 Hanoi
Unfortunately I was ill in Hanoi, and my wanderlust temporarily abated.
With this in mind, I would urge you to check out the lovely Hayley’s post on 24 Hours in Hanoi, as my experience of Hanoi is not going to do this city justice.
You can also seek inspiration from Anita at TheSaneTravel who has a 12 day itinerary perfect for those short on time who want a variation on my itinerary.
So there you have it, a whirlwind tour of Vietnam staying in reasonable accommodation at great value prices. None of our options were luxury, but they weren’t hideous.
We stayed: Splendid Jupiter – £14.08 a night and Hanoi Chic – £19.87 a night
So how much did it all cost?
The Final Cost
Here’s the lowdown.
|Saigon Mini 5||Hotel.com||£25.24|
|Overnight train to Nha Trang||Vietnam Impressive||£30.00|
|Memory Nha Trang||Hotel.com||£30.27|
|Sing Café Bus to Hoi An||458000||£14.00|
|Train from Da Nang to Hue||£6.60|
|Hong Thien Hotel||Hotel.com||£10.63|
|Vietnam Air from Hue to Hanoi||£47.68|
|Splendid Jupiter Hotel||Hotel.com||£28.16|
|A Class Cruise||Booked||£179.00|
|Hanoi Chic Hotel||Hotel.com||£19.87|
|Total for 2 PAX||£418.23|
That works out at just over £209 each! What a steal! A tour of this country will cost you at least double this even if you opt for a budget version. It’s much less fun without the planning phase too!
This trip packs a punch. It covers the major sites in Vietnam, isn’t rushed, gives you enough time to savour each place, and really showcases the diversity of this fascinating country.
Hopefully you can see that it is possible to tour Vietnam for less.
You won’t see everything on this trip, but at least you will have a good excuse to return.
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