Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cost: A Luxurious Experience in Vietnam on a Backpacker Budget

We know that everyone spends differently, and a budget can be extremely variable; however, after leaving an area, we want to provide some perspective on the cost associated with staying there for anyone interested in doing a similar trip.  Our budget of $150/day (our initial lower target range was $100 but we are obviously nowhere close to that!) is for 2 people and does not include the $10,000 round-the-world flights (plus trip insurance) already paid for.  The budget also does not account for the bills we are continuing to pay at home.  The bulk of our budget allows for low-to-mid-range lodging in hostels, budget hotels, or guesthouses for a target of $60/double; meals/drinks; use of public transportation; and cost to do some sightseeing and/or activities.  At $150/day, we have found we are not depriving ourselves from any experiences; except that, as foodies, we aren't as liberal with our budget on finding the best and trendiest restaurants (which we haven't missed at all).  An article titled, "Set Your Daily Number" by the veteran travel bloggers from Married With Luggage confirms that a daily average is a simple strategy for setting and meeting a budget.  We've got in the habit of taking a few minutes to record our daily expenditure so we can make small adjustments along the way.

Total $4190 or $145/day!  We just finished traveling through our 3rd Southeast Asian country, Vietnam.  Normally, we would've expected the cost to be similar to Thailand and Cambodia where we spent ~$130/day, but we weren't sure after we splurged on a few travel details on our final leg of our round-the-world trip.

Incredibly, after a 3-day luxury cruise in Halong Bay, several overnight train rides, coughing up airfare to get back down to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in 2 hours instead of 3 days, and staying in mostly real hotels, we have managed to make it (barely) under our $150/day budget in Vietnam!  

Here's our cost breakdown.

CURRENCY: USD $1 = 21,000 Dong

$925 total or $36/night.  This is equivalent to what we paid on average in Thailand and Cambodia.  In Vietnam as with Cambodia, we stayed at micro hotels with very good accommodations and amenities for the price.  We think that these places were better than what we got in Thailand for the price.

Micro hotels are skinny hotels with ~6 or 7 floors and usually less than 25 rooms.  The rooms are modern, comfortable, in a convenient high-traffic area, and the staff are usually quite helpful and nice.  They are ubiquitous in Cambodia and Vietnam.  In fact, the micro hotels that are popular continue to build annex buildings on other sites in the same district or neighborhood because the original hotel doesn't have any room to grow.  For example, in HCMC we stayed at Beautiful Saigon 3 Hotel, but on our return trip they were full, so we booked at the original Beautiful Saigon Hotel about 200 meters away.  Although associated hotels, management varies at at each site so don't expect the same exact service or amenities. In Hanoi, we must've really liked Hanoi Sky Hotel because we stayed there 3 different times in 2 weeks.  

$690 total or $24/day.  75% of the cost was due to the one-way airfare from Hanoi back to HCMC at $167/2-persons, Vietnamese visas at $130/2-persons, and 4 long-haul overnight train rides at $231/2-persons.  The rest were mainly tax and minivan costs.  Transportation cost slightly more than Thailand and Cambodia, but we also covered a lot more territory and the visa was more expensive than the other 2 Southeast Asian countries.  

$900 total or $34/day.  With all the ultra-cheap street food at $1-2 for a bowl of noodles and such, it's hard to imagine we could spend $34 on food per day, but we did.  For starters, we love Vietnamese food, but we couldn't stand to eat it for 29-days straight.  

There were many places where that was the only option, so when we found ourselves in Hanoi and HCMC, we sought out the western restaurants such as Bread & Butter (HCMC) for good All-American food and Cafe Zoom (HCMC) for good burgers.  We frequented Southgate in Hanoi almost every meal due to its gourmet fusion food and excellent wine list.  The steamed buns [above] with fried chicken, pulled pork, or duck confit was excellent.  The Lizard in Sapa served Vietnamese and Hmong food but with a French twist, but they also had good western foods.  Again, a very good wine list.  

$667 total or $23/day.  Surprisingly, for the amount of wine we drank in Vietnam, we didn't exceed the average cost for drinks in Thailand!  It goes to show that booze in Thailand is quite expensive.  Local Bia Hoi beers in Vietnam could be found as cheap as 25 cents/glass, so it's a backpackers' dream.  However, after 7 months of drinking the "same same, but different" beers around Asia, we were ready to switch to wine for a while.  Perhaps it's the Frenchy influence, but Vietnam actually has a wine growing region in Dalat (it's not that great...), and many restaurants keep a decent wine inventory.  So, you can see where our $23/day went!  We would blame it on the daily bottled water we had to buy, but that would be a lie because all the hotels provided free bottled water.  

$858 total or $30/day.  We certainly pushed the envelope on this by exceeding all previous costs on any attractions, admission fees, and tours.  The $676 Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay 3-day cruise; $34 for the one day trek in Sapa; the $50 Vietnamese cooking school in Hoi An; and $90 Mekong Delta tour were all worth the expense.  These costs are all for 2-persons and accounted not only for the base cost but also service tips and additional food/beverage costs beyond what was included.  


$47 total for Mike's barbershop costs.  Apparently, Mike can be high maintenance with his grooming habits...not.  Actually, he went to a men's spa in HCMC where ladies in tight matching outfits greeted him and proceeded to pamper him with a shave, haircut, massage, manicure, and pedicure.  All for $35 total!

$103 total or $3.50/day.  Nothing new here.  We continue to love the laundry service in Southeast Asia, especially since we sweat so much.  In the past, we've occasionally had people's clothes returned in our pile, but this was the first time a couple of Akiko's belongings went missing after they were sent out to be laundered.  Oh well.  Nothing important was lost. 

$79 total.  We purchased an additional 5GB of VPN at $6 so that we can continue to do secure financial transactions, access blocked websites (especially in Vietnam), and stream football games from the States.  We also spent $45 to air mail Akiko's custom-tailored clothing from Hoi An.  We were surprised at how inexpensive this was.  $28 went towards the standard 1% of balance service charge for withdrawing money out of the ATMs.  The ATM machine fees were reimbursed by Etrade bank.  

$53 total for the final batch of postcards from our round-the-world trip!