Travelling through Vietnam on a make-or-break countrywide trip has become a rite of passage for many travellers.
While the south-north (or vice versa) route is incredible, it’s not entirely necessary to develop a love for Vietnam. You could just stay in the south, centre or north and feel the wonder of this beautiful country.
So whether you’re playing it safe in one region or you’re crazy enough to go travelling through Vietnam in its entirety (good choice!), here’s a rough cost breakdown of the entire trip.
Yes, it’s a long piece, so we’ve broken it up into section. If you want to jump to a section, simply expand the menu below and away you go.
- Before you go:
- Costs before going to Vietnam
- Travel costs to Vietnam
- Costs in Vietnam
- It’s the final countdown…
Along the way, we will give you some money-saving tips and answer some common questions.
Also, all prices are quoted in US dollars ($). This doesn’t mean that the original currency was in dollars, or that dollars is the preferred currency through all of these stages, but it is perhaps the most universally understood currency. (Rates accurate as of January 2016.)
Before you go:
Like any trip, there are a few things to settle before you leave. Here are our top few.
How long should you go for?
A typical trip spanning the entire country, from north to south or vice versa, spending a few days in Sapa or the Mekong Delta (or both), and hitting all the major towns en route will take at least three weeks.
Ideally, you want to spend four weeks or more travelling through Vietnam. The alternative is to pick an area of the country and just base yourself there for a number of weeks. Here’s a recap of our schedule.
TIP: Try to plan in week-long blocks so you know roughly what is going on. Ash even warned his employer that he might need some extra days off should there be delays or flight cancellations
Which currency do I need?
Vietnamese Dong is the currency of Vietnam. It can be pre-ordered from most currency exchanges.
However… Vietnamese Dong (still funny) is a locked currency. You could take it out of Vietnam but that would be pointless.
So the backup currency is definitely US Dollars. Keep a stash with you discreetly.
Should you travel with lots of dollars? Depends how safe you’d feel. Taking out money from ATMs can be expensive, and you’re only allowed to take out two-million Dong a day (around $90).
- Take as much Dong as you think you will need
- Take an equal amount in dollars so you can change them in Vietnam and not be stung by withdraw limits
Costs before going to Vietnam
There are a few wallet-busting hoops you’ll have to jump through before going to Vietnam, depending on your health and travel situation. Here are a few.
This can be costly and, depending on how worried you are about illness.
Vaccinations are entirely personal choice. We are not doctors. The only advice we can give is to speak to your doctor and decide what YOU want.
For Ash, having never backpacked outside of Europe before, he was pretty concerned about various diseases and illnesses. The vaccinations he had were the ones recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, and were an investment for future travels.
Here’s what vaccinations Ash had for travelling through Vietnam had and how much each of them costed. (Vaccinations were administered privately in Spring 2015 in Sweden.)
- Hepititis A&B (Twinrex, three doses): $65 per dose
- Typhoid: $35
- Stomach illness prevention: $23
- Tetanus: $23
Ash total: $266
Obviously it depends on when you last had your vaccinations. Most of these boosters cover an entire adult life or at least a decent portion of it.
TIP: Malaria should be protected against in Vietnam, but whether this means taking medication or not is up to you entirely.
Yellow Fever jabs (at the time of writing) are not necessary unless you’ve come from a country where Yellow Fever (also known as Dengue Fever) is prevalent. Check the list here to see if you need the vaccination.
Equipment needs vary depending on your activities while travelling through Vietnam. We planned to do a lot of walking and packed our walking boots for this, which we already owned.
The list below shows things we bought ESPECIALLY for this trip which we did NOT already own (note clothes are not on the list, for example). There’s a rough cost total at the end:
- Bug spray x3
- Mosquito net
- High SPF sunscreen x 3
- Backpack cover (for protection when checked in during flights)
- Anti-diarrhea medication (a.k.a. stoppers, such as Immodium)
- Rehydration salts (at least 20 separate ones)
- Anti-sickness pills x4 (which was 32 pills or thereabouts)
- Bandages, plasters, antiseptic cream, gauze, etc. (travel first aid kit)
- Hand sanitizer / alcohol gel x3
Equipment total: $120
Almost everyone needs a visa to go to Vietnam, whether you’re already in the area of south-east Asia and coming over the border or not.
Remember that Vietnam is a communist state, so entry requirements can be taxing.
The most irritating part is getting on the passenger list to enter the country. If you do this through an embassy, the embassy will let the Vietnamese authorities know that you’re on your way. If you do it through a broker, they notify the authorities or give you a private ‘letter of acceptance’.
Before we get into costs and details, let’s just outline the two main ways to get a visa and the ‘letter of permission’.
- Go to the nearest Vietnamese Embassy
- Use a visa centre such as vietnamvisacenter.org (we used them)
We opted for the visa broker route with vietnamvisacenter.org. There you can order a visa within one-business day, if you so desire. We picked the cheapest option and the entire process still only took a few days.
With a broker, you give them all of your details (dates and times of travel, entry and exit points, passport info etc.) and pay an admin fee.
Depending on whether or not you chose to have a personal acceptance letter or not, you will be sent a confirmation and some instructions on what to do at the border of Vietnam (when you land). Follow the instructions carefully and take all documentation with you.
At the Vietnamese border, you will easily find the visa counter. Take all the prepared documents and present them when asked. You will be asked to pay a stamping fee of around $25 dollars for a single-entry visa, or $50 for a multiple entry one.
Any mistakes means you will have to pay more at the border, so be sure to get EVERY SINGLE THING correct in all your visa documentation.
With that said, the visa handlers at the airport in Saigon seemed pretty swayed by anyone paying a bit extra. Let’s just leave it at that.
Visa total: $150
(NOTE: Prices have risen as of January 2016. Please check this link here for updated prices.)
You will need travel insurance. Ours is included via our home insurance and we have additional personal insurances too. See if you can find a deal this way, or check a site like Compare the Market
It’s vital you have some kind of travel insurance due to illness, dangers in Vietnam (most likely road traffic), and due to sudden changes in weather and schedules. Ensure that the travel insurance covers the type of activities you want to get up to (such as driving or diving).
TOTAL COST = Depends on circumstance
(ours was an extra $50 a year or so)
Driving insurance and licence
Partly thanks to Top Gear, a lot of tourists want to travel through Vietnam on mopeds or motorbikes.
It’s a great and cheap way to see whatever the hell you want at your own pace. But PLEASE get some decent insurance AND an international driver’s licence. (You will need to research how to apply for this in your own country as it varies. Here’s some info on Vietnam accepting the licence though.)
Driving standards in Vietnam are deadly at worst and dreadful at best. It’s really important that you prepare for anything. And while many tourists are seen travelling through Vietnam without correct documentation (or even a licence), it is not advised.
Police officers who are not swayed by money can lock you up in jail, and if you have an accident it’s very likely that your standard travel insurance WILL NOT cover the costs if you were driving. Our standard travel insurance covered us riding only as passengers.
Cost = Not applicable for our trip.
(Check with your insurance provider.)
Travel costs to Vietnam
We’ve already covered the visa and the equipment you might need to bring. Now let’s get down to how expensive it is to get to Vietnam.
It’s pretty simple to get to Vietnam. There are three main international airports in Vietnam: Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) in Hanoi, Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) in Saigon, and Da Nang International Airport (DAD) located in Danang.
Hanoi and Saigon airport are by far the biggest and the best connected, with flights to Europe, the USA, China and more. Many flights are indirect (e.g. stopover might be necessary in Doha, Singapore, or Frankfurt, depending on your direction of travel).
From Europe, a flight to Vietnam (including a stopover) can take anywhere between 12 and 24 hours, depending on your airport of departure and arrival.
If you’re travelling through Vietnam, search for flights to both Hanoi and Saigon and see whether flying to one and departing from another is cheaper. Sites like Skyscanner give you a decent estimation.
TIP: Consider a stopover! We flew from Copenhagen to Bangkok on a direct Norwegian flight, costing around $400 each. After two nights in Bangkok, we took a short flight to Saigon. Coming home, we flew from Hanoi back to Bangkok, and then Bangkok to Copenhagen.
Total cost of flights: $1,000 for both of us
(Copenhagen – Bangkok; Bangkok – Saigon; Hanoi – Bangkok; Bangkok – Copenhagen)
Coming from Cambodia, Thailand, or Laos?
If you’re already in south-east Asia it is pretty simple (and cheap) to get to Vietnam. This excellent blog tells you all you need to know about going from Phnom Penh to Saigon, or even from Bangkok to Saigon on the bus.
TIP: Flights within south-east Asia are incredibly cheap and generally reliable, with airlines such as AirAsia and the underrated Vietnam Airlines offering cheap flights to major and minor airports within Vietnam, as well as Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and China.
Costs in Vietnam
In short: Vietnam is cheap. For now.
The Vietnamese economy is steadily growing, with exports of coffee, spices, herbs, clothes and technology assembly (check your iPhone) being the major trades.
But remember: Vietnam is still a poor country. As you’re travelling through Vietnam, be wary that you’re probably pretty well-off by Vietnamese standards. The average wage in Vietnam is around $150 a month.
It’s all relative, to an extent. Don’t be surprised when people pester you for cash, and certainly don’t leave money lying around. Keep your valuables safe.
It’s not that Vietnam is an unsafe country, but couple greed with visible financial hardship and some humans turn to crime.
How Vietnam works
Vietnam is the most capitalist communist country you’re likely to go to, aside from perhaps Cuba.
If there’s a price in Vietnam it’s typically a guideline. Other than restaurants, hospitals and such, most prices for things you can buy can be haggled. We knocked off perhaps 70% on some items.
Also, the Vietnamese love to NOT tell you the price of anything.
An example: We took a cyclo one night (a bike with seats for passengers and a guy cycles you somewhere). We agreed a price of 50,000 Dong (yup, the Vietnamese love their dong) beforehand. When he dropped us off, he suddenly said it was 50,000 each for a two-minute trip. We just laughed and gave him what we agreed.
One place to especially watch out is taxis. Even with our most reliable taxi company while travelling through Vietnam (Mai Lin taxis) one driver tried to charge us a tripled price and claimed that we could not read the meter properly, not knowing that we’d taken several of their cabs before.
Keep your wits about you, learn to argue a little, and you’ll be fine.
TIP: Don’t over haggle. When you’re arguing over literally 10 cents, just give up. Those 10 cents might actually be quite a lot to the seller.
When travelling through Vietnam you’ll encounter accommodation for all budgets and desires. Hotels can cost anywhere from $50 and upwards, while cheap hotel-hostels can be as little as $5.
We budgeted around 10-15 dollars a day for accommodation and lived pretty well. We splashed out a little here and there – and the town of Hoi An is just expensive in comparison, with homestays starting at around $35 a night – but our budgeting still earned us decent double hotel rooms, complete with an en suite bathroom and usually breakfast.
Try a homestay too! Some are just like a B&B, while others are genuine family experiences. You can read about our time in the Dalat Family Homestay here.
It’s obviously tough to predict accommodation costs as it depends on what you want, whether you travel as a couple or not, and how long you are travelling through Vietnam. A single room obviously costs more per person than a double, for example.
So be realistic: set a money-saving target of $20 a night per room max. Then get onto Booking.com and away you go. Almost EVERY property in Vietnam is on Booking.com or TripAdvisor (they LOVE online reviews in Vietnam).
Total cost: $550 approx
(21 nights accommodation, averaging $20 a night, plus little extra for three nights luxury accommodation in Bangkok)
Food and drink
Food and drink are among the cheapest things you’ll encounter when travelling through Vietnam. Local food and drink is incredibly tasty too.
TIP: local street food is cheap, Westernised food is the most expensive.
The street food ranges from simple wok-fried noodles to full deep-fried chickens (complete with the beak and all) giving Vietnam a culinary scene unlike any other.
Obviously the standard of the street food varies, and often a low price does tend to correspond with low quality and/or your risk of getting food poisoning. But on the whole, the street food is alright. Just be careful what you eat and from where.
See someone preparing a salad in the same water they are having a bath? Avoid. See a bag of grain that is mouldy and gross? Avoid. See lots of locals eating from the same place? Safe enough, but still not guaranteed to stop you getting ill.
TIP: Stay away from crushed ice. It is frequently carved up on the street with dirty knives, and is transported on the back of mopeds where it is covered with pollution, faeces etc. That’s most likely going to get you ill.
What about costs? Well street food ranges from just 10,000 Dong (about $0.50) to 40 or 50,000 Dong ($2.50) per dish. If all you eat per day is three rounds of street food, there’s no reason you cannot budget $5-10 per day for food, or less.
Restaurants in Vietnam, even local eateries, are typically pretty high standard (for Vietnam anyway) and the food is pretty clean. Again, avoid ice and salad, which has usually been washed in local water.
TIP: DO NOT DRINK THE TAP WATER. EVER. Only around 13% of Vietnam’s waste water is fully purified, and that waste water that is usually ends up contaminating fresh water supplies anyway due to corroded waste pipes and primitive waste disposal methods.
Typical dishes include glass noodles with meat or veg, spring rolls, pancake rolls, and Pho – a sort of noodle soup which is eaten for breakfast. In an average restaurant, none of those dishes alone should break the $3 mark.
Now to drinks. First up, the cheapest drinks are certainly local beers and spirits, along with bottled water. So if you’re looking for cheap beer, you’re in the right place. And it’s not all bad beer either, with Tiger and Cobra, alongside Saigon or Hanoi beer (depending where you are), saturating the market.
Prices vary drastically day-to-day and shop-to-shop. The cheapest beer we found when travelling through Vietnam was around $0.20. Most expensive was approximately $6 from a restaurant.
Other drinks such as Cola and tea are widespread, the latter available in hot or cold form in many places.
But the biggest drink surely has to be coffee. Vietnam is the world’s second largest coffee producer, and they love to drink what they produce. Coffee is found everywhere. While travelling through Vietnam we were never too far away from a coffee shop.
One thing to look out for is Vietnamese drip coffee. This sweet coffee, made with condensed milk and black coffee, is a welcome start to any day. Prices range from as low as a dollar in some towns, up to perhaps $3 dollars in inner-city coffee shops.
TIP: Want some great chain coffee with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feel? Head to Cong Caphe, a weird and wonderful chain of Viet Cong-themed coffee shops in Hanoi which sells most things Starbucks do but with a Vietnamese twist. The coconut Vietnamese coffee is to die for.
Finally, a word on breakfast: a lot of hotels and hostels include it. And to minimise costs, try out homestays. In some of the homestays we used while travelling through Vietnam, the family expect you to dinner with them and to get stuck into the cooking. It is super good fun!
TOTAL COST: daily (per person) of around $10-15
(Depends on diet and preferences.)
(NOTE: A total cost of food and drink over four weeks is SUPER tough to estimate. We ate vegetarian food all the time, visited a street food outlet or restaurant twice or three times a day, drank at least three litres of water each per day, went out for a drink at least twice a week, and went to posher restaurants once a week. Let’s say the $30 a day for a couple is accurate; that’s around $750 over the month for everything.)
While travelling through Vietnam we encountered many different forms of transport. The main ones that tourists stick to are:
- Overnight buses
- Easy riders
The general rule is that transport in Vietnam is cheap. The higher the price, the better the comfort. At least most of the time.
Overnight buses are a cheap way to save on accommodation for the night while making progress through the country. However, for the comfort levels and road safety, the price is not really that good value.
We took a few overnight buses and one resembled a truck with coffins in it (which you sleep in) and another was driven so dangerously that we literally had to hold onto the curtains to stay in our beds. (Read about that here.)
The overnight buses we took cost no more than $8-12 dollars, for trips varying from six hours up to 14 hours.
TIP: The buses are ALWAYS full and ALWAYS delayed. Consider how willing you are to compromise on comfort. And keep your valuables safe at all times. We heard many stories of smartphones and tablets being stolen from people’s seats while they slept. This is a pretty decent account of an overnight bus ride.
Trains are a slower yet more comfortable option for travelling the main backbone of the country. There’s really only one train route going from north-south or vice versa. While trains are not irregular, don’t bank on them always leaving on time, and certainly book tickets in advance. They can sell out. More info here.
Luckily there are lots of agencies online where you can order tickets. We only took two overnight trains as part of a tour to the Sapa valley on the Chinese border.
Both times the train cost little more than $8 one way, including a bed in a four-person cabin, bedding, and water. One time we travelled with two locals; the other time with two Dutch guys.
TIP: Book an entire cabin if you want privacy. Take an eyemask too – the train curtains don’t exactly banish light.
Finally, there are Easy Riders. These are EVERYWHERE. They’re small companies which offer a personalised motorbike ride between set destinations, or they lead you and let you ride your own bike to your destination (where a friend of theirs rides it back).
Cost varies hugely. Use TripAdvisor or travel blogs to find the best companies and always make sure the bikes have enough room for your luggage. Don’t just go by a star rating on TripAdvisor – read the longer reviews and check if anyone had blogged about them.
We used an Easy Rider service once from Hoi An to Hue – a six-hour drive. It was one of the best experiences of our entire trip, sitting on the back of a motorcycle, going over the Hai Van pass, stopping off at a few tourist destinations along the way (including the Marble Mountain and Danang). Safety is a major concern here, with dangerous roads, but our drivers were excellent.
It wasn’t cheap; around $100 for us both. But when you consider it’s 12 hours out of their day, and everything is included, we felt it was good value.
TIP: Be well-covered on a motorbike! One of us (Ash) was not and had fried knees from the strong sunshine.
One final word on flights. It you find yourself in a tight spot and don’t fancy another long bus or train ride, consider taking an internal flight. There are a few small airports dotted around Vietnam, all served by reputable airlines. We took a flight from Hue to Hanoi, purely because the overnight bus takes 24 hours.
We flew with Vietnam Airlines and booked only a day or two before we flew. It cost $70 for us both, and around $20 to check in our baggage. It was the best $90 we probably spent on the entire trip.
It’s tough to have one definitive total for travel because it depends whether or not you are travelling through Vietnam or not, what you want to do, what you want to see and so on.
For us, travelling through the entire length of Vietnam over the course of four weeks, here’s roughly what we spent on transport to get through the country and to various tourist destinations.
TOTAL COST: $300 (but probably less!)
It’s the final countdown…
So that’s pretty much all the costs covered – well done for reading this far!
Just to recap: we travelled for four weeks, starting in Bangkok, heading to Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, travelling via Da Lat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, and Sa Pa, and then leaving from Hanoi (via one night in Bangkok for a connecting flight).
This meant we both needed visas, which we ordered through an agency, and various vaccinations. We also bought some equipment especially for our trip.
From when we left Sweden until we returned home, we took five flights, two overnight buses, one long daytime bus trip, two overnight trains, perhaps 10 taxi rides, one Easy Rider trip, and a couple of day tours on the back of motorbikes. We also travelled to Sapa which included an extra couple of bus trips, and Halong Bay which included a bus trip and a ferry trip.
We ate at least three times a day and drunk at least three-litres of water a day. We also bought lots of snacks for nourishment and some treats along the way. We tried to have a relaxing drink every couple of days and went on a few nights out too.
Attractions: well there were a few. From water puppet shows to simply paying to enter museums, there is too much to list singularly. In any case, we tried to do a paid activity every time we entered a new city. So in Saigon, we took a Tiger Tour (moped tour) of the city, while Nha Trang we had massages (BEST ONES EVER), and we went around a farm in a bowl in Hoi An.
And that brings us to a grand total of…
Yup, that’s everything.
Not really that much money, right?
So get budgeting, get planning, and get out there. But how do you plan for Vietnam? Here is all you need to know about planning for Vietnam!