After 6 weeks traveling Vietnam, here are some highlights…
Okay guys, I’ve failed my budget miserably. I made a few too many splurges in January and lost sight of my goals. Here are my January expenses…
– Includes $95 Visa extension
– Includes $290 motorbike purchase, repairs, oil, petrol, parking, etc.
– Includes $210 suit and shipping
$51.53 / day
Before you scold me, I do have a few explanations.
First, I had to extend my Vietnamese visa, costing a whopping $95. This was a necessity, though, as I knew I needed more than one month to see Vietnam properly.
Vietnam has changed their laws so that you must file your extension through a travel agency instead of doing it at Immigration, which used to cost an affordable $10. I filed my extension with Vietnam Backpacker’s. They’re an amazing hostel chain that offer great accommodation throughout Vietnam, tours, and a good time. Since I was short on time, they sent my passport down to their hostel in Hoi An when it was ready, so I didn’t have to wait in Hanoi another 10 days. Thanks guys!
Second, I spent New Year’s Eve and the first two days of January on Vietnam Backpacker’s Castaways Tour in Halong Bay, averaging $108 each day. It was a pricier way to ring in the new year, but a blast.
Third, I bought a motorbike to ride Vietnam with full intention to sell it when I arrive in Ho Chi Minh City. But as for now, that’s another $290.
And finally, I splurged in Hoi An and bought a suit. Not just any suit though. Hoi An is famous for inexpensive tailor shops boasting great quality and fast turnover. I spent $165 ($45 on shipping) on a custom-designed, custom-fitted suit. It took 3 days, with 4 fittings and alterations. In the States, I would have spent at least $500 on that.
So with the last three luxury expenses added up, I spent an additional $716.00. So if you’re on an extremely tight budget, you can still do a month in Vietnam for $881.43 ($28.43/day).
But I wouldn’t do it any other way. I’ve fallen in love with Vietnam and don’t regret a thing. Hopefully February will be a less expensive month!
Here’s a few more photos from January in Vietnam…
And with that, my adventure motorbiking through Vietnam has come to an end. I must say, as amazing as the trip was, it’s a relief to be off my bike. The responsibility and unknowns that come with owning a used bike proved stressful and burdensome.
But it certainly was the trip of a lifetime. Over the past month, I’ve seen the beauty, history, and kindness that is Vietnam. I’ve explored incredible caves and drove some of the most beautiful roads and mountain passes I’ve seen. I’ve learned a lot about the Vietnam War and the country’s history from a different perspective and as an American, have managed to meet incredibly kind locals. I’ve driven in the rain for three straight days, alone, and have broken down too many times to count. I’ve eaten lunch in a local family’s home while a mechanic fixed my bike. And washed it down with homemade rice wine. I’ve met so many other great travelers, who are now good friends. And I’ve been so lucky to have had a (relatively) safe ride down Vietnam.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared for my life at time. The Vietnamese are insane drivers following no road laws. Driving is an art form, as drivers perform impossible maneuvers, weaving in and out of traffic. I had a few brushes with danger and have heard of more serious accidents with travelers, but it’s a part of the experience. Always steer on the side of safety, be alert, and go slow. There comes immense responsibility when motorbiking Vietnam, but immense reward as well. Buses provide convenience and comfort but a motorbike promises adventure and a unique perspective.
Bought for: $290.00
Sold for: $200
*Most other travelers only lost $50-$100 for their trip. My bike had a little more trouble than most. There’s no way of knowing how good or bad a bike really is until you’re in the middle of your trip. And by that time, there’s nothing you can do but ride on.
If anyone is interested in reading an in-depth guide from start to finish on motorbiking Vietnam, I wrote an article for Mad Monkey Hostels (a Cambodia Hostel Company). Become an expert here!
I’ve always been a firm believer that the best way to see a foreign country or city is on your own: no tours, no buses, no pre-booked itineraries. You will understand the country from an authentic, unfiltered perspective.
So if you’re planning on traveling to Vietnam, which you should be, I’d recommend buying your very own motorbike, getting lost, and seeing the true Vietnam.
Motorbiking Vietnam Part VI: Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh City
Duration: 1 riding day, 5 hours
Distance: 230 km
Today was a bittersweet day. I left Mui Ne at 7 am for my finally (motorbike) destination: Ho Chi Minh City. Leaving early meant avoiding the police stop and giving myself plenty of time for pictures along the way. It’s my final day of riding in Vietnam, and today was about soaking it all in, reflecting on how great (and sometimes challenging) buying and riding a motorbike has been, and enjoying the last bits of open road before I return to the bus life.
Sina left yesterday, so today, I’m finishing as I started, alone. With my bike continuing to make interesting noises, I decided to take the most direct route, leaving the coast and traveling directly west. The ride was pretty easy, with a few stops for pictures and coffee.
I got a bit anxious entering Ho Chi Minh, as I’ve heard nightmare stories about the saturation of traffic. Driving in cities is already stressful, so Vietnam’s traffic congestion made it a bit worse. But as I entered the city, I wondered where this infamous traffic was. Each turn I approached, I thought for sure, I would be entering chaos. But no. The streets were fairly empty. Perhaps I entered the city from the right side or that everyone really has left for Tet (Chinese New Year). Although I was a tad disappointed, I was relieved as I pulled up to my hostel and dismounted Eagle for the last time.
Ho Chi Minh City
So, Ho Chi Minh is a large city, bustling with traffic and people (usually). I was there for the Chinese New Year, Tet, and found the city to be relatively quiet, as most people leave the city and travel home to be with their families.
War Remnants Museum
Definitely see the War Remnants Museum. It’s an informative insight into the Vietnam/American War from the Vietnamese side. Be prepared for disturbing facts, shocking stories, and gruesome photographs. It’s a heavy day, but an important one. The Museum is just 15,000 VND (less than $1) to enter.
Cu Chi Tunnels
These fascinating tunnels were created during the Vietnam War, serving as hiding spots for soldiers, hospitals, living quarters, and communication and supply lines. There are also war traps on display, old tanks, and a shooting range. Expect busloads of tourists and hot, claustrophobic tunnels. I found the Vinh Moc Tunnels, just north of Hue, more extensive and less crowded (like, no one else… I was the only person there).
Notre-Dame Cathedral and Post Office
Two neighboring sites in Ho Chi Minh, built in the 19th century, these buildings boast beautiful French architecture.
Where to Stay
The backpacker district is pretty condensed to one or two streets: Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Hostels, bars, restaurants, and travel agencies line these streets. In the morning and evening, the streets are lined with departing travelers and buses.
HideOut Hostel and Vietnam Inn Saigon are great hostels for the party-seeking backpacker, but come with a price. I opted for Rou Hostel, which was a ten minute walk from the main area, and above Rou Vegetarian Restaurant. For $5, the hostel was a fantastic value. Rooms were very clean, beds were full sized, and the staff was very kind. But in a city where everyone is hanging out on the streets, most hostels will do.
Motorbiking Vietnam Part V: Da Lat to Mui Ne
Duration: 1 riding day, 4.5 hours
Distance: 150 km
Sina and I left for Mui Ne on February 3rd, after a fun few days in Da Lat. In fact, we may even have been a bit hungover. Our first challenge of the day was the monster hill from Da Lat Family Hostel to the main road, as it’s narrow and difficult to climb without a head start. Sina needed a local to push her up to get started, while Eagle and I surprisingly made it up to the top without problem. Yay!
As we left Da Lat, we descended the mountains, riding switchbacks with amazing views. The temperature also increased dramatically as we got passed the mountains, slapping us with intense winds of hot air. As the land flattened out, the landscape got drier, dustier, and more desert-like.
About 30 km outside of Mui Ne, I began to get nervous. I had heard rumors of large police activity outside of Mui Ne, pulling foreigners over and fining them arbitrarily. Technically, it is illegal for foreigners to own and drive motorbikes in Vietnam. They do not honor International Driver’s Licenses, only Vietnamese licenses, which are quite difficult to attain. Luckily, we made it to Long Son Mui Ne Campground, 12 km outside of Mui Ne, without any police in sight.
*Tip: Keep a “fake” wallet on you with a couple hundred thousand Dong. Police will try to fine to 500,000 Dong or more, but may accept a smaller bribe.
*If they pull you over, turn your bike off and put the keys in your pocket. If they get a hold of your keys, passport, or registration blue card, they will ask for ridiculous amounts of money to get them back.
*Police hang out just south of Long Son Mui Ne Campground from 9 am – 5 pm most days. So if you need to get into or out of town, go early in the morning or in the evening.
While on the ocean, Mui Ne is not a huge beach town, since it faces strong winds. Beaches are also quite littered, with just about anything and everything washed up. I’ve seen light bulbs, shampoo, and tons of plastic. And because it is so windy, Mui Ne is popular among kite surfers!
The Fairy Stream is a flow of water sourced from underneath the sand dunes and canyons. While at some points it becomes waist deep, it’s mostly an inch or so of water the runs to the ocean, winding past red canyons and sand dunes.
The White Sand Dunes are amazing! Sina and I went for sunset, after most tourists had already left. The dunes themselves transport you to Africa, as the white hills and ripples do not feel like Vietnam. And the sunset was amazing, one of the better ones I’ve experienced. (Don’t worry, San Diego, you’ve still got it.)
PS Sina and I might’ve gotten carried away with pictures…
The Red Sand Dunes are less exciting and much smaller. They’re still worth a visit, as they’re on the way into town. And get ready for a bunch of children that will run at you trying to sell you sleds.
Where to Stay
If you want a different hostel experience, stay at Long Son Mui Ne Campground. Single and group tents line the property and beach front, giving a more raw and simple stay. People lounge around all day, soaking up the sun on the beach or relaxing in the common area on the many couches and oversized bean bags. For just $4, Long Son Campground promises a chill, relaxing stay. Take advantage of their daily $1 specials on food and drinks and their Friday special on tents: just $1 for the night.
Motorbiking Vietnam Part IV: Nha Trang to Da Lat
Duration: 1 riding day, 5 hours
Distance: 140 km
The ride to Da Lat took us back into the mountains. We made some stops along the way for pictures, and arrived in Da Lat around 2 pm.
My bike is having some more issues, making a weird grinding sound. I’ve decided to pay a relatively large amount of money to have a mechanic fix it. Hopefully it will get me to Ho Chi Minh City without any more problems! It’s stressful, but again, part of the adventure.
Da Lat is a beautiful town, known for surrounding flower farms and waterfalls. I went for a run around the town’s lake and the gardening market never stopped: flowers, trees, vases, and sculptures everywhere.
Everyone goes to Da Lat for the amazing waterfalls and canyoning experience. If you’re feeling adventurous, strap on your harness and repel cliffs and waterfalls. I booked with VietChallenge (through Da Lat Family) and had an amazing time. Our tour guides, Chicken Man, Mango, and Bamboo, picked me out of the bunch to pick on. Perhaps it was because of how terrified I was and how my body froze as I tried to repel. But between them and our group (about 30 people from the hostel), it was so much fun.
Where to Stay
Da Lat Family Hostel
Right now, they are unable to house travelers, as their license had been taken away the night before I arrived because of noise complaints. But hopefully, they are able to get it back, because Mama and her staff are amazing. Although we couldn’t stay there overnight, Da Lat Family is where everyone hangs out. Alcohol is cheap and Mama makes an amazing family dinner every night. Everyone gathers around and shares communal bowls of rice, spring rolls, vegetables, chicken, tofu, beef, french fries, and more! Mama is welcoming and fun, and she always has fruit out on the table for snacks. She might even throw you a fresh spring roll from the kitchen if you’re lucky.
For sleeping, there are a few hostels surrounding Da Lat Family, including the Note Hostel, which is $4/night for a bed and breakfast. Pretty good deal.
Motorbiking Vietnam Part III: Hoi An to Nha Trang
Duration: 3 riding days
Distance: 720 km
Stopped in Kon Tum, Tuy Hoa
In Hoi An, I met Sina from Germany, who is also riding down south. We left together for Nha Trang, covering 720 km over the course of 3 days, averaging 240 km per day. We decided to drive back onto the Ho Chi Minh Trail instead of the coastal route, hoping to avoid trucks and buses. It was a long few days, driving through small villages, mountains, cities, and even the clouds at one point. It was both super hot in the sun and freezing cold high up in the mountains.
We stopped overnight in Kon Tum and Tuy Hoa on our way, two smaller cities with little to do. So maybe it was a good thing I got food poisoning on day two. I think it’s from some local food I ate, possibly intestines, and I was sick and feverish all evening. The next day, I was feeling a bit better, and pushed on to get to Nha Trang.
A few tips for long drives: stay hydrated, take breaks, and don’t push it. I developed a pain in my eyes from focusing on the road for 8+ hours a day and not drinking enough water. Take your time.
So, a lot of backpackers have said that Nha Trang is nothing special. But I had to see it for myself. And it is nothing special. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like Vietnam.
Nha Trang is overrun with Russian tourists, resorts, and little Vietnamese culture. It’s very much a vacation town, with an expensive water park, fancy restaurants, and pricey hotel sky bars. For us, a couple days on the beach were just enough.
There is, of course, a backpackers neighborhood near the beach where budget hotels and restaurants make Nha Trang a bit more palatable. We stayed at Mojzo Inn and were pleased by the staff. Tween and her other colleagues learned our names before we got off our motorbikes, had cold water ready for us, and even carried our bags to our room. For just $7/night for a dorm, including breakfast, Mojzo Inn was a great place to stay.