Cost of Backpacking Vietnam: Budget Breakdown

Vietnam is a notoriously cheap country to travel for backpackers. Like many of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, it has meals for less than $1, plenty of hostel options, and a decent network of public transportation. If you budget carefully and always search out the cheapest options, you’ll likely spend between $25-35 USD per day. To help you get a sense of what things cost, I’ve included a budget breakdown of my own spending in Vietnam.

I backpacked Vietnam for three weeks in May 2019. Over the course of my trip, I spent about $850 USD, or about $40 USD per day. My costs reflect what a budget backpacker might spend if they’re not super strict about always buying the cheapest food or staying in the cheapest hostels. Below, I’ve organized my spending by category: Food and Drinks, Accommodation, Transportation, Entertainment and Tours, Hoi An Tailoring, and Miscellaneous Expenses.

Food and Drinks

I spent: $183 USD for 21 days. About $8.71 USD per day.

Mot Tea in Hoi An

Mot Tea in Hoi An

Most meals in Vietnam range anywhere from $1-5 USD. The lower end of the scale includes things like pho, bahn mi sandwiches, and other local cuisines. The higher end of the scale is geared more towards nice restaurants and Western food. While in Vietnam, I found myself eating on both sides of the spectrum. In larger, more touristy cities like Hanoi and Hoi An, I was amazed to find an up-and-coming food scene. There were hipster cafes, Bali-like breakfast spots, and fancy Vietnamese restaurants. Naturally, my stomach got the best of my budget in those places.

In less populated areas of Vietnam, the food was more basic - although still very delicious. Some of the best meals I had were ‘family dinners’ in the Ha Giang province. These meals consisted of a bunch of local dishes spread out on the table for backpackers to share. I liked these meals because they brought everyone together and taught us a little about the local culture.

Family dinner at a hostel on the Ha Giang motorbike loop

Family dinner at a hostel on the Ha Giang motorbike loop

Drinks-wise, you’ll find beer is extremely cheap - usually $1 or less. Vietnamese coffee is also affordable and highly addictive. Most espressos are served with a dollop (or two) of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. My personal weakness in Vietnam was bubble tea. Looking back at my spending records, I averaged 2 bubble teas per week.

my food recommendations:

Hanoi

  • Bahn Mi 25 - Best bahn mi in the Old Quarter and super cheap.

  • Cafe Pho Co - The coolest hidden cafe with a view of Hoan Kiem Lake. I recommend trying their coconut coffee, beef pho, and spring rolls.

  • NYC Pizza - Pizza by the slice for when you’re craving Western food. It’s seriously good pizza for about $2.50 USD a slice.

Hoi An

  • Rosie’s Cafe - Think ‘Bali-style- breakfast (a.k.a. avocado toast, chocolate breakfast shakes, and french toast).

  • Mot Tea - Order a tea here. It’ll be the best 12,000 dong you spend in Vietnam.

  • Bahn Mi Phuong - Anthony Bourdain ate here on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Good food, cheap prices, and a local feel.

  • Streets Restaurant - The best restaurant service I had in Vietnam and a good place to try cao lau, a regional dish in Hoi An.

  • Morning Glory - Steep prices but such good food! I recommend ordering the vegetable curry.

Accommodation

I spent: $155 for 20 nights. About $7.75 per night.

Green Mountain Homestay in Trang An

Green Mountain Homestay in Trang An

Overall, I was very happy with the accommodation options in Vietnam. I stayed almost exclusively at hostels, but I never had a bad experience. They were clean, had hot showers, offered free towels, and breakfast was almost always included. Hostels in Vietnam are cheap too. You can almost always find a decent place under $10 USD/night, and often times under $5 USD/night.

In total, I spent 20 nights in Vietnam. The cheapest dorm I booked was in Hue at Amy Hostel. It cost $3.50 USD for a bed and included breakfast (I have no idea how they’re making money). The most expensive place I stayed at was in Hoi An at Tipi Hostel. I booked a private room that cost $11.50 USD with no breakfast included. Still not sure why I did that when there are so many other good accommodation options in Hoi An…

A family of ducks at one of the homestays I stayed at

A family of ducks at one of the homestays I stayed at

my hostel recommendations:

Hanoi: Old Quarter View Hostel

This hostel was incredibly clean and had a good AC system in the rooms. I liked the location of it as well. Safe and busy neighborhood within walking distance of Hoan Kiem Lake and Train Street. Plus free beer in the evenings!

Ninh Binh: Green Mountain Homestay

What an oasis! Green Mountain Homestay is located in the Trang An area, which has fewer tourists and noise than Tam Coc. Right outside your dorm is a pond covered in lily pads and the peaks of karst hills. I could’ve relaxed in one of the homestay’s hammocks all day if it wasn’t for the summer heat.

Hoi An: Tribee Cham Hostel

I liked the proximity of Tribee Cham to Hoi An Ancient Town and the yummy free breakfast served each morning on the rooftop terrace. Tribee Cham is also part of a large chain of similar hostels in Hoi An. While they don’t have a pool, one of their sister hostels does and you’re free to use it!

Hue: Amy Hostel

If you’re looking to save money in Hue, Amy Hostel is the place to go! My dorm was only 82,000 dong per night (about $3.50 USD) and it included free breakfast. While there weren’t a whole lot of other travelers there, the place was clean and had hot showers.

Transportation

I spent: $200 USD in 21 days. About $9.52 USD per day.

Train Street in Hanoi

Train Street in Hanoi

I know what you’re thinking… How does one spend almost $10 USD per day on transportation in a third-world country? As I look at that number myself, I’m wondering the same thing. Here’s where I went wrong:

  1. I took shuttles to-and-from the airport. The first one I arranged through my hostel for $18 USD (ouch) and the second one I arranged through a random hotel for a little over $10 USD. Local buses from the airport in Hanoi to Long Bien Bus Station should only cost 5,000 dong ($0.30 USD). The only problem is I arrived and departed late at night when the local buses weren’t running.

  2. I continued to purchase over-priced transportation through my hostel without price checking other places first.

  3. Ninh Binh. While I absolutely loved exploring the Ninh Binh, Trang An, and Tam Coc area, the majority of my transportation costs came from here. The problem with Ninh Binh is everything is spread out, and therefore cost money to get to. I took two taxi rides in Ninh Binh, rented a motorbike every day, and paid lots of parking fees.

  4. I took a $45 sleeper train from Ninh Binh to Hoi An. A sleeper bus would’ve cost half the price and gotten me to Hoi An quicker. However, I’m glad I experienced the train at least once during my trip.

I rode the sleeper train from Ninh Binh to Danang

I rode the sleeper train from Ninh Binh to Danang

my transportation recommendations:

  • Take the sleeper bus for long distances. Sleeper buses are great if you’re 5’9’’ or shorter. They’re cheap, fast, and sometimes stop for a food break. If you’re tall though, the sleeper bus can be a bit of a nightmare since there’s not much leg room.

  • Consider flying. There are major airports in Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City. If you plan on traveling between any of these cities, consider taking a flight. Vietnam is a much longer country than people realize, and traveling between these major cities can eat up your travel time. If you book in advance, a plane ticket should cost the same as a sleeper train ticket and take a fraction of the time.

  • Use MotorVina to get between Hue and Hoi An. MotoVina offers a scooter rental service that includes bag transportation. So if you want to ride from Hue to Hoi An or vice versa, you can ride a scooter without having to worry about a big, sweaty backpack on your back. Pro tip: Ride with a friend and split the cost of one bike.

  • Rent a motorbike, NOT a bicycle in Ninh Binh. As I mentioned above, everything in the Ninh Binh area is spread out. To get the most out of your day and to escape the heat, rent a motorbike, not a bicycle. The popular thing to do in Tam Coc and Trang An seems to be renting a bicycle, but you can’t get very far when it’s almost 100 degrees outside. I rented a motorbike for 100,000 dong, or about $4.30 USD, and rode everywhere on it.

Entertainment and Tours

I spent: $137 USD in 21 days. About $6.52 USD per day.

Bai Dinh Temple near Ninh Binh

Bai Dinh Temple near Ninh Binh

Entertainment wise, the cheapest thing to do in Vietnam is visit museums and temples. Entry to these places is usually 40,000 dong (about $1.75 USD) or less. After that, renting a motorbike and cruising around is your next cheapest bet. A motorbike rental typically costs around 100,000 dong ($4.30 USD) per day plus fuel.

An offering at one of the many temples in Vietnam

An offering at one of the many temples in Vietnam

As I mentioned earlier, Ninh Binh ended up being one of the more expensive places I visited. Part of this was due to high transportation costs, but the other factor was the steep prices of the national parks, Hang Mua Cave, and the Trang An boat tour. These entry fees ranged from 90,000-200,000 dong ($3.90-$8.60 USD) per place.

The best thing I did in Vietnam was riding the Ha Giang Motorbike Loop. This 4-day, extreme motorbike loop cost me 1,230,000 dong ($53 USD) for the bike rental and bike insurance, but it was totally worth it. Of all the places I saw in Vietnam, the views on the loop were the most stunning.

The bike I rode on the Ha Giang motorbike loop

The bike I rode on the Ha Giang motorbike loop

my entertainment/tour recommendations:

  • Ha Giang Motorbike Loop - I can’t rave about this experience enough. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path, adrenaline-pumping adventure, head to Ha Giang and embark on a 3-4 day motorbike loop.

  • Hai Van Pass + Elephant Springs - A safer, 1-day motorbike trip is the Hai Van Pass between Hoi An and Hue. This day trip is a heck of a lot more fun than sitting on a bus and offers beautiful views of the ocean. If you decide to do it, make sure and stop at Elephant Springs. Elephant Springs is a natural swimming hole with turquoise blue water.

  • Hang Mua Cave Hike at Sunset - In Ninh Binh, one of the best views you’ll find is from the top of the Hang Mua Cave hike. Make sure and go for either sunrise or sunset though, so you don’t die from heat exhaustion. I’m slightly over-exaggerating but it does get pretty dang hot in Ninh Binh.

  • Cat Ba Day Tour - I was hesitant to visit the Cat Ba / Ha Long Bay area because everyone said the overnight tours cost upwards of $150 USD. After my travel buddies convinced me to go, I decided to book a day tour for $30 USD. What a deal! We had a lovely boat to sunbathe on, a nice kayaking tour, and a couple of opportunities to go swimming.

Hoi An Tailoring

I spent: $100 for three custom dresses

Getting clothes tailored in Hoi An

Getting clothes tailored in Hoi An

My second favorite experience in Vietnam was getting clothes tailored in Hoi An. If you’ve never had a custom garment made before, prepare to be amazed. In Hoi An, you can show a tailor a picture or piece of clothing you like, and they’ll have a near identical copy made for you the next day.

For me, the process of seeing one of my dream dresses come to life was magical, and a little addictive. I had planned on only buying one dress in Hoi An, but ended up purchasing three… Part of what makes it so addictive is how cheap the clothing is. Two of my dresses, which were made from linen, cost only $30 USD each.

my hoi an tailor recommendation:

If you plan on getting anything made out of Linen, I recommend buying from a shop called Gian Don Izi. I don’t believe you can find it on Google, but here’s the address: 26 Tran Phu, Hoi An.

I convinced all of my travel buddies to get clothes tailored by Hao

I convinced all of my travel buddies to get clothes tailored by Hao

When you get there, ask for Hao. She runs the shop and is one of the sweetest people I met in Vietnam. Unlike a lot of the other tailors in Hoi An, Hao and her team are not pushy or aggressive. If you walk out of their store and don’t purchase anything, they will smile and wish you good luck on your search for a tailor.

If you do decide to have something made here, Hao will take very good care of you. I got two of my three dresses made here, and both times they were impeccably made. Hao and her team asked all of the right questions and were always happy to make alterations. Whenever I make it back to Hoi An, I’m heading straight to Hao’s shop.

In case you have trouble with the address, message the Gian Don Izi Instagram page: @Iziwear.

I’ve also written an entire blog post about my experience at Hao’s shop and why I think she’s the best linen tailor in Hoi An.

Miscellaneous Expenses

I spent: $69 USD in 21 days. About $3.28 USD per day.

My miscellaneous expenses included things like laundry, my visa for Vietnam, bug spray, sunscreen, a sim card, and some small souvenirs. To save money, I should’ve brought sunscreen from home. The small bottle I bought in Vietnam cost 200,000 dong (about $8.64 USD).


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