Our four weeks in Thailand and Vietnam have been the lowest cost part of our trip so far. I can see why it tempts people to retire there.
We never aimed to travel super cheap, but we do try to keep the costs reasonable. Even though we normally book an en-suite double room, I think we’ve done well with our accommodation costs.
That can’t be said for our food and beverage costs. We seem to eat out at restaurants every day, and normally end up ordering some beer for me and wine for Sally. It’s less healthy than I wanted, and definitely more costly, particularly the wine which costs much more than other drinks in South East Asia.
We’ve also spent quite a lot on internal flights, as well as long train and bus journeys. Then there are our various tours and cooking classes, museums and other attractions we’ve visited.
Without these “touristy” things, I can see how cheap it would be. I’m guessing we could live a decent life on between $20,000 to $25,000. Using the 4% rule would say you’d need a lump sum of between $500,000 and $625,000 for this, which brings the option of early retirement into the sights of many more people.
Although we control our costs, the primary focus is to enjoy our travels, and we’re lucky that we can afford to be a little relaxed with our spending.
This week we’ve had an overnight boat trip to Halong Bay, a couple of nights in the beach city of Da Nang, before moving down to the old town of Hoi An.
Halong Bay was enjoyable, although it didn’t match the hype. The boat accommodation was right for what we wanted, but the food should have been better. It tasted fine, but wasn’t hot enough. They should have done fewer dishes well i.e. hot, rather than many dishes mediocre i.e. warm at best, stone cold at worse.
The excursion included visiting a cave, a picturesque lookout, a pearl farm plus some kayaking. All were OK, although none were outstanding. The scenery is spectacular, but once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. Perhaps the mainly overcast skies didn’t show it at its best. It’s amazing what a difference some sunshine and blue sky can make.
Next we took an internal flight to Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city. We mostly relaxed there, spending some time at the beach and having a massage, although we also visited Marble Mountain to see the caves and the views. The massage only costs £8 / $10, a bargain. I don’t think there’s much more for the visitor in Da Nang, and most probably give it a miss and head directly for Hoi An.
Hoi An is certainly worth visiting. The old town is delightful. Our 3 days felt the perfect amount of time. We explored the old town during the day, and again one evening. We used free bicycles from our homestay to cycle to the beach for a morning, before cycling back through farms, rice paddies and buffalo. And last, but not least, we took a Vietnamese cooking class which also included visiting the market, a river boat trip plus another water outing in the local round basket boats. In my opinion, all of these are must dos.
Back to our accommodation, and back to money. Our homestay in Hoi An cost us £11 ($15) a night for a good quality en-suite double room with breakfast. Alternatively, the major hotel chains are well represented. You could stay in the Anantara near the old town, or the Park Hyatt or Sheraton by the beach. The difference is you’d pay almost 20 times as much! Seriously, it’s difficult to believe. We could stay for two or three weeks in the homestay accommodation for the same price as one night in the Sheraton!
Those major hotel chains do look nice though. The approaches and landscaping are beautifully manicured, and no doubt the inside is similarly pristine. I bet many visitors hardly leave the hotel grounds. But it’s not the real Vietnam. The Vietnam I’ve seen isn’t manicured, instead some of it’s hectic, with crazy traffic, and less litter would be good. But even though these things don’t seem perfect, they are more than offset by nice people, a happening atmosphere, varied landscape, an interesting history, and more besides.
We still have a few days left in Vietnam, but it’s already been quite an experience. It’s not been the images that we saw in the brochure, but It’s not been a disappointment. We’re appreciating seeing the real country more than just the parts that are specially manicured for the tourists. Maybe we’re starting to become real travelers?
Daily diary and costs
I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I'm using this part of my blog as a mini diary for myself, but feel free to read if you're interested.
Week 14 - what we've done:
Monday – Hanoi, Vietnam. Quiet day, planning our next trips.
Tuesday – Halong Bay, Vietnam. Boat trip.
Wednesday – Halong Bay, Vietnam. Boat trip. Fly to Da Nang in the evening.
Thursday – Da Nang, Vietnam. Went to Marble Mountain, then the beach.
Friday – Da Nang, Vietnam. Caught up with admin. Then bus to Hoi An.
Saturday – Hoi An, Vietnam. Visited the old town of Hanoi.
Sunday – Hoi An, Vietnam. Borrowed bicycles and cycled to An Bang Beach and then back through the farms and rice fields.
Week 14 - we spent a total of £676 / $954 for 2 people on:
Accommodation £96 / $136
Meals/Coffee/Snacks £177 / $250
Transport £179 / $252 Mostly the flight Hanoi-Da Nang-Hanoi
Attractions/Fees £167 / $235 Mostly the Halong Bay overnight trip
Spa £19 / $27
Laundry £18 / $26
Toiletries £10 / $14
Other £10 / $14