The cost of living and traveling in Vietnam.

I spent 233 days, or eight months in total living in Vietnam, with my time split mostly between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Spending time in Vietnam, the country of my heritage, was one of the main reasons as to why I continued to travel after Central and South America. Before arriving, I knew that the cost of traveling in Vietnam was going to be quite affordable, but by no means where the final figure ended up.

Of all the countries that I passed through, Vietnam turned out to be the cheapest country to live and travel in, at an average of US$23 per day. For what you get in return, from the food to the friendly locals and dramatic landscapes, it represented the best value overall.

There are a few factors that contribute to this cost being so low.

VIETNAM Spend ($US) Avg spend per day Percentage
Alcohol $218 $1 4%
Auto $32 $0 1%
Electronics $34 $0 1%
Food $1,155 $5 24%
Rent $1,543 $9 32%
Household $161 $1 3%
Misc $22 $0 0%
Personal $530 $2 11%
Tourism $540 $2 11%
Transportation $559 $2 12%
Utilities $42 $0 1%
Total $4,858
Number of days 233
Cost per day $23

Food

I came for the food and it far exceeded my expectations on value and quality. At $5 per day, it was by far the cheapest country for food. The street food in Vietnam is insanely good and I never felt hungry, sometimes eating up to five meals per day.

Most days would start with a street side Banh Mi (50c), followed by an iced coffee ($1-$2) at one of the many funky cafes that also offered free WiFi that I could work out of. Lunch and dinner would vary between rice and noodles dishes, and wouldn’t cost any more than $2.50 for a serving. My landlord in Ho Chi Minh City would sometimes cook as well which would help me save on costs. She would also on multiple occasions, try to set me up with her niece as well. :-\

I did have a fridge and cooking facilities that would have saved quite a bit of money if I had cooked, but I was there to tick off the biggest range of food as possible.

vietnam banh mi

A banh mi a day, makes Jimmy a happy person

Accommodation

This cost is a larger percentage than usual, but as a daily cost figure of $9, it is still very low. When I was staying in Hanoi, a hostel bed in a clean room of six occupants would cost $5 per night. When I lived in Ho Chi Minh City, I moved into my own room in District 1 which cost $280 per month or $9 per day. This rate included a cleaner and daily laundry, and the fact that it was on the fourth floor, probably contributed to losing weight during my time in Ho Chi Minh City.

I could have spent a lot less by downsizing the from the largest room in the building, or living a little further away from the city centre, but I enjoyed the central location as it meant that I could explore and discover many places around the area on foot.

Alcohol

By the look of the numbers, I didn’t drink much in Vietnam, or perhaps the alcohol was cheap? In Hanoi, beer can be as low as 25c on “Beer Street”. While the food is great, the beer isn’t quite your Belgian styled Trappist beer, but it’s still drinkable. I spent a few nights a week here, sitting on tiny plastic stools, with friends and feasting on snails, frogs and tiny grilled pigeons. Wine is relatively expensive at around $5 a glass so I didn’t drink much, but spirits are ridiculously cheap at $13 for a bottle of top shelf Bombay Sapphire Gin, and even lower for Vodka.

beer street hanoi

Beer street action in Hanoi, where hundreds pile onto tiny stools to enjoy 25c beers and various beer snacks.

Transport

Getting around Vietnam is pretty easy and affordable. With some planning, a one hour flight could be sourced for as low as $20 on Vietjet Airlines. If flights are booked short term or close to a public holiday, they can cost from $60 to upwards of  couple of hundred dollars.

Trains are the most affordable form of long distance travel for locals, but can also be the longest and most uncomfortable. At a distance of 1,700km, the train ride between the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City takes 34 hours and costs $50 for a hard seat, $64 for a soft seat and $90 for a soft berth in a four bed cabin. An overnight train ride to Sapa in a soft sleeper cabin will set you back $50 vs an $18 ride on a bus through the mountains.

train to sapa vietnam

The overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa.

Buses are a comfortable option for mid-range distances of 6-10 hours as the seats recline 120 degrees into semi beds. The only disadvantage is that they are designed for the Asian physique, which pretty much rules out the ability to fully stretch out for most westerners. One thing to note is that due to the sad state of Vietnamese highways, buses will run at a snail’s pace, so it’s best to research the duration of the bus vs train transportation.

Around the city, moto taxis are everywhere and will cost no more than $2 to go 4-5km. Taxis are metered and pretty cheap with a 2-3km ride costing $2.

hanoi train line

A train line that runs through a neighborhood in Hanoi

Tourism

Tourist activities in Vietnam aren’t too expensive, if you’re willing to seek out deals. Pre-booked cruises in Halong Bay from your home country can set you back hundreds of dollars, whereas a decent two night cruise booked in Hanoi can cost less than $100. The main reason being that the amount of competition among the operators and agents in the Hanoi keeps prices competitive. My only suggestion when it comes to haggling with agents is to be wary if the price is too low. You pretty much get what you pay for, so go for the middle of the range deals, as you may be sleeping in rat infested boats if you negotiate a “too good to be true” deal.

The largest tourist expense for me was in fact the three month tourist visa which is $95 for a three month multiple entry visa, which I bought three times.

halong bay

Taken during a Halong Bay tour. (Click to purchase a print)

Pace of travel

The pace of travel is the greatest contributor of how I spent so little in Vietnam. With most of my time split between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, I had the luxury of time to find a place to live that was easily accessible by foot and to seek out the best and cheapest places to eat at.

Being firmly planted in one spot also allows the opportunity to meet locals or expats who can you point in the right direction of how to go about settling in. I also used the extra time to tap into the travel experiences to pick up some freelance travel writing gigs, plan people’s travel itineraries and even host a few food tours towards the end of my stay.

ho chi minh city rooftop bar sunset

Enjoying a sunset beer at the OMG Bar rooftop in Saigon. (Click to purchase a print)

What’s the cheapest country that you’ve traveled to?


Comments

The cost of living and traveling in Vietnam. — 1 Comment

  1. I am pretty sure Nepal was our cheapest country during our travels, but Vietnam came in a close second… I think we averaged about $30US/day for the three months we lived in Saigon, and that is for TWO people! Our quality of life in HCMC was insanely high considering that we didn’t really try very hard to stick to a budget and we definitely ate like royalty. I’d go back in a heartbeat!
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