TEN money-saving tips for enjoying Vietnam on a budget

Like many places in Southeast Asia, Vietnam has some great options for travellers on a budget. For students, people working their way around the world, or longer-term residents, you’ll be delighted to know that Vietnam is hugely accessible without costing an arm and a leg.

Of course, cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh present different challenges to more rural parts of the country, and for those city-lovers out there, be aware that your Dong won’t go probably quite as far (oh dear, watch out for those smutty Dong jokes!).

But tourism is fast becoming a huge industry in Vietnam (up 20% in 2018 to reach some 15.5 million visitors!), and with the huge growth in tourists it pays to look out for pitfalls, especially when we’re talking about travel and accommodation.

So we’ve created this little list of the things to watch out for – in other words, TEN crucial, budget-busting tips for traveling and staying in this wonderful country without breaking the bank.

1. Upon arriving, turn off that flashing fluorescent “Tourist” sign!

Ariving in Vietnam

After arriving in any country in SE Asia, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Say what you like, but western travelers often only lack a fluorescent sign flashing “tourist” to make them stand out when traveling around the region.

Getting started in any city in the world is always a bit tricky, starting with those first few steps in the country (typically when landing at the airport). There awaiting you will be taxi drivers galore, some a lot more devious than others. Expect no different when landing in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. If you can, pre-book a taxi from the airport, train or bus station. Your best bet – download the Grab app and order online (usually the cheapest option), or go with Vinasun taxis.

The more research you do before you travel, the better. Ideally, you should know exactly where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. This could save you time and expense at the start of your trip.

Check out our Travel Tips section for more essential tips!

Get to your accommodation as soon as you can. Apart from maybe stopping for a street snack, don’t be tempted to start taking in the sights, sounds and smells. The sooner you get your bearings, the better off you’ll be before exploring the wonders of Vietnam!

2. Savor the local food

Pho-Bo

If you’ve decided to travel to Vietnam, you might well have done so after hearing about the yummy Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine is becoming very popular in towns and cities across the world, and with good reason. It is nutritious, cheap and very tasty.

In Vietnam, eating local food is by far the best way to get by on a budget. There are many superb street vendors and roadside cafes in urban and rural areas alike to help you do this. Local markets especially have a huge range of fresh, healthy eating options.

If you’re a meat eater, make sure it is thoroughly cooked and still hot to ensure it’s safe to eat. Preserved meats like hams and fish are fine and make up many delicious Banh Mi sandwich fillings. If a greasy fry-up is needed, don’t miss the legendary Op La!

Accompanied with fresh rice or noodles at just about any time of the day, evening or even night, a decent, stomach-filling meal can cost as little as $2 USD.

3. Haggle like you’ve never haggled before!

Whether you’re staying in Vietnam for days, weeks or months, it pays to learn how to negotiate a bargain. Obviously, any local trader wants to make a profit, and as a tourist, you will be an obvious source of potential currency. Don’t complain; after all, money is what makes the world go round. And besides, you’ll actually gain some respect if you try to haggle hard!

Don’t forget to TIP where relevant – here’s our Vietnam tipping guide!

As long as you are polite when haggling, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with driving a hard bargain. If you know what you want and what it should be reasonably worth, stand your ground. Just don’t be rude or angry, and remember that it’s all part of the culture, almost like a game…

Of course, it helps if you can speak a little bit of the lingo…

4. Get to grips with the lingo

vietnam on a budget

Vietnamese is spoken by every inhabitant of the country (duh!), and is also spoken in parts of Cambodia and Laos. While it might not seem easy to learn, there are some basic Vietnamese phrases you should really try and learn, to show respect if nothing else.

The Vietnamese are a very respectful people. Partly because of their Buddhist philosophy, they treat people as they would expect to be treated themselves.

The more you understand Vietnamese, the better. This will literally get you further and more cheaply than expecting people to speak your language.

5. Seriously consider joining the motorbike madness!

Saigon-motorbike

It is estimated that there are almost as many motorbikes in Vietnam as there are people. There are a number of very good reasons for this and having possession of one while in the country could be a huge benefit financially.

A reliable, roadworthy motorbike is often the best way to get around cities, the countryside and to and from tourist attractions. As many Vietnamese people rely on them, there is an excellent chance of getting refueled, an oil change or a puncture repaired if you get stuck.

If you’re serious about staying in Vietnam and want to save some Dong, use the Internet to research options for buying or renting a motorbike before you travel (there are various Facebook groups that might be a good place to start). Fellow travelers could well have done the hard work for you; in fact, if you can pick up a reliable bike from someone just leaving the country, this could be a great cost-cutter of a move.

6. Research those tourist attractions

There are hundreds of once in a lifetime tourist attractions to see in Vietnam. Some of these are World Heritage sites, some are hidden gems, a little off-the-beaten track. While some require entrance fees, many do not. Check out our guide to some of the biggest attractions in Vietnam, and especially when they are at their cheapest, or even free.

Do some research before visiting famous places. Ideally, plan your visit before traveling, either using this site or other great Vietnam resources. You’ll get more of an idea of where to get the best deals – and where you’re likely to get ripped off – if you plan in advance.

7. Don’t do your souvenir shopping in Ben Thanh Market!

BenThanhMarket

If you are planning on spending some of your hard-earned cash on some souvenirs to take back home, don’t be tempted to buy them at the big touristy markets, like Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh.

Of course, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a ninja haggler, be my guest and haggle away. For most of us, however, we’re likely to get stung with tourist prices. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Thanh Market is a definite must-see and you can get also some great local food there, but you will pay a little more.

Instead, head to the more local Cholon Market (Binh Tay Market) in Saigon’s Chinatown, or the Dong Xuan market in Hanoi (rather than some of the tacky and expensive shops in the Old Quarter, or Hanoi Weekend Market). Other major cities also have their own less touristy markets, so try and hunt them down when visiting.

You might have to communicate by calculator in some of these markets (love it when they pull out the ol‘ calculators!), but you’ll get a better deal.

8. Tool yourself up with a local SIM card

Vietnam SIM

A good way to save money while in Vietnam is to buy a local SIM card. As long as you transfer your contacts onto your phone, a local SIM can save you an awful lot of time and money. These can be bought very easily in a variety of places as the Vietnamese love their cellphones!

We’ve always ended up getting our SIM card at the airport. There are plenty of options after you walk through the immigration section and pick up your bag.

Expect to pay around 200,000 Dong for 1 month of unlimited data – which is pretty darned good or what?! We’re talking just over $11AUD or $8.50USD. You will have to add another dollar or two if you want to add phone minutes to your package. Bear in mind, however, that if you’ve got the patience and a local to help you, you can get a SIM card even cheaper at one of the local stores.

And your best bet is to go with Vinaphone or Viettel – the bonus with Viettel is that their cards also apparently work in Cambodia and Laos, with no roaming charges!

9. Work out which visa option suits your budget

VisaOnArrival

Vietnam visa restrictions have gotten way more relaxed in recent times, as the Vietnamese government realizes the importance of getting those tourist dollars into Vietnam.

Restrictions do not apply to many visitors to Vietnam these days, as long as you stay for less than 30 days. We say it’s never enough to explore all this amazing country has to offer, but it will be enough to take in many of the country’s wonders. Just work out if you need a single-entry visa or multiple-entry visa, that will definitely have an impact on your budget.

Check out our guide to getting a visa for Vietnam, it’s easier than you think and getting easier year by year! Have to say, the new eVisas are a Godsend – not only do they save you money (the stamping fee when arriving), they also save you time (by not having to queueing to pay that stamping fee)!

10. Enjoy cheap nights out with Bia Hoi

Bia Hoi is an easy phrase to learn (it means cheap beer) and basically refers to a gathering place where you sit on a stool and mix it with the locals while supping on a cheap pint or three.

There are a great deal of these throughout the major cities, and are much loved by locals and travelers alike. And seriously, there’s not much better than spending a night sipping great refreshing local beer after a long day enjoying Vietnam’s treasures (learn how to say Cheers in Vietnamese) – and if you end up spending more than $10 USD we’ll be very surprised!

Send this to a friend