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The Best Things To See, Do And Eat In Da Lat

dalat lake

When I planned my Vietnam itinerary, I wasn’t sure if I should include Da Lat. It seemed like it’d be quite a detour, considering I was going straight up the coast, and Da Lat is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) inland, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Going from Ho Chi Minh to Da Lat is just under 200 miles (300 kilometers) – a 7 hour bus ride. But tales of lush green mountains and cooler temperatures, plus a ‘Crazy House’, were enough to tempt me – I had to visit Dalat.things to do in Da Lat VietnamAnd I am so glad that I went! Da Lat offered a welcome break from the heat (don’t get too excited – it is still extremely hot during the day, but it cools down to jacket-friendly temperatures in the evenings).

My travel guide didn’t have too many things to say about Dalat, and it seems like most tourists visit Dalat to see the Crazy House, but I dug up quite a few things to see and do in Da Lat and want to share the best things I think you shouldn’t miss in Da Lat. There’s a little bit for everyone in here – from a motorbike tour through the mountains to a Harry Potter – themed cafe.coffee in bloom vietnam

The Best Things To See, Do And Eat In Dalat

Visit The Crazy House Da Lat

The Crazy House was the main reason to visit Dalat for me, and it did not disappoint. If you love architecture, especially surreal structures a la Gaudi, you will love the Crazy House. The Crazy House is the brainchild of architect Dang Viet Nga, who first started building the house as a personal project but eventually opened it up to the public. The centerpiece of the compound is a five-story high building resembling a banyan tree, but since the project was conceived, several other buildings have been added, including a cabin that can be rented. Similar to Gaudi, Dang Viet Nga sees the Crazy House as her life project, and is still adding new buildings to the complex – now in her 80s!

Inside each building there are rooms that can be rented, and to be honest, I regret not having spent one night in the Crazy House, which is officially called Hang Nga Guesthouse (Hang Nga is the Chinese goddess of the Moon.)Da Lat Crazy House

The compound comprises of several fantastical buildings with abstract shapes and winding stairs, stalagmites, vines, sculptures, and various themes. One building for example is underwater world themed, the courtyard feels like an Alice in Wonderland-like garden with oversized mushrooms and animals.

I spent over two hours exploring the buildings, peeking into some of the rooms, walking up stairs that brought me to the rooftop, and just getting lost in this fairytale house.Da Lat Crazy Hous

Staying at the Crazy House: There are only ten guest rooms, and all of them are designed differently. They are all animal-themed, there is the bear room, a tiger room, an ant room, a kangaroo room and a termite room, to name a few.

You can book the room of your choice, and if you make your reservation through Booking.com, you can see photos of each room before you book. Rooms start at US$45 including breakfast, which is a fantastic deal for staying at such a unique place. Just be aware that the Crazy House is open to the public from 8.30am to 7pm and you will be sharing the guesthouse with busloads of tourists during those hours.

Visit the Crazy House: 03 Huynh Thuc Khang, open from 8.30am – 7pm. Admission is VND60,000 (US$2.57). Allow a couple of hours to visit the Crazy House – there are plenty of little details to discover.

Tip: If you don’t want to fight for space with tour groups, I recommend arriving as soon as the Crazy House opens, or to visit in the late afternoon, after the last tour groups have left.Da Lat Crazy House 1

Dress up as Harry Potter at Coffee Harry Potter Da Lat

While researching things to do in Dalat, I came across this Harry Potter themed restaurant. Even though I am not a huge Harry Potter fan, I did read all the books and watched the movies, so I decided to go and check it out. If you’re a Potterhead, you’ll love this place. The restaurant is set up like a dining room with long tables, making you feel like you’re in Hogwarts Dining Hall. There is a Sorting Hat, and a bunch of photo ops (for example, which house you’re in) and various school uniforms. You can even rent a school uniform (for VND20,000 / US$0.85 – less than 1 Dollar!) to take some geeky photos. There is a quidditch field, a small “Ollivander’s Wand Shop” and other cool stuff straight out of the Potter universe (I don’t want to give away too much). Of course you can also order Potter-themed drinks and food, such as butter beer, a love potion and house-themed drinks.

It’s quite far from the town center, so I’d recommend taking a Grab or a taxi. The drive is less than 10 minutes, but walking there will take you just under an hour.

Address: Coffee Harry Potter Đà Lạt ( Cậu Bé Phù Thuỷ ), 23 Ngô Văn Sở, Phường 9, Tp. Đà Lạt, Lâm Đồng, VietnamHarry Potter Cafe Da Lat

Go on a pub crawl in Dalat

I joined a pub crawl that was organized by Kim Cuong Hostel, and it was a great way to get to know the bar scene of Dalat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting, but it turned out that Dalat has quite a few cool bars. Two that stood out were Fog Bar, a crazy hip hop bar where they were selling laughing gas, and the Maze Bar, which fits in nicely with Dalat’s rather interesting structures (see Crazy House). The Maze Bar is exactly what the name suggests it is: a maze! It costs VND55,000 (US$2.37) but includes a drink ticket. But to get to your drink, you’ll have to conquer the maze first, and this maze is no joke. The bar is spread out over several floors, and every floor is decorated with fantastical details, such as sculptures twisting out of the walls. The attention to detail everywhere is remarkable, with narrow, haunting staircase (some of which lead nowhere), oversized Chinese vases, and decorations that range from strange to bizarre.

Kim Cuong Hostel: 191 Đường Bùi Thị Xuân – Head there to inquire about pub crawl availability

Find your way out of the Maze Bar

If you skipped the above paragraph because bar crawls are not your thing, I still suggest visiting the very unique Maze Bar for a drink – or to enjoy the views over the city from the rooftop. It is open day and night, and you can easily spend two hours finding your way through the maze to get to the rooftop. The Maze Bar is without a doubt one of the quirkiest bar I’ve ever visited.

The address is 57 Phan Boi Chau, and the bar is also known is 100roofs bar.Maze Bar Da Lat

Take an Easy Rider motorbike tour

Easy Rider tours are a popular way to explore Vietnam: on a motorbike! But instead of riding a heavy motorbike yourself, you’re enjoying the scenery from the passenger seat. These tours have been popular in Vietnam since the early 90s, and since the original Easy Riders launched their tours, a myriad of copycats have started offering similar tours. Dalat is a perfect place to give them a try, because there are so many things to explore around the city, and riding through the mountains on the back of a bike, hair blowing in the wind, feels like ultimate freedom.dalat easy rider tourMy full-day Easy Rider tour started at a temple in Dalat, and then we continued to several attractions, including a flower plantation, a coffee plantation, a silkworm plantation, and a coffee plantation that specializes in Weasel Coffee. I didn’t know about Weasel Coffee before I arrived at the weasel coffee farm, but it is similar to Indonesian Kopi Luwak: the weasel eats and digests the coffee beans. After being defecated, the beans are processed into coffee which is known to be the most expensive coffee in the world.

We also stopped at the famous Laughing Buddha (Linh An Pagoda) and Elephant Waterfalls (That Voi), two major attractions near Dalat, and we had food along the way.things to do in Da LatThis was an excellent way to get to see more of Vietnam’s Southwest Highlands and even though the tours are on the pricier side (around US$30, plus a few dollars for coffee and snacks along the way), I’d say they’re worth every penny. I would’ve not been able to map out this tour for myself, and I found that the most memorable stops were the ones that I did not expect, like the flower greenhouse, and the overlooks along the road.

You can find Easy Rider tours online or have your hostel arrange one for you (that’s what I did). Since the Easy Rider tours are private tours, they can also be modified according to your interests – if you want to see more waterfalls for example (there are several stunning waterfalls near Dalat) and aren’t into coffee farms, just tell your driver before you start the tour.things to do in Da LatFellow travel blogger Maire wrote a detailed article about her Easy Rider tour in Dalat which captures the experience perfectly.

Tip: You can also take a 2 or 3-day Easy Rider tour, all the way to Mui Ne or Nha Trang or even Saigon. And you can also book Easy Rider tours that allow you to ride a motorbike yourself, following a guide.

I would recommend NOT including the Crazy House in the Easy Rider tour, but to visit it on another day, since it deserves more time than a quick look around.flower farm near dalat

Try avocado ice cream in Da Lat

dalat avocado ice cream kem bo

Apparently, avocado ice cream is a thing in Dalat, and you’ll most likely find long lines outside the two places that sell this unique ice cream in Dalat. This ice cream is more like an avocado mousse, named Kem Bo. The avocado mousse is served with a scoop of homemade coconut ice cream, and I may have been a little bit skeptical about the flavor – but just like

Vietnam’s Avocado Coffee, avocado mousse ice cream is delicious! The two ice cream shops that sell Kem Bo are right across the street from one another, on Nguyen Van Troi Street:

  • Kem bơ Thanh Thảo (76 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi)
  • Nari Avocado Cream (74c Nguyễn Văn Trỗi)

I paid VND30,000 (US$1.29) for one portion.

You can also find Kem bo in Dalat’s night market, where several vendors offer it.

Take pictures with teddy bears in Lam Vien Square

Lam Vien Square is a large square right next to Xuan Huong Lake and is notable for the two futuristic glass structures: a sunflower-shaped performance center and a flower bud that houses a café. Construction of the sprawling square, a VND681 Billion project, was started in 2009, and finished almost seven years later at the end of 2015. It is now the main place for people to gather, and events take place in Lam Vien Square regularly.dalat lam vien squareTake a stroll around the square, and you’ll come across street vendors, musicians, and several teddy bears (humans in teddy bear costumes) that are walking around the square. While they’re actually selling stuff, they are also taking photos with people, so get your teddy bear photo here.

Lam Vien Square is always packed with people: groups of young school girls, couples on a date, families on vacation… it’s a great spot for people watching. Doha Cafe, inside the big flower bud, makes for a good stop for a coffee and a snack – grab a table upstairs for the best views over the square.dalat lam vien square

See the French-colonial villas in Da Lat

During the era of French Indochina, when the French established a number of colonial territories in Southeast Asia, Southern Vietnam became part of the colony of French Indochina. Da Lat became a place of interest in the late 1900s because of its cooler highland climate. The French started with a resort in the hills, which the Europeans used to escape the pressing heat in the coastal regions. Eventually, wealthy French colonists started building more villas as well as French boulevards, some of which you can still see today. At one point in the early 20th century, 20% of the population was foreign.

The area with the best preserved French villas is along Tran Hung Dao, between Lam Vien Square and Lam Dong Museum (the museum is a great way to learn more about Da Lat’s history, and costs only VND15,000 / US$0.65). On GoogleMaps, you can find the area if you google “French Quarter”.things to do in dalat

Enjoy the Coffee Shops of Da Lat

If you love coffee, then you’ll be happy to hear that Da Lat has more coffee shops than you can possibly try in a few short days, including several “Third Wave” coffee shop where coffee is taken very seriously. And you don’t have to be a coffee lover to enjoy Da Lat’s coffee shops – they usually offer non-caffeinated drinks, too, such as smoothies or tea.

You’ll stumble across instagrammable cafes while wandering the streets of Da Lat, but here are some that I’ve particularly enjoyed:

 coffee shop

The Windmills

There are a couple of Windmills cafes in Da Lat, and each one comes in a different decor. The one on the corner of Ba Thang Hai and Nham Ky Khoi Nhgia has a gorgeous upstairs with wooden panels and a couple of comfy armchairs as well as a small outdoors balcony which is great for people watching.

Address: 7a Ba Tháng Hai

The Married Beans

This is an excellent specialty coffee roaster – definitely the best cup of traditional espresso-based coffee I had in Da Lat. The cafe has a cute interior and you can also buy coffee beans here to take home with you.

Address: 6 Nguyễn Văn Trỗi

Maybe Blue Coffee

Maybe Blue Coffee stands out for its beautifully decorated space with high ceiling, bright windows and colored French window doors. The café serves food as well, and it’s only a one-minute walk from the Crazy House, so stop by after your visit there.

Address: 5 Đường Lê Hồng PhongMaybe Blue Cafe Da Lat

Brew & Breakfast

Brew & Breakfast is a vegan café and guesthouse in Dalat, and if you’re looking for a great Western breakfast – plant-based, of course – you’ll probably end up eating here more than just once during your stay in Dalat. The menu ranges from pancakes and oatmeal to breakfast burritos and hearty poke bowls.

The guesthouse is small (three double rooms and a dorm room) but will be enjoyed by non-vegans, too. Dorm beds start at US$, double rooms are US$10.

Address: 2 Tran Hung Dao

Coffee or cocktails with a view

If you take a stroll along Tran Hung Dao to see the French-colonial villas (see above), consider continuing your stroll a little further: about 10 minutes down the road, you’ll reach a small side street named Tran Quang Dieu. Head down this street and you’ll find several coffee shops with little gardens and, more importantly, lovely views over the pine tree woods surrounding Da Lat. Look up on Google Maps: Bohem Coffee (1 Hoàng Hoa Thám) and Secret Coffee & Bar (1B Hoàng Hoa Thám) Secret is actually a speakeasy bar, definitely more lively in the evenings, especially on Saturday when they have live music (from 8:30pm to 10:30pm). If you love a good cocktail, I’d recommend heading to Secret at night.coffee with a view

Da Lat: Practical Information

How to get to Da Lat

By bus: If you go from Ho Chi Minh to Da Lat, there are buses every hour. The journey takes about 7 hours. There are also direct connections to Mui Ne (4 hours), Nha Trang (5 hours) and Danang (12 hours).

By air: You can fly to Dalat from Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hanoi, Danang, and even Bangkok. These three airlines have flights to Dalat: Vietnam Airlines, Vietjet Air and Jetstar Pacific Airlines.Da Lat Vietnam1

Where to eat in Da Lat

Da Lat has a thriving restaurant scene, and these restaurants were outstanding:

    • Brew & Breakfast (2 Tran Hung Dao) – amazing vegan Western breakfast food (see above)
    • Ganesh (1F Đường Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa) – superb Indian food.
    • Oz Burgers () – Get your burger fix here, they have everything from vegan burgers to meat burgers.
    • The Sky Over Dalat (

vegetarian food

Where to stay in Da Lat

  • Dalat’s Cozy Nook Hostel has won the prestigious award for the best hostel in all of Asia – a family-run hostel that offers family-style dinners and Vietnamese cooking classes. Dorm beds start at US$4, a single room is US$12.
  • Hà Khoa Hotel Đà Lạt won the Booking.com Travellers Award 2020. The hotel has modern, spacious rooms, each one with a balcony. In addition, there is a sun terrace with lovely city views. Rooms start at US$17 per night
  • Lamarque Dalat Villa is a small hotel in a beautiful elegant villa and has a stunning outdoor swimming pool and gardens. Double rooms with terrace start at US$71 per night, including breakfast.
  • The Crazy House (see above) is not only one of the most unique places to visit in Vietnam, but also one of the most unique guesthouses you can stay at. A double room in this fantastical fairy tale guesthouse starts at US$45, including breakfast.

Crazy House guest room

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Vietnam’s Mekong Delta: Floating Markets and Life On The River

mekong delta boat8

When I tried to figure out my Vietnam itinerary, I had only a vague idea of the places I wanted to see, but visiting the Mekong Delta was one of the things that I knew I had to do – in fact, it was one of the things I was looking forward to the most. I am drawn to life on the water and life by the water, and the Mekong Delta sounded like a place of my liking: slow life on the river in a tropical setting. Floating markets, floating homes, laid back country life in a region that was fed by the many arteries of one of the largest rivers in the world. The Mekong runs through 6 countries in total: China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and the Mekong Delta is the main supplier of tropical fruits (70%) and the major producer and exporter of rice (60%) in the entire country.visit the mekong deltaThere are several ways to visit the Mekong Delta, which I’ll talk about in more detail at the end of the article, but I knew that I didn’t just want to get a glimpse of the Mekong Delta on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City – I wanted to get a good feel for the region and visit several places.mekong delta boat6I started in Can Tho, the main commercial hub of the region, and with a population of nearly 1.6 million, definitely not one of the small charming riverside towns I had pictured in my mind. The main reason for my stop here was the fact that Can Tho is a popular jumping-off point for boat rides to the Floating Markets. The floating markets are something unique to this region, and I wanted to experience at least one of them.visit the mekong deltaThe first thing I did upon arriving in Can Tho was trying to find a boat tour to the floating market in Cai Rang, which is the largest floating market in the area and on most traveler’s “to do list” when they visit the Mekong Delta. Since it is also known to be quite touristy, I expected there to be a bunch of tours easily available, but I couldn’t find a tour that sounded amazing, which is why I ended up booking a boat tour through Airbnb Experiences (the tour I took isn’t available on the website anymore, but check out other Airbnb Experiences in Can Tho here). I was booked on a boat tour the next morning at 5.30am – the floating markets start around dawn and finish in the early morning, before it gets too hot.mekong delta vietnam2I was up bright and early and surprised when I was the only one showing up at the meeting point – I expected there to be other people, but it was just me. My driver introduced himself and led me to a small wooden boat, in which I’d spend the next few hours.mekong delta sunrise1We didn’t waste any time and went up the river right away, just as the sun was starting to rise behind the horizon. It was a beautiful way to start the day, even grumpy not-a-morning-person me had to admit that. As we left the lights of the city behind us, it got even more beautiful. Coconuts lined the shores of the Can Tho River on both sides, the color of the sky changed every few minutes, as the sun rose higher, displaying a beautiful array of colors.mekong delta sunrise2We arrived at Cai Rang market, which is about four miles southwest of Can Tho, around 6.30am, and the area of the river on which the market took place was filled with boats: larger barges that were packed with pineapples, bananas and pumpkins, and smaller boats that were buying produce in large quantities for their local markets.mekong delta floating market1Many of the small boats that visit the market come from communities in the Mekong Delta that don’t have access to larger roads because they’re surrounded by many small arteries of the Mekong River, making it impossible to receive large deliveries by truck. Everything they need for their daily lives is delivered by boat.mekong delta pumpkin boatEveryone at the market was much more awake than I was at this ungodly hour which is why I happily agreed when a floating coffee vendor motioned to me if I wanted a cup. She maneuvered her boat right next to ours and handed me a small, hot coffee – served in a small plastic cup. It still baffles me that hot coffee is served in plastic cups in a lot of places, but I was grateful for the caffeine buzz.

There aren’t just coffee vendors serving both visitors and markets vendors: there was a boat offering banh mi sandwiches, another boat with soups, and a guy making he rounds with soft drinks.mekong delta floating banh mi vendorAs it got lighter, the market got busier. Other tourist boats appeared, and when I saw large groups of tourists squeezed in small boats, I started to appreciate my private ride – choosing the right tour can make a big difference when you visit the Mekong Delta (see below).

Observing the market was fascinating. I love markets and visit markets all over the world, and while most markets, no matter if they are in South East Asia or across the globe in Latin America, are pretty similar, a floating market is completely different. The logistics of getting goods from one boat to another, to dock the boat close enough to the barge they are buying from, trying to make sure that the goods are fresh – it all comes with unique challenges.mekong delta floating drinks vendorHowever, the vendors here have been dealing with these challenges for decades, and what looks complicated to me as an outsider is what they have been doing their entire lives. In fact, they don’t know it any other way.Mekong Delta Floating marketIn this part of Vietnam, a lot of villages along the Mekong arteries don’t have access to larger market towns because of a lack of bridges – even though several bridges have been built over the past few years – and these villages get their goods and fresh produce from floating vendors who go up and down the river with their goods.mekong delta floating truck

mekong delta pineapple1While I was people watching, my driver bought a pineapple which he skillfully carved out for me – in my eyes, the perfect breakfast!

After lingering at the market for a while, my boat driver headed further south on the river. Another advantage of the private tour I booked is that I got to see another floating market that is not visited by many group tours, and I also got to take in more life on the river.

Our first stop, just north of Cai Rang market, is a gas station, and just like at any other gas station, we get in line. Only that this line is formed by boats, not cars.mekong delta gas stationFueled up, we went further down the river, and it was fascinating to watch the river wake up and come to life. I saw people meditate outside their houses, shower, brush their teeth, or eat a bowl of soup.

Most people had clothing racks outside their houses, and most of the houses sit on stilts.mekong delta stilt homeThere was one house that was held up by a retired boat. Houses often miss walls, or they are held together by corrugated tin. Bamboo stilts are ubiquitous, used to hold up anything from laundry and roofs to power lines. Many houses aren’t much more than little shacks, some of them wide open towards the river, allowing people who glide by in a boat to catch a glimpse of their home furnishings and daily rituals.mekong delta houseEvery family that lives by the water has a boat. For many, it is the only way to get around. I saw school kids being brought to school in a boat by their mom. Couples were bringing back groceries on their boat. Some floating vendors don’t sell at markets, but go from house to house offering their goods – I guess that’s the Mekong Delta version of grocery delivery?mekong delta floating vendorI watched people transport fruits and vegetables to sell them at a floating market. It made me wonder if they appreciate their commute, which I consider so much more picturesque than the commute most of us have – subways, freeways, sitting in traffic jams.. – or if they see it as a hassle to have to use a boat to get anywhere.mekong delta early morningBecause of the lack of bridges, every few miles, there is a ferry boat, which people use to get to the other side of the river. The ferry docks, about a dozen scooters drive onto the boat, the ferry crosses the river, and as soon as it docks on the other side, the scooters drive off and continue their commute.mekong delta ferryOccasionally, we passed a house that had been claimed by the river.mekong delta abandoned houseOne thing I noticed was that garbage is a big issue here. It seemed like most people disposed their garbage right into the river, or piled it up next to their houses. But without roads, there aren’t any garbage trucks coming by to pick up the trash.mekong delta garbageAn hour later, we arrive at Phong Dien Floating Market. Right away I noticed a big difference to the market in Cai Rang: there weren’t any large barges here. Instead, the vendors here arrive in small stand-up rowing boats and sell mainly fresh fruits and vegetables from their community.phong dien floating marketAlmost all the vendors in Phong Dieng were women. Some of the boats were filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables, others offered only one: I spotted a boat loaded with cabbage, and another one filled to the brim with pineapples.mekong delta floating pineapple vendorThe atmosphere here felt much more relaxed. In Cai Rang, there was a lot more noise. The loud motors of the larger boats, people yelling, tourists.

Here, I felt like I was watching an intimate gathering of local women who get together to chat, joke and have a coffee – all while stocking up on things they need and selling produce off their land.mekong delta floating vegetable vendorThis market was also considerably smaller than the Cai Rang Floating Market, but don’t think you’ll have it all to yourself: some tourist boats make it all the way down to Phong Dien.

After observing the market vendors for a while as they were haggling, inspecting the produce, and gossiping, I motioned to my driver, who didn’t speak a single word of English, that I was ready to move on.mekong delta pineapple vendorsWe were about halfway through the 6-hour tour, and I wondered what else I’d get to see, because the boat was turning around, and we headed back the same way we came. But after a while, the boat slowed down and he turned into a little side canal off the Can Tho River.visit the mekong DeltaAway from the main river, it was so tranquil and the trees that were growing on both sides of the canal formed a natural leaf roof over the water. It was beautiful.

We stopped at a small pier where he told me to get out of the boat. “Breakfast”, he said, and pointed towards a restaurant with a large palm tree filled garden. This was the part of the tour that I found a little annoying, because I was told by the waiter, who spoke better English, that I had to buy breakfast for me and for my driver and the prices at this restaurant were definitely inflated for tourists. Another sign that this place was exclusively here for tourists was the fact that the menu was entirely in English, and there were photos of the dishes next to the names.spring rollsMy driver took a nap in one of the hammocks that were lining the courtyard while I was eating some spring rolls, and then we continued our tour through the canals – which reminded me a lot of the backwaters of Kerala in Southern India. A different continent, and yet a very similar life. People were bathing in the canals, washing laundry and dishes in the muddy waters – just as I’d seen them do it in Kerala.mekong delta backwatersBefore we returned onto the main river, my driver stopped the boat again and pointed at a large building right on the shore: a coconut candy factory. This was clearly a regular stop on all of the boat tours, because the place was packed with tourists – in fact, more tourists than I’d seen all day. It was a little bit too touristy for me, but in the end I walked out with a couple of coconut candy snacks, because who I am to turn down an opportunity to try some local candy?coconut candy factory layered cakeAfter this stop, we made our way back to Can Tho, where we docked at 12.30pm. One might think that six hours in a boat sound like a lot, but the six hours flew by, and I really enjoyed my time on the river. This tour alone made my visit to the Mekong Delta, but I was eager to see more.mekong delta fishermanWalking back to my guesthouse, I noticed how different Can Tho felt once you got away from the river. I didn’t find the town particularly interesting, but I had decided to spend another day there to see a little bit more of the town, and while researching what there was to do in Can Tho I came across a “Pay What You Want” food tour. An interesting concept for a food tour, and since I was still familiarizing myself with all the different dishes in Vietnam, I signed up for it.can tho templeThe food tour turned out to be great (see bottom of the post for details) – especially considering the suggested donation at the end of the tour was only US$5! We had to pay for the food, but food is so cheap in Vietnam that my share of all the food we consumed was only VND200,000 (about US$8.50) – and that included to beers.

We started with fresh spring rolls which had an interesting twist because green banana as well as pineapple were added to the more conventional ingredients like cucumber and carrots. The second stop included pork muffins (which I skipped), and then we had two dishes at the third stop: tofu and eggplant, both grilled over a hot flame. We washed down the food with some Vietnamese beer before we finished the night with sweet rice from a street vendor. The rice was mixed together with coconut milk and served in a rice waffle which was delicious.can tho food tourThe rest of my time in Can Tho was spent wandering the streets of the city, but after a couple of days I was ready to move on. After experiencing life on the river, I wanted to get a little closer to life along the river – the little communities near the smaller distributaries that make up the Mekong Delta.mekong delta boatI thought that a homestay, living with a local family for a couple of nights, would be the best way for me to get a better understanding of what it’s actually like to live in the Mekong Delta. I found a lovely family that hosts visitors in their home on the outskirts of Ben Tre, and the three days I spent there were fantastic.ben tre country roadIncluded in the homestay was the use of the family’s bicycles and a simply breakfast of an omelet and baguette and traditional Vietnamese coffee, ca phe. For a ca phe, ground beans go into a French drip filter (called a phin), which sits on top of a glass (or cup), and hot water is added to the phin. The water slowly trickles through into the cup, resulting in a very strong coffee. Most people sweeten it with condensed milk, but I prefer it black.vietnamese breakfastI pimped my breakfast by adding some dragon fruit and baby bananas from the local market and then took off on one of their rickety bikes, without a fixed destination, just a vague idea of smaller roads and paths I could follow to see more of the area.mekong delta cyclistI used GoogleMaps to have an idea where I was, but I just followed roads that looked interesting to me.

It was an incredible experience to ride through little villages and along tiny canals, and the streets were so empty that I wasn’t afraid to cycle there.mekong delta dogsI passed dozens of coconut plantations and coconut factories (Ben Tre is famous for its coconut candies which are produced in massive quantities here), and watched coconut flakes drying on big sheets in front of small houses.mekong delta coconut truckI crossed countless little rivers and canals on wooden bridges, and every time someone passed me in a boat, they waved at me or said hello.mekong delta boat1Everyone was extremely friendly, and I enjoyed the slower pace of life here. In Saigon, everyone always seems to be in a hurry – here, it was quite the opposite.

Every once in a while, I passed a small cemetery.mekong delta graveyardI saw local markets and watched people put out fish and rice paper to dry out in the sun.ben tre countrysideThe best part of the day was the afternoon when school was out and I found myself surrounded by local children on bicycles that looked so old that I assumed their grandparents had already used them when they cycled to school. The kids were all eager to practice their English with the foreigner, yelling their “Hellos” and “How are you’s”.mekong delta marketThis part of the country is so green and lush that the Mekong Delta is in fact called “Vietnam’s Rice Bowl”: this region provides one third of Vietnam’s food crop!mekong delta boatsBy the end of the day, I had cycled over 20 miles and crisscrossed the network of canals near Ben Tre in nearly 100° Fahrenheit heat – I was sweaty and dirty, but everything I saw on my bike ride was exactly what I’d hoped for.Mekong Delta bike ride1I finished the day with a beautiful sunset over the Ham Luong River, a branch of the Mekong River in the Bến Tre Province.ben tre river sunset

I thought that the Mekong Delta was an incredibly special place – not just compared to other places in the world, but also compared to other places in Vietnam. The country is developing so quickly, the cities are changing so drastically, becoming more modern and fast-paced. And even though the Mekong Delta is changing, too, with new bridges being added constantly, you can still get a glimpse of traditional village life, and you can still experience a simpler life, much slower than life in Vietnam’s hectic cities. Should you visit the Mekong Delta? Absolutely!

estuary

How to visit the Mekong Delta

Day Trips to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City

The easiest way to visit the Mekong Delta is taking a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City – especially if you don’t have a lot of time. However, I highly recommend seeing the Mekong Delta from both land and water – because they provided two vastly different perspectives.

If you’re strapped for time and you can only do a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, all of these are good options – decide what’s most important to you when picking the right tour for you: A rowboat excursion? A floating market? A small group? Kayaking?

Note that visiting Cai Rang Floating Market on a 1-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, because the market takes place very early in the morning and closes around 8 – 8.30am. It takes about 3.5 hours to get from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho, plus another 40 minutes on the boat to the Floating Market.

 

Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City in 1 day

Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City 2 – 3 days

If you have a few days and you’d like to do an organized tour from Ho Chi Minh City, here are a few good options:

 

How to get to the Mekong Delta independently

It’s easier to visit the Mekong Delta with a tour, but of course you can visit the region independently – and if you want to spend more time in the Mekong Delta and explore several places, I recommend taking the bus from Ho Chi Minh City.

There are regular buses from Ho Chi Minh City to all Mekong Delta cities:

  • Ho Chi Minh City – Ben Tre: 2 hrs 15 mins (VND80,000)
  • Ho Chi Minh City – Vinh Long: 3 hours (VND105,000)
  • Ho Chi Minh City – Can Tho: 3.5 hours (VND110,000)

You can see departure times and book your seat online at Futa Bus.
can tho bicycle vendor

Local Mekong Delta Tours

Cai Rang Floating Market from Can Tho

Mekong Tours, a local tour operator in Can Tho, offers two options for guided tours:

If you walk down to the pier, you can hire a boat at Can Tho Travel Service Center (it’s on GoogleMaps as Can Tho Tourist) to take you to the markets. Be aware that they usually don’t come with a guide though, only with a Vietnamese-speaking driver. They offer three options – use these prices for your negotiations:

  • a 3-hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + fruit gardens is around VND360,000 per boat
  • a 4-hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + river canals is around VND550,000 per boat
  • a 4-hour tour to Cai Rang Floating Market + Phong Dien Floating Market is around VND550,000 per boat

Can Tho Food Tour

Can Tho Bicycle Tour

mekong delta boat3

The best homestays in the Mekong Delta

Of course there are hotels and resorts in this region, but I recommend staying in a homestay when you visit the Mekong Delta – at least for a couple of nights. Here are the best ones in the area:

Ben Tre Area

Can Tho Area

  • Queenie House – small family-run hotel / home stay (US$21 per night)
  • Farmer Homestay – small bamboo cottages on the outskirts of Can Tho (US$36 per night, including breakfast)
  • Boutique Lodge Can Tho Homestay – near Can Tho (US$39 per night, breakfast included)
  • Can Tho Ecolodge – near Can Tho, featuring free bicycles, outdoor swimming pool and a garden (from US$65 per night, including breakfast)
  • Binh Minh Eco Lodge – beautiful eco-lodge with swimming pool near Can Tho, right on the river (from US$91 per night, breakfast included)

Vinh Long Area

  • Jardin du Mekong – an eco-home stay in Vinh Long (30 mins by boat from Cai Be Floating Market) with bungalows from US$62 per night, including breakfast and dinner

visit the mekong delta

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Tales from Vietnam: Surprised by Rach Gia

rach gia marina

Rach Gia wasn’t supposed to be more than a layover stop on the way from Phu Quoc to Can Tho, and I at first I didn’t even plan to spend the night there, thinking I could take a morning ferry from Phu Quoc, and upon arriving in Rach Gia take a cab straight to the bus station and hop on the next bus into the heart of the Mekong Delta. Upon second thought though, I decided the journey would be quite long (30 mins to the port, 2.5 hours on the ferry, 30 mins taxi, 3.5 hours on the bus, which makes this a 7-hour travel day), and why stress myself? I had time, I wasn’t in any rush, and if I spent the night in Rach Gia I could also take a later ferry and maximize my time on the island.rach gia street with blooming treeI looked up hotels in Rach Gia and when I saw that the second best rated hotel was a $10-a-night hotel right across the street from the ferry port (the best rated hotel was an $11 homestay, btw), my decision was made. I was also intrigued by the advertised “8 free taxi rides per day included in your stay”, making me wonder how in the world this hotel was making any money.rach gia pierLucky them: I love walking, so instead of calling a cab I used my two feet and set out to explore the town.

There aren’t many sights in Rach Gia, but I decided to still check out what the guidebook recommended I should see in Rach Gia. The temple the Lonely Planet thought was noteworthy, Nguyen Trung Truc Temple, was just a 5-minute walk from my hotel, and since I do love me a good temple, I decided to start my exploration of the town right there.rach gia nguyen trung templeThe temple is dedicated to a Vietnamese resistance fighter, Nguyen Trung Truc, who led a raid against the French army when they arrived in Vietnam in the 1860s. He burned a French war ship and was eventually executed for this in the market place of Rach Gia. The temple features a sculpture of Trung Truc on the altar, and various interesting details inside the main temple as well as the grounds surrounding it, including beautiful dragon-shaped bushes and an altar built into the trunk of a majestic old tree.rach gia nguyen templeI crossed the footbridge across from the temple, crossing the first of two rivers that cut through the city. After reading the lackluster description of Rach Gia in my trusted Lonely Planet, I didn’t expect much beyond a boring port city, but to my surprise, I found the town rather charming. I wandered along tree-lined streets, flowers blossoming in big flower pots on the sidewalks, a few chickens and roosters roaming the streets, and many cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks. The many trees on the sidewalks offered natural shade – perfect to have a glass of iced coffee underneath one of them.rach gia sidewalk cafeMy first stop was Lau Chay Hoa Sen – the vegetarian restaurant Hoa Sen – which I had found thanks to Google (thank God for GoogleMaps and modern technology – it is now so much easier for vegetarians to find meat-free restaurants!), and which turned out to be a Hot Pot restaurant. If you ever had Hot Pot, you know that it is usually a dish that’s to be shared, but since I was starving, I ordered it anyway, even though I was by myself.rach gia vegetarian hot potAs the family who runs the restaurant started setting up the food in front of me, I realized that I had no idea how to cook all the vegetables the right way. And while I was still looking at the hot pot and the large plate with raw vegetables (half of which I had no clue what it was) and herbs with a puzzled look on my face, the family’s grandpa came over and motioned to me if he could add some veggies to the sizzling mixture of broth, tofu and mushrooms. English was not spoken here at all, but luckily, body language goes pretty far, and after I nodded and gave him my brightest smile, he started to break the large vegetables up into smaller pieces and added them to the mixture.rach gia hot pot chayHe then showed me how to add the rice noodles that they’d served on a different plate, and how to get the right mix of herbs, veggies, tofu and broth in the little bowl they put out there for me. The entire family was sitting at a table across the room from me, laughing and watching me enjoying my first hot pot experience. And how I enjoyed it! I kept thinking how flavorful the herbs were, how fresh everything tasted, and how I didn’t want the meal to end (just like with all the other meals I’ve had in Vietnam so far). But an hour later, I left the restaurant stuffed and grateful for their hospitality.rach gia streetOne thing I noticed on my stroll through town was how much more welcoming the people here were – every cafe I passed I heard excited ‘hellos’, every kid I passed waved at me and also practiced their limited English skills (‘hellooooo’), people who drove by me on their scooters waved at me. I hadn’t felt that welcome in any of the places I’d visited so far, but that said, Rach Gia was only the third stop on my Vietnam trip after Saigon and Phu Quoc. People in Saigon seemed to have the typical “big city grumpiness” to them, and people in Phu Quoc seemed mostly annoyed with all the foreigners on their little island. One bar owner told me that Russians, who make up the majority or tourists there, could be pretty obnoxious, so I can’t blame them for their indifferent way of acting.rach gia nguyen trung temple sculptureIt seemed like I was the only white person in town, and I was so aware of this that I got excited when another “mi chang”, as the Vietnamese call white people, passed me on his scooter, barely able to resist the urge to excitedly wave at him. What I found so pleasant about Rach Gia was the fact that this wasn’t a touristy place whatsoever. Instead of ticking off sights I was able to just wander and soak up the atmosphere, take in the local life, people watch and observe.rach gia gateOn Nguyen Trung Truc Street, I was walking by plenty of fancy-looking boutiques and clothes stores, intercepted with little areas on the sidewalk where people set up their street food stalls and sold banh mi sandwiches or noodle dishes. I stopped at a cafe for an iced coffee, and somehow ended up with three drinks.rach gia drinksThe main street of the city, Lac Hong, is a wide 4-lane boulevard that leads all the way down to the waterfront, and is lined with shops and small cafes, some of which were so hipster-cute that they could’ve been straight out of Seoul or Bangkok. I strolled down the boulevard to the very end, where it merges into Park Cong Vien Bai Duong (Ocean Beach Park). Stone tables are set up right on the shore here, so that people can enjoy the vast sea views.rach gia sunsetThis is a place that is particularly scenic during sunset, and I lingered for a while before I headed over to Eden, a stylish Korean restaurant / coffee shop right next to the park.eden coffee drinkThe hotel had recommended it to guests in an old-fashioned folder with restaurant and bar recommendations (which I truly appreciated, considering the Lonely Planet didn’t have a single food recommendation), along with Boulevard Cafe, just one block away, and where I had to stop for a quick coffee simply because it was so pretty with hundreds of lights installed in the many trees right in the courtyard of the cafe.rach gia cafeIf you’re looking for something to do at night, head to Ton Duc Thang, which I walked all the way north from Lac Hong until I reached the bridge. I don’t know how many karaoke bars I’ve passed – it seems like people in Rach Gia take karaoke very seriously, considering the karaoke bars were all so big that from afar I assumed they were casinos. There are also a number of bars on this street were DJs were playing loud house music – the bars all felt like clubs to me, only that nobody was dancing. Instead, people were sitting around the tables, sipping beers and watching the DJs spinning records (can you still say that when they actually use a laptop?).rach gia barIf you’re looking for a quieter place, head to Cafe Seaview, which is right across the street from the river front and in addition to coffee has a large food menu.

While I was out on my stroll, I walked by the Phuong Trang bus office to buy a ticket for the bus to Can Tho. According to Travelfish, they offer free hotel pickup which seemed too good to be true, but the lady in the ticket office confirmed that I’d be picked up the next morning at my hotel. We communicated entirely via GoogleTranslate – me typing questions into my phone and her typing her answers into her phone. I am starting to wonder how people traveled before everyone had a smartphone! How did I travel before I had a smartphone?! She didn’t speak a single word of English, my Vietnamese is limited to Hello and Thank You, and yet I was able to tell her when and where I wanted to go.rach gia pineapple vendorI would’ve happily spent another day in Rach Gia,but I was also excited for my next stop: the Mekong Delta, a place that’s been on my travel wish list for quite some time now.rach gia river

Rach Gia Practical Information:

Buses to & from Rach Gia

If you’re taking the bus from Rach Gia, be aware that the bus station is in Rach Soi, just south of Rach Gia (it took me almost 25 mins from my hotel to get there).

I used Travelfish.org for bus schedules and companies, and you can also find ferry information on Travelfish.

The Ferry from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc

There are several ferries per day from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc – passenger ferries as well as car ferries, slow ferries and fast ferries. You can find a good overview over ferry times and ferry prices here.

rach gia hotelWhere to stay in Rach Gia

When I visited Rach Gia, there were no hostels in town, but since my visit, a hostel opened, and it looks great:

  • STAY hostel – a double room is US$11, a dorm bed is US$6.
  • Kiet Hong Hotel – the basic hotel I stayed at, right across from the ferry terminal. A double room for two is around $12.
  • Nho Hotel – a brand new (2020) hotel that is also right by the ferry terminal. Double rooms from US$9.

 

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Three unusual types of coffee to try in Danang

best coffee danang

One thing that amazed me in Danang was just how many coffee shops there were. I know that if you have traveled around Vietnam you’ll think now: ‘Can’t you say that about every city in Vietnam?’, – and yes, you absolutely can – but I found that in Danang the density of coffee shops seemed higher than anywhere else I’d been thus far.

There was one street in particular, Nguyen Thai Hoc between Yen Bai and Duong Tran Phu, where I found five coffee shops right next to one another.

If you are a coffee lover, you’ll love Danang. And if you want to try something that’s a little different from your regular black coffee or americano or Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk: Danang’s got you covered.

Here are three coffees that I tried in Danang that were very different from a regular cup of joe:

1 Avocado Espresso

I stumbled upon this new specialty coffee shop because they offer coffee lessons, and then I learned that they also offer a drink I had not seen anywhere else yet (although, supposedly, this is a thing in Vietnam, and of course after seeing this one I saw it on the menu in several other coffee shops!). Apparently avocado coffee is also popular in Indonesia.

Now, I’d like to say that I consider myself as somewhat as a coffee purist – I don’t like my coffee sweetened and I don’t like too much milk (of any kind) in it either. So naturally I was skeptical about this coffee. However, my curiosity won. All I had to lose were VND75,000, or around US$3.23.

The only reasons I thought this drink might actually turn out okay were: a) it was an iced drink, not hot coffee; and b) I have made avocado chocolate desserts in the past that turned out to be delicious. Still: coffee and avocado was a novelty for me. The barista uses about half an avocado, some condensed milk to sweeten it, and blends it with ice cubes. The drink is served with lots of chocolate powder on top, and the double shot of espresso is served in a little measuring cup on the side. It’s more like an avocado coffee smoothie.

The verdict? This drink is surprisingly good! You don’t taste the avocado at all, but I felt like I got some added nutritional value with the avocado (potassium, fiber, vitamin B6 & vitamin C, and healthy fats). It’s smooth, not too sweet, is refreshing and at the same time gives you a nice caffeine buzz.

Not a drink I’d order on a daily basis, but a nice treat on a hot day.

Conkopi is worth a visit for their other espresso-based coffee drinks, too – excellent quality. It’s a tiny coffee shop right by the river, you can combine it with a stroll along the waterfront.

Conkopi Specialty Coffee and Roastery

  • Address: 92 Bạch Đằng
  • Opening Times: Monday – Saturday from 8am to 7pm, Sundays from 8.30am – 7pm

vietnam avocado coffee

2 Dirty Coffee

Golem Coffee is known for its “Dirty Coffee” (Cà Phê Bẩn), and when you look at the photo, I think you can see why it’s called “Dirty”. It is made with espresso and a sweet whipped cream that spills over the cup, topped with cocoa powder, creating a messy looking drink. It’s the perfect coffee drink to put on Instagram, but it was a bit too sweet for my liking – I don’t think I’d get it again. If you do like some sweetness in your coffee, you will enjoy this unique coffee creation, which will set you back VND55,000 (~US$2.35).

The cafe itself is also worth mentioning: a leafy, plant-filled courtyard with wooden furniture, just off Tran Quoc Toan Street. It feel like a tranquil oasis away from the noise of the city. They also have food, so bring a book and enjoy a quiet afternoon here.

Golem Coffee

  • Address: 27 Trần Quốc Toản
  • Opening Times: Daily from 7.30am – 10pm

dirty coffee da nang vietnam

3 Deconstructed Coconut Iced Coffee

Tucked away in an alleyway off of Thai Pien Street, I almost couldn’t find this coffee shop, which I had discovered thanks to Instagram. Someone posted a picture of the deconstructed iced coconut coffee and I knew I had to try it, simply because of the way it looked.

The coffee shop itself, Brewman Coffee Concept, could’ve been straight out of Brooklyn or Berlin – a stylish hipster hangout with a cool Scandic minimalist design. The high glass roof gives the cafe an airy and bright feel, and I would say this place is worth checking out for the design alone. Coffee is taken seriously here, and on the long counter you can see a V60 and a Chemex as well as traditional Vietnamese phins: Coffee drinks here range from classic espresso drinks (Australian-inspired with Flat White and Piccolo on the menu) to Vietnamese- style coffee. But the showstopper here is the iced coconut coffee. While this drink isn’t unusual in Vietnam – in fact, you’ll find it at pretty much every coffee shop – what makes this one unusual is the fact that it is served “deconstructed”: the iced coconut frappe (a mix of coconut cream, condensed milk and crushed ice) is served in a big glass and the espresso comes in a small bottle on the side. Which means, you can make the drink as strong or as weak as you desire. This was one of the best coconut iced coffees I had in all of Vietnam (the other one was at the Rest Stop Cafe inside the Pier Resort in Phu Quoc, if you want to mark it in your GoogleMaps).

Brewman Coffee Concept

    • Address: k27a/21 Thái Phiên, Phước Ninh
    • Opening times: Daily from 7am – 10pm

vietnam coffee

Interested in learning about other Vietnamese coffee connotations? Check out Lonely Planet’s Guide To Vietnamese Coffee (which also has some great recommendations for Ha Noi, if you’re heading that way).

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Phu Quoc Island: Vietnam’s Phuket?

phu quoc deserted beach2

As my taxi was driving down the island’s main street and we reached a touristy part that was lined with hotels, casinos and restaurants, I started to doubt my decision to come to Phu Quoc. Was I too late? Had this island paradise been completely destroyed, turned into a cheap package vacation destination, as several blogs and websites had suggested?

Even before arriving at my guesthouse, I could already tell that it wasn’t the serene island getaway anymore that some travel guides (still) described it as.phu quoc bai sao emptyI based myself in the Long Beach area for my stay, knowing that this was the part of the island with the most places to sleep and eat – and of course right on the beach. 20 kilometers of beach, stretching all the way along the southern part of the island’s western shore. Long Beach is also not far from the island’s main town, Duong Dong, where the popular night market is held.phu quoc vietnam beach3During my first two days on the island, I didn’t venture far from Long Beach, which is long enough to make for hour-long walks in each direction. I didn’t dislike the beach, but I also wasn’t too impressed by it, and the many resorts that were lining it. None of them seemed overly appealing, each one setting up rows and rows of sun chairs on the beach every morning, which soon would fill up with Western tourists hungry for sun.phu quoc vietnam beach2Along the main street, where most of the restaurants are, I was constantly approached in Russian, and I realized that this was the part of the island where most package vacationers spent their holidays. Restaurant menus were written in Cyrillic letters, and pharmacies were praising their cheap drugs in Cyrillic, too.Long Beach Phu Quoc russianOne thing I was tremendously looking forward to was the Night Market. I still have vivid memories of the night markets in Thailand which were one my favorite things there, with plenty of delicious food to devour. The night market in Phu Quoc fell flat in comparison, however. The food was very seafood and fish-centric (to be expected on an island), but I also kept seeing the same things over and over again, just sold by different vendors.phu quoc night market musselsOn my third day, I finally worked up the courage to rent a scooter and explore the island beyond Long Beach. After a scooter accident in Thailand in 2011 that left me so traumatized that I wouldn’t rent a scooter again until 2017, six years after the incident, I am still a little wary of renting scooters. But after only a couple of days on Phu Quoc I had seen how long it took me to walk to places that seemed only a stone’s throw away on the map, and I knew if I wanted to see more of the island I had no choice but to rent a scooter.Phu Quoc scooterBus connections barely exist, and hopping from beach to beach by taxi would be possible, but not all that easy, since taxis are quite rare outside of the town, the airport and the Long Beach area. Plus, being able to stop to take photos and randomly follow a sign to a sight along the way is something you cannot do unless you rent a scooter.phu quoc fishing boat

If you’ve never rented a scooter in Asia, this is pretty much how it goes:

I walk up to the owner of my guesthouse. ‘Um, do you rent scooters?’

Owner: ‘Yes, here, take a look.’ Points to half a dozen scooters that have seen better days.

Me: ‘How much?’

Owner: ‘120k a day (US$5.20).

Me, nodding, ‘Okay.’

Owner walks away and returns with keys which he hands me, and wishes me a good day.

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for my drivers license when renting a scooter in Asia. Or if I’ve ever even rode one.phu quoc coqAnd so off I went, slowly getting accustomed to the not-so-great bike. I took advantage of having wheels and drove straight into town for breakfast, because Google had revealed that were two vegan restaurants which meant I could finally have a Vietnamese (veggie) breakfast. At first, I was terrified by the traffic and especially all the scooters, but as soon as I left Duong Dong, I started feeling safer and eased into riding a scooter again. Suddenly, the roads were empty, gone were the droves of scooters that were surrounding me in the island’s main town.phu quoc sunset cocktailMy first stop was Ong Lang Beach, a beach just northwest of Duong Dong on the northeastern coast of the island. On the way there I got lost and ended up in a small village, which gave me a first taste of what Phuc Quoc was like beyond the touristy parts. The villagers were gathering around market stalls and fishermen were bringing in the morning catch on motorbikes. There was not a single tourist in sight.phu quoc empty beachWhen I arrived in Ong Lang beach about half an hour later, I couldn’t believe how different it was from Long Beach. There were only three or four beach bars here, with a couple of rows of sun chairs in front of each one, and that was it. None of the bars was busy, in each one, only a few chairs were taken and the rest of the beach was completely empty. It was heavenly. I could have easily spent all day here, but after a banana smoothie and an hour of sunbathing, I decided that it was time to head further north.phu quoc empty beach vietnamMy next stop was a small beach in the northwestern corner of Phu Quoc: Gan Dhau Beach. On my way there I realized for the first time how big the island is – it took me over forty minutes to get here from Ong Lang Beach, and it had taken me nearly as long to get there from Long Beach. On the way to the island’s northwestern tip I drove by the second most bizarre thing I saw during my entire stay: the gigantic Vinpearl Amusement Park.phu quoc deserted beachSelf-described as ‘the largest and most modern amusement park in Southwest Vietnam’, this park does not only offer thrill rides and water slides, but right next door, a safari park with 2,000 animals, which had me wonder how the heck (and from where!?) they got all these animals. It also had me wonder: Is this what a relatively small tropical island needs? An amusement and a safari park? Well, apparently yes, but I didn’t see a single person on any of the water slides either time I rode by the park.phu quoc private beachMy original plan was to check out the famous Sao Beach, but when I saw that it’d take me nearly 90 minutes to get all the way down to the southwest of the island, I changed my plans and decided to stay in the north of the island. My next stop was Thom Beach, a small beach on the northeastern tip of Phu Quoc that barely sees any tourists. I took the advice of Tom of Vietnam Chronicle and stopped at Local Beach Bar, a little bar and homestay run by a lovely family, for a refreshment, but since it was low tide, I didn’t stay long – I feel like the beach is nicer during high tide. I used Vietnam Chronicles’ Phu Quoc beaches article as my main travel guide to the island, since I felt that our taste in beaches was pretty similar.phu quoc north islandI ended my day of exploring at Rory’s Wreck, which was still in the process of being finished. Rory used to have a popular beach bar in Long Beach, but decided it was time for a change. At his new place, a huge bar made to look like a wooden ship, there was a pool being added when I was visiting – and I wished that it was already finished, because the beach here wasn’t too inviting. I did enjoy the quieter vibe on the east coast, however, and decided to see more of it the following day.phu quoc northwest islandThe next morning, I hopped on my scooter like a pro – my first stop was Sao Beach. This beach was supposedly Phu Quoc’s show stopper, a truly stunning beach with white, powdery sand, crystal clear water and palm trees lining the long half-moon shaped bay this beach was located in.phu quoc white sand beach4But I had also read several articles that said Sao Beach was ruined now, and that what you find there these days isn’t at all what Sao Beach used to be, when, only a few years ago, you wouldn’t find much there except for a few adventurous backpackers. Quoting Vietnam Chronicles: ‘Its increasing popularity led to haphazard, temporary construction of small resorts, bars, cafés, and restaurants; trash quickly built up – squeezed into the narrow freshwater creeks that feed onto the beach and into the sea; jet skis filled the waters with gasoline and broke the silence; even the husks of fresh coconuts – consumed in the hundreds by day-trippers each day – built up to clog the sand and the surf.’phu quoc bai sao jet skisAfter reading Tom’s take on it, which concluded it was a sad place and a sad sight, I almost didn’t want to go, but in the end I wanted to see what the fuss was all about and if the beach was really ruined. I read that you visit Sao Beach in the morning, you still have a good chance to get the ‘deserted beach’ experience this once was, and so I left as soon as I woke up and headed south.

The huge parking lot I arrived in was the first clue that this was indeed a popular beach, but when I arrived at around 8.30am, there was barely anyone around, and the beach restaurants were just opening up for the day.phu quoc white sand beach6I started my exploration with a walk all the way to the northern end, which was still lined by palm trees. It seemed that most of them had been removed further south to make room for a few restaurants. But what I also discovered was that as soon as I passed the last sun chair, the beach became significantly dirtier. All of a sudden, I was walking through piles of trash instead of soft white sand. Apparently, the beach bars clean up their respective areas along the beach, but don’t bother beyond those.phu quoc bai sao trash garbageI noticed the same thing when I walked all the way to the southern end of the beach: past the last restaurant, the beach started looking much less attractive. You can’t deny, however, the appeal of this beach: the white sand, the crystal clear water, looking out at an array of different shades of blue. The shallow water, that allows you to walk far out into the ocean without the water ever even reaching your hip, adds to the beauty.phu quoc white sand beach5I did make the most of my lazy morning at Sao Beach, spending most of it on a swing in the ocean, my feet in the water every time I swung back and forth, and lounging in the sand with a Vietnamese iced coffee ($0.65) in my hand. The later it got, the less I was able to block out the growing noise of the arriving sun-seekers around me. The jet skies started roaring, larger groups arrived, enjoying a mid-morning beer, and a line of people forming in front of the swing that I had all to myself just an hour earlier to take Instagram-worthy pictures.phu quoc bai sao swingWhen I left just after noon and saw several tourist buses pull into the parking lot, I felt like I’d made the decision to move on to my next stop at the exactly right time.

I drove north, along the coast, with the intention to see more of what Tom calls the ‘east coast road beaches’ in his beach guide to Phu Quoc. On my way north, I stopped at Ham Ninh, a small fishing village in the central part of the island. I had read that this village would be a good place to get a taste of the life of the island’s fishermen, but to be honest, I found it quite touristy with lots of stalls selling tacky shell souvenirs and the long pier that led out into the sea lined with several floating restaurants. I didn’t waste much time there and went further north, my tummy rumbling, still without any food in it.phu quoc marketAs I was heading further north and caught glimpses of the ocean to my right every now and again, I wished there were more accessible beaches here, but I realized that while most of the west coast is one long stretch of beach (Long Beach), on the central east coast there aren’t really any noteworthy beaches per se, instead you have a number of small boutique resorts and hotels that allow you to access the beach if you buy a drink or meal there.phu quoc road tripI stopped at the Rocks Beach Bungalows for lunch, a beautifully designed small resort. There are only four bungalows, a picture-perfect swimming pool, a small restaurant, a hammock and a couple of lounge areas in the rocks the hotel is named after.

The place itself was fantastic, but I didn’t feel like going in the ocean here – I’d definitely stick to the pool.phu quoc resortA few minutes further north is Kiki Coconut Beach: here, the bungalows are more rustic, but the beach area is nicer with actual sand beach and beach chairs in between coconut palm trees.

Next on my list was the ‘Rest Stop’, the restaurant that belongs to the brand new The Pier resort which had opened only a few weeks before my visit. They lured me in with a big sign on the street advertising a free infinity pool, a rock bar, and a ‘photo shoot location’. Of course my interest was piqued.phu quoc new resort2The infinity pool was absolutely stunning, and I had the best coconut coffee in all of Vietnam there. The resort even has three overwater bungalows – I’m pretty sure the only ones on the island – although, upon closer inspection, I am not sure that Phu Quoc, and particular the eastern coast, would be my first choice for an overwater stay. The rest of the resort was divine though, and would make for a wonderfully quiet and relaxed getaway – simply because there’s not much around.phu quoc coconut iced coffeeOn my drive up the east coast road I noticed, however, that quite a few little bungalow resorts were being built – nothing like the crazy huge and characterless resorts on the west coast though. Every resort I saw on the east coast was small, elegant and beautifully designed. I read that this road had been paved only recently, making access to this part of Phu Quoc much easier, which is probably why people start seeing potential for hotels and restaurants there, like Rory’s, who moved to the east coast after many years on the west coast.phu quoc resort pierStill, I am not sure if I’d choose the east coast as my base on the island, because I found the number of restaurants and bars quite limited, while Long Beach – despite being quite tacky – offers everything from homemade Italian pasta to Indian dishes and even tacos. And of course plenty of Vietnamese eateries. I guess it depends on what you are looking for, and if you don’t mind riding a scooter every day to get to a different part of the island.phu quoc starfish4After finishing my east coast exploration, there was only one more thing on my Phu Quoc to-do-list: snorkeling! I read somewhere that Phu Quoc offers some of Vietnam’s best snorkeling spots, and of course I didn’t want to miss out on those.

The next day, I was on my way with a bunch of mainly Russians and a few Chinese, all packed into a mini bus headed all the way to the southern tip of the island. On my island excursion, I had deliberately ignored this part of Phu Quoc, because I knew that this was were the brand new cable car was located.phu quoc island trip2This cable car touts itself as the longest sea cable car in the world, spanning three islands: the main island of Phu Quoc, passing over a smaller uninhabited island and finally ending in Hon Thom island, part of the An Thoi Archipelago, nearly five miles (8 kilometers) long. The cable car opening in early 2018 made big news in the tourism world, adding another attraction to lure more visitors to Phu Quoc.phu quoc cable car“Why in the world does a tropical island need a cable car!?” was my first thought upon hearing about it, and when I finally saw the monstrous concrete polls that were installed on the lush green islands I could only shake my head. What a way to destroy the natural beauty of a tropical paradise. But apparently especially Chinese tourists, who are one of Phu Quoc’s biggest visitor groups, require more than just beaches, hence the amusement park, the safari park, and now the cable car. I am not sure how well the cable car, which cost VND10,000 billion (US$458.4 million) is being received: the company who is running it, the billion dollar Sun Group, who has investment projects totaling VND22,000 billion (roughly US$970.23 million) on the island, just permanently lowered the ticket prices considerably – and indefinitely. Originally priced at VND500,000 (US$21.55), going into year two of its operation, SunWorld lowered the ticket price now to VND150,000 (US$6.50), which is less than a third of the initial price.

 

I was trying to figure out the allure of this cable car – other than the admittedly striking aerial vistas of this island paradise – and found out that there’s actually not much at the end of the ride. Or at least nothing that you can’t get on Phu Quoc. Of course SunWorld made sure to open a couple of restaurants along the most pristine beach of Hon Thom, which is where most people who take the cable car, head to. If you don’t want to stay on the island, you have the option to use Hon Thom as the starting point to snorkeling trips to some further away islands.

But it wasn’t like you couldn’t visit Hon Thom before the cable car opened – tourist boats were making the trip daily. And the vistas from the deck of my snorkeling boat weren’t too shabby, either. Since the cable car opened in 2018, a water park opened in Hon Thom, in an attempt to attract more visitors to Hon Thom. phu quoc island trip1Since the cable car opened – within the Kien Giang biosphere reserve, by the way, which was recognized as a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2006, there has been a lot more talk about the island being ruined and overtourism destroying what’s left of its natural allure.phu quoc snorkelingTo think that less than a decade ago, the island didn’t have an airport, and now there are daily flights to international destinations – as far as the U.K.! – made me think of what happened to Phuket in Thailand. Phu Quoc’s airport opened in December 2012, and the little island suddenly saw visitor numbers skyrocket. Before the airport opened, only 239,000 people visited Phu Quoc – in 2019, the number of visitors was a staggering 4.5 million.phu quoc sunset5

In only seven years, the number of tourists visiting Phu Quoc grew by almost 2,000 per cent. There are only 107,000 locals on the island, and I am not sure if the island can handle the rapid growth. While the number of hotels and guesthouses has grown along with the number of visitors (there are over 700 accommodation options on the island now), tourism businesses still struggle to find enough staff.phu quoc vietnam beach mermaid statueThe environmental impact was noticeable during my snorkeling trip: while the shades of blue of the water looked dreamy, what I saw underneath the surface can only be described as bleak: dead coral, and there were barely any fish or other sea creatures around. It was a sad sight.phu quoc vietnam beach4Seeing the development on the island reminded me of Phuket in many ways: the malls that were being built, the growing number of big resorts, the entertainment options. In Phuket, it’s elephant trekking, in Phu Quoc, it’s a safari park. In Phuket, it’s ziplining, in Phu Quoc, it’s a cable car. Both islands struggle with the issues that come with overdevelopment: waste management (the landfill I saw on the island was disgusting), sewage water removal (it usually ends up in the ocean), the protection of the environment.phu quoc constructionAs I had suspected when I first arrived in Phu Quoc: it was not the island paradise anymore that it still was when I first heard about it (before the airport was completed). Instead, I found an island full of package tourists, where it was not easy to find remote corners. That said: they’re still there. I don’t think that the deserted beaches in the north of the island will be overrun by crowds anytime soon.phu quoc white sand beach7Just know what to expect when visiting Phu Quoc. If you’re looking for a remote tropical island, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re looking for a cheap island getaway with a functioning tourist infrastructure, you’ll get exactly what you came for.phu quoc long beach1

Phu Quoc Practical Information

Getting to Phu Quoc

Three budget airlines have daily domestic flights, connecting the island with mainland Vietnam. Flights cost as little as US$35. For cheap flights check:

  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Vietjet
  • Jetstar

..or use Skyscanner.com for a quick price comparison.

Phu Quoc has direct flights to most Asian hubs, and during high season (December – March) TUI even offers direct flights to London (a return flight can be as cheap as £350).phu quoc vietnam beach bar
Ferries to Phu Quoc

You can take a ferry from the town Rach Gia on mainland Vietnam, which takes about 2.5 hours. A ticket is VND330,000 (~US$14). Ferries run at 7am, 8:10am, 10:40am and 1:10pm – check the Super Dong Ferries website for up-to-date schedules and prices.

Visa for Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc has special visa regulations: you do NOT need a visa if you’re staying less than 30 days and if you’re only visiting Phu Quoc (if you want to visit other places in Vietnam, you do need a visa). Note: Australian citizens do need a visa, they are not part of the visa waiver.

If you want to visit other places in Vietnam, too – I wrote more about the e-visa for Vietnam in this article: How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Vietnam?

ATMs in Phu Quoc

Note that outside the town of Duong Dong and the Long Beach area there aren’t any ATMs on the island. If you’re staying in a resort in the north of the island or on the eastern shore, I recommend taking out money on the way to your resort or right upon arrival at the airport. Cash is king on the island, especially in smaller resorts, local restaurants and the market.phu quoc night market cho dem

Where to stay in Phu Quoc

If you want to stay in the most lively area of the island with a large selection of bars and restaurants nearby, stay in Long Beach:

  • Thanh Kieu Beach Resort – resort with spacious bungalows and a swimming pool right on the beach. Rooms start at US$88 (incl breakfast)
  • Cassia Cottage – fancy resort with lush gardens and three swimming pools, right on the beach. Free yoga. Rooms start at US$220 (incl buffet breakfast)
  • Anja Beach Resort & Spa – small resort with a private beach and beautiful swimming pool. Rooms start at US$105 (incl buffet breakfast)
  • Seashells Phu Quoc Hotel & Spa – new, modern hotel with a ocean front infinity swimming pool. Rooms are exquisite (free standing bath tubs), but the hotel is larger than the bungalow resorts. Rooms start at US$89 (incl buffet breakfast)
  • Melica Resort – brand new resort (opened in 2019) with a gorgeous swimming pool. A short walk from the beach (600 meters / 8-10 meters). Rooms start at US$26

phu quoc long beach sun chairs

If you’re looking for a tranquil beach vacation away from the crowds, stay in the north of the island:

  • Wild Beach Resort – eco-friendly bungalows with a private beach. Rooms start at US$48 (incl breakfast)
  • Gold Coast Resort – small resort with a swimming pool and a private beach. Rooms start at US$89 (incl. buffet breakfast)

phu quoc bungalowsIf you want a quiet getaway with a few restaurants nearby, stay on the eastern shore:

  • Dugong Resort – Bungalow resort with a large swimming pool and a private beach. Rooms start at US$45 (incl breakfast)
  • Lotus Home – new bungalow resort with several overwater bungalows and a private beach. Bungalows start at US$50, overwater bungalows start at US$99.
  • Kiki Coconut Beach Resort – simple bungalows right on the beach. Rooms start at US$40 a night, including breakfast.
  • The Pier Resort – new bungalow resort with several overwater bungalows and a beautiful swimming pool. Rooms start at US$78, overwater bungalows start at US$117 (including breakfast).
  • Mango Beach Resort – Lush bungalow resort with a swimming pool. Rooms start at US$76 (incl breakfast)

Phu Quoc food

Where to eat in Phu Quoc

  • The night market in Duong Dong, the island’s main town, starts every evening around 6pm. Good for seafood lovers, but there are also several restaurants around the market (including vegan restaurants).
  • The Famous Italian – Authentic Italian food in Long Beach (on the main road). A bit pricey, but worth the splurge.
  • The Rock Corner – Restaurant right on the beach / Long Beach area. Great for cocktails and burgers.
  • The Embassy – Scandinavian Cafe on the main road in Long Beach. Great smoothie bowls / acai bowls / breakfasts.
  • Ganesh Indian & Spice Indian – two solid Indian restaurants in Long Beach, close to each other on the main road.
  • Banh Mi LAM – bright yellow banh mi cart with cheap Vietnamese sandwiches on the main road in Long Beach
  • Mango Bay Restaurant – great Vietnamese food at Mango Bay Resort in Ong Lang Beach
  • Rory’s Wreck – mix of Western food and seafood dishes. Great for drinks.
  • Rest Stop – inside the Pier Resort. Worth a stop for their exquisite coconut iced coffee.

phu quoc night market1

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How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Vietnam?

vietnamese dong

The one thing people are usually the most curious about are my travel expenses… so let’s get to it: How much does it cost to travel Vietnam?

Of course there is a big difference in how much people spend – everyone has different needs and standards. I am sure that there are people who spend in only one weekend what I spend in an entire week. While I’m not a rock bottom backpacker who traveled Vietnam on $10 a day, I do consider myself a frugal traveler and don’t tend to stay in fancy hotels. Since I also prefer street food over nice restaurants, my costs for food are much lower than what people spend who prefer eating in proper restaurants all the time. I want to share my expenses to help you figure out your own Vietnam travel budget.

So, how much does it cost to travel in Vietnam? Or more specifically: how much did traveling in Vietnam cost me?vietnam hoi an

Vietnam Pre-trip Expenses

I had quite a few expenses before I went to Vietnam. First of all, if you’re planning to stay for more than 15 days, you have to get a tourist visa before entering the country. This can be obtained hassle-free online now, but allow at least four days for it to be processed. You have to print out this visa once you receive the confirmation that it was approved, or you will not be allowed to board your flight. Here’s a list of all the countries whose residents can apply for the visa online.

Cost of e-visa: US$25

There are several websites that offer to obtain the visa for you, and they will charge you a fee for it. The first website I came across when googling the e-visa only charged $17, so I assume it is a scam. Be careful which website you use when applying for the visa. Knowing that it should be $25 saved me from sending money into the void of the World Wide Web and most likely NOT get the visa.

I followed these instructions on how to get the Vietnam e-visa and got my visa approved only hours before my flight, so if you don’t want to sweat over getting your visa in time, don’t wait until the last minute like I did. (The reason I waited so long is that I’d applied for a visa appointment with the Vietnamese consulate in New York to get a 3-month visa, since I knew I’d be staying longer than 30 days and wanted to save me the hassle of having to get a visa extension or going on a ‘visa run’. But that’s a topic for a whole other post.)

This is the official link to apply for your Vietnam e-visa online.

If you’re staying for less than 15 days, there’s still a small processing fee involved, which varies from country to country. Note that you have to have two passport photos on you to get the 15-day visa on arrival, or you will be charged an extra fee.vietnam mekong delta

Travel insurance for Vietnam

The other pre-trip expense you should factor into your Vietnam travel budget is travel insurance. Since I knew I’d be renting a scooter and that bag snatching was a regular in occurrence in Saigon, I wanted to play it safe. Prices for insurance policies vary depending on your nationality, the duration of your trip and if you are planning to do any activity that require additional coverage. WorldNomads has two options, the Standard and the Explorer.vietnam easy rider tour

Items I bought before my trip to Vietnam

As for items I didn’t want to have to buy in Vietnam:

  • Sunscreen (usually more expensive in tourist destinations than back home)
  • Body lotion / face lotion (because it can be tricky to find items that are not ‘skin whitening’ in Asia. Even deodorant usually has whitener in it)
  • Mosquito Spray
  • Contact Lens Solution
  • Travel Adapter (only needed if you’re from the UK or Australia. North American and Continental European plugs fit in Vietnam, as long as you don’t have three pins. I had a simple two-pin plug which worked fine, but for my next trip to Vietnam I’d buy an adapter that has USB chargers integrated)

vietnam bicycle

How Much is Accommodation in Vietnam

You can pay for as little as $2 a night in a dorm room in Vietnam – the going rate for dorms seemed to be around US$4 – US$5. I also saw some pricier dorms around $10, but judging from the photos on the online booking websites I use, they never looked nicer than the cheaper ones. The most expensive dorm I came across was at a hostel in Phu Quoc that charged $15 for a 4-bed dorm with AC.

I usually stayed in private rooms, which ranged from basic guest houses and hostels to homestays and small hotels. The most expensive hotel room I stayed in was $36, and that’s because I wanted to treat myself to a rooftop pool in Danang. The cheapest room I booked in Vietnam was $9: a homestay in the Mekong Delta. I usually averaged around VND330,000 (~US$14) for a private double room at single occupancy. Double rooms for two people are around the same price, or maybe a dollar more. When you’re wondering: How much does it cost to travel Vietnam? Remember that how much you’re spending on accommodation makes a huge difference! If you’re someone who likes a bit more luxury, you will spend much more in Vietnam than I did.

I used Booking.com exclusively to book my accommodation, because I find the site more transparent than Agoda (which is the more popular booking website in Asia). Booking.com shows me right away the total price for the entire stay including fees and taxes (Agoda shows price per night without taxes/fees), and Booking.com also lists hostels (dorm beds and private rooms), homestays, apartments, and even cruises (in Halong Bay).how much does it cost to travel in VietnamDaily Accommodation Budget: This can vary drastically depending on your travel style. Dorm rooms all the way? Expect to spend around US$5 a night. You prefer your own hotel room, and enjoy global hotel brands? Those can easily cost you US$100 a night and more. Plan your Vietnam travel budget according to your travel style.

How Much Is Food in Vietnam?

If you love street food, you’ll never pay more than US$1 or $2 for a meal. A bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup can usually be found for VND25,000 (US$1.08), a banh mi sandwich is between VND20,000 and 25,000 (US0.86 – US$1.08), but can be slightly more expensive in tourist areas.

If you prefer a proper sit-down restaurant, expect to pay between VND60,000 and 120,000 (US$2.60 – $5.20). Western food is a bit pricier – a high-quality pizza for example set me back at VND222,000 (US$9.55).

My most expensive dinner in Vietnam was VND265,000 (US$11.40).

Snacks: Whenever I picked up some snacks in a grocery store or convenience store, I never paid more than US$1 for nuts, a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, etc.

Daily Food Budget: US$10

vietnam noodles

How Much Are Drinks in Vietnam?

I love that Vietnam has such a thriving coffee culture, and splurged on some fancy coffee drinks such as iced coconut coffee, which would cost anything between VND39,000 (US$1.68) and VND75,000 (US$3.23) for a pricier place. Exotic creations like a yogurt coffee cost around (VND30,000 / US$1.29), and Vietnam’s famous Egg Coffee is around (VND35,000 / US$1.51).

A coffee in a hipster coffee shop starts at around VND40,000 (US$1.72), a cappuccino is around VND50,000 (US$2.15). The cheapest coffee I had was VND10,000 (US$0.43).vietnam hoi an espresso stationA large bottle of water is around 10,000 (US$0.43) (You cannot drink the tap water in Vietnam, so daily drinking water is something you’ve got to factor into your Vietnam travel budget).

There are fresh fruit smoothies everywhere, and they range from VND20,000 (US$0.86) – VND80,000 (US$3.44). On average, I spent VND40,000 (US$1.72) on a smoothie.

Beer ranges from VND10,000 (US$0.43) to VND30,000 (US$1.29). There are quite a few micro-breweries and craft beer bars in Vietnam now – expect to pay more for craft beer. I paid VND60,000 (US$2.58) for a micro brew in Ho Chi Minh City.

Wine: a glass of wine in a wine bar is around VND130,000 (US$5.59). The cheapest wine I found was VND55,000 (US$2.37).

Cocktails are a bit more expensive: I spent VND208,000 (US$8.94) on rooftop drinks in Saigon, and in the fancier cocktail bars like Snuffbox cocktails average VND210,000 (US$9). The cheapest cocktail I had was VND132,000 (US$5.68).

Daily Drinks Budget: Depends on if you drink alcohol every day or if you have, like me, an expensive coffee habit, but I think US$5 – US$10 is realistic.vietnam craft beers

How much is Entertainment in Vietnam

Here are some examples for admission to attractions, museums and other entertainment:

  • Art Museum Ho Chi Minh City: VND30,000 (US$1.29)
  • War Museum Ho Chi Minh City: VND40,000 (US1.72)
  • Massage: VND150,000 (US$6.45)
  • Crazy House in Dalat: VND50,000 (US$2.15)
  • Skylight observation deck in Da Nang (includes one drink): VND 160,000 (US6.88)
  • Historic buildings in Hoi An’s Ancient Town was VND120,000 (US$5.16)
  • a ticket for the Marble Mountains was VND40,000 (US$1.72)
  • Admission to the ancient ruins of My Son was VND150,000 (US$6.45)
  • Bicycle rental VND20,000 (US$0.86)
  • Waterfall admission: VND20,000 (US$0.86)

Daily entertainment budget: This depends on how many attractions you want to visit, but as you can see, museums are very cheap in Vietnam, and I never paid more than US$7 for an attraction. I recommend adding US$10 per day for entertainment to your Vietnam travel budget.vietnam historic home hoi an

How Much are Excursions in Vietnam

I joined several excursions during my time in Vietnam, here are some examples:

I took a tour from Hoi An to the UNESCO site My Son, which was VND120,000 (US$5.16).

A private walking tour in Hanoi, booked through WithLocals.com, was around US$50.

A tour to the sand dunes in Mui Ne was VND150,000 (US$6.45), plus another VND150,000 (US$6.45) for a jeep tour in the sand dunes.

I toured the area around Dalat for a full day with an ‘Easy Rider’ which is basically a tour on the back of someone’s motorbike and paid VND800,000 (US$34.40).

A snorkeling boat trip in Phu Quoc cost VND345,000 (US$14.84).vietnam phu quoc beachI also did a couple of Airbnb Experiences: A food tour by scooter in Saigon, which cost US$24, and a half-day boat tour in the Mekong Delta (US$25, plus a tip and breakfast for the boat driver around US$8).

Daily Excursions Budget: I don’t think that you’ll do an excursion every single day on your trip, but when trying to figure out how much it cost to travel in Vietnam, excursions should definitely be factored in. Think about which things you really want to do while in Vietnam – for me the main things were UNESCO sites, food tours, the Halong Bay cruise and the boat tour on the Mekong. As you can see in the examples above, most of the excursions I went on were under US$15, but if you enjoy private tours over group tours, you’ll have to budget accordingly.

How Much is Transportation in Vietnam

Flights

Domestic flights in Vietnam are cheap – the most I paid for a flight was around US$50. I used Skyscanner and GoogleFlights to look for cheap flights and booked around 2 – 3 weeks before each flight. Some airfare examples:

  • Ho Chi Minh City – Phu Quoc: US$43
  • Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City: US$52
  • Da Nang – Hanoi: US$46

vietnam vietjetBuses in Vietnam

A 2-hour bus ride was usually VND70,000 (US$3), a 4-hour bus is around VND140,000 (US$6).

Trains in Vietnam

I took trains several times and found train rides in Vietnam to be an enjoyable experience. I paid between VND145,000 (US$6.24) and VND177,000 (US$7.60) for the train. I booked all my train rides in advance online via the website Baolau.com.

Taxis in Vietnam

The most expensive taxi rides were in Phu Quoc and Saigon: VND230,000 (US$9.89) from the airport to my guesthouse in Phu Quoc / VND180,000 (US$7.74) from my hotel in Phu Quoc to the ferry. In Saigon I paid VND250,000 (US$10.75) to get from my hotel to the airport.

A taxi in Ben Tre was VND85,000 (US$3.66), in Da Nang I paid VND100,000 (US$4.30) for a 15-min ride.

Moto taxis in Vietnam

Moto-taxis, where you sit on the back of the driver’s scooter (the most common taxis in Vietnam) ranged from VND40,000 (US$1.72) to VND60,000 (US$2.58). The most I paid was VND70,000 (US$3) for a moto taxi.vietnam moto taxiFerries in Vietnam

The ferry from Phu Quoc to the mainland was VND330,000 (USS$14.19)

Scooter rental in Vietnam

I paid VND120,000 (US$5.12) per day for my scooter rental on Phu Quoc. Filling up gas was VND35,000 (US$1.51).

Bicycle rental in Vietnam

I rented a bicycle in Hoi An for VND20,000 (US$0.86) per day.

Daily Transportation Budget: The slower you travel, the less you spend on transportation. It also depends on if you’re planning to take domestic flights or if you plan to stick to buses and trains.vietnam scooter

Other Expenses in Vietnam: SIM Card & Laundry

SIM card: I got a SIM card right at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and paid VND230,000 (US$9.89) for it. If you want to do a bit more research, I recommend this guide to the best SIM cards for tourists in Vietnam. I topped up my SIM card about four weeks into my trip and spent VND100,000 (US$4.30) for the top-up.

Laundry: I usually paid VND50,000 (US$2.15) to get my laundry done.

Other expenses to take into consideration when trying to figure out how much it cost to travel in Vietnam are things like souvenirs (many people get suits or dresses tailor-made in Hoi An), postcards, haircuts and toiletries.vietnam shop

How much does it cost to travel in Vietnam?

I spent between US$30 and $40 per day while I was traveling around Vietnam – and I stayed in private accommodation, went on excursions and treated myself to fancy coffees and cocktails along the way, which is why my daily budget was usually on the higher end (US$40). Had I stayed in dorm rooms and stuck to beer and cheap and Vietnamese coffee, I’d be able to stick to a US$30 per day travel budget.

My total Vietnam travel budget for one month: US$1,214.52

So when you set your Vietnam travel budget, think about your travel style. I am a frugal traveler – I don’t need fancy hotels, and I wanted to travel Vietnam on a budget. But if you are traveling for a shorter time and want to spoil yourself, your budget will certainly be higher than what I spent during my seven weeks in Vietnam. It also depends on how many places you’re planning to visit – I visited a dozen different places, which means there were a lot of transportation costs involved. If you visit less places, you’ll spend less on transportation, unless you fly in between each city you visit. If you’re pressed for time, do your research and decide before your trip which top destinations in Vietnam you really want to visit.how much does it cost to travel in Vietnam

I hope after reading this article you have a rough idea how much it costs to travel Vietnam – if you have any other questions about traveling Vietnam, leave a comment below!

I tracked my travel expenses, as always, using the TrailWallet app.

how much does it cost to travel in vietnam

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Backpacking Vietnam: My First Solo Trip In Two Years

vietnam dani backpacking

Hello from Vietnam! It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update, and what better occasion to do exactly that than my first solo trip in two years.

“Two years since my last solo trip, can this really be?”, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out the last time I’d traveled on my own. But yes, the last time I set off on a solo adventure was in February 2017, when I headed to Ecuador, the second-to-last country on the South American continent I wanted to visit (I have only been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – but Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname are currently not high on my list – the big one left there is Brazil).

Technically, I set off on a solo trip in September 2017, when I flew from Germany to France to walk the Camino de Santiago, but since I quickly learned on that journey that is actually pretty difficult to get some alone time on this famous pilgrimage across Spain and ended up walking over three weeks of the Camino with someone, I feel like that one doesn’t count. And all the other trips I’ve taken since were with other people. I felt like it another solo trip was long overdue.

Why Vietnam?

So, why Vietnam? Some friends were surprised by the country I chose for my ‘Winter Escape’, but to be honest, Vietnam has been on my travel wish list for a long time. In 2011, when I traveled to Asia for the very first time, I was sure that Vietnam would be part of that trip, but back then, my travels were much more on the fly than they are now. I’d follow the path as it appeared in front of me, without much planning. I lingered in Thailand because it was convenient and easy, I spent more time in Malaysia than I needed to, and before I knew it, I had only three weeks left before I was flying to India for what would be a life changing experience.

Three weeks to squeeze in all of Vietnam, all while working remotely? No way. I didn’t have any interest in rushing through the country, and decided I’d rather leave it for my next trip to Asia, along with the other countries I ran out out of time for (the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia). And then, upon returning to Asia three years later, life happened once again, leading me to different places I had anticipated, ticking off only one of the countries on my list (the Philippines).

In the fall of 2016, I planned to return to Asia for the winter, and this time I would start in Vietnam. Yet again, however, destiny had other plans for me, this time in the form of US Immigration, informing me that my final visa interview and Green Card decision would happen in early January in Germany, and not in April or May, as they had previously indicated. Once again, I had to scrap my plans to finally visit Vietnam. And that’s why, when I made the decision to take a big trip this winter, I didn’t have to think about my destination for too long. I would finally visit Vietnam!

Hitting The Reset Button On Life

So how does it feel to be on the road again by myself? The last time I traveled to South East Asia by myself was in 2015, exactly four years ago. I had gotten over a bad breakup not long before that trip, I was happily in love, and I wanted to escape the New York winter. Not much about my situation has changed, I guess, only that I haven’t had to get over any heartaches recently.

The big difference between my last solo trips and this one: I am not nomadic anymore. I packed stuff I thought I’d need for the duration of the trip, and that’s it. For all my precious solo trips, I was carrying everything I owned on my back, in a giant 65-liter backpack.To commemorate the start of this new era of my travel life I decided to treat myself to a new backpack and retire the one I’d used ever since I took up the vagabond life in 2010. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t pack light – I tried hard to go for a 40-liter pack that I’d be able to carry on in airplanes, but I was quick to admit to myself that this just wouldn’t happen. (This is the backpack I eventually opted for – and so far, I am loving it).

As I prepared for this trip, I realized how much I needed it. I was hemming and hawing over going at all, now that I am more settled in New York and have a home, I find it harder to leave for long trips. There were also worries about money (I never had to pay rent before for a place I wasn’t using while I was on the road, and I’d already paid rent for two months while I was traveling in November and in December/January – a lot of rent for a place to sit empty) and taking too much time off, but then I remembered that I used to be location independent and that I’m still lucky enough to be able to make money while I’m traveling. So I finally clicked the ‘book’ button after having hovered over it for too long. And of course I am glad I did!

This wasn’t just about a ‘winter escape’ though – and the ever-present urge to explore a new country – it was just as much about hitting the ‘Reset’ button and getting away from my busy New York schedule where I rarely get the chance to spend time with myself, to think about what’s happening in my life, about relationships and successes and failures of the past year, and to simply be. After traveling without much of a schedule for the better part of the last decade, I am still surprised how quickly I adapted to city life again, booked up weeks in advance. I felt the same urge to hit ‘pause’ on my busy life when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2017 – and that was after only having been in New York for three months. You can imagine how much I was craving a slower pace now, after having been in New York for a while (even though, admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time there since last October.)

Traveling Solo

Until 2015, I had never traveled alone. I was already in my thirties when I set off on my first solo adventure, always thinking that I was a person who needed someone to travel with. Well, as it turned out, I did not need anyone to enjoy myself. I treasure my alone time, being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, what to eat, when to eat, when to sight see, what to see, when to have a lazy day, when to socialize. I don’t mind eating by myself, I enjoy my own company, and these days I never even get the chance to feel lonely because I am always connected. I usually wake up to a number of Whatsup notifications, which I sometimes even find overwhelming. But I also have yet to go on a solo trip and not make new friends along the way.

Speaking of family and friends afar: Feeling so connected to people all over the world is definitely something that I didn’t experience on my first trip to Asia in 2011, which happened before Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other ways we have these days to stay connected with our loved ones back home. Back then, people had to wait for me to post a photo on Facebook to see where I was. I had to wait for an email from them to see how they were doing.

These days, I turn on the camera on my phone and take them on a tour of the beach I’m lazing on, while chatting on a chat app. The first time I went to Asia, I didn’t even have a phone (although admittedly, my iPodTouch was pretty much like a smartphone, just without the call function) and had to find a decent enough WiFi connection to make a Skype call back home. These days, the WiFi is so good that it even reached from a restaurant all the way out into the ocean, where I was chatting with someone back in New York while enjoying a relaxed morning as she was getting ready for bed. Oh, the joys of modern technology. While I appreciate many aspects of it, part of me wishes I wouldn’t just be able to pull up GoogleMaps on my phone to look up directions, to just get lost, to randomly stumble on a remote beach instead of just following travel guides that tell much which beaches are the prettiest.

South East Asia Is Changing

Not just the way most of us travel has changed – Asia has also changed. Remote beaches aren’t all that remote anymore, since roads have been paved and more tourists are coming, particularly noteworthy: Chinese tourists. Making beaches more accessible of course also means more crowds, and in places where you would have not found much beyond a few palm trees six to ten years ago, there are now makeshift restaurants and beach chairs. The roaring sound of jet skis breaks into the calming repetitive sound of the clashing waves.

But it is not just off-the-beaten-path islands that now have been discovered by mass tourism: Life in general is changing here, too. The last time I was in Asia, the people you’d see with a smartphone in their hand were usually tourists, but now it seems like everyone has a smartphone, from the fishermen I see in the ports to the children I see play video games on their phones in small villages.

And then there are the cities – Saigon for example, where more and more of the old French-colonial buildings are being torn down to make room for new shiny skyscrapers which spring up like mushrooms everywhere. Most places I’ve visited on this trip feel like giant construction sites, with jackhammers and stone saws and creating a steady background soundtrack from early morning till long after the sun sets.It’s not just Asia who has evolved: So have I. The bright-eyed backpacker who looked at everything in awe when she first came to Asia almost eight years ago – that’s not me anymore. And not only have I turned into a seasoned traveler, I also have a bigger budget now. The $10 room off of Bangkok’s Kao San Road I stayed in during my first Asia stint resembled the room Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach) was staying in when he arrived in Bangkok, more than I am willing to admit. But back then, I was traveling on a tiny budget, following the South East Asia On A Shoestring guidebook religiously, trying to make my money last as long as possible. Did I have less of a great time back then? Certainly not! But I wouldn’t put myself in a room like that anymore only to save a few dollars.

That said, I still consider myself a frugal traveler, and see it as a waste of money to spend tons of cash on a place for just me. When I am traveling with someone – different story. Especially when traveling with a partner, I want it to feel special. And no question: I do appreciate being able to afford the occasional splurge, and I know that it’ll be a completely different feel to sail through Halong Bay (one of the places I’m most excited to visit) on a luxury boat rather than a backpacker barge filled with roaches and mice. I guess I am now what they call a flashpacker, even though I dislike this term.

Getting My Travel Mojo Back

One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to quickly fall back into a traveler’s life, a life on the road as I lived it for so many years. I fall back into the routine of unpacking my backpack when I arrive in a new place (read: I turn my room into a huge mess in two minutes), laying down on the bed and researching vegetarian restaurants and the best coffee shops in town. Then I head out for a first exploration of the town I am in and plan how many days I want to spend there and how I want to spend them. A few days later, I move on to the next place, rinse, repeat.

Even though I have almost two months to explore this country, which is longer than most people have, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit rushed. Having an end date looming over my trip is something that I am still not used to, and traveling at a rather rapid pace is something I find hard to adjust to. It has happened a few times on this trip already that I found myself in places where I wished I had more time, but had already booked a hotel in the next city, eager to see as much of Vietnam as possible.When I arrived in New York at the end of 2017 after an exhausting year of travel, all I wanted was to take a break from being on the road, and not travel anywhere. Well, I am glad I gave myself this break because leading up to the trip, I could feel my excitement grow each day, consulting my guidebook every night before I went to bed to figure out which places in this huge country I wanted to see, and to map out a route.

I remember that during the last few months of my nomadic life trip planning had started to feel like a chore, and I dreaded the long hours of researching places to stay, things I wanted to see, and finding good food options. When I began to prepare my Vietnam trip, everything got me more stoked for the journey: picking out a new backpack, buying a new bathing suit, making sure all my gear was still in good shape, trying to decide which clothes and tech to bring.

And then, finally arriving in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, felt like a dream come true, as corny as this might sound. I don’t take it for granted that I am able to go travel for such a long time – especially now after meeting so many people in New York who have a very limited amount of vacation days – and in the case of Vietnam, which I’ve been wanting to explore for such a long time, I feel even more grateful that my lifestyle allows me to do this.Expect more Vietnam articles shortly – in the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram.

 

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