Vietnam is one of the most affordable travel destinations in Southeast Asia, where backpackers and budget-conscious travellers can enjoy a wide range of activities, attractions, and local delicacies at a fraction of the price they’d need to pay back home. As with most places around the world, there are always the occasional scams and inflated pricing that even the most seasoned of travellers can fall victim to. Although cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are now home to five-star hotels, swanky clubs and rooftop bars, as well as fine dining venues, there are plenty of areas that are specifically catered to the locals so there’s no need to worry about splurging for a decent meal or room to stay during your holiday. Read on for our helpful guide on how to save money in Vietnam, which comprises essential aspects such as accommodation, sightseeing, dining, shopping, and getting around.
1 Eat like the Locals
Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, as generous portions of fresh herbs and greens are served alongside rice, noodles, pork, poultry, beef, and seafood. Although fine-dining venues are popping up across tourist-friendly cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, often times the most authentic dishes can be found in roadside eateries, vibrant street markets, and street food carts. At these humble-looking dining venues, you can enjoy banh mi, pho noodles, spring rolls, and banh xeo for about VND 40,000 (less than $2), while local restaurants charge slightly higher (but still really cheap) prices for the same dishes.
2 Drink like them, too
Alcohol is relatively affordable not just in Vietnam, but most places throughout Southeast Asia. However, the cheapest beer you can find the Vietnamese draft beer or bia hoi, which you enjoy for as little as $0.50 cents a glass. If you’re in Hanoi, Bia Hoi Junction in Old Quarter is a must visit. Open daily, this popular nightlife venue hosts numerous makeshift bars with plastic stools spilling onto the pedestrian-only streets. A downside to bia hoi is that it contains only 4% of alcohol, so if that doesn’t satisfy, imported beers such as Tiger are available about VND 20,000.
3 Bargain Hard
Shopping is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture during your Vietnam holiday, where you can find unique handicrafts, food items, and apparel at relatively affordable prices. Whenever perusing through Vietnam’s local markets, art galleries, and craft centres, it’s wise to take your time searching for good Vietnamese souvenirs and gifts for your family and friends. Bargaining (at least 75% lower than the retail price) is a must for better deals as vendors often charge higher for tourists. If you still feel that the final price isn’t too your liking, politely decline and move on to the next vendor.
4 Visit Attractions without Admission Fees
Vietnam has some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the world, making it a must-visit amongst nature enthusiasts. Besides that, Buddhist temples, parks and lakes as well as certain attractions don’t require admission fees, such as Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Hanoi), Notre Dame Cathedral (Ho Chi Minh City) and Saigon Central Post Office. Although there are known cases of tourists being told by strangers to pay an entrance fee to visit certain areas of an attraction, a good way to avoid this is to do your research beforehand.
5 Explore on Foot
Instead of splurging on expensive taxis or haggling with xe om drivers, many attractions in Vietnamese cities such as Hanoi and Hoi An are easily accessible on foot. Free maps are available at tourist information centres and hotels, so you only need to bring along bottled water, wear comfortable shoes and a hat to explore Vietnam. Do note that traffic is notoriously dangerous so be very careful when crossing the roads.
6 Find Out Where the Backpackers’ Districts Are
Backpackers’ districts are great for saving money in Vietnam as you can find just about anything that you want… without being charged exorbitant prices for it. Set along pedestrian-friendly streets, these areas houses funky bars, roadside eateries, street markets and countless tour companies, while accommodation options comprise hostels, guesthouses, and motels. A good example of a typical backpackers’ district in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City’s Pham Ngu Lao Street. Located in the city centre, travellers are within a 10-minute walk from the famous Ben Thanh Market and Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum, therefore saving extra cash on public transport
7 Stay in Hostels
Wherever you go, hostels are among the cheapest accommodation options you can find if you’re travelling on a tight budget. You may sleep on a bunk bed, but it’s also a good way of meeting like-minded travellers. If you prefer more privacy, most hostels in Vietnam offer rooms for couples or singles at higher rates. For better value for money, book your room at a reputable hotel booking site well in advance.
8 Don’t Buy Your Souvenirs From The Most Touristy Markets
Markets in Vietnam are where you can get some of the cheapest souvenirs and local delicacies, but many have become somewhat touristy over the years, especially in notable holiday destinations such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Markets that are popular with tourists are often large and conveniently located in the city centre while traditional markets are much smaller in size and usually operates in the wee hours of morning until noon, to cater to the local population.
9 Get a Local SIM Card
If you’re travelling for an extended period of time, getting a local SIM card means you won’t be paying excessive roaming charges during your stay in Vietnam. You can easily purchase one at the airport or convenience stores throughout the country. The most popular local mobile company is Mobifone, where you can get a standard SIM card with a two-month validity period for about VND 80,000.
10 Check if you need a Tourist Visa to enter the country
Nationals from most European and Asian countries can enter Vietnam without a tourist visa, with a maximum stay duration of up to 30 days (depending on which country you’re travelling from). Others will need to apply for a visa from their local embassy, with one-month fees priced at US$25 for single entry and transit visas, while US$10 is charged if you want to extend your single entry visa. Do note that these rules are change periodically so be sure to check for up-to-date information on the embassy’s website.