Archive for June, 2011

Vietnam Summary

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

8 – 27 May 2010, Vietnam

Way back in the summer of ’09 we made a list of the countries we’d like to visit on our round-the-world trip. Vietnam made the list not only because we’d been there before and loved it, but because of Hoi An, a small town just south of Da Nang known for custom tailoring. In Hoi An I could get cheap, tailor-made clothing that would actually fit my lanky frame, instead of looking like a flying squirrel in a shirt off the rack.

As usual when we landed we had only a vague sense of our itinerary. We initially planned to follow the tracks we made during our first visit to Vietnam in 2006, starting in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and working our way north along the coast towards Hoi An. After a few days in Saigon’s oppressive humidity we decided to detour to the cool mountain city of Dalat on our way north, and from there opted for a motorcycle tour through central Vietnam. In hindsight we were very happy with our decision. In recent years the coastal route has become very popular with younger backpackers. We traveled only a short distance on the coast, from Hoi An two hours further north to Hue. We were joined on the journey with a bus full of malodorous British gap year travelers, who regaled us with their shared experiences drinking, partying, and hooking up.

The Highs

  • Saigon is a fascinating city. The Reunification Palace, the former home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam, seems untouched with much of the furniture and military equipment preserved. It’s as if time stopped in April 1975, when a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates and ended the Vietnam war. The War Remnants Museum, originally called the “The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government”, is filled with hilarious yet sobering government propaganda.
  • The food in Vietnam is fresh and delicious. We’re now totally hooked on Vietnamese sandwiches, and we’ve fortunately found a place here in San Francisco that sells them for $3.50. Cheap, yet about four times as much as in Vietnam!
  • Our motorcycle tour with the Easy Riders was one of the best experiences of our entire trip. We avoided the crowds, saw a side of Vietnam that few westerners of our generation have seen, and heard firsthand accounts of the war from Vietnamese veterans. We got a sense for some of the lasting effects of the war as we drove past large tracts of chemically defoliated and unproductive land. Propaganda was everywhere in the rural towns and our guides sometimes kept their voices low, a reminder that the government’s hand remains heavy even today.

The Lows

  • Saigon in May is hot and humid. REALLY hot and humid. Never before have I sat in front of a computer, limiting my physical exertion to the occasional click of the mouse, and literally dripped sweat onto the table.
  • Although I can now go to work without fear of being compared to Jerry in the puffy shirt episode of Seinfeld, Hoi An was our least favorite place in Vietnam. Hoi An marked our return to crowds and tourist prices after a tranquil week with the Easy Riders, and having clothes made was a long and exasperating process.

Cost Summary

Category Daily Average (USD) Notes
Transportation $9.51 One internal flight from Hue to Saigon makes up over half this category. Travel during the motorcycle tour is excluded.
Accommodation $12.97 We always stayed in private rooms.
Food $16.12 All of our food was from restaurants or street vendors.
Entertainment $40.29 We agonized over spending $125 per day for the motorcycle tour, but in hindsight it was the right decision.
Visas $9.47 We paid $180 for two visas, arranged from the U.S. before we left.
Shopping $33.89 We spent about $650 on Jason’s tailored clothing and a few souvenirs.
Essentials $0.78 Laundry, toothpaste, etc. We’d incur many of these same expenses at home.
All $123.03 Daily average for all expenses in the Vietnam.

We spent $2337.64 during 19 days in Vietnam, for an average daily cost of $123.03. Excluding the motorcycle tour and shopping expenses, the daily average for Vietnam falls to about $50. Cheap!

Conversion to USD based on 1 USD = 18852 VND.