Archive for the ‘Country Summaries’ Category

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.

Philippines Summary

Monday, May 30th, 2011

8 April – 7 May 2010, The Philippines

A long time ago, in a country far, far away I published a summary of our travels through New Zealand. Clearly a high priority, I’m just now getting around to slinging out the summary for country numero dos. We knew next to nothing about the Philippines when we bought the tickets that would take us there, and we didn’t know a whole lot more when we landed in Manilla. Over a year later and several months after wrapping up our round-the-world trip, the Philippines is always one of the first places mentioned when we’re asked about the highlights of our travels.

Unlike New Zealand, there’s no natural backpacker circuit through the Philippines. The archipelago’s seven thousand odd islands are connected by a spider web of ferry routes, and there are about  a million ways to get from point A to point B. We spent several hours in Manilla aimlessly flipping through our guide book before somehow deciding to start with a tour through the Visayas, the middle of the three major groups of islands that make up the Philippines. We split our time between three islands: Negros for a few days on the beach, Cebu for SCUBA diving, and more diving in southern Leyte. From there we flew back to Manilla and traveled north by bus, stopping along the way for some surfing in San Juan, good food and caving in Sagada, and a relatively unimpressive visit to the rice terraces around Banaue.

The Highs

  • The Philippines is easily the best diving destination we’ve ever visited. The reefs around Moalboal and Padre Burgos were healthy, colorful, and swarming with fish. Both spots are dirt cheap. We especially loved Padre Burgos because there were hardly any other divers. Sogod Bay Scuba Resort seemed genuinely committed to conserving the local reef and our dive master was very knowledgeable about the underwater fauna.
  • Swimming with the whale sharks near Padre Burgos was an awesome experience. Looking down on a fish the size of a large car is a sight you don’t soon forget.
  • The food in Sagada was local, fresh, and delicious. Unfortunately, Sagada is the exception to the rule in the Philippines. See below.

The Lows

  • Bus rides in the Philippines can be long, cramped, and generally miserable. Many roads are rough and winding. Although Allison and I managed to keep our lunch down, nearly all of the buses along the route to Sagada are streaked with vomit.
  • NO ONE has change in the Philippines. To draw a domestic analogy, picture purchasing some snacks for $2.50. You pay with a $5 note. The shopkeeper asks if you have anything smaller, and when you say that you do not, he runs off to find his brother, cousin, or friend who owns the shop down the street. Five minutes later he returns with a handful of change and two $1 bills that look like they’ve been through the wash and then chewed up by some sort of farm machinery.
  • The accommodation is Banaue is abysmal, and the rice terraces we’d come to see weren’t that impressive. In hindsight we might have skipped our entire trip to the north and spent more time in the Visayas.
  • Unless you like eating chicken and rice with every meal, the food in the Philippines is not that good.

Cost Summary

Category Daily Average (USD) Notes
Transportation $15.41 Two internal flights make up about half of this category. The remainder is for buses, ferries, and local transport.
Accommodation $17.04 We always stayed in private rooms.
Food $21.24 All of our food was from restaurants or street vendors. We didn’t cook in the Philippines.
Entertainment $30.50 Mostly diving. Also surfboard rental and tours in Sagada and Banaue.
Visas $4.71 Free 21 day visas are issued on arrival, but we spent $136.70 to extend our stay.
Other $2.74 Internet, laundry, everyday items and cost to ship things home after we decided we’d overpacked.
All $91.64 Daily average for all expenses in the Philippines.

Philippines total: $2,657.61 over 29 days.
Conversion to USD based on 1 USD = 44.33 PHP.

New Zealand Summary: Better Late Than Never

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

16 Mar – 7 April 2010, New Zealand

One helpful resource for planning our round-the-world trip has been other travel blogs. In most of our posts we describe our experiences as we traverse a country, but I’ve always intended to write summaries with final recommendations and costs. I’m hoping these posts will be helpful for our legions of readers who are also planning to quit their jobs, sell their cars, shoehorn their remaining possessions into a 10’ x 15’ storage space, and drop off the map for a year.

Determining an itinerary for New Zealand was relatively easy. The South Island is generally considered to be more beautiful and some travelers may chose to skip the North Island entirely. However, Allison had previously visited the South and definitely wanted to see the North during this trip. We felt that we divided our time appropriately between the two islands, with about one week above and two below.

Most budget travelers rent a vehicle to see New Zealand, and choosing between a campervan or car presented our only really difficult planning decision. Higher rental and fuel costs for campervans may be offset by the lower costs of campgrounds compared to hostels. Campervans allow easy overnight access to some of New Zealand’s picturesque national parks. We ultimately chose to rent a car, thinking we might save some money and also that our nightly accommodation would be more comfortable than if we were living out of a campervan. We rented from JUCY Rentals which very clearly markets to the young, budget-oriented crowd. The car was over ten years old and had higher mileage but was problem-free.

The Highs

  • The Doubtful Sound cruise was a much appreciated, albeit expensive, break from our impoverished backpacker lifestyle. It rained for the entire duration of our cruise, but the scenery was still impressive.
  • Wanaka was a pleasant, relaxing city with some great hiking options. Our accommodation at Wanaka Bakpaka was some of the best in New Zealand.
  • Accommodation in general was great in New Zealand. Hostels were consistently clean and many were somehow quirky or unique. Our favorites were Paekakariki Backpackers, Old Slaughterhouse, Te Nikau, Hogwartz, Fernlea Backpackers, and the aforementioned Wanaka Bakpaka. Check out photos of each of these places in the Gallery.
  • The Catlins, with fewer tourists, beautiful coastline, and great weather, was a definite highlight. I really enjoyed seeing the penguins at Roaring Bay.

The Lows

  • We grew a little tired of the rain on the West Coast, although with our raingear and occasional breaks in the clouds we were still able to enjoy our time there.

Cost Summary

Category Daily Average (USD) Notes
Transportation $47.50 Rental car, gas, and ferry transport between North Island and South Island. Airfare to and from New Zealand is not included.
Accommodation $34.88 Almost exclusively private rooms in hostels, split about even between shared and private bathroom.
Food $23.79 We bought groceries and cooked most meals at our hostel.
Entertainment $36.77 Museums and tours; the Doubtful Sound cruise and Waitomo abseiling trip constitute 85% of the total.
Communications $1.70 Internet and mobile phone (local SIM card and minutes).
Essentials $1.42 Laundry, toothpaste, etc. We’d incur many of these same expenses at home.
All $146.05 Daily average for all expenses in New Zealand.

New Zealand total: $3406.57.
Conversion to USD based on 1 NZD = 0.72 USD.