Vietnam’s largest two cities, Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh in the south, are thriving and fun and each make a great spot to lay over for 2-3 days if the timing is right. If you’re just stopping over for a short time, you’ll most likely spend your time within the city confines with perhaps one day trip nearby.
Once arriving in Tan Son Nhat in HCMC or Noi Bai in Hanoi you’ll need a cab to the city center. In Ho Chi Minh this will cost no more than $8. Be sure to take only Vinasun or Mai Linh. In Hanoi the trip will be slightly more—$15-$20. You should take Mai Linh as Vinasun does not operate there.
In both cities the easiest and most fun way to get around is by motorbike taxi or xe om. However, touts on the street often over charge, so it’s usually best to go with an Uber or Grab moto. Most trips should be a dollar or less.
In both cities budget hostels can be found for under $10 a night. These almost always include free wifi and usually free breakfast as well. The majority are surprisingly comfortable. In HCMC most of these are in the Pham Ngu Lao area and in Hanoi they are located in the Old Quarter.
Of course, each city offers much higher end options as well; however, for a low to mid-level range budget between $10-$25 a night.
Food and Drink
Food and drink in Vietnam can be incredibly cheap if done correctly. The best way to do this is to eat and drink on the street. A bowl of pho or bun bo hue should cost between $1-$2. The same goes for com ga or chicken and rice. A beer shouldn’t set you back more than $2 and should generally be closer to $1. A real night out could be no more than $10 or $15.
A good day trip for anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh City is to the historic Cu Chi Tunnels. Built by Viet Cong fighters in the 40s, the tunnels were then used extensively against the Americans in the 60’s. A one day trip including transport should set you back no more than $20.
Near Hanoi there are a number of limestone parks that make for great day trips outside of the concrete doldrums. A full day tour of Hoa Lu and Tom Coc should be no more than $40.
To be safe allocate $125-$200 for a comfortable two or three day stop over.
Vietnam is a long narrow country and with one full week you could realistically expect to see one major city and then head to one or two other destinations.
Taxis and xe oms within cities will be the same, you only need to add interprovincial buses, trains or planes. Round trip flights booked in advance should not set you back more than $150 within the country. A bus trip from HCMC to Dalat will cost $20. A trip from Hanoi to Sapa should be the same.
Expect to pay $10-$20 for budget to mid-level in HCMC or Hanoi. If you decide to stay in a homestay in Sapa or Dalat $25-$50 per night could be expected.
Food and Drink
Eating and drinking should remain relatively consistent throughout your stay in Vietnam. A nicer meal mixed in will cost $10 the nicest will be over $100. It’s perfectly reasonable to budget $20 a day on food and drink.
Trekking in Sapa will cost between $60 and $150 for a 2-3 day trip. This will include transport from Hanoi, a guided hike, and 2 nights in an authentic minority homestay.
For those basing their trip out of Saigon, the best overnight experiences will be in and around the south of the country. A great way to get out of motorbike madness is to book a flight and head to the tropical paradise of Phu Quoc Island. A round trip flight shouldn’t cost more than $100. Once on the island, hostels can be found for $15-$20.
For one week, expect to spend between $300-$600.
The only difference between a one and two week journey in Vietnam is the number of trips you’ll take within the country. With two weeks to spare you could comfortably travel to two or three different destinations without being stressed for time. This could be a combination of Hanoi-Sapa-Ha Giang-Halong Bay or Saigon-Phu Quouc-Mui Ne-Dalat. These individual trips will vary vastly in cost; however, including flights for any 2-4 day trip, it’s safe to budget $250. If traveling by bus, that number will be closer to $100.
Depending on how you travel, for two weeks expect to spend between $600-$1,200.
Three weeks is a terrific amount of time to spend in Vietnam and will allow you to see a great deal of the country. In that time frame you could conceivably ride a motorbike all the way from Hanoi to Saigon and explore coastal beaches and jungled limestone mountains. This route cuts down on travel costs as the only expense there would be purchasing a motorbike, which is quite easy to do in Hanoi’s Old Quarter or Ho Chi Minh’s Pham Ngu Lao area. You shouldn’t spend more than $300.
If the motorbike’s not for you, then you could head to five-seven different destinations within the country. A well planned trip would begin in the south and end in the north or vice-versa. This could look something like Saigon-Phu Quouc-Hoi An-Hue-Hanoi/Ha Long Bay or Hanoi-Ha Long Bay-Sapa-Ninh Binh-Hue-Dalat-Saigon. Travel costs would be cut down as flights would no longer be return. Just continue heading south or north. Depending on the mode of transportation this could be done for anywhere from $200-$500
Three weeks could be done as cheaply as $800, but more realistically for $1,500.
Vietnam is like any other country in that the cost to travel here will vary drastically from one individual to another. What sets it apart is that it can be dirt cheap, cheaper than most places you can go. If you are on a tight budget then Vietnam can and should work for you. If you’ve got more money to play with then you may be able to see more, travel more efficiently and sleep better.