Which Currency Should I Use in Vietnam?
The main currency in Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong. Fun fact: Uncle Ho is on every banknote!
First things first, when you arrive on one of the main airports in Vietnam, we recommend you to buy Vietnamese Dong. You may ask yourself, why? After all, many locals in the big cities will gladly accept the US dollar. Well, if you decide to travel around Vietnam by motorbike, you will pass through many villages that will only accept the Vietnamese Dong.
Note: US Dollar has gotten stronger against the Vietnamese Dong than ever before! But ‘fraid not, the conversion rate isn’t that scary! 1 USD roughly equals 23,235 VND.
You can convert your money to Vietnamese Dong on the airport or in the numerous bank branches. They will give you a fair exchange rate. You can also try out the exchange shops, but beware! Some will try to rip you off!
Airports are the safest place to exchange dollars to dong.
The amount of zeroes the local currency has will confuse you at first, but believe me; you’ll get used to it fast enough! Still, we would recommend you to leave some extra US Dollars for the big cities (Hanoi, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City).
How Much Money Did We Actually Spend? (~$11,93 per day)
On our motorbike trip, David and a friend had a tourist visa lasting one month. They overstayed four days in Vietnam due to a late domestic flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Oops! We don’t recommend you to overstay your visa, but if you get in this situation, their immigration office won’t give you much trouble if you overstay for a few days. Also, a situation like this will most likely end up as a positive one if you just get into that perspective! David spent a total of 14,700,930 Vietnamese Dong. That’s equal to $632,14 by current exchange rates. This budget is based on the cost of living in Vietnam while on the road for one month. We excluded the visa costs and flight costs.
Overall trip budget per head - in graphic format!
Based on our total costs, let’s dive in the expense categories to give you a picture on what we spent the most and least on our motorbike trip!
Food Cost in Vietnam (~$4,95 per day)
The delicious Banh Khoai pancakes!
Ah, the food in Vietnam. It’s delicious, diverse, and cheap! Actually one of the cheapest in South East Asia! From the traditional Pho rice noodle soup to Banh Mi baguette sandwiches to tasty seafood, there is something for every taste. How cheap is the food in Vietnam though? Based on our expenses, we spent roughly $262 or 6,105,857 Vietnamese Dong.
That was enough to fill up our bellies for three times a day. Most of our meals were in the little restaurants that locals have. Street food is fresh, cheap and by eating it, you’re also supporting the locals!
Street food in Vietnam is the cheapest option.
We also visited the “regular” (“westernized”, “tourist-friendly”) restaurants in Phong Nha and in Hue where food prices were much higher and tailored to tourist budget. So, if you want to eat in Vietnam on a budget, we recommend the street food.
Note: I can’t stress this enough, but when you’re eating street food, always ask for the price before you order it! Just ask “bow nyew” (“how much?”), and you can agree on the price. We forgot to do this many times and in some cases got ripped off a bit! (Not too much though, the food costs are meager!) What are the regular prices for the food though? It mostly depends on where you are.
For example, in Hanoi Old Quarter, we paid 55,000 Dong ($2,36) for a bowl of Pho soup. You can get the same in the suburban part of the town for as little as 30,000 Dong ($1,29), and it will most likely be of higher quality. In highway villages, the food prices are generally lower than in cities.
- The traditional Pho soup will cost from 30,000 - 45,000 Vietnamese Dong ($1,29 - $1,94).
- Banh Mi is usually 10,000 - 20,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,43 - $0,86).
- There is also the delicious Mi Xao, a rice noodle dish that you can spice up with chili sauce and soy sauce (everything rice related is so much better with soy sauce, it’s very addictive!). Expect to pay anywhere between 30,000 - 50,000 Vietnamese Dong for that ($1,29 - $2,15).
Anyway, there is so much great food out there in Vietnam that we could dedicate an entire article to it!
The iconic Pho soup is quite delicious!
The Spring Rolls were an extraordinary surprise to our taste glands!
Seafood in Vietnam is awesome! But, it may not be for every taste.
The bottom line is, food in Vietnam is very affordable, and you can enjoy the diverse Vietnamese cuisine for as little as $4,95 per day!
Drink Costs in Vietnam (~$2,91 per day)
If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll absolutely enjoy Vietnam. It has a strong coffee culture, and cafes are literally everywhere - in the cities, on the road; you name it, there’s a cafe! The beer culture in Vietnam is also very strong, and there is nothing better than the sip of fresh iced beer when it’s smoking hot outside! Local people enjoy taking some time off in the afternoon for siesta time to enjoy in the sip of coffee and just observing what is going around the neighborhood. As we Balkan people enjoy taking some time off, especially when we were on the road; we made coffee breaks our routine very soon.
We roughly spent $154 or 3,581,395 Vietnamese Dong on drinks. That includes:
- Coffee (Cà Phê)
- Beer (Bia)
- Tea (Trà)
- Water (Nước)
- Sugar Cane Juice (Nước Mía)
As it’s very humid in most parts of Vietnam during the low season, coffee is served with ice! This makes it incredibly refreshing, and the taste of it is exceptional! The process of making drip coffee is incredibly satisfying! Expect to pay for coffee with ice somewhere between 10,000 - 20,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,43 - $0,86). As it was with food prices, you can expect to pay 30,000 Vietnamese Dong for coffee in the hot tourist zones. Also, egg coffee tends to be more expensive than iced coffee.
Iced coffee is just what you need to cool down and recharge for the day ahead!
Beer is incredibly cheap in Vietnam. Expect to pay 9,000 - 20,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,39 - $0,86) for 0,3 liters of fresh beer. Make sure to ask ice with your beer; it will make it so much better! If you’re buying beer in the supermarket, it’s usually cheaper than in cafes (10,000 - 15,000 Vietnamese Dong or $0,43 - $0,65).
Fresh and dirt-cheap beer on the beach - the perfect combination!
Tea is served everywhere in Vietnam. In most places, you will get tea for free with coffee or with your meal. Mostly it’s a sort of green tea that is iced (in Highlands, they serve it warm, as it’s noticeably colder there than in the rest of Vietnam).
Tea is often served along with coffee - for free!
Tea won’t be served for free in regular restaurants, but don’t expect to pay much even there!
Note: In most cafes or restaurants you will see a plastic jug filled with tea. Feel free to treat yourself, as it’s free, fresh and tasty! Tap water in Vietnam isn’t safe to drink yet. That means that you’ll have to buckle up on bottled water. Thankfully, you can buy bottled water virtually anywhere, as there will always be a stand beside the road or in the towns that have water on sale. Bottled water isn’t that expensive, and we recommend you to stock up on it; you’re going to need it!
The prices range from 9,000 - 12,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,39 - $0,65).
Note: We recommend you to re-use those plastic bottles instead of throwing them away. In most street food stalls or cafes, there will be a plastic water barrel with a little faucet that you can use to fill up your bottles for free! Sugar cane juice was an exciting discovery while traveling through Vietnam. It’s an incredibly refreshing drink that really fits great in the moments when you just want to relax and freshen up. Sugar cane juice is made in front of your eyes by crushing the sugar canes with a little crushing machine.
Stop by for some Nước Mía to freshen up on the road!
When you get the sugar cane juice handed over to you, expect to pay 10,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,43) for one glass! Depending on your style, you may allocate more budget on the beverages than us, but either way, it won’t hurt your wallet at all. That’s the charm of experiencing Vietnam on a budget!
Accommodation Cost in Vietnam (~$5,72 per day)
Taking a motorbike road trip and finding the right accommodation is easier than ever thanks to the wonders of the Internet. In most cases, we three used the Booking app to find budget-friendly accommodation throughout our road trip. From cheap, 2-3-star hotels and hostels to homestays with friendly hosts, there is something to choose for every budget!
If you travel alone, the accommodation costs will be the most significant daily expenses in Vietnam. But, if you don’t travel alone, you can split those costs! Awesome, isn’t it? Most foreigners stay in hostels, so it’s an excellent way for a solo traveler to meet some potential travel partners!
The bungalows in Phan Thiet are a bang for you buck!
The accommodation costs are extra cheap (not the most affordable in Asia though!), especially when split between three people. We roughly spent $128 or 2,976,744 Vietnamese Dong on the accommodation for 30 days on the road. We’ve stayed in:
- Volunteer Houses
Also, the quality of budget accommodation is also on the level, most of the places where we’ve stayed in offered more value for spent money. Remember, you’re just spending $5 on average per night! Most of them offer free breakfast in the early morning hours (between 7 A.M. and 10 A.M.) and of course, free Wi-Fi!
The C4C volunteer house in Hanoi has a hammock on the balcony!
Note: We stayed for free in volunteer houses in Hanoi and Cau Giat. Volunteering while traveling in Vietnam is a great way to experience the local culture and save lots of money! All thanks go to C4C to their hospitality and extra-friendly attitude! What amazed us the most is how the hospitality industry has developed here in Vietnam! The hosts of the places we’ve stayed in were generally warm, friendly and eager to help out at any time!
Note: Be careful of the check-in and check-out times! Some people will try to get more money out of your wallet if you check-out later than the designated time. Of course, you can bargain your way out of this situation as with most of the similar cases in Vietnam! Some of the experiences with the various accommodation staff or shalomas, as we loved to call them on this trip:
- Drinking rice wine with bungalow staff in Cau Giat after the night of heavy partying with the volunteer crew!
- Getting a bag of weed for free!
- The guy in Hue making the table for breakfast and getting the Banh Mi in two minutes!
In summary, accommodation costs in Vietnam are ridiculously low, especially when you take the superb hospitality (in most cases!), tidy rooms (in most cases too!) and the extra services you get into the price.
When you get a rooftop all for yourself for 5$, you know that's a great deal!
Note: In most of the places we've stayed in, we noticed that there are one-time use toothbrushes and toothpaste! I’ve been to 5x more expensive accommodations in Europe that offered fewer services than in Vietnam, so this was really a breath of fresh air!
Motorbike Price and Maintenance Costs in Vietnam
What would be a motorbike trip without actually buying the motorbikes first? Thankfully, Vietnam is swarming with bikes, and that means that supply and demand are ridiculously high! That also means that finding an affordable motorbike is very easy. But, if you want to ride over 1,000 kilometers through Vietnam, you certainly need to find a reliable bike.
During our first days in Hanoi, our primary goal was to find reliable bikes. There are a lot of bike shops all over Hanoi that have automatic, semi-automatic and manual bikes on sale. Anything you want really!
Learn more: How to buy the bike that won't breakdown in the middle of nowhere?
In the end, we got contacted by an awesome dude called Leo who had an automatic and semi-automatic bike for sale. To be exact: SYM Atilla and Honda Wave. We purchased SYM Atilla for $200 and Honda Wave for $350. David also got a helmet with his bike.
Our three machines: Atilla, Honda and Peglica!
This group will help you if you want to buy a reliable motorbike! We were delighted with these bikes, as we went through various obstacles like poor road constructions, off-road driving through heavy rain, driving through mud; without any major breakdown! Also, when you can tame the Central Highlands and the Ho Chi Minh Trail with a 14-year old automatic scooter, you know that you invested smartly!
On the other hand, Antonio got his Honda Win as a gift. We had the most problems with his bike, as it broke down every once in a while. But, still, the cost of rapidly repairing this bike was still lower than the actual price of Honda Win. Regarding the maintenance part of the motorbike trip, the essential things are fuel and oil.
The gas tank on our motorbikes were roughly 7 liters, so, we had to fill up every 120 - 150 kilometers. Gas price in Vietnam is ridiculously low, compared to our home country of Croatia. Expect to pay about 20,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,86) for a liter of fuel. That makes it extremely affordable to take a motorbike trip around Vietnam on a budget! Also, gas stations are always around! Except in Central Highlands and on Ho Chi Minh Trail; make sure to fill up a few bottles with fuel if you don’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere! We spent roughly $86,71 or 2,015,512 Vietnamese Dong for filling up the juice on our motorbikes. Very affordable and yet another encouragement to try out an adventure like this one! We also mentioned the second pillar of the motorbike maintenance sphere - oil. You have to change engine oil every 500 - 1000 kilometers for your engine to work correctly.
The Xe May workshops will gladly check your bike and change engine oil.
You can change oil at any motorbike shop (when you see “XE MAY” on the post, you’re at the right place!). Changing oil will roughly cost you 100,000 Vietnamese Dong ($4,3). We had to change engine oil two times, which cost us roughly $9,52 or 221,395 Vietnamese Dong. What’s the most charming about taking a motorbike trip in Vietnam is that the bikes are insanely easy to sell, as the demand is enormous. David sold his bike after negotiating for $190, which was a decent sell. Antonio managed to sell his bike for $110, which was even more than decent!
Learn more: The art of selling your motorbike in Vietnam!
Motorbike trip is an optimal way to experience Vietnam on a budget, so the right time to do this is now!
Other Expenses in Vietnam
Of course, you will need to consider other expenses while motorbiking around Vietnam. If you’re coming to visit in the low season, make sure to invest in a quality raincoat, as you’re going to put it on a lot. When you’re driving through a rainstorm (that are very frequent during low season) it’s a lifesaver, believe us!
It's sunshine and rainbows at one moment; blink once and here comes the rain!
We invested 150,000 Vietnamese Dong ($6,45) in a quality raincoat each, and they got us through the whole trip from Hanoi to HCMC. Also, make sure to get some bungee cords for your luggage. A bungee cord should cost no more than 10,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,43). It will make all the difference regarding your luggage transport on the motorbike.
Bungee cords will keep your stuff safe on the back of your bike.
Note: You may need to invest in a luggage rack if it isn’t already there on the bike, so pay attention to that! Other than using the motorbike, you will also need to use other transportation means in Vietnam. We recommend getting the Grab app, which is the equivalent of the Uber app in South East Asia. It’s much cheaper than a taxi (especially when sharing a ride).
Buses are also a cheap way to travel around Hanoi. We used them in a few occasions to get to the city, and the ticket cost only 5,000 Vietnamese Dong ($0,22). Note: Watch out for “freelance” motorbike taxis! If you end up on one of them, make sure to agree on the price before the ride if you don’t want to get ripped off!
Willing to check out some of the attractions along the way? You’ll have to single out some money for a ticket. The Paradise Cave complex ticket in Phong Nha National Park costs 250,000 Vietnamese Dong ($10,82), and it’s absolutely worth it!
The Phong Nha hides many a thing in its lush jungle.
Paradise Cave in Phong Nha National Park features the dramatic work of nature.
The ticket for the Hue Imperial City costs 150,000 Vietnamese Dong ($6,45) that includes the majority of the Imperial City (minus the tombs).
The Imperial City in Hue is a very interesting place. Magnificent architecture attracts a fair share of tourists though.
The Abandoned Water Park in Hue is a different story though. Us three got in by bribing a “security guard” for 100,000 Vietnamese Dong ($4,3) regardless the fact that the park is officially closed, but the locals have used the situation to earn some money I guess!
You get to explore inside this huge dragon that dominates the Abandoned Water Park in Hue.
After driving on a motorbike for a month, getting a massage is a must! We managed to bargain out a full body massage in Phan Thiet with the duration of 1 hour for 100,000 Vietnamese Dong ($4,30). It was truly well worth the money, we must say! You’re a passionate cigarette smoker and don’t plan on quitting any time soon? Good news for you, as the cigarettes in Vietnam are dirt-cheap! A single 20-pack will cost you from 20,000 - 30,000 Dong ($0,86 - $1,29).
Cigarettes in Vietnam are damn cheap! Watch out for chain-smoking though!
If you’re a cannabis smoker, you’ll be happy by the fact that you can get weed quite easily in Vietnam (even though the law is strict regarding drugs). The price goes higher with the quality, and the lowest that we have paid for it was 500,000 Vietnamese Dong ($21,50) for bush weed in Da Nang.
Weed in Vietnam is really easy to get!
Note: In bigger cities, like Hanoi, HCMC, and Hue, you may get approached by cannabis dealers. Mostly, they will offer you low-quality weed for a high price, so try to bargain out a reasonable deal or back out of the deal. Also, we’ve seen some shady people offering prostitutes and “happy ending massages” too! Make sure to rationalize these deals and take them with a grain of salt before deciding what to do. We are not promoting these "diversions" in any way! There are a lot of possibilities for getting cannabis in Hoi An and Mui Ne too. Simply use your common sense, and there won't be any problems with the authorities as cannabis is generally accepted here in Vietnam.
Cannabis smoker in Vietnam? Check out our cannabis guide for Vietnam and getting weed in Hanoi. Anyway, these are some of the other expenses you may consider while traveling Vietnam on a budget. Having a motorbike eliminates most of the public transport costs, so you save a lot of money on that front.
How Would You Rank The Locations By the Expenses?
Now, this ranking is mainly subjective, as we obviously didn’t have enough time to experience every destination fully. So, here is the ranking, in descending order:
1. Hanoi - 706,333 Vietnamese Dong (~$30) per day
Hanoi was the most costly of our destinations, as it was our first destination where we had to buy the bikes and all the necessary gear for the motorbike trip. Anyway, Hanoi is more expensive the more you head into the city center, so keep that information in mind.
2. Tam Coc - 672,132 Vietnamese Dong (~$29) per day
You can significantly lower your daily costs if you stay and explore the Ninh Binh city. We were cruising around Tam Coc and visited the Mua Caves (you have to pay an entry ticket) and spent most of our money on the breakfast and dinner at our hostel.
3. Phong Nha - 660,533 Vietnamese Dong (~$28) per day
You can find cheap accommodation in Phong Nha, but there are a lot of restaurants that are more expensive than the local ones. If you want to pay less for food in Phong Nha, just venture to any of nearby villages. Also, be prepared to fill up your gas tank, as the road to all the attractions in the national park (for some, you have to pay an entry ticket) begs to be explored!
4. Ho Chi Minh City - 638,000 Vietnamese Dong (~$27) per day
We overspent a bit in HCMC as we booked our hostel while we were on the road toll. When you stay in District 1, be prepared to bargain a lot more as you will have vendors that sell 0,3-liter beer for 30,000 Vietnamese Dongs and a modest rice meal for 60,000 Vietnamese Dong (usually, you can get it for 30,000 Vietnamese Dong). Learn more: Avoiding scams in Vietnam!
5. Ha Long - 608,667 Vietnamese Dong (~$26) per day
The beautiful Ha Long Bay can be experienced on a low budget and offer you an authentic experience. We avoided boat tours that are mostly tailored to higher touristic budgets. Instead, we drove to the beach, got some beers, and enjoyed the Bay for ourselves! Also, we spent more money on getting the necessary supplies for our motorbike road trip in the shopping mall. Halong on a budget: Climb a stunning Bai Tho mountain!
6. Nha Trang - 523,000 Vietnamese Dong (~$22) per day
Nha Trang is an exciting beach city that is filled with local and foreign tourists alike. But as with every city in Vietnam, you can squeeze it out on a budget, if you know where to look!
7. Phan Thiet/Mui Ne - 499,500 Vietnamese Dong (~$21) per day
Phan Thiet is a perfect place just to lay back and relax. The beach vibes, huge waves, and nice party atmosphere really came in handy to recharge at the end of our road trip. There are a lot of restaurants with great prices, massage parlors, fruit vendors and more. What’s amazing is all of that is just on one street!
8. Da Nang - 492,250 Vietnamese Dong (~$21) per day
Living in Da Nang for four days was an awesome experience. The food is generally very cheap, and we stayed in one of the cheapest hostels on our road trip that offered huge value for our money! The beach is very close to the city center. We would say that it was the most liveable city in Vietnam so far. Make sure to check out Mỹ Sơn that is very close to Da Nang!
9. Kon Tum - 487,000 Vietnamese Dong (~$21) per day
This town in the Central Highlands is special. Not just that it’s much colder than the coastline, but the people are also different. There is a lot to see in Kon Tum and in the villages around it, and it’s perfectly suited to a motorbike cruise!
10. Hoi An - 454,000 Vietnamese Dong (~$20) per day
Hoi An is a place where you have to watch out to not behave like a tourist. It attracts a lot of foreign people every year, and the locals know that; so there is aggressive marketing everywhere! In the outer town areas, you can find some great accommodation for low prices.
11. Hue - 434,000 Vietnamese Dong (~$19) per day
The former capital of Vietnam has a lot of options for budget travelers. The daily cost is amplified with tickets to Imperial City and Abandoned Waterpark and eating out in the westernized restaurant.
12. Quy Nhon - 409,000 Vietnamese Dong (~$18) per day
A calm beach town that is surprisingly affordable and off the radar for many travelers coming in Vietnam!
13. Cau Giat - 209,833 Vietnamese Dong (~$9) per day
These are the daily costs that you can expect while staying in highway villages of Vietnam. Great beach, cheap accommodation and food, and excellent coconut coffee! This is the place where the volunteer community is growing.
In the end, we surpassed our estimated budget of $500 by almost $150! We made some mistakes on the road, but it was definitely a learning experience. Nevertheless, you can definitely experience Vietnam on a budget, even lower than ours if you opt-out some of the costs like alcohol and weed. The tourism industry is still in growth stages, so the prices are still very affordable.
Also, make sure to avoid hot tourist zones if you want to make it out on a low budget. Who knows, you might learn something from a local perspective… We would definitely do some things differently regarding the budget, but the bottom line is - even if you make mistakes, you won't get ripped off that much if you use common sense in most situations.
Experiencing Vietnam on a motorbike is an ultimate way to explore this beautiful country, and the time to do it is now when it's still untouched by mass tourism!
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