Vietnam Guide

Where is the road calling you?

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Vietnam Guide

Tips and Tricks for Vietnam (As Of 2011)

Sapa

Getting There – In our opinion, it might be easier to just shop travel agencies and make sure they’ll pick you up at your hotel as well. Whatever you do, do your best to NOT use So Viet bus company. This can be hard to do when the travel agency tells you are going to be on Viet Hai, which seemed liked an ok option. The nicest looking buses we saw were from Hai Van Bus Company. The tickets should cost you around 260,000 Dong for Viet Hai on a normal day.

Staying – We HIGHLY recommend staying at Backpacker Guesthouse. We still can’t believe how nice the lady is that runs this place. If you can stay here, do yourself a favor and at least spend a night or two. There are many other options in Sapa as well, but this was also pretty reasonable. They’re $10 a night, even though we only had to pay $8 here (partly because we were staying for more than 2 nights).

Eating – You can eat in the market and find plenty of Pho. However, we found that Pho just doesn’t keep you full for very long. Unfortunately, you don’t have many street food options in Sapa and you’ll probably end up eating at a restaurant or possible a guesthouse that may have cheap food. Little Sapa tended to be our regular haunt.

Getting Around – You can rent a motorbike just about anywhere in town. Don’t pay more than $5 a day since that’s the going rate with almost everyone we spoke to. Don’t expect to get to far if you’re thinking you’ll ride out to Lao Cai and check out the train tickets. You’re better off shopping in town and finding a good price, making sure you’re on the type of train and bed you’re looking for. You should be able to get the minivan ride included, which drops you off across from the train station. We’re not exactly sure about the buses…we were done with taking overnight buses at this point!

Cat Ba Island

Getting There – Getting to Cat Ba is very straight forward as long as you can get yourself to Long Yen Bus Station. Head straight to the Hoang Long (the red bus) and costs 190,000 Dong to get all the way to Cat Ba, bus-boat-bus combo.
Staying – Since we were there right before the holiday, there weren’t as many options to choose from as usual, but it still wasn’t hard to find a room without making a reservation. All you have to do is head up the road across from the pier in the main part of town and you have plenty of options in all price ranges.

Eating – We found that there were quite a few expensive options in Cat Ba, but you can find some reasonably priced food as well. Thanh Tung was one restaurant we found that served really fresh food at an affordable price.

Getting Around – There’s no need to take a taxi or pay for any other transportation unless you really want to go exploring around the rest of the island on a motorbike. The main part of town is fairly small and everything is easy to walk to. Even Blue Swimmer wasn’t hard for us to walk to, but that would be the only place you might want to get a ride if you aren’t up for the hike.

**To get to Blue Swimmer, follow the signs to Ben Beo Harbor. It’s on the left hand side before you get to the pier…you can’t miss it.

Ninh Binh:

Getting There – You actually pay the same amount going to Ninh Binh as you would pay to get to Hanoi, which was $12 each. Don’t expect to get dropped off at the bus station, more like randomly just outside of town.

Staying – One of the cheapest places we could find was Thanhthuy’s Guesthouse and Hotel. We stayed in the guesthouse part instead of the hotel area for $8 a night. We have to say, the people running the place were not even close to friendly.

Eating – There just isn’t much to choose from here besides maybe 2 restaurants, some street food, and food at your guesthouse. Pick your poison unfortunately. At least there’s a large grocery store in town that’s easy to get to with some other options to make on your own.

Getting Around – Don’t pay more than $5 for a manual motorbike.

Hanoi:

Getting There – If trying to get to Hanoi from Ninh Binh, don’t even bother with the bus station full of greedy, lying men. We walked out to the road and caught a bus within 2 minutes heading to Hanoi. They pull over all the time to see if they can pick someone else up on the way through Ninh Binh.

Staying – If you can, try to book a room ahead of time. It can be quite exhausting looking for a room here and trying to find one for under $12 can be very time consuming and frustrating. If you stay in the Old Town, you have the best chance of finding cheap rooms. Hostel dorm beds are $5 per night in a room of 8-12 people so if you are a couple you have a better chance of finding a room for nearly the same price. The hostels we stopped at wanted a whopping $25 per night for a double room!!! INSANITY!!

Eating – It’s possible to find street food in Hanoi, but can get a little irritating when many of the locals decide they don’t want you to sit at their restaurants. You can find pretty much any type of food you’d like to eat, but you’ll definitely pay for it.

Getting Around – You can get to Old Town by public bus for 3,000 Dong each, but it doesn’t pick you up at Luong Yen bus station and you’ll probably have to say “No” to about 100 taxi drivers.

Nha Trang:

Getting There – From Ho Chi Minh City, we took an overnight bus for $9 after doing a LOT of shopping. It can be hard to know which one to choose, but Sinh Café seems to be one of the better companies we’ve used so far, if you can manage to find the REAL one. The company we used was more of a locals bus company with yellow buses, but we cannot for the life of us remember the name, sorry. Do as we did and head to Le Loi around 8pm and check out the buses before you make your decision.

Staying – If you stay further away from the main part of town where the food, major hotels, and beach are, you can find some cheaper place to stay. We found a few different places we could stay for $7-$8 a night.

Eating – Nha Trang- Outside of the tourist area 1 block up the main road, there is a place with a huge white Pho sign on the side of the road where many locals eat. We found this to be the cheapest place to get noodle soup and wasn’t lacking any flavor. Plus it was only about $.50 per bowl with no meat! Banana Split is a great place to get a good western breakfast at for a good price, about $1 for eggs and bread.

Getting Around – If you want to go check out Thap Ba and get a mud bath, it’s a longer ride than what you might read but definitely doable. You can rent bikes at plenty of places for $1-$2 for the day.

Hue:

Getting There – From Hoi An, you can easily take a sitting bus. We booked with Sinh Café and had a really good experience on a very comfortable bus. It was only $3 a piece.

Staying – Houng Hoang was probably the cheapest place in the entire city. You can get a room for $5 that’s more like a dungeon, or pay the extra dollar per night to have a nicer room on the balcony that’s twice the size. The lady who runs this guesthouse is really sweet and was always willing to help us with any questions we had. It’s located right next to Mimosa Guesthouse (in Lonely Planet guidebook), which seemed like another good option if the other is filled up or you’re looking for something just a bit nicer.

Eating – No breakfast at Houng Hoang! We really liked the owner, but the food was just NOT good. As long as you stay outside of the main backpacker area, you can find good food at reasonable prices at any time of the day. At least there are many options to choose from here. Across the bridge you can also head to the grocery store for some super cheap baguettes and ice cream from Lotteria.

Getting Around – Bikes here are pretty cheap as well, about $2-$3 a day and a motorbike (manual) for about $5 a day. We didn’t rent anything, but it will be necessary if you want to check out any of the sites a little further out of town.

Hoi An:

Getting There –  Again, we took a sleeping bus (from Nha Trang) but made the mistake of booking with Smile travel agency. Maybe other people have had better experiences, but honestly, we wouldn’t use them again if you PAID us to. We paid around $10 for this one.

Staying – This is one of those towns where it’s really hard to find a cheap place to stay. The absolute CHEAPEST room we could find was for $10 and that was for a nasty, moldy room. We were originally going to stay at Hop Yen, but after the owner was such a dick we decided against even trying. Most places are at least $15 per night.

Eating – For breakfast, there is a little place right down the road from Hop Yen that serves a really good omelet with cheese and a baguette for about $1…check out our photos for the name. Your best bet for cheap food is on the street, so just check out the stalls in the alleys.

Getting Around – This is one of the small towns that you can EASILY walk anywhere you want to.

Ho Chi Minh City:

Getting There – We found it much more convenient to just book a ticket with our guesthouse again. We booked our bus with Mai linh for 85,000 Dong, or about $4 a piece. The bus was very nice and highly recommended by us. No matter what bus station you get dropped off at, there is a local bus that you can hop in to get into the center of the city and it’s only 4,000 Dong per person. Even though you’ll probably end up paying an extra 4,000 for your pack or if you yourself take up extra room, it’s still WAY cheaper and safer than a motorbike ride.

Staying – It’s fairly easy to find cheap accommodation in HCMC. If you stay in the backpacker area off of Le Loi (road) and walk up and down some of the alleys off the main roads, there are plenty of hotels to choose from and range from about $8 – $12 on average and up from there. Every place we looked at also had wifi, many of them we could actually get wifi in our room no matter what level we were on as well.

Eating – Around the cheap area to stay is not necessarily where you’ll find the cheapest food, although it IS easy enough to find breakfast that includes an omelet and a baguette for about $1.50. Paying more than about 25,000 Dong for Pho with no meat is really pushing it. If you look around, you can get it for between 15,000 and 20,000, so about a dollar or a bit less. If you’d like to try something different, like the chao we mentioned, cross the bridge into the local area of town to try a bowl for around $.25. You can’t beat that! If you’re craving some other types of western food like burgers, pizza, pasta, etc., it’s all around but you’ll be paying quite a bit for it. We’re too cheap for that, so we can’t make an recommendations there.

Getting Around – As usual, we walked pretty much everywhere we wanted to go. HCMC is definitely a little tough to get used to as far as navigating yourself around if you’re trying to find a particular street address, but don’t waste the money on a motorbike ride or cyclo. If you’d like to visit the Cu Chi tunnels, you’re forced to book a tour. We found one that took us there and back for $4 each, and the entrance fee is 55,000 Dong (about $2.75) each.

Chau Doc:

Getting There – There are so many different companies offering boat trips from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc that it can be hard to know who to go with. If you’re looking for one of the cheapest possible ways to take this route, we recommend using Mekong Delta Tours. We paid $10 each for a boat/bus combo instead of $19-$21 for a boat all the way, and this included a lady taking care of getting us stamped into Vietnam for us. Once arriving in Chau Doc, it’s very easy to walk to find cheap accommodation (maybe 10-15 minutes away max). 

Staying – All accommodation ranges about $7 per night. There are many to choose from not in Lonely Planet or on the internet…just go look.

Eating – Street market stalls are the way to go for cheapie food, not the best but it’s food.

Getting Around – We walked everywhere, per usual. You can hire a cyclo if you need to or a motorbike taxi. We do recommend taking a tour to see the markets, you can get up close and personal!

Vinh Long:

Getting There – Getting to Vinh Long from Can Tho, there is a local bus that runs every hour on the hour, but after being blackballed by one of the men at the station, we ended up paying about $2 each to take a minibus instead.

Staying – All accommodation ranges about $7 per night. There are many to choose from not in Lonely Planet or on the internet…just go look.

Eating – Street food again, look for the Chao!

Getting Around – We walked everywhere, per usual. You can hire a cyclo if you need to or a motorbike taxi. We do recommend taking a tour to see the markets, you can get up close and personal!

Can Tho

Getting There – To get from Chau Doc to Can Tho, your best bet is to get there by local bus. It’s easiest to organize it through your guesthouse even though you’ll end up paying more money (probably $6 compared to $3), but it’s one of the few times it might actually be worth it to avoid the hassle of doing it on your own.

Staying – All accommodation ranges about $7 per night. There are many to choose from not in Lonely Planet or on the internet…just go look.

Eating – We ate at our guest house (Restaurant 31?) for cheap but the size of the food reflected it.

Getting Around – We walked everywhere, per usual. You can hire a cyclo if you need to or a motorbike taxi. We do recommend taking a tour to see the markets, you can get up close and personal!

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