Want to know how much everything costs? You will find out how much I paid vs how much I’ve saved during my 5 week travel through Asia. I know you can travel for way cheaper if you stay at hostels if that’s your preference, but my goal is to show you how earning credit card points and free hotel nights can save you a lot of money. If you’ve read my previous posts, you can tell that I rely heavily on the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card to get me places. I’ve never bought a Business Class ticket, especially for a long haul flight and neither will you if you’re smart about travel hacking. You can read briefly here why I think the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card is a must in your wallet and if you decide to sign up, make sure to use my link as I get bonus points if you do! So now for the actual planning part, I wrote a separate blog about the pre-plan. Make sure to read about it here.
How To Search For Award Travel
One of my favorite tools that I used is awardhacker.com. Input the airport codes and if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, click the box “Ultimate Rewards” under Frequent Flyer Programs; select your preferred cabin and the site will populate a list of partner airlines and how many points you can expect to pay. Or, if you’re very thorough, go to each of the airline partners’ website and search it yourself.
Awardace.com is another search tool you can use as well.
Singapore Airlines is one of the best airlines ever in terms of food and service! Being able to fully lie all the way down on a long haul flight makes a huge difference. I woke up feeling really refreshed – not to mention all the amazing food that was served on this flight.
Original Cost: $1,813.00
Total Paid: 85,000 Kris Flyer points + $32.00 (tax)
Visa For Vietnam
Since I am a US citizen, I needed a visa to get into Vietnam which is fairly simple to get. It may take a couple days so please don’t wait last minute. This company VietnamVisaPro.net will email you documents to print. Once you arrive at the airport, go to the specified window to get your visa processed AND THEN wait in the line to go through immigration.
VietnamVisaPro.net – Cost is $6USD online
* You will need to take passport photos and bring it with you
* Make sure you bring exactly $25USD – this will be paid when you get your visa paperwork processed at the airport
It’s been over 10 years since I last visited Vietnam with my family. I wanted to experience it this time with the BF. We came during Tet which is Lunar New Year. The pros of coming during Tet – not too many people. The Cons – most of the restaurants and shops are closed for the entire week. Now that I look back, I kind of regret coming during this time. Out of all the 7 countries I visited on my 5 week journey, I found Vietnam to be my least favorite country, especially Hanoi city.
Hanoi is super polluted and congested – If you have allergies I recommend to wear an air mask against pollution. The streets are dirty and there’s barely a sidewalk to walk on so you’re on the road constantly dodging scooters and cars. From dusk till dawn you’ll experience aggressive honking, so if you’re a light sleeper I suggest bringing ear plugs.
Nha Trang was much better – a beach city that is up and coming. It’s not unusual for hotels to hold on to your passport during your stay so don’t be alarmed.
Ho Chi Minh City has great night life. It’s also very hot and humid there. I was fortunate to find some fun free scooter tours!!
Exchange Rate: 1USD – 22,806 VND – Do not leave the airport without exchanging money and be sure to get small bills. When taking a taxi they will claim they don’t have any “small bills” to try to keep your change. Also, always be cautious of counting your money. The notes can be confusing when there’s a bunch of 0’s. For example, if you are owed 100,000 change, someone may try to short change you and give you 10,000. Don’t let that happen to you.
The majority of restaurants and shops accept cash only. The only time I used my credit card was when I booked the tours – only because if something were to go wrong, I could easily dispute the charge on my statement.
Crossing the street – There are no cross walks here and there’s a million scooters driving in every direction. It can be intimidating at first, but just find the right time and as you enter the street walk at an even steady pace so that the scooters can avoid you – don’t make any sudden movements or change in direction. 20 people/day in Vietnam die from accidents like this so please be aware of your surroundings. Here’s a video…
Food is cheap – I’m talking about $1 – $2usd and there are plenty of places to eat. Below I only listed the must haves. The rest of the time I was out eating street food from vendors that looked clean.
Tipping Etiquette – not expected but is highly appreciated. To learn more details click here.
1st Stop: Hanoi (HAN) – February 13 – 15
- Average Temperature: 75 degrees and humid
- Hotel: Mon Regency in Old Quarter ($42/night) I chose to stay in this area because it was centralized. I book everything on hotels.com because of the great rewards program. Obviously you can always find cheaper options such as AirBnB or hostels.
- SIM: You will have to get a SIM card. I don’t think any American SIMS work here- it’s about $9USD – there’s a booth when you exit the baggage claim next to the currency exchange
- Transportation To Hotel: UBER does work here, but instead of using Uber I arranged a pickup through hanoitransferservice.com for 16USD. You pre-pay online and when you arrive they wait for you outside with a sign with your name. I took an Uber from the hotel back to the airport and it cost me 338,000 VND ($15USD) + the airport fee, 20,000 VND (0.87USD), which I paid to the driver.
If you are going to take a taxi, make sure it is a METERED taxi.
Things To Do:
- Visit Hoan Kiem Lake – Free
- Don Xuan Market – Free -Open from 7am – 6pm
- Day trip to Halong Bay – $35/USD
When I was researching this trip, a lot of the websites were charging $70+ for this. Ridiculous. Wait until you get there to Hanoi to book this.
Dragon King Travel – Here you can find their physical address for the office. It’s cheaper to book in person than it is online. No need for an overnight stay – 1 day was enough and I had an amazing experience. They pick you up at 7:30 am from your hotel and we got back around 9:00 pm. Lunch is included in this trip.
- Bring a jacket because it may get cold on the boat
- You have a choice to do kayaking at one of the stops (which is included). If you’re worried about getting your shoes wet, just take them off and leave them at the dock.
- If you’re going on a hot summer day, pack your swim suit so that you can go swimming at the last stop.
2nd Stop: Nha Trang (CXR) – February 15 – 18
Vietjet Air from HAN –> CXR: $49.95 including luggage up to 25kg
This company is a budget airline and they WILL weigh your suitcase and your carryon pieces.
- Average Temperature: 85 degrees and a little bit humid
- Hotel: Prime Hotel ($31/night) Great location and 1 block away from the beach
- Transportation from airport to hotel ($13USD) – I booked a taxi service through DichungTaxi because I was coming during Tet (Lunar New Year) and I wanted to be sure there would be no problems. For the return I booked a ride through the hotel and it cost me 450,000 VND ($20USD – Holiday Rate)
Things To Do
- Skylight Nha Trang – Rooftop restaurant/pool/club – this place has it all. Special
thanks to the homie TK for having us for their Lunar New Year Party. The food and service is 5 stars. I also climbed to the very top of this building to get an incredible view!
- Nha Trang Street Food Tour on Scooter ($39USD) – This was one of favorite experiences! We got a private tour and Thao took great care of us. I highly recommend this.
- Po Nagar Cham Towers – Entrance Fee: 22,000 VND (Less than $1USD)
Open 7:30 am – 5:00 pm. Taxi from hotel is about $2USD
- Long Son Pagoda – Free Entrance
Open from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Cong Caphe – Must try their coconut coffee. It’s heaven – 45,000 VND ($1.97USD)
3rd Stop: Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) Feb 18 – 20
VietJet Air from CXR –> SGN $39.33 including luggage up to 25kg
- Average Temperature: 90 degrees and humid
- Hotel: Sanouva Saigon ($53USD) Next to Ben Thanh Market
- Transportation to hotel using UBER: 77,000 VND ($3.38USD) The return trip to the airport, also with UBER, was 69,000 VND ($3USD)
Things To Do
- XPath.Co Free Scooter Tour – These students will take you on a city tour and in return you help them practice their English. Just tip at the end 🙂 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Saigon Street Food Tour – 80,000 VND ($3.51USD and does not include food) Also, this tour helps students improve their English. This is the best deal, because if you go on trip advisor most tours start at $50USD…ridiculous! BTW, I didn’t get to do this because everyone was on holiday break for Tet.
- Binh Tay Market, Ben Thanh Market
- Bui Vien Walking Street – this is the most poppin’ street at night time! Tons of bars, hookahs, people inhaling laughing gas out of a balloon (wanted to try but was too scared)
- Mekong Delta Tour – $13USD for a large group tour. Wait till you get there to book (booking online is more expensive). On the boats they provide the Vietnamese hats so you can take pictures with it, or if you want your own you can buy one for $1USD.
- Cu Chi Tunnel Tour – $20 or less. Again, it’s cheaper to book when you get there so do not book online.
- Huynh Hoa Bakery – supposedly the best banh mi sandwiches. There’s always a line outside. Around 30,000 VND ($1.32)
- Bun Cha 145 – Obama’s favorite restaurant in Saigon
- Cong Caphe – Get the coconut coffee
For my next visit to Vietnam I will definitely check out the more quieter regions, like Sapa and Hoi An. Stay tuned for my next blog about traveling in Thailand.