Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam(?)
One way ticket SIN to SGN – $70.50/person
Visa (approval letter + visa stamp) – $31/person
Accommodation – $147 total for 5 nights
Transportation – $35 total (various taxiing around city)
Food/Drinks for five days – $63/person
Attractions/Activities – 66 cents/person (War Remnants Museum)
First thing’s first: if you’re an American booking a trip to Vietnam: you need to get a visa first! If you’re smart, you probably already know. If you’re dopey like me, well, you might’ve booked a one-way ticket to Vietnam and are panicking about what to do. Fear not! You can learn from my mistakes~
I was immediately overwhelmed when we stepped out of the airport in Vietnam. We took an Uber to our Airbnb, located between District 1 and 2 (D1 being the heart of the city). The ride took almost an hour because of the crazy traffic! After getting settled in, we decided to try and explore the surrounding area and find an evening meal. I thought I knew what it was like to navigate the crazy roads of an Asian country, but the roads in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formerly Saigon) are really something else. When you watch others cross the roads it’s almost like watching Jesus walk on water. We braved the roads to find the first banh mi of our trip from a little street vendor. Softly toasted bread with melt-in-your mouth meat and pickled vegetables? That’s what dreams are made of.
When Will and I first booked our tickets to Vietnam, we didn’t know we needed a visa. I know, how embarrassing, right? The good news is, even though it felt like last minute, it wasn’t really last minute. You could probably use the method I used 5 days before you decide to go to Vietnam, but meh, do you really wanna procrastinate at the risk of not being able to get into a country?
Before you read on, not everyone needs a visa to get into Vietnam. Check here to see if you require a Vietnam visa. Then do another Google search to double-check 😀
There are actually three different ways to get your visa:
- Obtain the visa at the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate in your home country. I’ve heard this is the more expensive way to do it, and they also discourage people from using other options to obtain a visa. Supposedly it’s the most secure way? I was in a foreign country when I decided to get a visa, so I didn’t do much research into this method.
- Apply on the newly implemented e-visa website. This might end up being the best way to get your visa later on, but since it is a new system that started this year, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. I’ve seen a few people on travel forums say this worked fine, but I’ve read even more people saying they went through a lot of trouble, so I decided to pass. Plus, there were a lot of websites that were pretending to be the “right one”, and I didn’t want to risk getting scammed.
- Visa on Arrival. This is the method I used to get my visa. Basically, you pay for a tourism company to invite you into the country by a visa approval letter. Then, having the proper documents provided by them, you get and pay for the visa after arriving at the airport.
If an airline does it’s job right, you shouldn’t even be able to get on an airplane without the proper visa-related documents. However, we did end up witnessing a man at the the Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport without any knowledge of needing a visa. They weren’t letting him in! Don’t be like that guy. So, anyway, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get your Visa on Arrival.
Cost Breakdown: 3 days, 3 nights in Singapore(?)
One way ticket HKT to SIN – $50/person
Accommodation – free with Hilton Honor points
Transportation – $53 total (various taxi’s around the city)
Food/Drinks for 3 days – $50/person
Attractions/Activities – $28/person (Art Science Museum)
“Eat laksa, eat bak kut teh, eat kaya toast, eat radish cake Luo bo gao bc the way they make it is different from like what we think of…” Wise advice from my platonic soul mate.
Singapore has been on my travel list for quite some time. Main mission: obviously, eat all da foodz.
Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 5 nights in Old Phuket Town, Thailand(?)
Accommodation – $126 total for 5 nights
Transportation – $42 total (taxi from Thalang to Old Town; tuk-tuk to weekend market; taxi to airport)
Food/Drinks for five days – $45/person
Attractions/Activities – $160/person (3 massages + John Gray’s Hong by Starlight boat tour)
Will and I spent the remainder of our time in Thailand in Old Phuket Town. Our first day was uniquely rainy – the river next to our hotel actually flooded and spilled into the roads! The water blocked off the happening part of town for a couple days, but we found things to do in other directions. When we booked our initial flight to Asia, we knew that we were coming during rainy season, but this was only the second time in our whole trip we had a day-changing downpour. The silver lining, though, is that the rest of our time in Thailand felt just a little bit cooler temperature than the rest – still grossly humid, just not as sunny.
A lot of people visit Phuket for its beaches and islands. Old Town is, by contrast, an inland city, but it’s walkable and has a lot of character. Five nights in Old Town might be a little bit much for some vacationers, but we’re not bar people or partiers and it was perfect for us. We love the markets in Asia, and there are a few different night and day markets that happen on different nights of the week in Phuket Town. The colorful buildings in Sino-Portuguese architecture style are charming to stroll past as well. Also, this week Will was getting over some food-illness, so we were more relaxed about our daily activities.
Cost Breakdown: 2 days, 1 night in Thalang, Phuket, Thailand(?)
Accommodation – $36 total for 1 night
Transportation – $38 total (taxi from Patong to Thalang; hotel to Phuket Elephant Sanctuary)
Food/Drinks for two days – $9/person
Attractions/Activities – $96/person (Bang Pae Waterfall admission fee + Phuket Elephant Sanctuary Tour)
The second leg of our Phuket trip was a dream, and probably my favorite part of Phuket overall. After we caught our bearings in Patong, we headed toward Thalang, located in the northern region of Phuket. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, recommended by an elephant-loving friend, and it was a top priority on my Thailand checklist. The Sanctuary offers two 3.5 hour tours a day, one in the morning and the afternoon; I decided on the 9am morning tour because I thought the weather might be cooler, and also because it included being able to feed the elephants some breakfast!
Cost Breakdown: 1 day, 2 nights in Patong Beach(?)
One way ticket BKK to HKT – $50/person
Accommodation – $25 total for 2 nights
Transportation – $5.50/person (airport to hotel)
Food/Drinks for one day – $31/person
Attractions/Activities – $15.50/person (massage from hell)
While Bangkok was a rather navigable city, Phuket is an island that is way more spread out, and a little bit harder to get around without transportation. Our first two nights were spent in Patong Beach, a very walkable area, to get ourselves situated as we planned the rest of our trip in Bangkok.
Cost Breakdown: 5 days, 2 nights in Bangkok(?)
One way ticket SFO to BKK – $254/person
Accommodation – $110 total
Transportation – $50 total
Food/Drinks for four days – $100/person
Attractions/Activities – $97/person (2 temples, 2 museums, 3 massages)
Most videos of Thailand often capture the temples and the nightlife and the chaos of Thailand, but W and I spent our first day meandering around the more-residential neighborhood of our Airbnb, located conveniently surrounded by a coffee shop, restaurant, and food court. After breakfast, we decided our first stop would be to get a much-needed massage, especially after our 16-hour plane ride from the night before, and later that night, met with an old friend of mine that I had met 9 years ago in Taiwan.
Whelp, we leave for Bangkok tomorrow.
I expressed to W today that I have a life of privilege. Like, I may not have a million dollars in my bank account, but I sure feel rich. The past few years have been hard-worked to get to this point, in which I can spend freely without worrying about not having enough the next month, and I feel incredibly lucky. It might seem frivolous, but it’s not. You can keep a budget and manage your $ while still living freely and experiencing the world. You just have to get over the fear and do it.