Last month was spent partially in Vietnam and Singapore, but mostly in India. It's by far the cheapest country I have traveled to, and certainly the most challenging yet. Right now I am in the state of Goa, a very tourist-friendly region. However, the rest of the country (so far at least) has been quite the adventure. You never know what you will see in India. I've eaten some of the best food I've ever had, stayed at some of the worst hotels, and have gotten ill more times than I'd care to count. The country manages to be both frustrating and rewarding at the same time; it is not a place I will be forgetting anytime soon.
I'm going to give you a brief sneak peak of the upcoming month. In roughly a week, I'll be taking a hiatus from India, by spending some time in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The Maldives is an extremely expensive country, and is mostly filled with tourist resorts; it will likely be my most expensive week of traveling ever. Both countries are islands, and are situated within one or two hours' flight from India. After the excursion, I will fly back into India, and travel in the middle and northern regions. The country is so densely packed, there is no way I'll be able to see everything in a few months. Nevertheless, I plan on doing my best, and making the places I do go to, count.
The three currencies I used during my fifth month: Vietnam Dong, Singapore Dollar, and Indian Rupee. The latter stretches quite far. In fact, if I would have only been in India this month, my total costs would have been even less. Nevertheless, this was my least expensive month yet. Here's a breakdown of costs, by category.
Accommodation - $142.24. Average of $4.74 per day. Unlike in Southeast Asia, there are very few dorm rooms in India, so I've been staying in private rooms the entire time. Even so, the costs are very low, with a night's stay usually ranging from $4-7. Even in Singapore (a relatively expensive country), I didn't pay more than $20 for two nights' stay.
Food and Drink - $172.28. Average of $5.74 per day, or $1.91 per meal. This is one of the areas where India truly excels at being a budget destination. In most places (besides for Goa), a meal will cost you about 50 cents. A large meal, including juice and/or Chai tea runs you no more than $1.
Alcohol - $16.81. I've not had much beer in India, but is relatively affordable. A large bottle of Kingfisher is about $1. I didn't drink in Singapore, but I've been told it's extremely expensive. Once again, you can get local brew in Vietnam for as low as 15 cents in some places.
Transport - $67.81. I cannot stress how cheap it is to travel by Indian rail. I've taken a ten hour train ride for as low as $1. Obviously, the price will go way up if you opt for an air-conditioned or luxury car.
Miscellaneous - $86.55. Includes things such as toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, etc. It also includes the price of an Ipod cable, a haircut, and some internet cafes.
Total amount spent - $485.69. Average of $16.19 per day. This was by far my cheapest month yet, and my first under $500. If I had only been in India, it would have been even less. Like always, this amount does not include international flights or visa fees (which will all be tallied in a separate post some day).
Once more, thank you to Simon and Erin, the creators of Trail Wallet. Their app continues to be my #1 budgeting tool. If you feel so inclined, check out their journey at neverendingvoyage.com.
In the past eighteen-and-a-half weeks, I’ve traveled through five Southeast Asian countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Singapore. However, there are still six more countries in the region that I have yet to visit: Myanmar, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, and East Timor. I recently flew to India, to begin tackling the large subcontinent. However, I will certainly return to Southeast Asia someday to explore new territory, and perhaps revisit some old stomping grounds.
Although the places I visited had a few similarities to each other, I find them to be mostly diverse. It’s amazing just how much of a difference a thousand kilometers can make. Each country has a unique cuisine, vibe, and terrain.
The first four countries I went to are particularly convenient travel destinations, because they are connected by land. You can navigate these areas completely by bus; no need for expensive flights!
Thailand, with its spicy food and developed infrastructure, is the perfect gateway into Southeast Asia. It’s different enough (from the Western world) to warrant a culture shock, but not different enough to scare you. It’s a very easy country to travel in, and is practically made for tourists.
Cambodia can be a bit of a shock to the system, because it is a rather poor, undeveloped country. You get the sense that its citizens are still recovering from the horrific genocide, carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime back in the 1970’s. However, it is still a must-see country, if only for Angkor Wat: its beautiful, ancient temple complex.
Laos seems to get skipped by a lot of travelers, but they don’t know what they’re missing out on! Although its infrastructure is less developed than say, Thailand’s, it is a gorgeous country. It has several must-see cities, delicious food, and a chilled out vibe.
Vietnam has a feel unlike any other. It is crowded, bustling, and full of noise. Like Thailand, it is a very easy country to navigate, and has plenty to offer its tourists. The food, while not particularly spicy, is cheap and tasty.
Before heading to India, I decided to travel to the smallest country in Southeast Asia:
Singapore is one of the most culturally diverse places I have been to. It is a business capital of Asia, and is as affluent and modern as the United States (if not more so). While its highly organized structure may bore some, it does have a fantastic cuisine, with a little something from every country.
Even though I am far from done with Southeast Asia, I feel like I’ve explored a significant chunk it. However, these four months have seriously enlightened me to how big the world is. Even Southeast Asia (a fairly small region of the planet) takes a lot of time to explore. Hell, I haven’t even been to half of its countries!
I seriously think that I’m all the better from having traveled. I begin tackling India with some traveling experience under my belt, and that’s a great thing.
If you’d like to read more in-depth about my thoughts on these various places, check out the Country Guide page.
In my one month travel through Vietnam, I never expected to visit as many cities as I did. Unlike in, say Laos, there was no one place that I fell in love with: no city that I felt like staying in for more than a few days. As I get ready to go to Singapore tomorrow, I can’t help but marvel that I chose Ho Chi Minh City as my final destination, and am a bit disappointed that I only got to stay here a couple of days. Out of all the cities I visited, Saigon is surely my favorite.
Many people prefer Hanoi, and I totally understand that. Sure, the bustling capital has cooler architecture, fewer people, and feels more like the country’s cultural center. I have continuously praised relaxing, calm destinations, so why would I praise Ho Chi Minh City, the bigger, busier, more heavily populated city?
I can’t put my finger directly on the answer, but I can try. Even though Hanoi has fewer people, it feels more hectic. The streets are winding and overcrowded, and somehow seem smaller. The city is way too insular, and almost gives the impression that you are trapped inside it. Ho Chi Minh City, on the other hand, is a delight. It has bigger streets to match its bigger population, and therefore feels less crowded. Even though it has just as many touts as Hanoi, you tend to feel less suffocated by them. As Saigon is the business capital of the country, people seem busier, friendlier, and (slightly) more honest. To put it simply, Ho Chi Minh City has more leg room than Hanoi. It reminded me a lot of New York City (one of my favorite places in the world), which is probably why I’m biased toward it.
Some may also make an argument for Hoi An, the quiet city known for its many tailors. All I have to say is, Hoi An may have been great a few years ago, but I found it to be pretty average. Sections of the city feel like they were built entirely for tourists. While I did enjoy Hoi An, I found it to be more touristy than I had expected. From what I’ve read, it only recently became the tourist hot spot that it is now. I’d be willing to bet it used to be way more charming. In many ways, the city felt like a sort of second-rate version of Luang Prabang (Laos), another UNESCO World Heritage site.
Everyone has their own favorite(s); mine happened to be Ho Chi Minh City. For those of you who have been to Vietnam, I’d be interested to know what your favorite place(s) were.
Next up: Singapore!
I would never call myself a heavy drinker, but I would call myself a revealer of universal truths. The fact is, anyone who has every gone out to a bar before, knows about the drunk munchies. You know, it’s that insatiable craving for food you get at the end of the night. Most of the time, it will be so late that only a few establishments are still open. In the United States (at least on the East Coast), this limits your choices to pizza and french fries, among a few other greasy delicacies. I've recently had an epiphany; Banh mi in Vietnam is the perfect drunk munchies food.
Technically, Banh mi (which is usually spelled as the accented “Bánh mì”) just means “bread” in Vietnamese. However, it has also become the ubiquitous term for the fast-food sandwiches served on street corners. Basically, a street vendor takes a baguette and stuffs it with vegetables, and then either adds a fried egg or meat.
So why is Banh mi the perfect drunk munchies food? Why am I so enamored with this Vietnamese specialty? Here are five reasons:
It usually costs no more than 75 cents to buy a Banh mi sandwich from a street vendor, and remember those fifteen cent beers I told you about? An entire night of drinking, plus a sandwich (or two) at the end of the night, will still cost you less than a single beer at a bar in the United States. It’s cheap and I’m cheap, so there you go.
It’s Got Carbs
When you’re more than a bit tipsy, you want something you can really sink your teeth into. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating a baguette with your friends on your way back to the hostel.
It’s Also Healthy
Banh mi is waaay healthier than pizza and french fries. It’s not particularly greasy, and is stuffed full of vegetables and egg. Obviously, nothing can compare to the taste of pizza; however, you can easily have two or three Bahn mi and not feel regretfully bloated the next morning.
It’s Fast Food
Banh mi vendors can prepare a sandwich faster than most pizzerias can reheat a slice of pizza. When you’re craving a quick bite, the last thing you want to do is wait. Within a few seconds of ordering your meal, it’s ready.
Banh mi is kind of hard mess up. In your pseudo-buzzed state, you’ll usually end up ordering a second or third sandwich, just because it tastes so darn good! Forget about it just being a drunk munchies food; I often eat Banh mi for breakfast.
So there you have it: five stellar reasons why Banh mi is the perfect drunk munchies food. Stay hungry, my friends.
Instead of making these retrospective posts entirely about money, I figured I'd first share some thoughts on where I have been, and where I'm going.
It's the end of yet another month of traveling. Wow, four months. That's like...a third of a year, or a whole semester of university. Sure, in the long run four months is nothing. However, for me they have been some of the most exhilarating, mind-opening, and character-building months of my life. I've backpacked extensively through four countries, made quite a few friends, and have eaten foods I would never have imagined existed. I'm currently in Hoi An, Vietnam, a charming city full of tourists, tailors, and 14-cent beers. Today, I picked up a custom tailored shirt and pair of pants, then drank three delicious cups of tea in an outdoor restaurant.
My journey is far from over. In roughly a week, I'll be flying to Singapore for three days, and then to India. India and its surrounding countries will be the next "leg" of my trip; the subcontinent will certainly be a big change from Southeast Asia. Although I don't really know what to expect, I feel way more assured than I did four months ago!
Anyhow, no month retrospective would be complete without a spending breakdown. Budgeting is what allows me to travel longer, and I like to to give you (the reader) a general idea of how expensive certain countries are. This past month was spent in Laos and Vietnam, though mostly in the latter country. I've decided to consolidate the categories, so food and water are now lumped together as food and drink. Additionally, toiletries will be included in the miscellaneous category.
Accommodation - $135.45. Average of $4.52 per day. Like the other countries I've been to, Vietnam has very affordable hostels and hotels.
Food and Drink - $251.27. Average of $8.38 per day, or $2.79 per meal. Although I spent a lot on food this month, Vietnam has very affordable food. I simply ended up eating out at nice restaurants more frequently than I did in previous months. In most Vietnamese cities, you can get a tasty Banh mi (sandwich) or Pho (noodle soup) for $0.75-$2.
Alcohol - $27.62. If you're willing to drink the local brew, you can get a cup of beer in Vietnam for as cheap as $0.14-$0.25.
Transport - $107.97. Transport in Vietnam was pretty much the same as in the rest of Southeast Asia.
Miscellaneous - $56.19. Includes things such as clothing, toiletries, laundry, ATM fees, etc.
Total amount spent - $578.49. Average of $19.28 per day. I spent more than I did last month, but mostly because I ate more expensive food. Laos, and especially Vietnam, are very affordable countries to travel in. You can easily spend much less or much more.
Once more, thank you to Simon and Erin, the creators of Trail Wallet. Their app continues to be my #1 budgeting tool. If you feel so inclined, check out their journey at neverendingvoyage.com.
I arrived today in Da Nang, Vietnam like I would in any Asian city: tired, sore, and hungry. I found a hotel, had a quick meal, and then took a well-deserved nap. I woke up in time for dinner, and went a-hunting for a place to eat. Within a few minutes, SUCCESS! I found an outdoor restaurant full of Vietnamese patrons, and proceeded to walk in.
The first thing that happened, was everyone stared at me like I was a zoo animal. I’ve been traveling in Southeast Asia now for nearly four months, and believe me, I’m used to it. I smiled and chose a table. The waitress immediately came over to me and asked if I wanted a beer, and I replied “yes.” She then proceeded to bring over a huge bucket of ice, and another bucket full of beer bottles. All eyes in the restaurant were on me.
The food menu was completely in Vietnamese, so I ordered two random items, which I figured were small appetizers. The waitress took my order, filled my cup with ice and beer, and walked off. Sure, everyone was still staring at me, but I didn’t care. I sat back, took a refreshing sip of Beer Huda, and waited for my dinner.
Somehow, the two small appetizers ended up being a gigantic table full of food. I was served French fries with two different dips, two bowls of soup, and some strange vegetable that I couldn’t identify. Every five minutes, the waitress would come over to my table, to top off my cup with more ice and more beer. It was almost as if she was trying to make sure I drank the entire bucket full of beer. Thank Heaven the restaurant closed before I could finish more than two!
I can think of two possible explanations for this behavior. First, perhaps it’s totally normal in Vietnam for the waiter to drop an ice cube into your cup every five minutes. However, I’ve been in this country for two and a half weeks, and have never experienced this before. The other (more plausible explanation) is that the restaurant wanted to make a good impression on me, as I was the only foreigner there.
Half the time I get ripped off; the other half of the time I’m treated like royalty. In Vietnam you can never know which will happen. Either way, I had a filling and entertaining night, so what the hey!
Due to a combination of bad weather and laziness, I ended up skipping Ha Long Bay and heading south, to the small city I talk about in this post. I know what you're thinking: "How could he skip a beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage site?" Well folks, I'm sure I'll come back to Vietnam again. There's nothing stopping me from seeing it some other time.
I like small cities. I've noticed that they tend to be friendlier, cheaper, and easier to navigate than big cities. While I had a good time in Hanoi, it was kind of a relief to leave. Prices were expensive, touts were everywhere, and the risk of getting run over by a motorbike was high. Right now, I'm writing from a hotel room in Ninh Bin, a small city in northern Vietnam. While it's only a two hour drive from Hanoi, the differences are striking: My room (a private for $5 per night) and dinner (noodle dish + smoothie for $3) cost half of what It would have cost me in Hanoi, and I'm half as likely to be run over by a vehicle. It's amazing what contrast 100 kilometers makes!
The problem with big cities lies in supply and demand. For example, Hanoi has way more motorbike drivers than tourists, hence the constant bouts of motorbike touts. Property also tends to be more desirable/expensive in capital cities, so shops and restaurants must charge higher prices to support themselves. Don't get me wrong, big cities do have a lot to offer in terms of variety. Want to eat street food one day, but fine dine the next? Or stay in a hostel dorm one night, but a 5-star hotel the next? Bingo. Some of my favorite cities are metropolises (New York, Bangkok, etc). However, for a relaxing experience, you usually can't beat the quieter, lesser frequented outskirts.
Another factor is privacy. In big cities, I tend to stay in shared dorms because it's cheaper, and there are more travelers to meet. However, once I get to a quiet place, I like to stay in private rooms. They are cheap, and offer a much needed retreat from the cacophonies and excesses of the city.
After a week and a half of running around to get my Indian visa (SUCCESS!!!), drinking 25 cent beers, and wandering aimlessly through the streets of Vietnam's capital city, it's nice to finally chill out. No more noise, no more exhaust fumes, and no more bed bugs. Oh yes, bed bugs. Did I mention the hostels in Hanoi were full of them? After three and a half months of furtively avoiding them, BAM! Although I still haven't actually seen any bugs, my bite-ridden torso tells the ugly truth. Here's to never seeing those itchy bastards again!
During my long ride to Vietnam I listened to the entire discography of Talking Heads. It sucked. Not the Talking Heads albums: those were amazing. The bus ride sucked.
They cramped six of us into a crawl space big enough for three. That's where we slept. I had to share a blanket with a Vietnamese man, which would have been fine, except that the air conditioning was kept on full blast. I never understand why tourist buses are so damn cold; I mean, it's like they are trying to prove that they have air conditioning.
At about 2 in the morning, the bus stopped so we could eat. The meal was watery rice soup - not too terrible, actually. However, I was kind of upset that they charged us $4 for it. In Thailand, the rest stops usually served a free (and deservedly mediocre) meal.
The next morning we had to sit by the border for four hours to wait for it to open. Another couple hours later, we acquired departure and arrival stamps, then were back on the bus. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and at 9 P.M. the bus finally arrived in Vinh. I found accommodation for the night, and the next day, took a bus to Hanoi, the capital city.
I wish I could say the trip to Hanoi was all smooth sailing, but that would be a lie. It took twice as long to get there than I'd expected, but ok, no biggie. The crazy part happened during the taxi drive into the city center. After ripping me off (the 20-minute taxi ride cost the same as my 8 hour bus journey to Hanoi), the driver stopped by an ATM so I could withdraw some money to pay him. Well, just as luck may have it, my debit card wasn't working. Three ATMs later, the driver was starting to get pissed off, and I was more than a little bit nervous. So I ran to a local hotel, used their Wi-fi to call my bank via Skype (I don't have a working phone), and had the issue resolved in ten minutes. I paid the driver, slammed the door shut, and he was on his way. Here I am, writing this late-night blog post from a random hotel in Hanoi (or maybe near Hanoi, who knows?), instead of the "Old City" area where I had intended to go.
Misfortune aside, how is Vietnam? The first word I'd use to describe the country is "LOUD!" Maybe it's just because I came here from a nice, quiet country (Laos), but it sure is noisy here. It's a heavily populated country, so there is no shortage of honking horns, shouting, and rumbling traffic. Like Thailand, there is an incessant barrage of taxi drivers trying to get your attention.
I have yet to visit a Southeast Asian country with bad food, Vietnam being no exception. My first two meals here consisted of the ever omnipresent "Pho" (noodle soup). It comes in "Bo" (beef) and "Ga" (chicken) varieties. It's the national dish of the country, and is available practically everywhere. It's also super cheap and delicious.
Over the upcoming week I plan on exploring Hanoi, and visiting Halong Bay. The Bay is one of Vietnam's premier tourist attractions; we shall see if it lives up to its fame.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.