Vietnam has undergone heavy inflation which is making already poor people more desperate. Almost everything has gone up 20-25 % in the past couple of years. Even with this high inflation, Vietnam is still one of the most affordable places to travel. I encourage budget travelers to look at Vietnam as a travel destination, but also, not to be the ultimate Scrooge!! The very first thing to keep in mind is the number of zeros in the Vietnamese Dong. One hundred USD is the equivalent of 2 million Dong. Because of that, some people will have problems with conversion and think things are more expensive than they really are. Here is a typical example.
A couple checks into my hotel for 1 week and puts all expenses on their room. Every morning they have breakfast, coffee and then go out. In the afternoon, one drinks coffee and the other polished off 2 beers. After wakening up and having another coffee, and an afternoon of fun, the evening is spent sitting in the front of the lobby drinking (this scenario will probably reflect a few readers of this blog;). After a week it is time to check out and I present them with a bill of 2,500,000 dong. Looks outrageous doesn’t it? However, they ask how much in American dollars and it converts to about 125.00 US.” What” they say? “Are you sure”? “We have been here a week and have drank a lot”!! Yes that is correct…… The entire week stay cost less than a single night in a budget hotel in your country. With this in mind, I will tell you about one of my pet peeves……
I understand that many travelers are on a tight budget, however, there are limits as to how thrifty I can tolerate. Here is another common example. In our lobby we sell ice cold drinks. A bottle of water is 5000 dong (.25). Most of the stores in the neighborhood sell warm bottles for the same price, but there are some that sell for 4000 dong (.20). We serve a good basic breakfast for 25000 dong (1.25) but a person can buy a baguette with scrambled eggs inside for 15000 (.75). They then take breakfast up to the room making an awful mess as it is not respectful to purchase food elsewhere and consume in another food venue. Over the typical 3 day stay, the frugal couple have saved 36000 dong (1.80 US) but has cost their hotel to profit less as the room is tied up with people who think ( often mistakenly) that they are spending too much money and will not spend a dime on the very place they came to enjoy. These same people in order to save precious pennies will spend more time in the room using more energy with the air conditioning. Do you get the picture? Try to keep in mind that shopping for a budget hotel that saves you money, or eating at less expensive restaurants is understandable, but saving 5000 or 10000 at a time really does not add up to much compared to the inconvenience of shopping for the ultimate bargain. I cannot count how many times that young travelers walk around with sour expressions thinking everything is a rip off or too expensive from their mindset.
As of August 31st 2012, here are examples of average current prices of goods in Vietnam.
20000 = 1 us Dollar
Local areas Both areas Tourist areas
Pho 20000 40000
Beer 10000 20000
Premium Beer 15000 35000
Cigarettes 16000 25000
Meal in restaurant 80000 150000
Bus Fare 4000
Budget Hotel 150000 200000
3 star Hotel 500000 1200000
Bottle of water 5000/10000
Motorcycle rentals 100-120000
Blue Jeans 100000 300000+
Dental filling 200000
Doctor consult 50000 (foreign partnered hospital)
Basic cell phone 400000
Banh Mi 10000 20000
Common bicycle 1600000
I guess my last point would be that it is so comparatively inexpensive to travel here that bargaining down hard ok, but keep in mind that Vietnamese will work for almost anything if they are in need of money. They are often will try to out bid each other and I guess that leaves the onus is on us to be fair. In the end you usually get what you pay for. I will end with another example:
Many people wish to enjoy the central highlands by motorcycle and there are many riders that will take a person. Hired from the street, the
current cost for a Dalat Easyrider is 70 us dollars a day and a rider from Nha Trang about 60. Included in this price, is your guide, cost of fuel, entrance fees, and decent accommodation. That is more than a fair price as if you deduct the room cost (15.00), fuel cost & maintenance (10.00) entrance fees (4 or 5.00), what remains of a Nha Trang riders wage is 30 USD. Now to be honest, 30 dollars is a fair wage here…… but wait!! We have not deducted his living expenses for the day!! Even if eating frugally (often the reason guides sit on their own), it will cost another 5 dollars…..then there is coffee and water…. Now he has to find a place to sleep…….. Well you get the picture right? These fellows might make 20.00 a day (that is 2.00 an hour for 10 hours) if they are lucky. People are so desperate for work here, sometimes I will encounter a rider who is working for 45 dollars a day and on a 5 day tour. This rider will be making less than one dollar an hour!! Odds are in order to save some money, the customer will spend time in venues or restaurants that are pricier but give a kick backs to the rider. The accommodation will be cheap and unsatisfactory, but you are getting what you paid for…. The poor fellow has to make money somehow.
I sometimes find it ironic that the same people that will stand up for cheap child labor and unfair employer practices will come to Vietnam on holiday and mistakenly (or perhaps not) practice the very thing that they stand against….
It is very easy to forget how small the large numbered currency is and as easy to become the ultimate “Cheap Charlie” without meaning to….. Be Aware and take a wallet conversion card…. It will help! You can find a good walet card on this site http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter/