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  1. Hanging out in Hanoi

    January 25, 2015 by IFOTC

    Hanoi Vietnam old quarters.

    The old quarters in Hanoi, Vietnam

    In total, we were in Hanoi for about 7 days. Three on the first days of our vacation, and 4 on the last days. We didn’t get bored once. Considering we didn’t really go to any tourist attractions, I think that says a lot for the city.

    We arrived at Noi Bai, Hanoi’s airport, late. Our flight with Jetstar was delayed 5 hours. Lucky for us, in the morning they sent us a text message to tell us, so we weren’t sitting around the airport all day. When you exit the airport, you’ll see a lineup of taxis. There are many different companies. Some people say Mai Linh or Vinasun are the only ones they’ll take. I haven’t had any problems with other companies, and sometimes their rates are cheaper. If you take a close look, you’ll see their rates posted on the side of their car. If you shop around it could be possible to save a couple dollars. In hindsight, I would have probably used this company. Simply send them an email with your flight information and they’ll be waiting for you with your name on a sign. They charge $15 to get downtown (you might want to ask them specifically about your hotel to make sure it’s not more). We ended up paying 370,000 VND ($17) for a taxi off the street. It took us to Hanoi Crystal Hotel, where we stayed for 3 nights. Did we book ahead? Yes. How long ahead? A few hours. At the airport, before boarding our flight, we went on the app HotelQuickly and did a search for Hanoi. Thanks to the app’s great incentive program, and the last minute deals that the app secures, we were able to book 3 nights for only $25. If you’re unfamiliar with HotelQuickly, check out our HotelQuickly review and be sure to put in our invite code to save yourself some money (after you download it go to credits, then redeem, then put in promo code RNEMU — I believe you get $15-$20 in credits if you use it). So anyways, the hotel was a great deal. The room was nothing special, but the location was good. Down the street, there was a really good bia hoi place where we ate our first meal in Hanoi.

    Bia hoi is one of my favourite things about Hanoi. They’re basically restaurants, or sometimes just sidewalks, where you can get cheap glasses of draft beer. Cheap as in, 3000-10,000 VND ($0.15-$0.50). Hanoi Bia Hoi is a great website that maps the beer hoi places. We used it a lot while in Hanoi. “What do you want to do now?” “Hmm… I know!” *pulls out phone and searches for closest beer hoi place.

    The next day, we woke up really early and did Frommer’s Hanoi walking tour. We usually avoid the popular travel books, but the self-guided walking tours that Frommers have on their website are a good way to see some of the city’s highlights. Without it, we would probably just walk around anyways, exploring the old town aimlessly. At least this way we get to read some info about some of the sights.

    A woman walks under a train bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

    The underpass of Hanoi’s train.

    I have mixed opinions about Hanoi’s old quarters. First of all, they are really cool. The buildings, the streets and alleys, the bustle of it all. If you are into photography, it’s a dream location. It’s definitely a must-see on your visit to Hanoi. I would do it early in the morning when the locals are up, but the backpackers are sleeping off their hangovers. Plus, if it’s summer it won’t be as hot. There’s so much to see, but the walking conditions aren’t great, so take your time and don’t forget to watch where you’re going (you’ll have to). All that being said… Let’s get the hell out of here before I start throwing flying knees in people’s faces! The cute narrow streets go from photographic to death via traffic. At first, the ladies selling fruit from their hanging baskets are ‘cool’ and ‘amazing’, but after a while they’re ‘in the way’ and ‘bashing into me’. And then there’s the vendors who say something like, “Hey, ghost-face! Do you want to buy something incredibly over-priced?” Hanoi will scam the shit out of you. A great man once said, DTA you stupid piece of trash! Don’t trust anyone. The nice charming ladies with the banh ran (fried doughnuts) will throw 6 pieces in a bag, hand it over, and ask you for 290,000 VND ($13.50). When they tried to pull this on me, Sara had to restrain me from giving the girl a Stone Cold Stunner. Instead, I talked her down to 30,000 VND ($1.50), which is still overpriced. Make sure you know the currency conversion before heading into the old quarters. I have a theory that those three pointless zeros at the end of their prices are only still there because they use them to rip tourists off. The old quarters are a great place to visit, but if you’re going to be in Hanoi for more than a few days, I recommend staying outside of them.

    Hanoi, Vietnam streets

    Good chance that you’ll get knocked in the head by something like this.

    This brings me to our last three days in Hanoi. We stayed in Anh Hotel, which is in the Tay Ho District. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the old quarters, a 10 minute walk to West Lake (the largest lake in Hanoi), a 2 minute walk to Truc Bach lake, and a 20 minute walk to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and mausoleum (if you’re interested in waiting in line to stare at a dead guy). There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area. It’s much quieter than the old quarters and there are a lot less white people. The hotel was clean, comfy, and the staff spoke English better than any other place we stayed (‘Anh’ is actually Vietnamese for ‘English’). If you’re going to be in Hanoi for more than a couple days, I would definitely recommend staying in this area over the old quarters.

    A woman selling fruit in Hanoi, Vietnam
    So what’s a person to do in Hanoi if they’re not peeping dead peeps, and looking through glass cases at old bowls? Well, the majority of our free time was spent shoving things into our mouths. There are a ton of food opportunities in Hanoi. Some dishes you’ll struggle to find in the rest of Vietnam, let alone in another country.

    Some must-try dishes while in Hanoi are:

    • Pho Cuon (Pho rolls) – Vietnam’s popular soup in roll form. Try it around Truc Bach lake, where they are said to have been invented.
    • Bun Bo Nam Bo (Beef noodle mix) – I’ve had many different versions of beef and noodles in Vietnam, but this one is truly unique and very tasty. The most popular place to get it is 67 Hang Dieu (see map below).
    • Bun Thang (chicken and pork noodle soup) – A really amazing bowl that is packed with delicious and filling toppings like chicken, pork, egg, sometimes shrimp. We randomly walked into a packed-with-locals place on the north-side of Hang Thung close to Hang Be. It might have been the best soup I had in Hanoi.
    • Bun ca Ha Noi (Hanoi fish noodle soup) – Fish soup in Vietnam is different, depending where you are. Hanoi’s version uses mullet and dill.
    • Bun Cha (grilled pork and vermicelli) – One of the more popular Hanoi dishes. Grilled meatballs are dipped in a sweet broth-like sauce and eaten with vermicelli noodles. You should be able to find this dish all over.
    • Banh tom Ho Tay (sweet potato shrimp fritters) – A sweet potato fritter topped with a whole shrimp (originally the shrimp came from Ho Tay, the large lake). The shrimp’s head isn’t removed and the skin is left on. Why? Because that’s how the Vietnamese roll. If you can get over that fact, it’s pretty tasty and crunchy.
    • Ca Phe Trung (Egg Coffee) – Sweet and oh so good. A heavily beaten egg is mixed with delicious Vietnamese coffee. Apparently, the drink was invented by Giang Cafe, so I suggest trying it there (39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân).
    • Deep fried deliciousness – Quan Goc Da, a popular eatery at 52 Ly Quoc Su, just north of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, serves up a plethora of deep fried goodies. We tried the banh goi (dumpling stuffed with glass noodles, mushrooms, and ground pork), nem cua be (crab spring roll), and the banh bao thit (deep-fried pork dumpling).

    Quan Goc Da in Hanoi, Vietnam

    Quan Goc Da where you can clog your arteries with deliciousness.

    Check out the map below for more restaurant recommendations. It’s also worth noting that there are a lot of great international restaurants in Hanoi. For Indian food, try Foodshop 45 (59 Truc Bach St). Gecko Cafe and Restaurant (86 Hàng Quạt… and I think a few more locations) does some pretty good western food, as well as Vietnamese food. For Mexican, you can try Provecho (18 Hang Be).

    We happened to be in Hanoi during New Year’s Eve, a holiday that’s not that popular in Vietnam, but there were a few celebrations going on around the city. We decided to do an all day microbrewery tour. With some help from BeerVN.com we planned out a route, sprinkled in some bia hoi places as filler, and drank/walked our way into 2015. It was a great day with the highlight being the glass of Hoa Vien beer from Pilsner Urquell Restaurant at 10 Nguyen Bieu, and the low-light being the pink champagne we popped as the clock struck midnight.

    Legend Beer in Hanoi, Vietnam.

    Sara on the balcony at Legend Beer.

    One of our all time favourite travelling activities is having a cup of coffee at a cafe and people watching. Of course, Hanoi is amazing for this as there are cafes everywhere, the coffee is outstanding, and there’s always crazy stuff to look at. That’s the ultimate attraction of Hanoi. A walk around a neighbourhood you’ve never been, is more of an attraction to me than a museum with artifacts that I’ll forget about twenty minutes after leaving the place. The real memories are in the streets:

    the people,
    Man with no legs riding a motorcycle in Hanoi, Vietnam
    their interactions,
    A couple walking in Hanoi, Vietnam
    the bowls of food,
    A bowl of bun bo nam bo in Hanoi, Vietnam
    the sips of coffee.
    A cup of egg coffee in Hanoi, Vietnam

    Cost Breakdown (for 2)

    Accommodations: $24.66 USD (3 nights) + $1.61 (1 night) + $68.40 (3 nights) = $94.67/2,022,000 dong (7 nights) *We got some major discounts thanks to this blog and HotelQuickly. You can expect to pay about $20/night for a private double.
    Meals: 3,550,000 (5 breakfasts, 5 lunch, 7 dinner)
    Attraction admissions: 60,000 (we went into an ancient house and the temple on the island)
    Coffee/Booze/Snacks: 1,141,000
    Transportation: 370,000 (taxi from airport) + 50,000 (taxi to bus station) + 50,000 (taxi old quarters to Truch Bach Lake) + 370,000 (taxi to airport) = 840,000

    Total: 7,613,000 ($356)

     

    Map of Hanoi


  2. VIDEO: Malaysian Paradise – Sibuan Island

    January 12, 2015 by IFOTC

    Yesterday, Sara and I booked our flights for our second trip to Malaysia. I have to go two days earlier, so we have two separate flights. I’m with Air Asia. She’s with Malaysia Airlines. For some reason, they were the two cheapest airlines we could find… We are excited to head back to Malaysia. This time around, we are going to explore the north, going up the west coast and down the east. You can expect lots of information and videos by the end of February.
    In the meantime, I dug up some footage from our last trip to Malaysia and edited this video about going to Sibuan Island. It’s a very small island off the coast of Semporna, Borneo. For more information about our time there, read this: Budget travel to Semporna, Malaysia


  3. Tam Coc, Vietnam and the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex-icated

    January 10, 2015 by IFOTC

    In 2014, UNESCO named the Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex Vietnam’s newest world heritage site. I hate that name. It’s the cause of much confusion and is even responsible for a rare, but necessary, fight between Sara and I. The to-do list of the area includes a boat tour of the Trang An grottoes, which are usually just called Trang An. There’s also a boat tour that’s usually called Tam Coc, because that’s the name of the village that it’s in. So, when I say, “should we do Trang An?” referring to the boat tour, and Sara says, “We are going to be in Trang An.” “What about Tam Coc?” “That’s the village we’ll be staying in.” “No, the boat tour” “Which boat tour?” “Trang An” “Are you not listening to me?” “You’re stupid and I hate you.” “Go to Hell” “I hope a spider lays eggs in your face while you sleep tonight.”

    We didn’t end up doing any boat tours.

    Tac Coc, Vietnam tour boats.

    Tour boats in Tam Coc’s lake.

    We arrived at Ninh Binh’s bus station and took a taxi straight to Tam Coc. Ninh Binh is the closest city to the attraction, but we heard that there isn’t much to do there. You can find good accommodations in Tam Coc, and more are being built as we speak. After reading some amazing reviews, we booked 3 nights at Tuan Ngoc Hotel (1,143,000/$53 total). Let’s get the praise out of the way. It’s a very inviting family-owned hotel that almost feels more like a homestay. The daughter, Ngoc speaks very good English. The mother, being old skool, speaks French. Together, they basically run the place. Ngoc was accommodating every step of the stay, including giving us a hand drawn map with a breakdown of the attractions of the area, and how far they were from the hotel. The rooms are simple — bed, table, chair, bathroom with hot water, no TV, no fridge — but clean and warm. They also have a restaurant that serves up some decent food, and they offer motorcycle or bicycle rentals.

    Attractions in the area include: boat tours along rivers that are surrounded by limestone karsts and farm fields (it’s sometimes called the Ha Long Bay of rice paddies), a bird watcher’s paradise aptly called Bird Paradise, the ancient capital, a bunch of really old pagodas, caves, climbs, and many many amazing views.

    Tam Coc village in Vietnam

    A boat touring Tam Coc’s waters with limestone karsts in the background.

    We started our day by renting a motorbike and driving to Hoa Lư, the ancient capital. It was raining and we were cold. We got lost. Ngoc’s cartography skills aren’t nearly as good as her hospitality skills. We found it after a couple of wet and cold hours (see map below). As we pulled up on the motorbike, a lady offered us free parking if we bought something from her restaurant. I saw a sign for 10,000 dong ($0.50) parking, so we went with the restaurant, which we had lunch in after seeing the site. It was bad. Stick to drinks. There really isn’t much to see at Hoa Lu, most of it has been destroyed, but knowing that in the 10th century it was the center of Vietnam’s culture and politics was pretty mind blowing. The temples that remain didn’t look much different than every other pagoda I’ve ever seen, but take a walk around and just soak it in. Walking towards the attraction, there’s a left-hand turn before the first temple — there’s a sign for another pagoda there — if you walk down that way you’ll go along a small road, past houses, along farmer’s fields, and between giant limestone karsts. The pagoda that the road leads to was closed when we got there, but the 10 minute walk was excellent. The admission for Hoa Lu is only 10,000 dong ($0.50), so it’s worth doing. When you’re there, I suggest reading through some wikipedia articles about each temple and the emperors that built them. It paints a bit of a story around the sites, and teaches you something that you will probably forget within 10 minutes.

    Hoa Lu, Vietnam's ancient capital.

    The gate to Hoa Lu, the ancient capital.

    Next, we went to Hang Mua cave. The actual cave isn’t all that exciting, but it’s also worth a stroll through. The real selling point here is the viewpoint. 450 steps take you to the top of a giant rock. It’s a bit of a challenge, but the views are worth it. A tickets for both is 50,000 dong, plus parking. From the top, you can watch the tourist boats come down the river.

    Hang Mua cave's viewpoint in Trang An Vietnam

    Hang Mua’s view point.

    Bich Dong Pagoda was built in the 15th century. It’s spread across three levels, built into the side of a mountain. From Tuan Ngoc Hotel, you can walk there in about 20 minutes. The walk is pretty amazing with lots to look at. The pagoda also offers nice views and makes for an interesting climb. It’s free to enter, but the hawkers are all over the area waiting to pounce you with their goods.

    The best part of our stay in Tam Coc was the second day when we decided to just explore the area on foot. Behind the hotel, there’s a cool back street that takes you to the lake where the Tam Coc boat tours leave. You can walk around the lake, then take a road that meets up with the river that the boats go down. At the end of that road there is another ancient pagoda. Another street (more like a path) juts off from the pagoda and goes to a cave then ends at another part of the river where you could have a pretty nice picnic as you watch the boat ladies paddle tourists by. With the giant karsts and the flooded fields all around us, it was one of the best walks we’ve taken. There are many little roads that we didn’t bother exploring. Perhaps if we had a bicycle or motorbike we would have, but it was nice to walk and snap photos of the farmers and farm animals. I think the boat tour would have been great, but it would also be a bit stressful. Apparently, they take you around a corner and you’re suddenly swarmed by boats with ladies trying to sell you something. I’ve heard many stories about the different high pressure sales tactics used to sell you everything from photos of yourself in the boat, to drinks for the driver. Have a read through some of the Trip Advisor reviews. They make me cringe. Perhaps, Trang An’s grotto tour is better. I’ve heard that Van Long Nature Reserve is far less touristy than both, but we stayed on dry land for this visit.


    There are two great restaurants that we went to in Tam Coc: Viet Bamboo and Father Cooking (Delicious Food). Props to the latter for having a unique name. They are both located right at the main intersection by the lake. I think they’re actually one store down from each other. Their menus are similar — most restaurant’s in the area are. At Viet Bamboo we tried the grilled goat. It’s a specialty to the area and was very good. I was a bit worried that it would be dry, but it wasn’t at all. You should also try the Ninh Binh specialty Com Chay. It’s a buttery chicken soup served with crisply cooked rice. On the menu it will probably say “burnt rice”, which is a bit of a turn off, but trust me it’s really good. Father Cooking (Delicious Food) cooks a really mean pork and pineapple. I can’t choose between the two restaurants. They were both delicious and the owners were both very friendly.

    Tam Coc was a great little village, even in the off-season when the fields are empty, and the air is cold. I imagine when the rice fields are in it’s absolutely incredible, but I’m also pleased that we didn’t have to suffer the swarms of tourists. I can’t imagine how a small village like that could handle bus loads of people.

    After 3 nights, we rented a scooter, stored our bags, and headed out of town to Vietnam’s first national park, Cúc Phương.

    Cost Breakdown (for 2)

    Transportation from Cat Ba Island: 440,000 boat + 50,000 taxi + 180,000 bus + 100,000 taxi = 770,000
    Accommodations: 1,143,000 for 3 nights
    Meals: 1,055,000 (3 dinners, 2 lunches, breakfast was included with the hotel)
    Scooter: 150,000 + 50,000 gas = 200,000
    Attraction admission: 130,000 (Hoa Lu and Hang Mua cave)
    Booze and snacks: 94,000
    Laundry: 126,000 (30,000/kg)

    Total: 3,526,000 dong ($165)

     

    Map of Trang An UNESCO Area


  4. Cat Ba Island: An Alternate Route to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

    January 8, 2015 by IFOTC

    Cat Ba Island Hills in Vietnam

    The hills of Cat Ba Island from Cannon Fort.

    Not being one for tours, Sara and I decided to make our way to Cat Ba Island, where a day trip into Ha Long Bay wouldn’t involve a bus ride to Ha Long City and back. We took a bus/boat combo from Lương Yên bus station for 220,000 dong ($11). It included a tourist-filled bus to Hai Phong, where we waited for about 20 minutes before getting on another bus to a port where we took a ferry to the north part of Cat Ba Island and then took another bus to Cat Ba town. It took about 5 hours in total and wasn’t the most pleasant time, but it got us to our destination and didn’t require much thinking from us. If we were to do it again, we would have just taken a bus or train to Hai Phong and then caught a public ferry to the island. It would probably cost about the same, and it would require more planning, but that’s one of the reasons we travel.

    We arrived in Cat Ba at about 4:30 and checked in to our room at the Cat Ba Island Resort and Spa — not a place that we’d usually stay but it was Christmas and, since it was the off-season, we got a great deal (about $60/night). The resort has two pools (it was too cold to swim though) and a couple of water slides. We were upgraded to a suite, which had a balcony with an ocean view, and we were given tickets for a free sauna/steam-room. Needless to say, we were happy with the accommodations. The location of the hotel was ideal. It’s just a smidgen out of town, about a 5 minute walk, and it’s surrounded by some large rocky hills that cut out the noise from the town and keep in that marvelous ocean sound.

    View from Cat Ba Resort and Spa balcony.

    The view from our hotel balcony.

    Our first full day on the island we decided to rent a scooter and explore a bit. We got up early and walked to town to find a place that rented scooters. Our hotel charged 190,000 dong ($9.50) per hour for one — we were sure we’d be able to find one for cheaper. We took about 2 steps into town when someone yelled, “Hello, you rent scooter?”. That was easy. We rented one for 70,000 dong ($3.50) for a half day.

    Our first stop was Cannon Fort. It was a short ride up a steep hill. It would be possible to walk to from the town, but it would probably take an hour and be exhausting. First and foremost, Cannon Fort offers great views of Lan Ha Bay. It’s also the location of, you guessed it, a fort and a cannon. Actually, it’s not really a cannon but a couple of giant artillery guns. There are also some tunnels and a few artifacts. The fort was built by the Japanese during World War II. It was also used during the Vietnam War. Admission is 60,000 dong ($3)/person.

    Cannon fort artillery gun

    One of the guns at Cannon Fort.

    The next stop was Hospital Cave. It was a beautiful half hour ride to the cave. There are only a few roads on the island, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. The restaurant across the street from the cave offers parking, and the guide will probably be hanging out there if he’s not showing someone else the cave. The cave was turned into a hospital to hold and hide people during the Vietnam War. It’s 3-storeys and contained a pool, a cinema, a training area, plus all the hospital stuff. It’s pretty incredible and worth the 30,000 dong ($1.50) admission.

    Hospital cave on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

    The entrance to Hospital Cave.

    After the cave we had lunch at the restaurant across the street. The food was good and the woman who runs the place was really nice. As we ate, she pulled out her guitar and practiced a few songs. We could have stayed longer, but we had to race back to the scooter rental place and return our bike. If we had more time, we would have gone to the national park and done a hike. Cat Ba Island is the only place in the world that has golden-headed langurs, one of the rarest mammals in the world. Don’t expect to see one, there are only about 60 left. The park also has a hike to a fishing village on the east side of the island, but if you take a tour of Halong Bay it’ll probably include a drive by the village. We easily could have spent the entire day riding around on the scooter, but we wanted to take advantage of the nice hotel we were in, so we bought a case of beer and a bottle of Baileys from the CT Mart just north of the main road on Nui Ngoc street, and plonked ourselves down on some loungers that overlooked the ocean. The rest of the day is a bit of a blur.

    Sunset in Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

    Cat Ba Island sunset

    The next morning was Christmas! We were up bright and early for a tour of Ha Long Bay. We bought our tickets the day before from Green Mango Restaurant. They were 440,000 dong ($22) each. I think you’d be able to save some money if you buy your tickets from the hotel that actually operates the tour, but I’m not sure which hotel that was. All the tours are sold along the main road, so it’d be easy to shop around, but you’d probably only save a couple bucks. At any rate, it’s not a lot of money considering the tour includes a full day on a boat, lunch, kayak rentals, and a ride to and from the port. We left at 8AM. There were about 12 other people on the tour. The boat had a cabin and an upstairs with enough room so that everyone could sit inside or out at the same time. We putted along the harbour through Lan Ha Bay to Monkey Island where we were let off and given an hour to climb some rocks to a lookout point. It was a great view and we did manage to see a monkey on Monkey Island.

    Monkey Island, Vietnam in Lan Ha Bay.

    The top of the climb on Monkey Island.

    After that, it was a slow drive to Ha Long Bay where we parked and kayaked through caves and into amazing grottoes. It was pretty magical. At one point, we kayaked into an area that was surrounded by greenery. It was extremely peaceful, or at least it would have been if the other tourists would have shut up. It blows my mind that people can be surrounded by beauty and tranquility, but they can’t stop talking about themselves long enough to enjoy it. We managed to get away from the crowd a bit and sat in silence for about 2 minutes before we heard a noise from the trees. We paddled to where the sounds were coming from. It was a group of monkeys. We couldn’t see them but it was incredible just listening to them communicate with each other. Suddenly, a monkey let out an aggressive call. The noise filled the grotto and attracted the other tourists. I was a bit disappointed that we had to share our find, but at least they shut up for a bit, and we even managed to get a glimpse of a couple of the primates.

    When we got back to the boat, lunch was ready for us. It was a nice collection of dishes that included tuna, shrimp, cabbage, rice, and spring rolls. After lunch, we headed back. There was a quick stop at a rock wall where we were invited to climb up and jump into the water. It would have been fun if the weather wasn’t so cold, but no one braved it. Overall, the tour was great because of the scenery it offered, but having warm sunny weather would have made it better. If you’ve read our blog in the past, you’d know how much we dislike tours. I think it’s because we generally hate people — that’s not true, but we prefer to do stuff alone so we don’t have to listen to someone talk about their office job in New York while we try and take in incredibly inspiring sights. I think that renting kayaks and exploring Lan Ha Bay alone would probably be just as good as the Ha Long Bay tour. Lan Ha is similar to Ha Long and there are many small beaches that you’d be able to stop at to picnic, swim, or relax. You would also be able to explore the local boats and fishing village in a bit more depth.

    Lan Ha Bay Vietnam

    Lan Ha Bay and a fishing village.

    For Christmas dinner we went to Green Mango Restaurant for a bit of western food. The owner is a very nice man that does an excellent job running his business. They were the first western restaurant on the island. He told us the locals all told him the place would be a failure. Since then, they’ve opened up a restaurant in Hoi An, 2 in Hanoi, plus a hotel. The food was very good and the service was great. Because it was Christmas, we were given a free glass of mulled wine. We split lasagna and a pizza — not the most Christmasy meal, but it was much enjoyed. After dinner, we had dessert and coffee. The bill came to 460,000 dong ($23).

    We spent a total of 3 nights on the island. I think another day would have been great to explore the national park, or to take down another bottle of Baileys, but we had to move on. Instead of the bus/boat/bus/bus combo to Ninh Binh, we took a ferry from the Cat Ba Town port to Hai Phong (220,000 dong/$11), then a taxi to the bus station (50,000 dong/$2.50), and a bus to Ninh Binh (70,000 dong/$3.50). I think we would have saved money doing the combo, but we needed the challenge of finding our own way and I think we saved a bit of time. Make sure you don’t jump into the first taxi at the port in Hai Phong. They will tell you that they can’t use their meters for whatever reason. If you walk to the street you should be able to find one that will use the meter. The first guy that approached us quoted 120,000 dong ($6) to the bus station. He lowered that to 70,000 after we refused, but using a taxi with a meter we paid 50,000 ($2.50).

    My parting words about Cat Ba Island: The town isn’t much — apparently in the high season it’s booming but it was very quiet when we were there. The highlights are definitely around the island via scooter. It’s an easy ride and simple to navigate, so if you don’t have much scooter-ing experience, it’s not a bad place to start. The summer will be busier, but it’s probably worth it if you like swimming. The beaches on the island are nice and there are a few hidden away ones that will probably be fairly quiet if you can find them. I have heard bad things about Ha Long City. We hate tourist towns and the pestering that comes along with them, I think Cat Ba was a great way to avoid the trap but to still see the renowned Ha Long Bay.

    Cost Breakdown (for 2)

    Transportation from Hanoi: 440,000 (including a 20,000 taxi from Cat Ba Town to the hotel — not needed, but we bought a bunch of “Christmas cheer” at the store)
    Accommodations: 4,060,000 (3 nights)
    Meals: 1,040,000 (3 dinners, 1 lunch)
    Scooter: 70,000 + 50,000 gas (probably only needed 25,000) = 120,000
    Attraction admissions: 1,020,000 (Ha Long Tour, Cave, Cannon Fort)
    Booze and snacks: 1,000,000 (don’t judge, it was Christmas)

    Total: 7,700,000 ($360)

     

    Map of Cat Ba Island


  5. 7 Reasons to Move to Vietnam

    December 16, 2014 by IFOTC

    I think I’ve covered the negative aspects of Vietnam pretty well, so I thought it was about time I started convincing people to move out here. My commune isn’t going to start itself. No, Vietnemura needs people to be successful. Here are 7 reasons to drop everything and move to Vietnam.

    A cook in Vietnam taking orders

    Vietnemura Wants You!

    1) Opportunity

    Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In the last 5 years, their average annual GDP (PPP) growth rate was 5.9%. Compare that to America’s 0.6%. Furthermore, starting a business in Vietnam doesn’t require a giant pile of money. With just $5000 it’s possible to get a small business going. Start-up costs for a restaurant in New York would be at minimum $300,000. For that kind of money in Vietnam, you could start a very high-end establishment (when restaurants are high-end we call them establishments). Pho24 is one of Vietnam’s largest franchises. They are the country’s only franchise to have success internationally with locations in Tokyo, Macau, Hong Kong, and Manila. To open a Pho24, the owner Ly Qui Trung says it costs an average of $80,000. That’s nothing compared to opening a Denny’s in America — between 1.3 and 2.6 million dollars.

    sushi restuarant in vietnam

    Rent it for $600/month

    Back when Sara and I were looking for a place to live, we were shown a former restaurant that was for rent in Thu Dau Mot, a growing city and the capital of Binh Duong province. The rent was $600 a month. It was 3 stories, had underground parking, a rooftop patio, and was on one of the busiest streets in the city. I drove by it the other day and saw that a sushi restaurant will be opening up there soon.
    Staffing costs in Vietnam are ridiculously cheap — too cheap. In 2013, the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker was under $150. I suggest paying your employees much more than this, but you get the picture.
    Not everyone wants to own a restaurant, and in fact I don’t really recommend that as a business unless it’s your passion. There are many people coming to Vietnam to grow their startup businesses. Bootstrapping is a term used to describe a business that operates on very little money. A business built from nothing. It’s usually financed by the owner only and it slowly builds as the business profits. By not relying on outside investing, the owner has full control. There is a bit of a bootstraping culture going on in Saigon. 70% of the city’s population is under 30. They are excited to work, are tech savvy, and affordable.
    If you’re not into computers, you might want to consider exporting goods from Vietnam. Last week, I went shopping for a chair and found a store that was making beautiful furniture that I know would cost at least $2000 in Canada. They were selling it for around $500. I’m sure if you packed a shipping container and found a good dealer, you could clear around $500-$700 per piece. I know one guy who makes his living by fixing up vintage motorbikes and finding buyers in the UK.
    Of course, doing business in Vietnam can be a huge headache, but there are companies that can handle all the details for you. Also, it’s worth noting that the standard corporate income tax rate in Vietnam is 25%.

    2) Cost of Living

    Whether you are looking to pay off debts, or if you just want to live a more high-flying lifestyle, Vietnam is a great place to call home. When the weekend hits, I like to go out with friends, have dinner, drink a few beers, play some pool, and maybe even end up in a private room at a karaoke bar. A night like that would cost a fortune in Toronto, my former city. I could easily blow $100 on one night. In Vietnam, dinner, drinks, pool — about $20. A beer out in Toronto: $6, in Vietnam: $1. A case of Heineken in Toronto, $46.95. In Vietnam: $17. That should be the only thing I need to say. You should be on a plane by now.

    Case of Tiger Beer bottles in Vietnam

    Tiger, a popular beer in Vietnam. 24 bottles for $17.

    Rent in Vietnam is very reasonable. We pay 10,000,000 dong ($467) per month for a 3 bedroom partially furnished house. We saw some places that were a bit smaller for about $300/month. A furnished, fully serviced 1 bedroom apartment in downtown Ho Chi Minh City will go for about $500.
    Most of the people I know have maids. Some even have a cook that will do their shopping for them and prepare dinner everyday. Laundry service is quite affordable and they’ll even pickup and drop off your clothes so you don’t have to leave your air-conditioned palace. I haven’t shaved myself since I got here. Forget the Dollar Shave Club, Vietnam is the 50 cent shave country.
    Right now, I spend an average of $515/month. That includes buying some new stuff for our house, and eating out at least once a day (sometimes 3 times a day). If we cooked at home everyday, we’d save even more. For a pound of boneless chicken breasts it costs about $1.42. In Canada, it would be about $4.60/lbs. Don’t get me started on how inexpensive rice is here. Sometimes, I buy sacks of it just to work on my throwing technique for weddings.
    Numbeo breaks down costs pretty well. You can compare your city with a city in Vietnam. It’s not always accurate — it claims membership to a fitness club is $60/month in Vietnam when I’ve seen it for much cheaper (some gyms are only $7/month) — but it’s fun to look at it and think about how much money I’m saving. To have a taxi wait for you for 1 hour costs $26 in Toronto. In Vietnam, 84 cents. Geez, that’s like $20 for an entire day of waiting. I should hire a taxi driver to wait outside my house all the time.

    A bowl of Mi Quang - Vietnamese Food3) The Food

    I don’t need to say much here. Go to your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and try a bowl of pho. That’s like sticking your feet in the pool, it feels great and it’s only a matter of time before you dive in fully. There are so many great dishes in Vietnam. Everything is so fresh. The food is a big part of the reason we came here. So big, in fact, that I started documenting all the food I tried. Have a look at the website here: VietnaMenu – A foodie’s guide to traveling Vietnam.

    Vietnamese Coffee with ice and milk4) The Coffee

    Coffee gets it’s own section. I know, I could have stuck it in under the food section, but that would be like a blind man purposefully kicking his seeing eye dog. Give it the credit it deserves, dude. The coffee in Vietnam is very rich, so rich that it’s mixed with sweetened condensed milk. The combination is like chocolate. Drink it over ice, or enjoy it hot. Vietnam has a huge cafe culture. You can’t throw a bean without hitting a place that sells coffee. People sit in garden cafes all day, using the wifi, drinking, and socializing. The atmosphere is relaxed. The staff don’t pressure you to leave or buy anything. It’s pretty amazing how easy it is to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Just find a cafe set back from the road with lots of greenery. You feel like you’re in a different world as you sip the greatest drink ever. That’s right, I said it, the greatest drink ever. Chocolate milk and I had a falling out, and beer has made me vomit too many times.

    5) Motorbikes

    Vietnam wouldn’t be what it is today without scooters. You can ride them year-round, they’re really cheap on gas, they can traverse a city like no other machine, and they’re a lot of fun. They’re the perfect mode of transportation for Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, they estimate there is 3.5 million motorcycles (the population is about 7.8 million). I love the fact that I can jump on my bike and buzz over to the store, the cool breeze blowing on my face as I zip in and out of traffic. In Toronto, my largest supplier of stress was my car. Parking, insurance, repairs, the price of petrol, the self-inflicting damage that occurs when I’m sitting in traffic. In Vietnam, parking is almost always free for motorcycles, you don’t need insurance to ride a scooter, repairs are insultingly inexpensive, I spend maybe $3 a week on fuel, and I haven’t had to sit in traffic once here. Granted, I don’t live in Ho Chi Minh City, but a normal one lane road can probably fit 5 scooters side-by-side. That’s like having a 5 lane highway everywhere. Once you learn to drive the Vietnamese way (aka like a crazy person), you’ll love Vietnam’s scooter culture.

    6) Never a dull moment

    Compared to Vietnam, North America is so boring. Everyday is the same. Everything is so predictable. When people talk to you you can understand them. Boooooorrring. In Vietnam, most the time I don’t know what the hell is going on. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone drives around the corner:

    In the last 4 months, my mouth has been agape more than it’s been closed. Soon, my strongest muscle will be whatever muscle I use to raise my eyebrows. In the evening, when Sara and I sit down with a drink and talk about our days, it sounds like a dystopian novel that takes place in Toontown:
    On my way to the market, I almost crashed into a scooter carrying bags of goldfish, because I was looking at a guy who was selling live squirrels at the side of the highway. When I got to the market, I was looking for lamb, but I accidentally went to the stand selling dog meat. Talk about barking up the wrong tree.
    *Everyone within earshot laughs uncontrollably for several minutes.

    7) Travel

    Travel is our passion. In Canada, it’s difficult to go anywhere exotic. Our trips were limited to places within a 4 hour drive — so basically, other parts of Ontario. The country is just too big and spread out. In Vietnam, we can make it to the ocean from Ho Chi Minh City in an hour and a half. The Mekong Delta is about the same. If you prefer distancing yourself from sea level, Dalat is about a 7 hour bus ride (and about 1500 metres above sea level). The Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh can be reached in about 6 hours by bus. All of these rides are under $20. If you’re located in Hanoi, you have a whole slew of other options including the magnificent Halong Bay, Sapa, and China. Flights in Vietnam are also very cheap. Currently, the best budget airlines are Jetstar and Vietjet Air. If you plan it right, it’s possible to get a return flight to Singapore for about $50. Some people I know fly to Singapore for the weekend just to buy some stuff they can’t get in Vietnam. Although, what more do you need than cold beer, delicious food, amazing coffee, endless excitement, and the occasional escape?

    A beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

    See you on the beach.


  6. Video: Vietnam in the Rain

    December 7, 2014 by IFOTC

    A motorcycle ride in Vietnam during the wet season, can quickly turn into a soaking. The rain comes fast and furious. A rain jacket can help, but most people just pull over and wait it out. In one downpour, I decided to strap on my GoPro and embrace the rain. With the right music, a ride in the rain can be a beautiful thing.

    More information about riding a motorcycle in Vietnam.


  7. Backpacking South America – Series 2, Chapter 1: Lake Titicaca

    December 2, 2014 by IFOTC

    If you missed the first series, check it out here: Backpacking South America: Lima to Machu Picchu

    The second series starts in Puno, Peru where we take a boat out on Lake Titicaca. We go to Uros, the floating islands, and stay with a local family on Amantani Island.

    To read about the adventures, including tips and costs, go to the blog post: Budget Travel – Lake Titicaca, Peru


  8. Vung Tau, Vietnam: Jesus Hates Me. This I Know.

    November 25, 2014 by IFOTC

    If you’re looking for a short vacation while in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau will hook you up with that sweet sweet ocean noise. It’s the closest beach town to Saigon, so it’s popular but certainly wasn’t busy when we went on a Monday/Tuesday. The city is on a peninsula and it feels very Miami Vice. Check out the video, read the article, and view the map for all the information you need on Vung Tau, Vietnam

    First off, we took a bus from the backpacker district, because we were there already and the money we’d save going to the bus station wasn’t worth the effort. FUTA Bus Lines is located at 205 Phạm Ngũ Lão (the street that runs along the south side of the long park). Buses leave throughout the day, cost 120,000 dong, and take about an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can go to Miền Đông Bus Station and browse around for the cheapest option. You might save 30,000 dong ($1.50 or the cost of a delicious lunch).

    Ryan diving into the pool at the hotel.

    Cooling off at the hotel pool.

    The bus will drop you off at Vung Tau’s bus station. It’s downtown — about a 20 minute walk to Back beach, the largest and most popular beach in Vung Tau. You’d probably be able to find a hotel there no problem. We didn’t want to spend our vacation shooing off hawkers, so we stayed at the south-end of the peninsula across from Pineapple beach. A taxi there cost us 100,000 dong, a bit much but I heard taxis are more expensive in Vung Tau. We stayed at Sunny Blue Cap Resort. It was nice. It looked like it needed to be freshened up, but we were happy to have a pool that overlooked the ocean, and there were plenty of areas to sit and relax. The cost was $35/night. Quick note, we called the hotel ahead of time because we needed to check to see if they’d let us stay there with only a copy of our passports. They said it was okay, but we were told they didn’t have any double rooms left, only triples. We ended up booking a double through Agoda, and when we arrived they put us in a triple (for the price of the double).

    If we didn’t want a pool, we probably would have stayed further down Ha Long street. A cool option would be Hoa Tieu Hotel. I’m basing that on the location, the price (a room with a balcony that overlooks the sea for $25/night), but mostly on the fact that it looked really neat from the outside. Another crazy looking hotel was the Jolie Mod Hotel at 150 Ha Long. It’s circular and right on the water — pretty Bond villain-like. There’s a lot of 80s/early 90s hotels in Vung Tau that are looking a bit outdated and rundown, but pretty cool.

    Jolie Mod Hotel in Vung Tau VietnamAfter an afternoon of relaxing, we walked along the coast and stopped at New Delhi Indian Food restaurant. It was excellent – the best Indian food we’ve had in Vietnam so far. It’s on Ha Long street (check the map below).

    Vung Tau livens up at around dusk, when the Vietnamese are off work and looking to unwind. The beaches get busy. People are swimming, exercising, and socializing. Unlike the western world, the Vietnamese don’t go to the beach to sit in the sun. They hate the sun. In fact, they’re called the vampires of Asia… that’s not true.

    The next day we ate a blah breakfast at the hotel, then rented a scooter from a place down the street. For 150,000 dong, every inch of Vung Tau can be yours. Renting a motorbike is hands-down the best way to traverse the city. The road along the coast is an easy ride with many cafes along the water to stop at. We did a complete loop that was only about 30 minutes of driving and offered much to see.

    Large statue of Jesus in ung Tau, Vietnam

    Jesus about to bungee jump.


    Here are the places we went to:

    • Jesus
      That’s right, we finally gave up our heathen ways and had a visit with the lord. Vung Tau has a huge Jesus statue on a hill that you can go into and climb the 200 or so steps to a balcony on his outstretched arms. We made the half hour hike to the top of Small Mountain only to find out that Jesus doesn’t allow anyone wearing shorts inside of him. You also can’t bring in bags, wear sleeveless shirts, or spit inside of him. Your loss, Jesus. I was pretty sure that climbing to the top of him was going to help me see the value of having Christ in my life, but instead we sat outside making puns at Jesus’ expense.
    • The Lighthouse
      Since Jesus wouldn’t give us the panoramic views of Vung Tau that we so desired, we headed to the lighthouse on top of Small Mountain. When we got there it was closed; we still had access to the grounds, so we got our views, and there was a stand there that sold cold drinks. A shady place with a great view and a cold beer — that’s probably better than a stuffy old lighthouse.
    • The White Palace
      An old French-style house that was once the summer home for the Governor General of Cochinchina, Paul Doumer (who later became President of France before being assassinated). It was built in the early 1900s on the former grounds of a fortress that actually fired the first shot against the invading French ships. The interior is nice. There are some great views, and the palace has a collection of artifacts found on sunken ships from around the area.

    The White Palace in Vung Tau, Vietnam

    Ryan standing in front of the White Palace


    For breakfast, lunch, or even dinner make sure you try banh khot, a Vung Tau specialty. It’s a rice pancake that’s fried and topped with shrimp. Very delicious! For more information about the dish check out VietnaMenu’s profile on banh khot.

    Of course, the seafood in Vung Tau is great. If you are looking for a classier dining experience, Ganh Hao has some delicious dishes and it’s right along the coast. We ordered a whole sea bass, plus some crab soup, and some water spinach. The fish was grilled to perfection. Total cost of the meal was about 440,000 dong. If that’s too rich for your blood, Quán Bia Tươi is a better option. The seafood is good, but the highlight here is their cheap draft beer (bia tươi means fresh beer). I think it was like 30 cents for a glass… real cheap, and pretty tasty.

    We stayed two nights in Vung Tau. In the morning, we headed back to the bus station and caught a Hoa Mai Tourist minibus back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was slightly cheaper than FUTA Bus Lines (95,000 dong), but took longer and the driver was into high risk maneuvers.

    We have lots more information on budget travel in Vietnam and more to come.


  9. 7 Thing you Should Know Before Drinking Beer with a Vietnamese Person

    November 19, 2014 by IFOTC

    A bottle of Saigon Green Beer at a bar in Ho Chi Minh City

    Saigon Green, a very popular beer in Ho Chi Minh City


    Pounding back beers is a popular activity in Vietnam. Beer consumption in the country is going up every year. In 2013, Vietnam was #1 in Southeast Asia for beer consumption per capita. Considering it is only #8 for per capita income, that’s pretty good (or maybe bad). Heineken predicts that in 2015, Vietnam will be their largest market. There are many restaurants that will plop a case of beer down next to your table, along with a bucket full of ice, and let you drink until you pass out or have to go pick up the kids from school. My landlord loves to “take beers” with me. Whenever I see him he invites me out. Last week, Sara and I had to pay our rent. Remembering the drunken sloppy night that was last rent-due-day, and the proceeding day’s hangover, I sent him a text message early in the day: Can you please come get the rent early, I have to go out for dinner with friends tonight. It was a lie that I told on behalf of my liver. He asked if I could drop it off on the way to my friend’s house. I agreed to meet him at a restaurant where he was drinking with his work friends. Of course, when we arrived he insisted we have a beer with him. I told him we only had one hour before we had to be at our friend’s house. He managed to drive four beers into me in that time.

    When drinking with a Vietnamese person, there are a few things to remember:

    1. Beer is served with ice… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing
      It’s hot in Vietnam. Ice is a man’s best friend, specially in a country where they eat dog. If the beer isn’t refrigerated, you’ll definitely want ice. If the beer does come cold, you still might want to drink it with ice. The slow watering down of the beer will help you get through the night. Also, the ice doesn’t affect the taste of the beer as much as you’d think. Only one large chunk is used and it’s replaced before it melts too much. A girl will swoop in with a pair of tongs, dip them into your drink, take the ice hunk out, and drop in a new one. You’ll have to get used to the fact that those tongs have been dipped in other people’s drinks. More beer will help with that.
    2. If one person wants to drink everyone has to.
      Every drink must be preceded with the clinking of glasses. When you grab your glass, watch as your Vietnamese drinking companions grab theirs. Sometimes I pretend that I’m a gunslinger in the wild west. I hover my hand around the handle, wiggle my fingers a little bit, watch everyone else to see if their hands reach for their glasses, then grab it and lift it up for everyone to toast.
    3. Một, hai, ba, vô! (pronounced mot, hi, bah, yo)
      In English we say cheers, in Vietnam they say 1, 2, 3, cheers, usually while standing. I’ve also been told that vo means in, as in put the beer in your mouth. I heard that from a drunken Vietnamese person whose English is fairly bad, so take it for what it’s worth.
    4. It gets a little competitive
      If you notice your opponent companion watching you as you both chug beer down, it’s because they are watching to see when you will stop. They don’t want to be the first person to put down their glass. Things can get sloppy fast if you play this game. Sometimes challenges are delivered, “một trăm phần trăm” which means 100%. This is a challenge for you to chug the rest of your beer. Being a good drinker in Vietnam is seen as being a strong man. As a westerner, it is often assumed that you’ll be a good drinker, and that will be put to the test. Do not underestimate a Vietnamese person’s drinking abilities. Even though they are small, they can drink a lot.
    5. Food will most likely be ordered
      If you’re asked to go drink beers, there will probably also be food involved. Vietnam has lots of bar snacks that satisfy your hunger and make you want to drink more. Some examples: frog legs, chicken wings, snails, cockles, bo luc lac, and hột vịt lộn (duck eggs with a partially developed fetus in them). This is a great way to try new food — you’re slightly braver because of the alcohol, you have people there that will eat it if you don’t like it, and your Vietnamese friends will be happy to show you how to eat it.
    6. Going too far
      Inevitably, the night will hit a point when everyone is too drunk to make good decisions. More beers will be ordered. More challenges made. Sometimes, the beer girls are treated poorly. Once, a man I was drinking with handed his glass to the waitress and demanded that she chug beer with me. She obliged, even though it was obvious that she didn’t like beer, and she didn’t want to drink out of the old man’s glass. I said, “no, no, it’s ok” but my drinking companions demanded it. I tried to spare the poor girl by only drinking for a second. Worse than that though, is the amount of drinking and driving that happens in this country. If you’re going out to drink with friends, take a taxi. Even if you think you are only going out for a couple. Taxis are cheap, lives are precious. On a Saturday night, there are a lot of drunk people on the road. You shouldn’t be one of them. I’ve sat with a Vietnamese man and drank 8-10 beers in one sitting. He kept up with me the whole way, and he’s almost half my size. At the end of the night, I walked home and he hopped on his scooter and zig-zaged his way home. The World Health Organization says that “60% of hospitalized road trauma patients are estimated to have a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit”. I’ve been told, “it’s part of the culture” and “everyone is doing it”. That’s even more reason to not do it. It’s crazy to hear expats who wouldn’t drink and drive in their home country, talk about how it’s okay in Vietnam, where traffic accidents happen more often and are more deadly.
    7. Happy drunks
      Despite the competitiveness at the drinking table, Vietnamese people just want to have a good time. By the end of the night, you’ll find that their big red faces will be plastered with a smile and they’ll be throwing compliments at you. Don’t be too surprised if they throw an arm around you or even hold your hand as you walk out of the bar, specially if you were able to keep up with them. Usually, they call it a night by 10 or 11 PM, but you’ll be happy to go. Drinking in Vietnam is fast and furious. After chugging down all that beer you’ll sleep like a baby, and wake up feeling like a 90-year-old on their death bed. It’s the circle of life.

     
    For more about beer in Vietnam, have a look at our Vietnamese Beer Review.


  10. Review: HotelQuickly App – Last minute deals on Hotels in Asia and Australia

    November 12, 2014 by IFOTC

    Mira Hotel in Thu Dau Mot, Binh Duong, VietnamThere’s a fine line between being spontaneous and unprepared when traveling. We like to have a layout of the city we are going to — know where the hotels, restaurants, and main attractions are. Unless we are traveling at a busy time, or there’s a place that we really want to stay, we don’t book a room ahead. Usually, we just have a list of 3 or 4 places that sound good, and then take the chance that at least one of them will have an opening. Most of the time, we end up at the first place on our list, but there have been a few times we were brought to the edge of craziness, running around like headless chickens, sweating profusely, yelling obscenities at each other, as we carried our heavy bags from hotel to hotel, eventually staying in a room that could be confused for a bus station bathroom. Now that we’re in our 30s, this isn’t allowed to happen anymore. I’ve been given strict orders from the higher up (ie. Sara). Luckily, the internet is always at my fingertips and there are really smart ambitious people out there. HotelQuickly is a free app that allows you to book hotels last minute at a discounted rate. It includes hotels from 14 countries in Asia and Australia. By selling last minute (maximum one day ahead of time), they’re able to offer a best price guarantee. Let’s try it out and see how much we can save.

    Screenshot from a phone of the HotelQuickly App

    A screenshot from the HotelQuickly app.

    A search for a hotel today, for 1 night in Ho Chi Minh City, brought up 10 options ranging from just over 2 million dong/night to 417,000 dong/night. The app may have more hotels, but it only shows you the top ten options. By default it sorts it by “Best Deal”. In this case, it’s the Rex Hotel, a famous hotel known for it’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The first guests in the hotel were American soldiers. The military’s daily conference was held there during the war. It’s a hotel with a lot of history and prestige. Normally, a night there would cost you around 2,880,000 dong ($135). HotelQuickly is offering it for 1,925,000 ($90). I’d love to stay here, and this would be a great opportunity to do it, but the whole “on the cheap” part of our website is saying, “no dude, no”. That’s alright, the app allows you to sort by “Budget”. There I find the Boss 3 Hotel for 417,000 dong (about $22) a night. That’s more like it, but is it actually cheaper than “the other guys”? Boss 3’s website shows me a price of 574,482/night. Agoda is quoting me 511,688. Booking.com says 630,000 dong. Expedia – 468,000 dong. It looks like HotelQuickly is offering the room for 51,000 dong cheaper.
    Boss 3 Hotel profile on HotelQuickly app

    Boss 3 Hotel

    But what about those pesky taxes and fees? I click “Book Room” and HotelQuickly adds up the total – 480,000 dong. Expedia, the second cheapest option I could find, comes to a total of 550,800 dong. Whoo-hoo, even more money saved! HotelQuickly came through with the cheapest price. I kiss my phone. It tastes like money. I pretend it’s the money I’ve just saved using HotelQuickly (it’s actually the money I was just handling before I picked up my phone).

    The app allows you to look at photos of the hotel, check out information about the facilities, and view it’s location on a map. The cost of the room will depend on how many nights you plan to stay, if you are booking the same day or one day ahead, and how late in the day you book it. That’s right, the longer you wait to book, the cheaper it’ll get. In fact, since I started writing this article the price of the Rex Hotel has dropped from 1,925,000 dong to 1,477,000. I love this, it makes hotel booking into a sport. I can see myself slowly making my way to the hotel of my choosing, as I update the app over and over again to see if the price drops, then booking literally 5 seconds before walking in the door (that might not be a good idea In fact, I tried this and it worked out. Although the hotel didn’t have my booking on file yet, they simply asked me to forward them my confirmation email and we were good to go).

    Rex Hotel Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

    2 hours later, Rex Hotel’s price has dropped.

    It’s important to note that this app doesn’t allow you to choose how many people are staying in the room. It guarantees a standard room with double or twin sized beds, so it’s really only good for 1-2 people, otherwise you aren’t guaranteed a bed for your 3rd homie (although many hotels can offer a cot at an additional cost). Of course, it doesn’t cover every inch of Asia, so be sure to check to see if your next destination is available on it (they’re expanding quickly). Overall, I found it to be smooth, easy, and intuitive — perfect for a last minute hotel scramble. It uses GPS, so you don’t even have to type in your location, and you can sort by proximity. As I get older, my hotel finding strategy is changing. HotelQuickly has made this transition easier as it allows me to still not book ahead, but it takes away the worry of getting stuck in an overpriced dump-hole.

    To save even more money use our promo code after downloading the HotelQuickly app. Go to “Credits”, click “Redeem”, and enter RNEMU. You should get 400,000 dong in credits. Note: you must spend at least 15 real dollars on your first booking, so the credit will only be applied to any costs over $15. That’s for the first booking only.