JUNE / JULY 2023
We have just finished our 3 month stay in Cenang Beach, Langkawi, Malaysia.
… our next stop is Hoi An, Vietnam …
PLEASE NOTE: I have been to Hoi An before: firstly in 2015 and later in 2020. Hoi An hasn’t changed much 🙂 In this blog, I will focus on what is new.
To read my previous blogs follow these links:
The currency in Vietnam is the Dong (or the ‘VND’). At the time of writing, the exchange rates for the major currencies were:
|Published Wholesale Rate||23,461||25,417||29,355|
|Actual Exchange Rate (Wise Debit Card)||23,156||25,086||28,973|
|Actual Exchange Rate (Typical Credit Card)||22,757||24,654||28,474|
|Actual Exchange Rate (ATM)||22,757||24,654||28,474|
You will NOT get this Wholesale Rate … you will get the Actual Exchange Rate:
- Expect to lose about 1.30% if you use a Wise Debit Card.
- Expect to lose about 3% if you use a typical Credit Card.
- Expect to lose about 3% if you take (the maximum allowed) cash out of an ATM … and do it the right way (see, below).
For simplicity, think of VND25,000 as being US$1.
PLEASE NOTE: Over time, these exchange rates will change. It is also mid 2023 … so inflation will need to be taken into account. Please check the current rates.
MONEY / BANKS / ATMs
Many places accept payment by Credit or Debit Card.
In general, you should not have a problem changing a VND500,000 note … but, street vendors may have a problem changing anything bigger than a VND200,000 note.
PLEASE NOTE: I find that Agribank ATMs charge the lowest fees. Other banks and ATMs in ‘convenient locations’ usually charge higher fees …. especially those at Airports.
Agribank dispenses (the maximum) VND3,000,000 for a low fee of VND22,000. This VND3,000,000 is usually dispensed as 4x VND500,000 notes, 3x NVD200,000 notes, 3x VND100,000 notes, and 2x VND50,000 notes.
WISE DEBIT CARD
I keep my costs down by using a Wise Debit Card.
RECOMMENDATION: I highly recommend the Wise Debit Card to all travelers.
I used Wise to pay for my travel and accommodation whenever possible … and, I pay much lower fees.
It is advised that you check out iVisa before you travel to get the latest entry requirements.
PLEASE NOTE: Requirements may change from time to time without prior notice. Please continue checking with iVisa for the complete current list of entry requirements.
PLEASE NOTE: At the time of writing Vietnam had no COVID-19 restrictions.
Almost all countries are required to get a Visa In Advance. Most people reading this blog will qualify for an eVisa.
To apply for an eVisa, go to the official website: Vietnam portal on Immigration/Vietnam visa – National portal on Immigration (xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn)
Processing takes about 3 days from the date of payment. You will be emailed your evisa at the end of that period.
If you want to extend your visa, please read the Visa Extension section, below.
DA NANG AIRPORT
I flew directly from Kuala Lumpur to Da Nang.
The Vietnam eVisa process is fully automated. However I advise you to bring a hard copy of your eVisa just in case. At the immigration desk, your eVisa will be checked online. If all is OK, you will be given a passport stamp. On that stamp they will write the date that you must exit by.
PLEASE NOTE: On entry, I was never asked to provide proof of Travel Insurance nor an Exit Flight Ticket.
BAGGAGE CLAIM / LOCAL SIMCARD
In the baggage claim area, you will find kiosks from about 4 different telecommunications companies. Each offering a new SIM Card with a variety of different Mobile Plans (see the Internet / Wifi section, below).
You find ATMs from different banks inside (and just outside of) arrivals but, alas, no Agribank.
The ATMs in arrivals are expensive … avoid them if you can.
TRANSPORT TO HOI AN
From Da Nang Airport you can make your way to the Train Station and catch a public bus to Hoi An. Depending on your negotiating skills, you may be able to get a taxi to the Train Station for, say VND50,000. Then, the public bus to Hoi An is VND30,000 each … but, they are renowned for over-charging tourists another VND20,000 for each suitcase / backpack. Allow 90-120 minutes to take this route.
Alternatively, you can pre-book a Shuttle Bus (such as the KLOOK Airport Shuttle Bus). There are 2-3 Shuttle Bus providers. Prices range from US$6 to US$12 per person. Drop off is usually at the Hoi An Express Office … but some may drop you off at your hotel if it is in central Hoi An.
I strongly suggest that you download the GRAB Mobile App before arriving in Vietnam. GRAB offers much better rates than standard taxis … and the price is quoted up front so you don’t have the hassle of negotiating the right price. GRAB operates all over Vietnam.
With my new Mobifone Mobile package (and ATM money) in hand, I ordered a GRAB. GRAB meets you in the carpark immediate over the road from Domestic Terminal Gate 4. I waited only 7 minutes. The price to my Hoi An hotel was VND420,000 / US$18. Obviously, if there are more than 1 of you, the price per head works out very reasonable.
Check out 12Go to have a look at your ‘getting there’ options:
Due to COVID-19, Vietnam limited eVisas to 1 month. However, from 18th August 2023 Vietnam will re-introduce their 3 month and 6 month options.
I only had a 1 month eVisa. To stay for my planned 3 months, I needed to sort out a visa extension. To do this, I had to do a ‘visa run’ outside of Vietnam. The easiest and cheapest is a 1-day Visa Run to Laos.
I used Lynn Visa. You can find them on Facebook:
Lynn Visa are very good and very organised. I can recommend Lynn Visa.
Lynn Visa provide 3 services. Here is an example for August 2023:
I used the Business Class Service. In my opinion, it is worth the extra money. It is comfortable, well organised, communications are excellent, and it is stress free.
My Visa Run cost me a total of VND2,200,000 / US$96 (in addition to the US$25 needed to get an eVisa). This was broken down as follows:
- VND1,000,000 / US$44 for the Limousine Bus;
- VND1,100,000 / US$48 for the Laos Visa On Arrival;
- VND100,000 / US$4 for the Laos border Stamping Fee.
Pickup is from Danang or Hoi An. In Hoi An they pick up from 2 locations. I was picked up at 5:15am at the Mad Monkey Hostel. This was a small shuttle bus that took us on the 45 minute trip to the main office in Danang. There, we had free snacks and drinks for breakfast before board the Limousine Bus to Laos.
It took about 4 hours to get to Laos with 2 ‘comfort stops’ along the way. It took about 1.5 hours to pass Vietnam into Laos and back again. Lynn Visa staff were there to ensure that the process was stress free. We stopped for lunch (VND30,000 / US$1.20) in a local cafe. Then we re-traced our route back to Hoi An via Danang. I was home by 6:30pm.
Hoi An was the principal port of the Cham Kingdom, which controlled the strategic spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century and was a major international port in the 16th and 17th centuries – and the foreign influences are still there to this day.
While the serious shipping business has long since moved to Da Nang, the heart of the city is still the Ancient Town / Old Town / Old Quarter, full of winding lanes and Chinese-styled shop-houses, which is particularly atmospheric in the evening as the sun goes down.
While almost all shops now cater to the tourist trade, the area has been largely preserved ‘as is’ (which is unusual in Vietnam) and renovation has proceeded slowly and carefully – Hoi An is (mercifully) absent of towering concrete blocks and karaoke parlours.
Since 1999 (when their UNESCO World Heritage Site status was awarded) there has been a significant increase in tourism – resulting in most houses being sold to speculators and shop owners. But the ‘heritage’ has been maintained by strict rules on what can be done, how renovations / conversions can proceed, and what colour properties can be painted… ‘yellow is the new black’!
The authorities have a ‘vision’ for Hoi An and the police patrol the streets to ensure compliance. Restaurants and Bars are not allowed to ‘spill out onto the street’ and there is talk of scooters being banned from some areas (including An Hoi Island). They are serious about maintaining Hoi An’s charm and in not letting things get out of control.
As soon as you arrive in Hoi An, you know that you have arrived somewhere special. It has character. It has atmosphere. It has a really nice vibe.
Owing to the increased number of tourists visiting Hoi An, a variety of activities are emerging that allow guests to get out of the Old Quarter and explore by motorbike, bicycle, kayak, or motorboat.
The Thu Bon River is still essential to the region and it remains an essential form of food production and transport. As such kayak and motorboat rides are becoming an increasingly common tourist activity.
This longtime trading port offers a distinctive regional cuisine that blends centuries of cultural influences from East and Southeast Asia. Hoi An hosts a number of cooking classes.
WHEN TO GO
The hottest period is from June to August. Many find the heat and humidity ‘overbearing’ and uncomfortable in this period.
November to January are the coldest months. The rainy season lasts from September to January. The dry season is between February and May when the weather becomes very mild with moderate temperature and less humidity. Calm mild weather is now limited to the season of late May to late August when the seas are calm and the wind comes from the South.
The end of May to the end of August is the High Season for Tourism.
Please refer to Hoi An – Vietnam – Retirement Locations
SCOOTER RENTAL UPDATE
I received a message on one of my Hoi An Facebook Groups from Hoi An Motorbike Services. They are located near Ba Le Market.
They offered me a scooter for VND1,400,000 / US$60 per month. They did not require a security deposit. They did not require to keep my passport. Just cash each month in advance.
DRIVING REQUIREMENTS / LAWS
- Carry your drivers license with you at all times;
- You are also advised to carry your passport … but, I suggest that you just carry a digital or hard copy of your Photo Page;
- An international driver’s licence is required;
- Helmets are mandatory … but, many people don’t bother (at their own risk).
Road blocks are rare in Hoi An; they are mainly interested in locals with no licence. Make sure that you have the, above, items … and you will have no problems.
There are 2 main public beaches nearby: Cua Dai and An Bang / Cam An. Both are about 5kms from the Old Town.
Cua Dai beach has major erosion problems but they have been doing a lot of work on it lately … it has improved a lot since a few years ago.
An Bang / Cam An is the best beach:
The electricity voltage of Vietnam is 220 Volts at 50Hz. This is the most common outlet:
In short, plug type A (two flat vertical pins), type C and type F (two round pins) fit most sockets in Vietnam:
You almost never encounter an outlet with only Type A , B or C.
There are some cases where an alternating current of 110 volts is used, for which you need a “flat three-point plug” … the chance that you will encounter one is very small.
Power in Hoi An is reliable.
WHERE TO STAY
Please refer to Hoi An – Vietnam – Retirement Locations
Most people want to be able to easily get to Hoi An Old Town … whether that be by walking, by bicycle, or by scooter.
WITH A SCOOTER
With a scooter, you can find GRANDPAcking accommodation in a nicer place and get better ‘value for money’ … and easily get to both Hoi An Old Town as well as the best (An Bang) beach. Here are my suggestions:
If you want to be ‘amongst the action’ and mostly party, target the purple zone.
In my opinion Cam Kim Island and Cam Thanh (the red zones) are too far away from both the Old Town and the Beach. If you want to ‘get away from it all’, target the red zones.
Cam Nam (the orange zone) is nice and close to Hoi An Old Town but you may find it too far away from An Bang beach.
If you want beach time, target the blue zone.
In my opinion, the Cam Chau area (the green zone) offers the best of all worlds. You can extend your search into the yellow zone if it offers something really nice.
It is worth noting that there is now a ban on any more cheap Homestay conversions in Hoi An. The authorities believe that there are already too many. Any ‘new builds’ have to meet strict standards … those standards almost force any ‘new build’ to be to 2 star (plus) Hotel. However, there are plenty of existing nice Homestays to choose from – many to GRANDPAcking Standard and at GRANDPAcking prices.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are planning to stay for 1 month (or more), I advise you to book into something reasonable for 2-3 nights in advance. Then, once here, rent a scooter and look around to negotiate direct monthly deals. This can save you as much as 50% on the published rate.
In ‘Off Season’ you can get big discounts on Hotels near the beach … alas, you won’t really be able to get much ‘beach life’ … you may be better off finding accommodation that has a nice pool.
BOOKING.COM / HOTELS.COM / AGODA
GRANDPAckers should easily be able to find somewhere for under US$12 per night … and, very likely, under US$10 per night. Here are example ‘last minute’ prices in ‘Shoulder Season’:
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS
I DO NOT advise you to book short-term accommodation using AirBnB. The reason is simple:
- To get a reasonable price out of AirBnB you need to book many nights;
- You DO NOT want to book so many nights in advance (you want to look around to get the best prices).
I find that AGODA and BOOKING are better than HOTELS in this part of the World.
If you are staying for less than 2 weeks, I suggest that you book in advance as soon as you find a good discount on something that you like in a good location.
RECOMMENDATION: You probably want aircon.
My plan was to book a hotel (anywhere) for 3 nights, to rent a scooter, and to look around to find my long term accommodation. I preferred that long term accommodation to be an apartment (if possible) but I was happy to settle for a nice hotel if a decent apartment could not be found.
I put some ‘feelers’ out on some Facebook Groups and got enough replies to create a short list … I booked 6 viewings in advance.
I booked my first 3 nights in a Double with Private Bathroom and Balcony (excluding Breakfast) at the Countryside Moon Homestay. I got a discounted price. I paid just under US$8 per night:
I rented a scooter from them for 1 day and paid VND150,000 / US$6 for the day. I had to top it up with petrol for VND50,000 / US$2. I used this rental scooter to:
- Go to and select a long term scooter rental;
- Go to and select a long term house rental.
Both were accomplished in 1 day.
I selected a 2 bedroom house in Cam Chau at VND7,000,000 / US$295 per month plus electric. It was called the Golden Lands (contact Quang Ngoc on Facebook).
I do not use aircon, I prefer a fan. My electric bill was less than VND350,000 / US$15 per month.
PLEASE NOTE: Before COVID, this property was being rented at VND12,000,000 / US$500 per month.
This property came fully equipped including a washing machine. The wifi was fantastic. It had an Android TV with movie channels and YouTube.
For ‘Short Term’ accommodation, have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK
Food and drink in Vietnam is cheap.
You have a wide selection to choose from … and a wide range of prices … here are some of my favourite ‘budget’ options.
At the Quan An Hai Dao you can get a Banh Xeo for VND40,000:
… meals are typically VND25,000 to VND30,000.
An Hoi Island has become an over-priced ‘tourist trap’. Most bars charge VND70,000-VND90,000 for a small beer. You get 2-for-1 in Happy Hour. Many tempt you in with specials on Cocktails … the Cocktails are made from local spirits. It is worth a visit but it is not a place where GRANDPAckers will drink regularly. See the Health & Safety section, below.
A more ‘typical’ price in a bar for a 400ml Saigon Green is VND25,000. You have lots of bars to choose from at this price.
My favourite bar was the Havana Bar & Restaurant on Cua Dai. They play blues in the background and you can get a beer for VND10,000.
For a quiet night with reggae music and a pool table, try the Rastaman Bar.
It is assumed that you will eat in budget, local restaurants.
Without a scooter, you can get Breakfasts and Lunches for an average VND60,000 / US$2.50 each. Breakfast with tea / coffee and Lunch with a fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average VND100,000 / US$4.25 each for Dinner with a small beer / fruit juice.
With a scooter (or bicycle), you can get away from the tourist area(s) and get to cheaper places … and, easily save 25% on these costs.
INTERNET / WIFI
Most bars and restaurants now provide free wifi (of varying quality).
However, I advise you to get a local Vietnamese SIM Card and Prepaid Package.
Viettel is the largest provider in Vietnam. However, I chose Mobifone … which I purchased in Baggage Claim at Danang Airport.
For VND150,000 (US$7) I got a new 4G SIM Card with a 1 month ‘promotional’ package that included:
- 60GB high speed data (limited to 2GB per day);
- 100 minutes of Mobifone (to Mobifone) Calls;
- 35 Minutes of Domestic Calls;
- 100 Mobifone (to Mobifone) SMSs;
- 20 Domestic SMSs.
You can pay by Card if you don’t have any cash. My smartphone was set up and operational within 10 minutes. I downloaded the Mobifone App and I was all set up and operational before my luggage arrived on the carousel.
PLEASE NOTE: I was unable to use the App to ‘top up’ using my foreign credit card. However, a Mobifone shop is usually easy to find … where they do the top up for you commission free.
I had no problems with Mobifone and even had a good signal when I did my Visa Run to Laos.
PLEASE NOTE: You need to register your new SIM. You will need your passport. The store will do the registration for you.
RECOMMENDATION: Do not get a ‘traveler SIM’ … they are over-priced. If you are staying in Vietnam for more than 1 month, download the relevant Mobile App.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Vietnam is very safe.
Crime is usually ‘petty’ and ‘opportunistic’.
Hoi An is known for its Dental Tourism scene. Good quality work at an excellent price (sometimes less than 1/4 of the price that you’ll pay back in your home country). Many people fly to Vietnam and get their teeth fixed whilst you are on holiday … the whole bill is cheaper than what they pay their dentist at home.
Typical costs are:
- Clean VND250,000 / US$10;
- Filling VND400,000 / US$17;
- Extraction VND900,000 / US$38;
- (emax) Crown VND4,700,000 / US$198;
- Sinus Lift VND8,800,000 / US$370;
- Implant VND22,000,000 / US$930;
- Implant Cap (tooth) VND4,700,000 / US$200.
Read more about it in this blog: Hoi An – Vietnam – Dental Tourism.
There are some ‘dodgy’ bars that GRANDPAckers are best to avoid. They target the young, backpacker crowd and entice them in with offers of 2-for-1s, free drink on entry, free Shisha for groups of 4, etc. Most of such bars are on An Hoi Island.
The problem is that this also attracts some ‘dodgy’ locals. This is where they come to prey on unsuspecting tourists. The tourists are usually very drunk and ‘easy pickings’ … whether that be for pick-pocketing, over-charging for rides home, mugging, playing for money on the pool table and (in some cases) rape. The Moto drivers outside the Why Not Bar at closing time (about 3am to 4am) have been known to take advantage of drunken girls that they are meant to be taking home.
You would avoid such bars in your own country, so why would you go to them here in Hoi An?
DRUGS / MARIJUANA / SMOKING:
Marijuana is illegal in Vietnam.
The expats seem to have no problem getting hold of Marijuana. In many ‘pubs’ the expats openly ‘skin up’ and pass their joints around. The locals and owners don’t seem to care. It costs VND500,000 / US$21 for 10 grams of local weed (which includes stalks and seeds).
There are a lot of smokers here (more so than you will find in Western Countries) – not a surprise when a branded pack of 20 costs as little as VND35,000 and a Vietnamese pack of 20 less than VND20,000. Smoking is common in bars and restaurants.
If you stay clear of the Dodgy Bars, Hoi An is reasonably safe. You don’t feel uncomfortable walking home late at night / early in the morning. But, caution is always advised. As usual, don’t make yourself an easy target.
There are 5 prices in Hoi An (and Vietnam generally) in this order:
- A Locals price;
- A Vietnamese price;
- An Expat price;
- A Tourist price; and
- A ‘stupid rich westerner’ price.
The latter can be more than 5x what the locals pay. Try not to be a ‘stupid rich westerner’.
Here are some typical costs in a minimart (where the prices are on the items):
- 1kg Granola VND140,000;
- 1L Carton of Milk VND35,000;
- Big bunch (18) Bananas VND30,000;
- 500g (local) Filter Coffee VND65,000;
- 750ml (local) Rum VND85,000;
- 1.5L Coke / Pepsi VND21,000;
- 65g 3-Minute Noodles VND8,000;
- 100g Cheese Biscuits VND15,000;
- 1L (budget) Shower Gel VND95,000.
For fruit and vegetables avoid the market in the Old Town (which targets tourists). Go to the Tiger Market:
Or go to the Ba Le Market:
However, the best prices can be found away from the Old Town. One of the cheapest is the Quầy Thực Phẩm Hạnh Nga located opposite the Tiger Market:
Another good one is Bich Thuy Mart:
For alcohol, try the Hoi An Alcohol Shop. This is where I bought my 750ml Hero Rum (not found elsewhere) for VND60,000 and a 750ml ISC Rum for VND85,000 (it is VND170,000 elsewhere).
Hoi An is famous for its tailor shops; this is where you can get clothes made up at very reasonable prices – if you negotiate! BUT, be careful, I paid US$20 for a poor quality copy of my favourite shorts that I bought in Bangkok for US$5.
When you first walk in, their opening price is a ‘westerner’ price. It takes a bit of bartering to get it closer to a ‘Vietnamese’ price. Just threaten to go next door.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
In summary, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL):
- COE: Is the basic costs of just being there;
- COL: Is the additional costs that make being there fun.
ORANGE COLUMNS / LEFT HAND SIDE
The left of the spreadsheet (orange columns) shows the costs for a GRANDPAcking Couple living to GRANDPAcking Standard using a Standard (Home) Bank Credit / Debit Card to pay for large purchases (e.g. accommodation) and withdrawing cash from ATMs for all other “EXISTENCE’ expenses.
For comparative purposes, it is assumed that you stay for 1 month.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE)
Your short-term budget is VND275,000 / US$12 per night excluding Breakfast for 2 nights.
This gives you time to ask around and get a long-term rate of VND275,000 / US$12 per night excluding Breakfast in a nicer property. For this price, you should be able to get:
- A hotel room with kitchenette; or
- A hotel room with breakfast included; or
- (if you are lucky) A 1-bedroom apartment.
SUGGESTION: To improve your chances of the latter, put a feeler out on some Hoi An Facebook Groups in advance.
FOOD & BEVERAGES
Your budget is VND440,000 / US$19 per day eating all meals in local, budget restaurants.
SIM CARD / MOBILE DATA
A 1 month Mobifone package.
eVISA / VISA EXTENSION / NATIONAL PARK FEES
You will need a 1 month eVisa at VND605,000 each (US$26.50 after processing fees).
A typical Backpacker Level Travel Insurance policy has been apportioned (calculated as 30 days of your annual rate).
Your budget includes a rental scooter once per week to go ‘adventuring’.
It is assumed that you are coming from and returning to the Airport using GRAB.
Your COE is about VND887,00 / US$38 per day. This is 62% of your daily budget. You have plenty left to LIVE on (VND574,000 / US$24 per day).
A GRANDPAcking Couple can easily ‘LIVE’ to GRANDPAcking Standard.
RIGHT HAND SIDE / PURPLE COLUMNS
The right of the spreadsheet (purple columns) shows how a GRANDPAcking Couple can ‘LIVE’ here more cheaply by renting a scooter (or 2 bicycles) at a month rate and:
- Using a proper Traveler Credit / Debit Card (the Wise Debit Card is used in this example) to pay for all expenses wherever possible;
- Using your transport to find cheaper accommodation (at VND235,000 / US$10 per night) away from town centre;
- Using your transport to eat all meals away from the ‘touristic’ areas. Food is so cheap that it is assumed that you will still eat all of your meals in budget restaurants.
Your COE is about VND767,000 / US$33 per day. This is 57% of your daily budget.
You have about VND694,000 / US$29 per day to LIVE on … now, you can have more fun.
By choosing the ‘cheaper’ option, you save 5% on your COE and have an extra US$5 per day to LIVE on. For most GRANDPAckers, that saving is enough to buy all of you evening drinks.
Hoi An offers an eclectic mix of Old Town charm, sandy beaches, rice paddy fields, and rustic back streets all within a 5km / 20 minute radius.
Hoi An offers a variety of budget restaurants and bars. LIVING is cheap.
Renting a scooter gives you the necessary freedom of movement to LIVE more cheaply and to get the best out of being here.
You need to get ‘Wise‘ about how you spend your money.
To keep your accommodation costs down avoid Christmas, New Year, and Easter.
Many GRANDPAckers will love Hoi An.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES. Would you want to? YES.