The currency conversion here is fairly outrageous. As of November 15, 2016, 1 USD = 22,360 VND. So along with all of the awesome puns that come with having Dong as a currency (our ferry to Phu Quoc was even named the Superdong), it is also very difficult to convert. Though quite a few places have accepted USD and occasionally list prices in USD, we’ve paid entirely in Dong. In order to make the conversion as easy as possible, most places that do list prices in USD do a conversion of 1 to 20,000. So, by paying in dong, we save just over 10% on everything.
I cannot say enough good things about the currency converter app. It has saved me several unnecessary ‘brain push-ups’ and helped in ways that calculators couldn’t. It updates every day with the new conversion rate depending on the market.
The main downside here is the ATMs only allow you to take out 2 or 3 million dong at a time. Three million is $135 USD and Wells Fargo takes 5 bucks for every transaction. Thankfully, the ATM fee is usually only a dollar but it the $6 dollar total takes its small toll on our weekly budget.
Overall, so far, the basics in Vietnam have been cheaper than in Cambodia (lodging and food). Our biggest expenses have been our activities. There are just so many cool tour opportunities, it’s silly and somewhat irresponsible not to take advantage of these experiences, budget be damned. That being said, we do cut out some luxuries here and there to stretch out our trip as long as possible.
Before the trip we did a fair amount of research on daily costs of traveling in each country. A lot of these ‘traveling on a shoestring’ sites and books have proven to be just absolute bullshit. Thankfully, we anticipated that and inflated those numbers. If you did it their way, you wouldn’t see or learn anything about the area you’re visiting. They recommended $30 a day – you could do that if you stayed only in dorms, ate nothing but street food and went to sites without ever hiring a guide. Our guides throughout have been fantastic and without them I feel like we would really be missing out. Dorms I can handle for a couple of days but it just depends on how many 23 year old Brits you’re willing to put up with. Street food… I could live off Vietnamese street food. It’s delicious, cheap and cooked by locals who appreciate and need your business.
The food here is fantastic. It’s not as spicy as I was expecting but there are some really great flavors. Also, if you ask for it spicy, they’ll happily ablige (be careful what you wish for though, they’ll quickly take it beyond the next level). Normally I’d wait a while to give a food update but I have to do it now while I can still remember all the crazy shit we’ve tried in just 2 short weeks.
I’ve found a new go-to. The noodles here are good but it’s more of a soup than a lo mein. My new go-to is the ‘Vietnamese Pizza’. I’m not sure how they correlate it with pizza but it’s good. It’s a thin rice sheet ”tortilla’ that is first softened then grilled over a little Habachi grill. They then add an egg (usually quail), a veggie mix, throw in some hot sauce and fold it. It’s as strange as it is tasty.
We’ve also managed to find Asian empanadas, dumplings filled with meet and onion, and McKayla’s favorite – frogs legs.
You’ve already heard about our elephant fish and duck stew but since then we’ve also tried grilled eel, rabbit curry and had a full on family style BBQ. The BBQ included chicken rice wraps, more duck stew and grill ’em yourself prawns.
I think it’s better this way… if one of us gets sick, we’ll have no idea what caused it so we won’t need to avoid any of our new culinary discoveries, except eel. Eel was just fat and bones with a little meat. We’re both happy to never eat that again.
McKayla had asked our Mekong guide, Qui, if there were any snakes in the Mekong that we should worry about. He just laughed and said, “there are a few but we already ate most of them.” That’s a better description of their eating habits than I could give. These people eat every part of everything. The list of what we’ve eaten is only half the size of the list of stuff we’ve seen. If it grows, walks, swims or crawls, they will have use for it. Since nothing is wasted or spared, it’s also good to stay on your toes. However, it’s hard to say no when they are so excited and proud about their food. A lot of times they’ll watch you take your first bite to read your reaction. Luckily, most has been good because my poker face is a little rusty.