For the month of May we finished our stay in Vietnam and then flew to Malaysia. During the month of May, we spent five days in Hue, one week in Hanoi and then one week on the lovely island of Cat Ba in Ha long Bay. We then flew to the very modern city of Kuala Lumper in Malaysia.
Overall, we enjoyed our time in Vietnam. But after being in Vietnam for 2 months, we were really ready to move on. I got to admit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has been a nice change for us, as it is so modern and clean versus many of the other cities we have explored in SE Asia. We have also really enjoyed the cultural diversity of Kuala Lumpur, as we have not seen this kind of diversity before. The one draw back to Kuala Lumpur is that it is definitely more expensive than other SE Asia countries.
So how did we do on our budget with moving around so much? Excitingly, we came in under budget! But to be honest I was hoping we would do better. We spent a total of $2585.52. Further broken down, this works out to $82.40 per day or $27.80 per person per day.
For the month of May, approximately 21,097 VND equaled 1 USD and 3.21 MR equaled 1 USD.
One oddity that we have noticed about Vietnam is that most ATM’s limit the amount that can be withdrawn at one time to 2 million VND, which is less than $100 USD. Also most ATM’s have a fee between 20,000 to 60,000 VND, which can quickly add up. However, we found that AB and MB Bank do not charge a fee.
Our biggest expenditure for the month of May was for lodging for a total of $886.04. We spent 5 days in the Star Binh Duong Hotel in Hue, Vietnam for a total of $100. The room had a balcony and was large and clean. It even had a bathtub and enough hot water to fill it, which is a rarity for SE Asia! It was in a good location with easy walking distance to the river and the Imperial City. Overall for the price, it was a good deal.
We spent one week at the Rising Dragon Legend Hotel in Hanoi for a total of $204.26. The price included breakfast. Although it was the most we have spent for a hotel in awhile, we really enjoyed our stay at the Rising Dragon Legend Hotel. The room was very plush and the hotel was in a good location within walking distance of Hoan Kim Lake, many of the tourist sites, and lots of good restaurants. The staff were also very helpful.
We spent one week on the lovely island of Cat Ba at the Phuong Mai Family Hotel for a total of $102. The hotel room was basic, clean, cheap and the room had an excellent view of the harbor. I think outside of the high season, it would not be a problem to just show up and try to arrange a room upon arrival. You probably will even get a better deal than we did. Although the room was just okay, what we really liked about Cat Ba was the island itself. Cat Ba was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of many of the other cities we visited in Vietnam.
In Kuala Lumpur, we spent one night at the RainForest B&B while searching for cheaper accommodations for a total cost of $48. Like I mentioned before, after easily finding cheap accommodations in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, we were a little sticker shocked at the cost of apartments and hotels in Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately, after lots of searching we were able to locate an apartment for a month stay for a more reasonable cost. Our apartment prorated for the remaining 9 days of May cost $370.09. We have been pleased with the apartment so far, as it is in a great location within walking distance to KLCC Park. It is also spacious and modern and even has a pool and gym.
Under lodging for the month of May, we also had the miscellaneous cost for laundry for a total of $32.15.
Our next biggest expenditure for the month was for food for a total $846.17. We spent $527.19 for dining out and $318.98 for groceries. Since we spent the majority of the month in hotels this accounts for the increased costs of dining out. Most plates in Vietnam cost between $1.50 to $3 with western food being more expensive. Looking back at previous budgets, we spent a little more than what we had been spending since coming to SE Asia. But not nearly as much as what we spent on food while in Cambodia. I am a firm believer that we as a family do much better at keeping food costs down when we are able to cook for ourselves even in the cheaper countries. For us, with eating out, it is just too easy to splurge and overspend.
We spent a total of $536.71 on transportation. We took the bus from Hoi An to Hue for a total of $16.56. In Vietnam, buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around, but also can be the most anxiety producing. To put it bluntly, the bus drivers of Vietnam are BAT SHIT CRAZY! Just a word advice, if you plan to take a night bus, bring a pair of earplugs as the bus drivers really, really, really love their horns. On most bus rides around Vietnam, I swear the bus drivers didn’t go more than a couple seconds without using their horns.
From Hue to Hanoi we took the overnight train for a total of $94.26. We got a soft sleeper berth for the trip and it was well worth the extra cost. For the money, this meant we got a private couchette and had the space to ourselves for the 14-hour journey. The only complaint I have is that I think that they forgot to put the springs in for the carriage. It was the most bumpy train ride we have ever experienced.
In order to reach Cat Ba Island, we bought a joint bus/ferry round trip ticket for a total of $62.57. A word of advice, buy the ticket from the bus company office Hoang Long, otherwise prepare to pay at least $5 to $10 more per ticket.
While on the island of Cat Ba we rented 2 scooters for a total cost of $9.48 in addition to fuel for a cost of $4.74. Cat Ba island is a great place to try out using a scooter if you have never done this before, as the traffic is not crazy like other places in Vietnam. I even dared to drive a scooter and had a lot of fun. Although admittedly I didn’t get above 18 miles per hour or 30 kilometers per hour on the scooter.
We flew from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia for a total of $220.
Our local transportation costs for the month of May were $128.63. $43.81 of this was to get to Hanoi Airport and from the Kuala Lumpur airport to the city center. The private driver to the Hanoi Airport cost $17.33. We took the express train from Kuala Lumpur airport to the city center for a total of $26.48. One other fact that contributed to higher local transportation costs was that Sydney had the opportunity to work with horses while in Hanoi. It was a great experience, but the place was approximately 10 kilometers from where we were staying and we had to take a mototaxi to reach it. Unfortunately Hanoi does not have good public transport necessitating the need to use taxis.
Taxi ripe off alert here: When we came back to Hanoi from Cat Ba Island we grabbed a taxi from the bus station. Jason noticed that the rates posted on the door of the taxi were a little higher than usual. However, I think that the meter had been tampered with, as it was way more expensive than it should have been even with the higher rates. What should have been around $3 trip cost us $14! In hindsight, we should have just gotten out once we noticed the meter spinning so rapidly and found another taxi. But we didn’t.
In contrast to Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur has a great public transport system that is easy to use and very cheap, with most rides costing from $1.50 to $2 for the 3 of us within the city center. However if you do need to use a taxi in Kuala Lumpur, don’t go with the voucher system. The meter in most cases is going to be cheaper, if you can find a taxi willing to use their meter.
We spent a total of $228.07 for entertainment. Entertainment included two boat rides in Hue along the Perfume River, the DMZ tour, seeing the Water Puppet Theater and Ca Tru performance in Hanoi, going to the Perfume Pagoda, roller skating, and a guided kayaking trip in Ha Long Bay.
We really enjoyed seeing the Water Puppet Theater show. Even Jason, who was a skeptic, enjoyed it. We also enjoyed going and seeing the Perfume Pagoda just outside of Hanoi. But definitely the highlight for us was kayaking around Ha Long Bay with Outdoor Asia. We spent the majority of the day kayaking amongst and through eroded limestone islands and floating fishing villages. It was well worth the money. The only entertainment activity that I am not sure I would do again was the DMZ tour. The tour consisted of a lot of driving with not a lot of stuff to see.
We spent a total of $52.91 on entrance fees. Entrance fees included the Imperial City and the Tu duc tomb in Hue, Ho Chi Minh Museum and Presidential Palace, the Literary Pagoda and Hanoi Hilton. It also included Hospital Cave, Cat Ba National Park, and entrance to Batu Caves and “Dialogue in the Dark” in Kuala Lumpur.
We really enjoyed the Imperial City, as it gave us a nice break from hustle and bustle of Hue. We also really liked Batu Caves. But the highlight for us this month was “Dialogue in the Dark” where we got to experience what it would be like to be blind. If you want more information about “Dialogue in the Dark” check out Jason’s blog.
We had $35.62 in miscellaneous costs. This included the cost for a notebook for homeschooling, beach chair rentals on Cat Ba, sunglasses repair, a horse drawing book and tip for the Ca Tru performance.
- If you suspect that the meter in taxi has been tampered with get out as soon as possible. Also always look at the rate on the taxi door.
- Don’t use the voucher system for taxis in Kuala Lumpur. The meter majority of the time is going to be cheaper.
- After moving around a lot over the last 4 months, we have decided that we really like slow travel. Fast travel is just not for us. Besides keeping costs down, it really helps prevent travel burn out and we are all happier.
Overall, we enjoyed our time in Vietnam and are glad we spent 2 months being able to really experience the many different cities of Vietnam. But by the end we were ready to find a place to stay put for a while. So far, we have enjoyed our stay in Kuala Lumpur and really like how modern and clean the city is and the cultural diversity.