While Vietnam is still a cheap place to visit, relative to costs outside of the region, inflation has recently been the highest in Asia: it peaked at more than 22 percent year on year in 2011 and clocked in at 14 percent in March 2012. The dong has also devalued. Unfortunately this means that you can’t expect the bargains and cheap eats that were one of the main attractions of the country for many visitors — and expats for that matter.
Let me bring this to life a little. When we first arrived in Hanoi, more than two years ago, bun cha was 15,000 VND. That meant that at our local bun cha stall we could get lunch and a beer for 27,000 VND — under a pound. Bun cha is now 25,000 VND minimum — more often around the 35,000 VND mark. That’s a 66 percent price rise; expect similar increases for other street food.
Food in restaurants is difficult to give an average price for. If you go to one of the tourist-orientated food places in Old Quarter, such as Gecko, Provecho or Le Pub, expect to pay around 80,000 to 120,000 VND for a burger or chilli or something in that vein, more if you want pizza. Restaurants that specialise in Vietnamese, such as New Day or Ladybird, have some cheaper options, but by the time you’ve ordered a bit of this and a bit of that, it can come in at a similar price. Of course, you can spend a lot more if you want to.
As for beer, well the place we used to eat bun cha was particularly cheap, at 12,000 VND, but bia Hanoi seems relatively unaffected by inflation: it’s still easy enough to find for about 15,000 VND a bottle on the street. Bia hoi, on the other hand, increases every year. Yes, it’s still cheap, but at bia hoi international corner it’s now 6,000 VND, whereas it was 3,000 VND when we travelled here in 2009. Elsewhere prices are around 5,000 to 7,000 VND, more for bia tuoi (the posher bia hoi). Prices of other beers in bars and restaurants vary quite notably: as a guide, a small draft Tiger is around 30,000 VND and a large one 50,000 VND. Local beers are a bit cheaper.
It’s now difficult to get a room in Hanoi for under US$10 a night — expect to pay US$15 minimum for a basic room, $25 for something a bit more spacious and well-equipped and $40+ for a midrange place. Dorm beds are US$6 and so remain the cheapest option.
Finally, transport has really taken a hit. Taxis and xe oms charge more because fuel prices have increased so much, and train and plane fares are also notably higher than they were a couple of years ago. As an indication: large taxis are around 13,000 VND per kilometre, a taxi from the airport to Hanoi is 315,000 VND, xe oms charge as much as they can get away with (but you should aim for under 10,000 VND per kilometre), a one-way flight to Danang is around 1.5 million, and the soft sleeper train to Hue is 850,000 VND (more through an agent).
So where does that leave you in terms of overall budget for your holiday in Hanoi? If you are happy to sleep in a dorm bed, live off street food and a few bia hoi each day, walk everywhere, maybe visit a museum every now and again, and don’t do any shopping, then you can still live on under 300,000 VND (US$15) a day — excluding transport outside of Hanoi. But once you start building in Western restaurants, more alcohol, coffees, treats, shopping, better accommodation, taxis and so on, you won’t be surprised to hear that the sky’s the limit — especially if the Sofitel Metropole Legend is more to your taste.
By Sarah Turner