The last time we were in Vietnam was 2016. Things were simpler back then. No one knew what a pandemic was, ChatGPT wasn’t threatening to replace jobs, our parents were all healthy, and the only thing we worried about was how badly we were going to get scammed. We’d read an article from seasoned budget traveler Nomadic Matt called “Why I’ll Never Return to Vietnam,” and were pretty worried about going there. After all, we’d just been spoiled by Thailand, “the land of a thousand smiles,” which had a visitor return rate of 50% while Vietnam only had a 2% return rate. So needless to stay, we had low expectations.
Vietnam, as it turned out, far exceeded those expectations (which wasn’t exactly hard, since it was pretty much in the gutter). We did get scammed way more than in Thailand, but having visited Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Hoi An, Na Trang, and Kat Ba, I discovered that Vietnam has a lot to offer if you just give it a chance. But it’s not going to be as convenient, comfortable, and laid back as travelling in Thailand so just set your expectations accordingly.
And now, 7 years later, we were going back to see if there are any big changes. Especially given that Da Nang has been touted by many digital nomads as the next up and coming hub now that Chiang Mai is getting saturated and overpriced.
Turns out, 7 years makes a big difference because Da Nang surprised me in many ways.
After spending one of the best months of my life with a group of thirty FIRE friends and digital nomads in Chiang Mai and paying only $440 USD/month for a 1-bedroom condo with a pool, I didn’t think accommodations could possibly get any cheaper and better.
Turns out, I was wrong. In Da Nang, the Lagom apartment style hotel with roof-top pool ended up costing us only $13 USD/day or $390 USD/month. That’s less than how much most people spend on lunch in North America! Plus, it came with daily cleaning, laundry, and was only 5 minutes walk from the beach. After staying at over 100+ accommodations all over the world, I’ve found that apartment style hotels are my favourite. You get the best of both worlds: a living room, kitchen, and laundry that makes it feel like home rather than hotel, plus hotel amenities like a pool, daily cleaning, and fresh towels every day.
I would say, of all the places we stayed in in the world, this one, hands down, was the best value based on price for quality. We got lucky since it was just built in 2022, and they’re charging a ridiculously low price trying to entice tourists after the pandemic. Even if the cost doubled, for the location, the level of quality and service, it’s still worth it.
I’ve always had to lower my expectations for service in Vietnam compared to Thailand, because they simply don’t have as much experience as their neighbours in terms of welcoming travellers. Plus, because of colonization and the war (they don’t call it the “Vietnam War,” they call it the “American war”), they are naturally less trusting and relaxed than the Thais, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. Other than the grouchy ticket counter and security staff at the “Marble Mountain” tourist attraction and the touts in that area, service has been great. I also got a great haircut for only $8 (one of the cheapest and best I’ve ever gotten) at Ly’s Salon. Generally, I didn’t feel that Da Nang was a touristy place, even though we stayed in the touristy Khe Beach area, which is one of the cleanest beaches in Vietnam since they hire people to pick up trash every day. It felt like a chill place I could live in for the long term.
Hoi An, which is around a 45min drive from Da Nang, is another story. Since the last time we were there, the place seems to have exploded in popularity—especially with Korean tourists. Interestingly, prior to the pandemic, the biggest cohort of tourists in Southeast Asia were Chinese. Now, Korean restaurants and signs are everywhere, replacing Chinese ones and the tour buses full of Chinese tourists have all been replaced by Koreans.
The number one reason I love Southeast Asia is the food. The variety, cost, and availability of night markets just can’t be beat. I simply have never found anything like it anywhere else in the world.
Weirdly enough, Da Nang didn’t have a big selection of night markets (which is very strange for Southeast Asia), but it wasn’t a big deal because there were tons of good restaurants to choose from.
The only time I turned on the stove in my apartment hotel in Da Nang was to boil some eggs for breakfast. All other times, we ate out and devoured Vietnamese specialties like:
Pho (beef noodle soup)
Bún chả (vermicelli noodles and veggies dipped in grilled pork and fish sauce)
Bánh xèo (crispy stuffed rice pancake)
Bun Bo Hue (Hue style beef noodle soup)
Mì Quảng Noodles (Da Nang specialty)
Cao lầu (Hoi An specialty of chewy rice noodles soaked in local water with lye)
Bahn Mi (Vietnamese baguette stuffed with cold cuts and pate)
BBQ grilled Lobster
I’ve also noticed a lot more international cuisines and vegan cafes pop up since 2016…
Am I obsessed with food? Who knows? But the thing about Vietnam is *inaudible due to mouth being stuffed*
I never get bored or lonely in Southeast Asia because there’s always so much to do! From bustling night markets, street festivals, to animal sanctuaries, to scuba diving, to karaoke, to massages, to all-day saunas, the list is endless! And you never feel lonely because you’re always surrounded by people.
I knew that coming to Vietnam, I’d have to give up the massages I’d gotten to love so much in Thailand. They have massages in Vietnam, but not nearly as good or cheap as Thailand, but what I didn’t know was that there was a whole new thing to discover!
Vietnamese hair washing! I honestly thought this was a Taiwanese thing because that’s the only other time I’ve ever seen it, but these services have been popping up all over Da Nang.
For 250,000 dong (or $10.65 USD), you get a “one hour hair wash package”, in which they wash your hair, massage your face for 30 minutes, followed by 25 minutes of head massaging while rinsing your hair. Then they blow dry and style your hair. It’s so relaxing! We went to the “Khan Spa” in Da Nang every other day and it was heavenly.
In addition to relaxing hair washes, we also visited the giant White Buddha, the Marble Mountains, the Memories Show in Hoi An, and the Dragon Bridge which spits fire and water every weekend at 9 PM. Again, impossible to be bored.
My Khe beach was also fun to take a stroll on, though I found the water too wavy for swimming. It’s great if you want to learn how to surf though.
Normally, I’m pretty happy only spending a week or two in Vietnam, but after spending a whole month in Da Nang, I felt like I could’ve stayed longer. The process of getting a visa to go to Vietnam has also gotten easier now that you can apply online for a 30-day e-visa. However, as of right now, there isn’t an easy way to stay longer, unlike Thailand, where you can get a 60 day visa before entering the country and then extending it for 30 days. Just be aware that you may need to have the credit card name match the name of the Vietnamese e-Visa when you apply. One of our friends ran into this problem when she tried to use her husband’s credit card to pay for both.
So, after a relaxing time in Da Nang, I flew to Hanoi, staying one night before we flew out to Australia. But immediately, right after we checked out of the Airport Hanoi hotel, the staff tried to scam us by charging us extra for breakfast, which was already included in the price, early check-in, and transportation to the airport, which was listed as free on their website!
Now there’s the Vietnam I remember!
Here’s how much we spent daily for the month in Da Nang:
|Category||Cost in USD/couple per day||Cost in CAD/couple per day||Notes|
|Accommodations||$13||$17.58||The Lagom apartment style hotel was one of my favourite hotels in Southeast Asia with the best quality for price.|
|Food||$24.47||$33.03 ($27.69 eating out, $5.34 groceries)||We hardly cooked at all and mostly ate out at restaurants. I love how in Asia I can eat out everyday and not gain any weight. The fact that portion sizes are probably 2/3 to 1/2 the size of that in North America and is also low carb probably helps.|
|Transportation||$7.77||$10.50||Grabs (the Uber of Asia) were super cheap and only cost around $2-$5 to get anywhere in Da Nang and we were within walking distance to most attractions and the beach, so most of the transportation cost is the $100/person flight from Bangkok direct to Da Nang, amortized over the month.|
|Entertainment||$13.82||$18.66||We had hair washes nearly every other day and the other attractions like the Memories show (around $24 per person) wasn’t expensive so entertainment was pretty cheap for the whole time there.|
|Total||$59.06||$79.77||Despite the fact that prices have inflated somewhat and we’ve incorporated more massages into our lifestyle and more expensive food, Da Nang Vietnam is still remarkably affordable at only $21,556 USD/ couple per year or $29,116 CAD/couple per year.|
What do you think? Have you ever been to Da Nang? Would you ever live there?
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