This post went semi-viral and was republished on a popular Vietnamese site
[Scroll down to the end for full cost breakdown, packing tips, and money-sharing spreadsheets]
My coworkers and I, we work at one of those so called “location independent” companies, where we can (semi) work from anywhere. Yes, those companies do exist. We try to take advantage of the flexible schedule and try to travel as much as possible.
The thing is we have all just exceeded our budget by traveling to very expensive countries like Japan and Singapore. Still, we have the wanderlust bug. Especially me, I really want to keep up my “Each Month, Each New Destination” streak since October 2015. And I don’t want to resort to a staycation/discovering my own city.
cheap frugal person, I threw out a randomly low number to the group:
“Let’s have a little out-of-town road trip for $20 (500K VND)”
Everyone was eye-rolling me and sighed “Oh please…queen of cheapness…”
…except Ngọc. He’s our savvy “phượt” backpacking expert.
My eyes sparkled up: “Yes, Ngọc…any idea?”
“Hmm…can you sleep on the floor?”
“Duh…of course…anywhere is good as long it’s only 500k/ $20. Oh and no ghosts, I’m scared of ghosts.”
And so, a few days later, Ngọc came back with a destination. With the assistance of Hà, both of them planned the whole trip and budget. Hiền and I didn’t even knew the exact destination except that it involves an 8-hour- bus ride, camping, and that it’s an island that might used to have pirates. As for Gin, our last coworker who is based in Hanoi, is totally in the dark. She believed we would stay at an eco resort
The trip got off to a rough start. We all thought we should meet up at 231 Lê Hồng Phong St., Ward 4, District 5, HCMC for the departure time of 8:30pm. But apparently, none of us read the fine prints. That was just the shuttle bus stop to the real departure station Bến xe Miền Tây at the outskirt of the city in Bình Tân District.
Coming from different directions and all confused, we all raced to the station and almost missed the bus. One of us – well, me – almost got hit by the shuttle bus too a real scare.
If you don’t want to make our mistakes, purchase the tickets online at Phương Trang / Futa Bus website (HCMC – Hà Tiên 155,000 VND one way / 310,000 VND round trip). You need to exchange the online vouchers to offline tickets so arrive to the District 5 station 60 minutes early. Then, take the shuttle bus to the outskirt station.
After the so-not-smooth start, we just slept through our 8 hour ride and woke up in Hà Tiên Province. The bus is comfortable with lying beds, blankets, and water bottles.
In Hà Tiên province, you can get free rides from the bus station to the port. Steel boats depart from Hà Tiên to Pirates Island (Đảo Hải Tặc) at 8am and are 80,000 VND/ round trip. For safety, choose the steel boat option “Minh Nga 2” instead of wood. Simply pay by cash for these tickets at the booth. . This is a nice little stop for breakfast and get some extra sleep on hammocks. Also, stock up on water as it would be expensive on the island.
The boat ride is about 30 minutes and once on the island, you can hail an electric car for 10,000 VND per person.
TIPS: Bring toilet papers rolls as the bus stations, stops, and locals’ houses won’t have them.
TIPS: Keep the electric car driver’s phone number so you can easily get around the island, if needed.
Situated on the east of Phú Quốc Islands, the Pirates Hải Tặc archipelago is 8 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. At the conjunction of important trade routes, it was once the ideal location for pirates to inhabit – hence its name.
The island is only 7km round but we didn’t know where to go. We just randomly jump on an electric car a very nice woman named Loan drove us to a random local’s house. She said, this was a nice place to stay at. We asked if it was safe to camp next to the house overnight. She said it was as this sand strip was next to the militia / police station and we can just pay the locals 20,000 VND / per person for shower. At this point, we tried to distract Gin so she could not listen to the conversation.
Yes, as you see, we are a spontaneous group who just goes with the flow But we were a lucky bunch as the spot was indeed the perfect recommendation to set up camp.
We lied to Gin telling her the tent was just for the day so we would have a place to put our stuffs. Trusting in us but starting to get puzzled, Gin asked about the hotel booking and worried we would not make it back to the mainland in time.
We ran out of explanations.
Suddenly, Gin suggested we should stay overnight and have a campfire. All in sweat and with shaking smiles, we rejoiced “Great idea! Let’s do that”
We were all relieved that Gin did not kill us for pranking her. Still, when she realized there was no advance reservation whatsoever and that our “eco resort” with thousands stars just mean sleeping on the ground …well…. let’s just say we had a fun chasing run
If you don’t want to camp, you can stay at the locals’ house with approximately 80,000 – 100,000 VND / per person. Just be aware that the showers are just dirty buckets of non-iodized water and toilets mean peeing directly to the sea You might as well just camp to get the full natural experience.
Before staying the night, we passed by the police station to present ourselves so they could watch out for us. We definitely recommend our camping for safety. Just tell the locals to drive you to Quán Ăn Hương Đảo by “xã đội” / the police station (Phone: 093877840).
Tips: If you can, visit the island during the week. This island is quite under-the-radar, even for Vietnameses, but the weekends can be crowded from residents in the area.
Tips: Bring mosquitos sprays for night fall and large blankets as you can directly sleep outside on the beaches.
Warning: Even if you go to a local house ‘s “toilet”, you would be peeing directly into the ocean…so just be ready
Well, there’s nothing much to explore
After setting up camp, we just spent the whole day chilling, being lazy bumps, and admiring the serene landscape. Please don’t judge
We spent quality time eating ….
Reading…. or posing for cameras …
Making totally non sense videos ads of brands who definitely don’t know our existence
If you are feeling a little adventurous and want to become a mermaid, be like Gin and swim to another island…
(But don’t try it The current and wind are strong so be cautious)
You can also explore the islands with a roundtrip on electric car tour for 100,000 VND.
First of all, make a fire so you can cook.
Then, go catch a fish with your bare hands
Or for a simpler option, buy fresh seafood from the locals’ house/restaurant right next to the police station and our camping spot.
But what ever you do, bring your own instant noodles as these little bowls can cost you 10,000 VND each!
I felt like I was in the middle of Bora Bora or Santorini. Ok that’s a stretch. But the trip was relaxing and indulgent ; everything was perfect. The only thing I wish was that we packaged more food #foodie
WHAT TO PACK
• Safety Kits
• Sleep: Tent, Large Blankets
• Wet tissues, Paper towels, Antibacterial hand gel
• Trash bags to clean up after yourself
• Hygiene: Listerine, toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, body gel
• Skin: Mosquitos Spray, Water proof sun creams
• Food, utensils, knife, plastic cups, bowls
• “Kitchen”: Coal, lighter, pot/pants
• Raincoat (just in case)
• Portable mobile batteries (there’s no chargers; 3G still works but only for Viettel and Vinaphone. Mobifone was horrible)
Please check this packing spreadsheet for an exhaustive list (courtesy of Ngọc N)
Electric car tour around the island (100,000 VND) and food is optional By food is optional, I mean that it depends on how much you pack from home and what you want to eat.
Here’s the inclusive breakdown of our trip. You can use this spreadsheet as a template (courtesy of savvy Ngọc) to track your spending and easily divide among friends.
Please noted that we spend an extra half day in Hà Tiên and incur extra cost for hotel shower and night market food tour. Furthermore the fresh seafood on the island is skippable if you pack food from home or if you are environmentally conscious and don’t eat fish (Hi, Chris M!).
Despite the “splurging”, the trip ends up being economical with 3,916,000 VND (175 USD) totally spent for 5 people: 783,200 VND (35 USD) per person. Cutting out Hà Tiên visiting and the seafood, you would spend under 500,000 VND (20 USD) per person! A total steal for such a dreamy getaway.
Overall, this is like a Caribbean getaway but at 1/100th of the price A perfect spontaneous escape from the hustle & bustle of Ho Chi Minh city with the best of friends.
When you need to hit a pause button on the never ending stream of life, this remote island is the go to place for some tranquility, slow rhythm, and reflection.