Two amazing countries, but very different. Indonesia is a relatively inexpensive destination known for beautiful tropical beaches, exotic jungles teeming with wildlife, and large urban areas full of culture and markets. Visitors to Indonesia are often surprised at the number of activities to do and places to visit, as once they step away from the beach, they find historic temples, eco-tourism adventures, jungle and mountain hiking, and more.
In the last decade, tourism has surged in Vietnam. The reasons are obvious, as this diverse and beautiful country offers much to do and see to the visitors. While the beaches are nice, the real gems are the authentic local experiences to be had in every region, from floating markets in the Mekong Delta to trekking through the Hmong villages and rice terraces in the north. And don’t miss the stunning landscapes of Halong Bay, either.
Vietnam offers a terrific value to tourists as prices are cheap, accommodations are of good quality, transportation is efficient, the food is amazing, and the locals are friendly.
Much of Indonesia is very close to the equator and quite tropical. Therefore, the seasons are divided between wet and dry depending on seasonal winds. The dry season is from May to September, while the wet season is from October to April. A few places have an exception to this (such as Sumatra), but you can expect warm tropical temperatures everywhere in the country.
Vietnam is very warm all year, so just accept that you’ll be in a tropical country. There is really no best or worst time to visit, as you’ll probably be visiting the entire country during your trip, which spans multiple climate regions. At higher elevations, the weather is significantly cooler. Fortunately, some of the higher elevation towns are on the must-see list, so that should alleviate some of the heat during your trip.
In the north (Hanoi), summer months are hotter and have more rain, while winter months are dryer and cooler. In the central area, it’s dry but very hot from January to late summer, and rainy from the summer through December. In the south (Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta), it’s hot and dry in winter months, and hot and wet in summer months.
Other than the weather, local festivals in various cities might make you want to visit, or leave, a particular area for a short period of time, but this varies by location.
Indonesia’s economy is growing, as it is the world’s fourth most populated country. While the cost of living is generally cheap compared to other Asian nations, the large population means that demands for goods and services is on the rise. Imported goods from China, Australia, and other larger countries can be pricey, as can imported food. While budget travel options are very affordable, luxury services can get expensive, especially in more tourist-oriented areas such as Bali.
As a country on the rise, Vietnam as a whole is inexpensive. A large influx of tourists has led to a rise in the tourism business, but a pro-business government has allowed competition to flourish, leaving prices fairly low. This means that every mom and pop has opened a hotel or a restaurant catering to travelers. Quality might be inconsistent, but the options are plentiful.
Tourism has driven up prices in some areas of Indonesia, namely Bali, Lombok, and some of the surrounding islands known for their beaches and scenery. If other travelers are flocking to an area, then expect prices to be higher.
In the larger cities of Indonesia, it’s possible to find a wide range of accommodation, restaurants, and activities at a variety of prices. Budget hotels and hostels are often found not far from high-end luxury hotels. If you want luxury, you can expect to pay a fair amount more for it, but it is still usually of good value and quality.
In the countryside, prices can be very cheap, especially in off-the-beaten path locations.
As Vietnam is a highly populated country, even visiting the smaller towns or the countryside means that plenty of infrastructure, accommodations, and restaurants are available. This means that prices are fairly consistent even in more rural areas compared to other countries. Rural in Vietnam does not have the empty feeling that it does in other countries.
In the big cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, and Hue, a variety of options are available for food and hotels. Prices can be higher if you want more luxury, but cheap options abound everywhere, too. Generally, the more touristy a destination, the higher one can expect prices to be for tourist-related activities. But food and other goods tends to stay consistent.
Negotiate. When you’re done, negotiate again. Vietnam is one of the most difficult countries in the world for bartering. It’s even worse than Thailand. Hold your line, stand firm, and be prepared to walk away if you don’t like the price. After that, you’ll be surprised at how prices will come down just a few seconds later. Read up on negotiating strategies such as “cut their offer by a third when you counter offer, and don’t pay more than half.”
Eat the street food. In Indonesia, small street stalls are everywhere in urban areas. They offer delicious food at a cheap price. Also, buying food at local markets is significantly cheaper than at restaurants or larger stores.
Flying between the islands of Indonesia can get expensive. Instead, pick just a few islands and stick to them, or look for the less expensive ferries. Use public transportation whenever possible.
Shop around. Don’t go for the first thing you see, whether it be a small souvenir, a hotel, or an all-inclusive tour. Whatever it is that you’re looking at, chances are there’s another right next door. This might sound comical, but once you’re there, you’ll understand.
Overall, if you want to save money in Vietnam, go local. Eat local food, as it’s not only yummy and healthy, but also very cheap. Locally owned hotels and hostels are also very cheap. Think small and your wallet will thank you – and you’ll have a more authentic experience, too.
Take local transportation and avoid the multi-day tours that prey on tourists and backpackers. In Vietnam, buses go everywhere. Taxis are not too bad, either. With the conveniences of the tours comes the higher prices and less authenticity. Overnight buses are a good way to get around, while avoiding paying for a hotel room along the way.
While Indonesia is mostly a Muslim country infused with some hints of animism there are also islands and areas following Catholicism and Hinduism. It is a dynamic melting pot spread out over the 1700+ islands that Indonesia is home to. Vietnam mixes Buddhism with Confucianism and Taoism, known as Tam Giáo, which translates to ‘triple religion.’ Buddhism, influenced by the Chinese culture, is leading in the country.
Vietnam has more than 20,000 pagodas. Indonesia has many Hindu and Buddhist temples. When entering a pagoda or a temple, remember to take off your shoes to be respectful. In Indonesia, it is appropriate to wear a sarong covering your knees as well as something to cover your shoulders and breasts.
Borobudur Java: This ancient temple complex, located in ‘special region of Yogyakarta’ on the island Java is probably the most famous tourist attraction in all of Indonesia. While most people go to see the sunrise at Borobudur, I enjoyed going a bit, avoiding the crowds and really allowing myself to get enchanted by the beauty of this impressive archaeological site.
Lake Toba Sumatra: This is the world’s largest crater lake and the island in the middle, Pulau Samosir, is home to the indigenous Batak Tribe. Nature is beautifully untouched, the culture and architecture of the Bataks are unique and intriguing and you can be sure to find peace of mind here at Lake Toba in the north of Sumatra.
Orangutans: These human-like apes are native to Indonesia and they are living in the dense tropical rainforests of Sumatra and Kalimantan. You can go on a jungle trekking to spot them in their natural habitat, alongside other monkeys and creatures of the forest. Head towards the national parks of these islands and be amazed!
Bali: Though Bali attracts millions of tourists every year, this little Hindu island doesn’t lose its magic and the advantage of being a popular tourist hub is that Bali is home to beach clubs, world-class restaurants, and boutique shops. Traveling away from the busy tourist towns brings you to beautiful beaches, holy temples, mountains and rice paddies.
Komodo Island: During the boat trip to see the Komodo Dragon, the largest lizard in the world that only lives on Komodo Island near Flores, you will sleep on the boat deck beneath a million of stars, you will see hundreds of bats fly over during sunset and sunrise and you will get to go snorkeling with the magical manta rays.
Gili Islands: No traffic whatsoever. Only horse carts, bicycles, and beaches. The three Gili Islands, located just offshore at the island Lombok have something for everyone; nature and tranquility, beaches and parties and snorkeling and diving.
Volcanoes: All the islands in Indonesia are volcanic and they feature majestic holy mountains that you can climb or admire from a distance as the sun rises. If you are up for a good hike, put Mount Bromo (Java), Mount Agung (Bali) and Mount Rinjani (Lombok) on your bucket list.