Hoi An Travel Guide

Hoi An was my favorite destination in Vietnam. I loved spending time by the river, watching the sunset, strolling through the old town, and drinking inexpensive beer. The town is packed with picturesque historical homes, pagodas and street-side cafes. The place is extremely popular for buying clothes. You can get anything made here – from custom-made suits to gowns to sundresses to leather boots to sneakers. But even if you don’t want to shop, Hoi An makes for a relaxing destination in an otherwise frenetic country, after all, a day at the beach is only a bike-ride out of town. This was also my favorite place to gorge on Vietnamese food (don’t skip on the Cau Lao that Hoi An is known for!).

Typical Costs

Hostel prices – There are a few cheap hostels in town for about 220,000 VND a night. If you choose to stay a bit away from the town center, you can stay at a unique bamboo-hut-hostel at An Bang beach called Under the Coconut Tree for just 175,000 VND per night.

Budget hotel prices – Accommodation is inexpensive here with a night in a budget hotel costing from 240,000 VND for a double room. Quite a few places have pools, so if that’s something you want, make sure you pick one of them.

Average cost of food – Street food starts at 15,000 VND per meal. Food in restaurants starts at about 30,000 VND and goes upward from there.

Transportation costs – Everywhere in central Hoi An is within walking distance so it’s unlikely you’ll spend much on transportation here.  If you choose to explore, bikes can be rented for about 30,000 VND a day, motorbikes for around 80,000 VND per day, and taxis are metered (and cheap).

Money Saving Tips

Cooking lessons – If you enjoy the food at a certain restaurant, ask for cooking lessons. These are often cheaper than the cooking schools advertised by your hotel, hostel, or found on the Internet.

Camp on Cham Island – If you’re heading to Cham Island on a diving trip, it’s possible to save money on accommodation by camping on the beach.

Eat across the river – Hoi An is split in two by a small river. One side is very touristy, while the other side is very local. Move out of the main center and across the river for better food and drink deals as the locals here never get as many customers as the main city area.

Shop around – There are hundreds of tailors in Hoi An. If you’re having clothing made, check prices with a few places before settling on one.

Skip the SIM Card – Hoi An is highly connected to WiFi.  You can hook into WiFi in just about every hotel, shop, restaurant, and convenience store for free!

Eat at the market – Market stalls are some of the cheapest food you can find.  Think about it, they have almost no overhead, so a meal will cost you 20,000-40,000 VND.  There are a variety of dishes to choose from and places to eat.

Rent a bicycle – Bikes can be rented for 20,000-30,000 VND per day.  This is a great way to leisurely explore the quaint city.

Don’t be afraid of taxis – Metered taxis in this country are affordable.  If you are moving around town at night, this is a good, safe, cheap option (especially if you’re splitting the cost with a few others).  A 30-minute ride will set you back around 130,000 VND. The best taxi companies are Mai Linh and Vinasun.

Top Things to See and Do in Hoi An

Shop at the Central Market – Hoi An’s Central Market is probably one of the best in Vietnam.  The market sits on the riverside and is packed full of excellent food at rock-bottom prices. This is the place to pick up spices, souvenirs, try local food and have your tailoring done. There is also a great fish market worth visiting.

Visit Quan Cong Temple – The temple was built in the early 17th century to honor the Chin Dynasty but nowadays it serves as one of Hoi An’s most spectacular architectural accomplishments and a thriving tourist attraction. Inside there are two huge wooden statues, one of Quan Kong’s protector, Chau Xuong and one of his adopted son and of course the gilt statue of Quan Cong himself.

Cross the Japanese Covered Bridge – The bridge is thought to have been built by Hoi An’s Japanese community in the late sixteenth century and roughly translated from Vietnamese, its name means “Pagoda in Japan”. It makes for great photographs.

Take a cooking lesson – If tasting local food isn’t enough for you and you’d like to bring a like bit of Vietnamese cuisine home with you then consider enrolling yourself in cooking lessons. Many restaurants offer lessons where you’ll first start off picking the raw ingredients then learn how to prepare the food.  If you want a more full-day experience, you can even tack on a 5am fishing trip in a bowl-shaped fishing boat.  Prices vary, but most cost between 350,000-550,000 VND for a 4-6 hour market tour and cooking class.

Take a bicycle tour around the city – Get guided around the city by a local who will answer any of your questions, teach you about history, the local economy, and take you out for some Vietnamese coffee.  A morning of bicycling around in a small group starts at around 280,000 VND.  You can book this through any hostel or hotel.

Attend the Full Moon Festival – Hoi An’s Full Moon Festival is held on the 14th day of the lunar cycle each month and is probably the best time to visit the city. The streets are shut down to all traffic and are lined with brightly colored lanterns. This is a great time to party with locals as the streets come alive with folk music, plays and dancing.

Relax on the beaches – An Bang and Cua Dai beaches are both within close proximity to Hoi An and are a great place to spend an afternoon. Cua Dai is designated as one of Vietnam’s five UNESCO World Heritage sites but both beaches offer soft white sand and excellent beachside restaurants. For reasonable prices, you can get your food served to you while lying recumbent in the sun.

Take a trip to Cham Island – Many tourists take a day trip out to Cham Island which lies just 21km from Hoi An in the South China Sea. The diving there is great and because you’re in Vietnam, it’s very cheap.  Most tours include lunch and it’s also possible to include a night dive in your excursion.

Experience Da Nang city – Located about 30-minutes from Hoi An, Da Nang is a bigger city (where you’d fly into).  It’s famous for it’s Marble Mountains and great beaches.  There is also an extravagant party scene here that it good for a night out once in a while.

Explore My Son – My Son is one of the most important sites relating to the ancient Kingdom of Champa and is said to have been Vietnam’s religious and intellectual center. Even in their ruined state, the remaining structures are impressive. The My Son ruins were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

See the Fukian Assembly Hall – Built in 1697, Fukian is the grandest of the Chinese assembly halls and is a fine example of Chinese architecture. The main colorful temple is dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Thien Hau, while the statues of Thuan Phong Nhi and Thien Ly Nhan are said to protect sailors in distress.  There is a scale model of a sailboat inside too. Entrance to this site and 4 others (on the same day) are 140,000 VND.

Boat along the river – A great way to relax for a bit and to see Hoi An from a different perspective is to hop on one of the boats that leaves from Bach Dang Street. Don’t just go with the first boat you find; there are a lot of different options and prices there.

Visit the Museum of Folk Culture – This small museum aims to preserve the traditions and dress of rural Vietnamese culture. The museum is filled with plaster statues of figures in costume, which seem a bit strange. However, there’s enough to see to give you a good idea about local culture here.

Relax with some yoga – There are only a few yoga studios in this relaxing city.  If you want to take a class from a foreigner, you’ll spend around 250,000 VND per class, but if you go to the Vietnamese run Annem Yoga Studio, you can get 12 classes for 500,000 VND. Even if you’re not a yogi, the atmosphere here lends itself to the centered exercise.

Head to the Marble Mountains – The Marble Mountains are a series of five mountains located 20km north of Hoi An. Besides the natural appeal, they also have many pagodas, and some also served as a base for Viet Cong fighters during the war.

Enter the Old Houses – Some of the houses in Hoi An have had their interiors turned into museums, giving tourists a glimpse at what life was life for wealthy merchants in the colonial and pre-colonial period. The Tan Ky and the Duc An homes are two of the more popular ones to visit.

Sleep in bamboo beach huts – One of the most unique hostels in the area is Under the Coconut Tree located about 10km out of Hoi An’s Old Town and a 2-minute walk away from An Bang beach. This Vietnamese-run hostel is a gorgeous set of bamboo huts with an open-air dormitory.  Want a laid-back, social beach experience?  Look no further. But be prepared to stay longer than expected, as so many travelers do. Dorm beds are 175,000 VND per night, and private rooms start around 600,000 VND.

Boquete Travel Guide

Boquete is a lovely mountain town located in the western portion of Panama. It’s a popular destination for hiking, coffee, and good restaurants. Lots of people retire to here for the temperate air, and you’ll find a city filled with great food. I ate the best meals of my trip in this town. Throw in some amazing mountain hikes, a strawberry ice cream shop, and cheap local food, and, well, Boquete might be touristy but it’s not overrated.

Typical Costs

Hostel prices – Hostels in the city costs between 10-15 PAB for a dorm room. Private rooms in hostels begin at 35 PAB per night for a single or double room.

Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels cost between 40-90 PAB per night for a double room with A/C, hot water, and private bathroom.

Average cost of food – Local stalls will cost around 2-3 PAB and will get you chicken, rice, and beans. For a nice meal with wine, expect to pay around 30-40 PAB. Top restaurants include The Rock, Sugar and Spice, and the Panamonte.

Transportation costs – Taxis in the city cost about 5 PAB. Buses around the area cost 1 PAB.

Money Saving Tips

Eat at the local stands – Meals at local food stalls cost between 3-4 PAB. You’ll get rice, chicken, beans, and maybe another side, plus a drink. I didn’t love the food in Panama but at the price they had, it made eating very cheap.

Walk around town – The town is so small that everything is walkable. Avoid taking the taxis unless you are in a rush somewhere.

Top Things to See and Do

Spot wildlife in the Paradise Gardens – This wildlife sanctuary is great for those interested in Panama’s flora and fauna. Paradise Gardens features tamarins, howler monkeys, white-faced capuchins, a margay, parrots, a striking variety of macaws, kinkajous, and more. What also makes this place great is that it is solely run by volunteers.

Visit Mi Jardín Es Su Jardín – This garden is a private garden made for everyone, and free to enter. There are a lot of plants here and the place has a funky design. There’s an impressive view of the valley and surrounding mountains, which you can look at through the observation tower.

Take a Coffee Plantation Tour – Most of the coffee in Panama is grown here and throughout the mountains there are tons of coffee plantations. Take a tour of one and see how coffee is grown and processed. Most tours are half day and cost around 25 PAB, but can cost as little as 10 PAB. Here’s a video of my tour:

Go Hiking – This area is filled with jungles, mountains, waterfalls, and animals. Plus, since it’s in the mountains, it stays relatively cool. All of this is the perfect recipe for great hiking. Wander through the many marked trails around the city and just enjoy the outdoors.

Hike the Sendero Los Quetzales Trail – This 8 mile trail begins about 5 miles out of town and ends in Cerro Punta. If you start from Boquete, you go uphill. From Cerro Punta, downhill. However, some people think the uphill hike is actually easier than hiking downhill since the downhill part is very hard on your knees. The trail takes a whole day to walk so it’s best to leave early in the morning. While you won’t see a lot of animals here, you’ll find lots of birds and great views and waterfalls along the path.

Climb Volcán Barú – This volcano is one of the biggest attractions for travelers here. You hike up to the summit of the dormant volcano for great views of the area, the caldera, and good exercise. While it is possible to do it in a very long day hike, most people hike this volcano over two days. That way you can spend the night at the top and witness the spectacular sunrise in the morning. You can hike this by yourself or go on an overnight tour with a guide for around 50 PAB.

Traverse Chiriquí Viejo River – If you are looking for a bit of a thrill in this quiet mountain area, a number of tour companies offer half and full-day whitewater rafting tours on the Chiriquí Viejo River. Prices tend to range from 65-90 PAB.

Go on a Trail Ride – It’s possible to arrange a horseback ride through the mountains around Boquete, and if you’d like, you can even combine this with a visit to a coffee plantation for a mere 10 PAB extra.

Soak in the Caldera Hot Springs – Next to the Caldera River, lie the Caldera Hot Springs, which are wonderful way to unwind after your hike up the volcano. Keep in mind that it’s a bit tricky to get to these springs. You can either take a bus (which doesn’t run on a reliable schedule) and then hike for 45 minutes, or you can pay around 35 PAB to arrange a round-trip taxi.

Do a zip-line tour – For a fun afternoon, arrange a zip-lining tour of the Cloud Forest canopy. The zip-line system in the area consists of twelve different lines. Expect to pay around 65 PAB for the activity.

Go rock climbing – The first rock climbing company in Panama was founded here in Boquete. Climbers of all levels can do a bouldering or rock climbing tour here, or can opt for a climbing course. You will pay around 40-45 PAB for a day tour.

Tour the Gulf Islands – An hour and a half’s drive from Boquete will grant you access to the Chiriqui’s gulf islands. Tours leave from Boquete, and give you a day of swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing around these gorgeous tropical islands. Tour prices range from 75-100 PAB.

Eat some ice cream – The strawberry ice cream shop, Fresas Mary, will leave a lasting impression. Go there for an ice cream or a bowl of strawberries with whipped cream. It’s the perfect way to finish off a long day of exploring.

How I Find the Money to Travel

I get a lot of questions asking me how I find the money to do all this traveling. Am I rich? Do I travel for work? Am I a male gigolo? Sell drugs to little kids? Sadly, it is none of those. As I said in a previous post, desire is what motivates and keeps me going. I want to travel so I do. But there is always the practical question of money. No matter how cheap you can travel, you do need some money.

So how do I afford to travel? I work a lot. I save. I’m frugal. A lot of people have this misconception that travel is expensive, that whenever and wherever you go, you are going to spending a lot of money. In some places like Europe, that may be true. In some people’s cases, that is always true. But for most of us that isn’t true. Travel can be cheap and cheap doesn’t mean bad.

I tell my former co-workers all the time that I just travel cheap and images of awful service and rundown hotels pop into their mind. Backpacking isn’t for them and they want their comfort. I want my comfort too. I eat out and do nice things while I’m away. It’s not all 12 person dorms and instant noodle meals. So maybe frugal is a better word to use. I don’t travel cheap. I travel frugally.

When I am home, I work and I save. I don’t go out every night and am careful about how I spend my money. I make travel my monetary priority. That’s the most important part of the puzzle. Don’t waste your money. If you are always spending on something else, travel will always seem out of your reach. You need to make travel a priority too. Once it becomes important, you begin to find ways to save. Cut out the Starbucks and the fancy lunches.

Before I went away in 2006, I saved for over a year. I acted like a pauper so I could make sure I had enough money to travel. When I was on the road and ran out of money, I taught English in Bangkok.

Once you do that, you have to make sure you spend your money wisely. People, especially Americans, have this image of travel and hotels, of fancy things and shopping, and luxury. All they see is dollar signs but you can have a comfortable vacation without comfortably spending your life savings. A good alternative to hotels are local guest houses and B&Bs. They offer comfort, breakfast and laundry but with a more local feel and a lighter impact on the wallet. The owners aren’t big corporations but locals who are thrilled to be sharing their part of the world with you. Moreover, hostels, house swaps, and couchsurfing are all good ways to keep travel cheap.

Flying might be more expensive than it was in the past but there are certainly good deals out there and those flight tickets don’t have to cost a fortune. I always seem to manage to find prices that don’t kill my wallet and that’s because I look hard and just don’t jump on the first flight I find on Expedia! Find an alternative to flying if you can. Trains and buses may take longer but are a lot cheaper. Most people don’t take a trip because flight costs scare them but, if you do your homework, you’ll find a cheap deal.

Step out of your guidebook and find those little tiny local restaurants with great food and little tiny price tags. Eat where the locals eat not where Frommer’s tells you. The locals aren’t spending a fortune living in their neighborhood and you shouldn’t either. You travel to see new places not new hotels. So see the place and you’ll find that living locally and traveling differently will save you money and give you a richer travel experience.

This site is dedicated to keeping you motivated, telling tales, and showing you how to travel frugally. You don’t need a lot of money to travel- you just need to think differently. Forget packaged tours and expensive hotels and overpriced restaurants and souvenirs. You can still have a luxury vacation without a luxury price. You just need to think different and do a little work to get the deals. Booking that package on Orbitz isn’t going to save you money!

And that’s how I find the money to travel and how you can too.

Everyone Says I’m Running Away

My dad always asks what I’m running away from with my travels. A few weeks ago, a commenter told me to stop running away and live life. And I once came across a blog called “Mom says I’m running away.”

I’m not sure why, but there is this perception out there that anyone who travels long term and isn’t interested in settling down or getting a conventional job must be running away from something.

They are just trying to “escape life.”

The general opinion is that traveling is something everyone should do—that gap years after college and short vacations are acceptable. But for those of us who lead nomadic lifestyles, or who linger just a bit too long somewhere before reaching that final homestretch, we are accused of running away.

Yes, travel—but just not for too long.

We nomads must have awful, miserable lives, or are weird, or have had something traumatic happen to us that we are trying to escape. People assume that we are simply running away from our problems, running away from “the real world.”

And to all those people who say that, I say to you—you’re right.

Completely right.

I am running away.

I’m running away from your idea of the “real” world.

I’m avoiding your life.

And, instead, I’m running towards everything – towards the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom.

While there may be exceptions (as there are with everything), most people who become vagabonds, nomads, and wanderers do so because they want to experience the world, not escape problems. We are running away from office life, commuting, and weekend errands, and running toward everything the world has to offer. We (I) want to experience every culture, see every mountain, eat weird food, attend crazy festivals, meet new people, and enjoy different holidays around the world.

Life is short, and we only get to live it once. I want to look back and say I did crazy things, not say I spent my life reading blogs like this while wishing I was doing the same thing.

As an American, my perspective might be different from the rest of yours. In my country, you go to school, you get a job, you get married, you buy a house, and have your 2.5 children. Society boxes you in and restricts your movements to their expectations. It’s like the matrix. And any deviation is considered abnormal and weird. People may want to travel, tell you they envy what you do, say they wish they could do the same thing. But really, they don’t. They are simply fascinated by a lifestyle so outside the norm. There’s nothing wrong with having a family or owning a house — most of my friends lead happy lives doing so. However, the general attitude in the States is “do it this way if you want to be normal.” And, well, I don’t want to be normal.

I feel like the reason why people tell us we are running away is because they can’t fathom the fact that we broke the mold and are living outside the norm. To want to break all of society’s conventions, there simply must be something wrong with us.

Years ago, at the height of the economic boom, a book called “The Secret” came out. According to “The Secret,” if you just wish for and want something badly enough, you’ll get it. But the real secret to life is that you get what you want when you do what you want.

Life is what you make it out to be. Life is yours to create. We are all chained down by the burdens we place upon ourselves, whether they are bills, errands, or, like me, self-imposed blogging deadlines. If you really want something, you have to go after it.

People who travel the world aren’t running away from life. Just the opposite. Those that break the mold, explore the world, and live on their own terms are running toward true living, in my opinion. We have a degree of freedom a lot of people will never experience. We get to be the captains of our ships. But it is a freedom we chose to have. We looked around and said, “I want something different.” It was that freedom and attitude I saw in travelers years ago that inspired me to do what I am doing now. I saw them break the mold and I thought to myself, “Why not me too?”

I’m not running away.

I am running towards the world and my idea of life.

And I never plan to look back.

How I Travel So Much

What is the secret to traveling long term? How can I travel so much, so often? Am I rich? Do I have a trust fund? Are all my trips paid for by someone else? What is the secret?!!! Well, while money does help, want to know the real reason I can afford to travel so much?


That’s it.

No secret trust fund.

No illegal activity.

I just focus on making it happen.

After my first trip to Costa Rica in 2004, I was bitten by the travel bug and have been traveling ever since. I live to travel. I make the time, I budget for it, and my life revolves around it.

Traveling is what’s important to me, so I find a way to make it happen.

I skip the Starbucks, don’t shop that often, and don’t eat out a lot. I cut corners elsewhere so I can have the time and money to do what I love: travel.

I fake plan dozens of trips every day. If I have unplanned time in my calendar, I think “hmmm, where can I go that week? Let’s figure out how to get there.”

That’s it. I’ve built my life around traveling more.

I often hear from people that traveling is out of their reach, that they don’t have the money or the time. They have just too much responsibility. And while there are certain constraints on traveling that time and money create, people do what they want. When you truly want something, you go after it. If you truly wanted to travel, you would. You wouldn’t make excuses; you would just find a way. Excuses are simply a convenient way for people to ignore their own fears.

I travel so often for the same reason my friend always seems to be at a Patriots game, or my other friend has a new pair of shoes, and another always seems to be hiking. That’s what we love and we actively work to realize those goals. You want to get that new iPhone? You’ll make it happen.

We always want to make our desires come true.

I choose to work towards making my travel desire a reality.

There are a lot of unknowns in long term traveling and a lot of people aren’t ready to deal with that. However, even if you’ll never spend a year traveling around the world or dedicate your life to vagabonding, that doesn’t mean travel will be out of your reach.

Travel is a wonderful thing. Life is short and I don’t think we were ever meant to spend it droning away in cubicles. Travel can show you all the beauty in the world — from chaotic markets in Asia and majestic cities in Europe to dense jungles and exotic wildlife in Central America. Everywhere you go, every day something new happens. New people, new places, and new experiences.

People like to think that travel costs a lot of money or that you just can’t make it happen. My only hope is that by reading this blog, you realize that you can. I’m not rich, but I budget well and I find good travel deals. I work hard so that I can play hard. With a little flexibility and a little price scouting, you can get anywhere on any budget. People are always amazed when they see how cheap it can be and how little effort it really takes.

Once you have the desire and motivation to go, nothing can stop you.