Monday, July 18, 2011

Da Lat (and what costs what).

About two weeks ago...

It’s a very short flight from Danang to Da Lat, only an hour and twenty minutes, and after a bit of shut eye, coffee for me and energy drink (relieved to find out Vitamin PP is another name for B3) for Stray, we’d landed.
Body of water on the way to Da Lat
Shortly prior to landing
Da Lat's Lien Khuong International Airport had only recently been built when we were here last year and it was reassuring to see that the control tower was now complete. Purchasing a taxi coupon (200,000 VND) from within the airport is the only way to go, as it turned out, we paid less than half the metred price for the 30 minute drive along a newish highway and up into the mountains...albeit a trifle teeth clenching. Driving in Vietnam is something to be experienced (or not), especially if the guy behind the wheel thinks his last name is Schumacher.
The city is a far cry from the heat of Hoi An. Home to artichoke tea, Vang Dalat wine, cool weather, hills, chimneys and even more French influenced architecture. It was nice to see Xuan Huong Lake had been refilled and dotted with Swan pedal boats, and the new road-bridge across it, finished. Its shores make a pleasant place for a stroll or to sit and sip coffee or tea at one of the waterside cafes.
A new park now occupies part of the lake area and on the way past we stopped and chatted with a native Da Latian overseeing a work gang, who had built and was maintaining the grounds. After travelling extensively and working/living in the U.S. for 27 years, he’d returned to his home country and plans to set up a foundation to help educate underprivileged kids. He tells us that the usual rate of pay for the labourers working with him, is around $5.00 per day, but he's managed to negotiate $7.00, including lunch.

Click for a better view of the view.
A government position, such as teaching or civil engineer, pays around 2,000,000 ($100.00) per month.

That day, on the way back to our hotel, Stray says that he needs a good shave and I leave him to it, at a barber shop. He returns to our room and announces that he'd got the ‘works’...and that would be? He removes his hat, yep, he’s had a hair cut! Then he retrieves a makeshift envelope from his pocket and says, “You know that ear cleaning thing?”, (you know, the one where they insert really long unnatural objects into your ear cavity!!!!!).

He unfolds the paper, presenting me with two big raisin type objects...eeewwww!

I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo and I’m still wondering what the barber thought when he requested to take them home. A scary prospect for some, but he reckons it was worth every bit of 25,000 VND ($1.25)...and yes, his hearing has improved. Hair cut and shave 60,000 ($3.00)...stylish hotel bathroom tile, priceless!
Da Lat was quite busy during our visit, being holiday time for most Vietnamese, it’s a popular destination. The city was abuzz with local tourists, tour vans, rented tandem bikes (being ridden or pushed up some of those steep ascents), scooters and taxis.
Looking down to the market area
The city revolves around not only the lake, but the near by Cho Da Lat (market place), which is not unlike a very large Thai market. Avocados were obviously in season, because they were huge, perfect and everywhere.
A banh mi vendor, but not THE banh mi vendor.
Stray bought one and asked a banh mi (bread) sandwich vendor to add it to two baguettes, in addition to the usual pork and salad. How she managed to fit the whole fruit on the rolls, I’ll never know. Total cost 30,000, around $1.50.

There isn’t much to do in Da Lat if you’ve already seen the tourist sites and your friends are out of town, so we walked around eating and window shopping.
Some of our most enjoyable encounters happen by side stepping off the well worn pavements. Like the impromptu lesson Stray gave to two of three young daughters of the cafe owner, who encouraged his young girls to go practice their English. Total for one meal which included soup and salad greens, two large bottles of beer, 40,000 VND, approx. $2.00.
I also scored a set of new reading glasses after, yet again, sitting on and breaking my cheap plastic pair. I was quite impressed by the professional service and speed. After gauging my current lenses, checking the new glass lenses for strength and position, and choosing sturdy frames, it only took about ten minutes for the chap to cut and mould them to fit. He had machines to do all of this, but we have seen it being done  manually using garden shears, water and a grinder, on the sidewalk. Total 250,000, I didn’t bother haggling because, they’re purple, good quality and I like them, around $12.50.

We found that the costs in Vietnam were now similar to Chiang Mai, Thailand, unlike in 2005 when we first visited, when it was much cheaper.

Some facts and figures...
As in any country, prices vary according to the size of the city or town and location of where you purchase goods or meals. Vietnam has been hard hit by inflation, already suffering a 14% rise so far this year and a potential annual 17% increase by the end of 2011. Although some sources state that as of June this year, it had already risen above 21%. Minimum wages are set between 830,000 - 1.5 million VND per month, and are due to be increased by 11.5%. The first 4 million VND earned each month is tax free. The current unemployment rate is about 2.5 - 3%, depending on which publication you read.

The interest rate when borrowing from a bank can be as high as 17%, especially since the government granted more flexible lending negotiation powers to commercial banks. Therefore, some customers who are unable to acquire a loan at the usual central bank's rate of 9% can still get themselves deep into debt.
Two weeks ago 100,000 VND equalled approximately AU$5.00 (rounding down) at the money exchangers. So, if someone is earning a minimum wage of 1 million VND ($50.00) per month, they'd be more than struggling to make ends meet, even if they knew how to shop frugally.

2 Star-ish decent hotel - $20.00 - $25.00 per night
Cup of Vietnamese coffee (street or local eatery) - .55
Cup of Western style coffee in a coffee shop -  $1.50 - $3.00
Two fried eggs (street vendor) - $1.00
Glass of local beer - .40
Can of local beer - .50
New release 3D movie at the cinema - $6.50
Movie Jumbo Deal (2 large cokes and huge popcorn) - $4.00
Fish and chips (mid range cafe) - $3.50
Chicken, rice, vegetables (large portion/mid range cafe) - $3.50
Pho (traditional meat, noodle soup on the street) - $1.50
Cigarettes (mid range pk of 20) - .85 - $1.50
Extra large, sturdy fold up umbrella - $4.00
1 litre (store bought) juice - $2.25
Hanoi Vodka 375 ml - $1.65
A long way to go for fish and chips Stray!


Martyn said... Best Blogger Tips

Snap most of the prices are similar to those in Thailand but I'd say on the whole Vietnam is a bit cheaper. The Hanoi Vodka looks a steal at around 50 baht, although it might need some of that $2.25 juice to drown the taste. The fish and chips look okay too.

The labourers wages of $7 a day plus food would be a decent one in rural Udon Thani.

Thanks for giving me an idea of the cost of things in Vietnam.

Snap said... Best Blogger Tips

@Martyn alcohol and cigarettes seem to be avoiding the price hikes. So, good news for some of us ;) Stray did enjoy his fish and chips, even if they did cost equal to someone's half a day's wages or more...but, I suppose you can manage to do that in any country. The increases really did surprise us, although it's still a country you can travel through inexpensively.