In several countries, dollars go the distance

December 23, 2007|By Jason La | Jason La,Los Angeles Times

Longing for an out-of-country excursion but feeling a little poor because you have only dollars in your pocket? Even with the fast-eroding value of the dollar against other currencies, you still can find international destinations where your buck goes a long way.

And you won't have to forgo choice sightseeing or comfort. All you need is a little latitude - and longitude - in selecting your next vacation spot.

Last year, I wanted to take one long trip before I had to ease into professional life. Like many new college grads, I had little money. And even though I'm an Anglophile, the exchange rate ($1.88 to the British pound in May 2006, when I traveled), would have pummeled my savings. (The rate is even worse these days: about $2.06 to the pound.) Besides, my checking account still harbored a painful dent from two months I spent in London two summers ago.

I hadn't seen enough of mainland Europe either, but I couldn't deal with the drooping dollar. I needed a destination where I could spend a month comfortably for less than $2,000.

On the recommendation of a friend, I went to Vietnam, a country where I spent the first three years of my life but that I regarded with caution because it's developing and off the radar of most Western travelers.

But at the end of my five weeks there, I didn't want to leave. It was the best vacation I've had - and the most cost-efficient, too.

On average, I spent $30 a day (or less) in Vietnam, and I wasn't living like a backpacker. In Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, my room at the centrally located Asia Hotel had a private bathroom, air conditioning, cable TV and maid service - for $12 a night. I spent $3 or $4 on nice dinners. I walked out of one restaurant because the entrees were more than $5.

Entertainment was inexpensive, too. At Nha Trang, a beautiful coastal city in southern Vietnam, I took a half-day cruise for about $10. Our boat made several stops and included a tasty lunch.

Although Vietnam remains a poor country, it is fairly safe and its people are friendly. Taxi drivers and shopkeepers might overcharge you, but those are the chief nuisances you'll encounter.

There are other nations that offer adventure and world-class sightseeing on a budget, although some might be undeveloped and lack the tourist infrastructure of more modern nations. Explore and stay within budget, but not at the risk of your safety. Careful research and planning should help you craft a safe, memorable trip.

Here are some countries where tourism has yet to reach critical mass but where travelers will feel safe and find their trip well worthwhile.

Morocco

Bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea in northern Africa, Morocco has an eclectic identity that has been shaped by its location and long history. This Arab nation has many European influences because it's so close to the continent. Arabic is the official language, but French is spoken widely. Although it's a developing nation, Morocco has accessible transportation, and lodging and eating options to fit many budgets. With a dollar worth almost 8 Moroccan dirhams, you can easily buy meals for less than $5. Many cafes offer breakfast for about a buck.

In Tangier, you can stay at the Hotel El Muniria, whose former guests include Beat writers Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac. A room for two goes for less than $30 a night.

While in Morocco, visit one of the omnipresent markets or bazaars that are hubs for everyday life. Morocco's rugged yet scenic landscape has made it an increasingly popular destination for adventurer travelers. You can hike the High Atlas Mountains or tour the starkly beautiful dunes at the edge of the Sahara.

Bolivia

Landlocked with many areas at high altitudes, Bolivia is often called the Tibet of the Americas, and like its counterpart in Asia, it's one of the poorest countries in South America. But Bolivia is relatively peaceful and offers basic facilities for travelers, such as lodging and transportation.

"Foreigners can generally walk the streets in most areas of Bolivia's major cities without the fear of becoming a victim of violence, if they observe reasonable precautions," the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a federal committee, notes.

Bolivia is a feast for the adventurous spirit as well as a respite for the embattled wallet. In the past 10 years, the dollar has increased in value almost 45 percent against the boliviano.

With the favorable exchange rate, you can find single rooms with private baths for less than $10 a night at budget hotels or stay at top-tier hotels for less than $100 a night.

For its low prices, Bolivia has much to offer. Ancient ruins and a thriving indigenous population showcase a country that was a part of the mighty Incan empire. Bolivia is also home to the lush Amazon rain forests as well as the snow-capped Andes.

Cambodia

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