A Guide to Living in Vietnam

How to move to and live in Vietnam

How to move to and live in Vietnam

Living in Vietnam has become a popular destination for not only short-term travel but long-term expat living as well.  Due to the increased prominence on the global scene, many expats (American, German, French, Chinese and Koreans to name but a few) call Vietnam their home.  Currently, there are roughly 90,000 foreign nationals living here.  Living in Vietnam is a unique and enriching experience, but it can also be daunting when you don’t know what to expect.  Even securing the opportunity to work and stay in the country can be challenging at first glance.  The Vietnam travel tips we’ve given you already apply to many aspects of life here. But we also want to give you some general guidelines on how to secure a job, how to stay and work in the country, and what life in Vietnam is like.

AN EXPAT GUIDE: Moving and Living in Vietnam

  1. Securing work
  2. Permits to work/stay in Vietnam
  3. Cost of living
  4. Lifestyles
  5. Services

SECURING WORK 

Jobs in Vietnam for skilled expats are plentiful in tourism, finance, and manufacturing industries. As the general economy is experiencing rapid growth here and there are jobs in Vietnam for foreigners in these industries.  By far the biggest job search repository for jobs in Vietnam is VietnamWorks.  There are also a handful of other sites that recruit people for the Asia Pacific region as a whole.  Another good resource is the classifieds section of local news outlets – try Tuoi Tre or Lao Dong.  Another excellent resource for both information and sometimes job opportunities are Expat groups on Facebook.  There are many local businesses that have a need for foreigners and advertise on expat groups.

Many native English speakers are also able to work here as ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers.  Keep in mind that although English teachers are in high demand, Vietnam has recently cracked down on teachers without proper certification.  Most agencies that place teachers in Vietnam will only recruit teachers with a CELTA certificate and with the correct number of hours of experience.  But, if you look for jobs independently, the only way to teach without the right credentials are by private hire.  In order to teach at international schools, you would need to go through international job fairs or create a contact within the administration of the school itself.

Look up: VietnamWorks, Tuoi Tre, Lao Dong

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PERMITS TO WORK/STAY IN VIETNAM

If you plan on working here for a very short period of time, you or your employer can apply for a business visa which allows you to visit Vietnam in a business capacity.  To live and work here for longer than three months, your employer will have to apply for a work permit for you and prove your skills and qualifications.  Note that there are additional requirements for people who work in the health care industry in order to ensure that the workers meet strict qualification guidelines.

Although there are many people who work here for an indefinite amount of time or retire here, Vietnam currently does not offer a long term or retirement visa scheme.  This is surely to change in the future as long term expats look at Vietnam as one of the best kept secrets for overseas retirement. The only way to work or stay here long term is to renew a tourist or business visa continually as it expires.  At this time, the maximum length of a temporary resident permit is 3 years (recent reports suggest this may change to 2 years in the near future) and the longest tourist visa available is for 3 months (6 month & 1 year are said to exist, however we don’t really know of anyone that has been able to obtain one recently).  Another option that may be available to you is a 5 year Visa exemption which is given to people whose parents were born in Vietnam or are married to a Vietnamese citizen.  Fortunately, these visa related tasks are relatively easy to take care of while you are abroad through a travel agency, through your company’s HR department, or on your own at the embassy in your home country.

Look up: 5 Year Visa Exemption Process

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COST OF LIVING FOR EXPATS

Housing

Foreigners who are residents of Vietnam can purchase a condo or apartment in Vietnam but are not allowed to own the land.  At this time, the process of purchasing property as a foreigner is quite cumbersome but the rules may change in the coming months.  Nevertheless, most expats prefer to rent homes in Vietnam as the average rent is on the lower end for Asia (with some exceptions the closer to the center you choose to live).  Some of the best places to rent in Ho Chi Minh City include expat friendly Districts like 1, 2, 3 and 7. Rental properties in these areas can range from $250 USD per month to upwards of $10,000 USD per month.  You can rent a decent fully furnished apartment for around $500 in District 7 but the same apartment would cost more than $2000 in District 1.  In comparison, $4000 is usually the starting price for bungalows outside the city centre in District 2 (commonly refered to by the area Thao Dien).

Groceries

The cost of produce in Vietnam is quite low.  Assuming a family shops locally for fruits and vegetables, spending less than $10 a week on produce can be expected.  Local foods such as rice or noodles are cheap as well.  Even meat is much cheaper and more affordable than in other countries.  Foreign goods, however, come at a major premium!  The markup can be more than 300% on international household goods.  Of course, grocery stores that cater to the expat community have a much higher markup than local shops that sell the same foreign goods, and it is a price that one pays here for convenience.

Many imported foods can be found here but at a very high cost! In contrast, local foods are quite cheap.

Many imported foods can be found here but at a very high cost! In contrast, local foods are quite cheap.

Look up: Foreign foods at Annam Gourmet, Phuong Ha foreign foods

Restaurants 

If you eat at local restaurants, the prices are astoundingly low in comparison to cheap meals elsewhere in the world.  It is entirely possible to purchase a hearty and complete meal for less than the cost of fast food.  Western or higher end restaurants are more expensive in comparison to local eateries but most of these restaurants are still considered cheap by international standards.

From fancy restaurants to local eateries to street meals, Vietnam offers a unique dining experience in every price range!

From fancy restaurants to local eateries to street meals, Vietnam offers a unique dining experience in every price range!

Schooling

Some of the international private schools in Vietnam are among the best rated in the world and fare really well in rankings each year.  Vietnam also has a variety of options to choose from.  Whether you want your children to go through the International Baccalaureate program or the British system, you can have your choice.  It does come at a cost – tuitions at some of these schools can be more than $20,000 USD per year!  Fortunately, many companies pay for employees’ children to attend private school.  If not, local schools are an option as well.  The public schooling system in Vietnam functions quite well, as the literacy rate of Vietnam is over 90%!  However, the public system does suffer from underfunding and lower exposure to the English language.

Look up: List of International Schools in Vietnam

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LIFESTYLE

Health

Pollution increases in Vietnam day by day as society becomes more industrialized and as cars become a more affordable mode of transport.  However, many people have remarked that in comparison to other cities in South East Asia or even in North America, the air pollution is hardly noticeable.  If you spend a lot of time on a motorbike or in traffic, a mask may help to protect yourself from exhaust fumes.  Water contamination and foodborne illness is always a concern in this part of the world.  For people who plan to live here for an extended period of time, investing in a filtered water dispenser is a good idea.  Even local people drink boiled or filtered water.  But brushing your teeth or washing vegetables with tap water can help in getting accustomed to the local bacterial flora.   For more information on this, take a look at our health and safety post.

Air and water pollution are serious concerns for people living in Vietnam. Wearing masks and drinking filtered water are just two ways to counteract that problem.

Air and water pollution are serious concerns for people living in Vietnam. Wearing masks and drinking filtered water are just two ways to counteract that problem.

Domestic Help

Labour is quite cheap in this part of the world.  As a result, many foreigners who live here employ domestic staff, sometimes multiple people.  You can expect a housekeeper to do cleaning, cooking, organizing, and even looking after children.  You may even see many nannies on vacation with the families that they work for.  Many foreigners are successful in teaching their housekeepers to make western food. So it is possible for you to have a similar diet to what you are accustomed back home!  The price per month for a housekeepers varies a lot. But someone who takes care of household chores and cooks can cost an average of $200 per month.

Safety

Vietnam is an incredibly safe country.  For a city as large as Ho Chi Minh City, the crime rate is very low, especially violent crime.  Petty crime can be an issue here but if you walk about the streets smartly and don’t act flashy, you are likely not to have a problem.  The freestanding homes and bungalows usually have a security booth and many of the occupants hire a private security service.  These homes that are independent of compounds tend to have a really high wall as well to deter thieves.  That being said, homes, both in and out of compounds, can get broken into so any precautions you would take in your home country most likely also apply here.

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SERVICES

Language

Vietnamese is a difficult language to learn and understand for native English speakers.  Vietnamese is a tonal language so it is particularly hard to hear the differences between similar words.  Fortunately, many people in Vietnam speak English. Especially those connected with the tourism industry and people who are in contact with English speakers on a regular basis.  The average English proficiency is actually quite low throughout the country so you may face communication issues while traveling in the country.  However, people travel here and live here without knowing a word of Vietnamese and get by just fine!

The Vietnamese language is quite complicated in some ways because it uses tones to differentiate between words and meanings. Just a slight tonal difference gives the word a completely different meaning!

The Vietnamese language is quite complicated in some ways because it uses tones to differentiate between words and meanings. Just a slight tonal difference gives the word a completely different meaning!

Telecommunication

Most parts of the country have an excellent mobile network and 3G coverage.  You may experience little or no 3G coverage and a poor mobile signal in more remote areas.  Even internet coverage is quite good for regular browsing and moderate amounts of downloading although you may find it slow compared to North American internet speeds for heavy downloading or streaming.

Health Care

Vietnam has made considerable advances in healthcare in the recent years. There are numerous hospitals and clinics set up to meet the needs of expats.  If you have any special conditions or ailments, we suggest that you visit the websites of some of these clinics.  The experience and specialties of the physicians on staff are usually described well.  For serious illnesses, surgeries, and sometimes childbirth, many expats fly to Singapore or nearby countries for treatment.  Dentistry is also fairly advanced here and there are quite a few international initiatives aimed at providing quality dental care in Vietnam.  In fact, some routine cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening are considerably cheaper here than abroad.  Most medicines are also available here, both name brands and generic versions at a fraction of the cost.  Getting general medications and even antibiotics is a much easier process here whereby you can simply walk into a pharmacy and ask for the medicine you want without getting a prescription from a doctor.

Look upWestcoast Dental, Family Medical, International SOS

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Vietnam is a very dynamic country and living here is just as much of a dynamic experience.  If you need any advice on living in this part of the world or more Vietnam travel tips, we are happy to help! Just leave a comment below or you can always contact us directly. We designed this blog as a service to help those traveling and living in Vietnam so we are always open to suggestions.

FACES OF VIETNAM Edition 2 – Meet the Person Who…

Sells Rice Paper Snacks on a Yoke!

We met Ms. Hung on Nguyen Van Cu street, squatting next to her yoke full of snacks and condiments.  She sells a type of rice paper snack that is cut up in strips and mixed with lime, seasoning, nuts, and other delicious additions.  We squatted down next to her to speak with her about her daily life.  Moment of enlightenment #1:  squatting for 12 hours a day is as uncomfortable as it looks.  We probably adjusted ourselves 30 times during our conversation, all the while perplexed as to how she ‘sat’ like that all day!  We were sure our legs would give out at some point!  Moment of enlightenment #2: we learned that her yoke weighs 30 kilograms!  We took a shot at carrying her yoke and failed miserably…  We were dumbfounded that a 50 year old frail woman could carry all this weight on her shoulders and we couldn’t even get it off the ground!  It was at about this point where we decided we should just stick to what we are good at – writing. 🙂

A yoke carrier who sell rice paper snack in Ho Chi Minh city

A yoke carrier who sell rice paper snack in Ho Chi Minh city

Meet a yoke carrier in Ho Chi Minh city

XO: Ms. Hung, tell us about your family.

Ms Hung: I’m from Binh Dinh province [Central Vietnam, and we figured as much by her accent!].  My husband has been very ill for a long time.  I have two sons, both in university, and one daughter.  My one son studies transportation and the other studies agricultural industries.  They are very intelligent!

 

XO: Amazing!  How does your family afford the university education?  Do your sons work?

Ms Hung: No, actually the government helps out and gives a grant for students.  The rest of the money I earn for them.

 

XO: Do you miss your husband? 🙂

Ms Hung: *Blushes*  Yes.  But my daughter is there to take care of him so I know he’s okay.

 

XO: Does your daughter work?

Ms Hung: No she takes care of the house.  We raise our own animals – ducks, pigs, cows, chickens.  She also takes care of my husband.

 

XO: How often do you go back to see your family?

Ms Hung: Only 3 times a year.

 

XO: How long have you been in the city?

Ms Hung: 5 years now.  It’s very difficult but we can make a lot more money in the city.  There is no money where we live.

 

XO: So where do you live here?

Ms Hung: There is a house really near by.  More than 50 people live in one house.  We are all workers with similar jobs.

 

XO: 50 people!?  How much does it cost to stay there?

Ms Hung: 500,000 VND per month.

 

XO: Wow.  The owner must make a lot of money in rent!  Do you like the people you live with?

Ms Hung: Oh yes, very much.  We are all friends!

 

XO: Lucky!  How much money do you make in one month?

Ms Hung: Well, I earn around 30,000 VND of profit a day.  I shop at the Cau Muoi market so my costs aren’t too much.  I make enough to support my family and pay my rent here.

 

XO: When you get hungry, do you bring lunch from home or do you just make your self a rice paper snack?

Ms Hung: I usually bring my food from home.  We have a small kitchen and we take turns cooking for everyone.  If I don’t have food, I’ll snack on some quail eggs and peanuts!  It’s my favourite snack!  It is a special Buddhist holiday right now so I am eating vegetarian lunch today.

 

XO: That’s right!  Did you go to the temple today?

Ms Hung: No, actually I do not get time to go.  I have to work.

Ms Hung enjoying her vegetarian lunch.

Ms Hung enjoying her vegetarian lunch.

 

Ms. Hung then pulled out her lunch to show us (and to eat obviously, since we were encroaching on her lunch time).  She ate a bowl of lentils and rice that day, and that’s what she was going to have for dinner as well.  She said it was a really inexpensive meal.  It is very commendable to see the kind of work ethic that she has, especially when her family is many miles away from her.  She draws from the strength of her family to survive in the city, and looks forward to her visits back home.

 

We have many more interviews as well as Vietnam travel tips coming up!  Want a unique cultural experience in Vietnam?  Let us create a custom tour for you!

FACES OF VIETNAM Edition 1 – Meet the Person Who…

Makes your Banh Mi Sandwich!

The Vietnamese people are rich with entrepreneurial spirit.  Opening a small business or providing a service is one of the most common ways that people here make money and it also gives rise to some of the most unique jobs in the world!  From cyclo drivers to yoke-carrying food sellers to fruit stand operators to motorcycle taxi drivers, in Vietnam you see it all!  They are the workhorse of the Vietnamese economy because not only do they help raise Vietnam’s median household income, they also promote tourism in the country.  Many of these workers have very little formal education and yet they have an immense amount of drive and passion for what they do.  They are the people you see every day on the street earning a living, feeding themselves and their families, and enjoying their lives along the way.  We went out to interview some people with really unique and interesting jobs to learn about their daily routine.  Little did we know how rewarding and humbling an experience it would be.  Over the next few weeks, we will bring you stories of these incredibly interesting people and give you a glimpse into their life and work in Vietnam.

This week, we spoke with Tuyet Anh.  She runs a Banh Mi stand next to an elementary school in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.  She looks really young for a 52 year old, but maybe it’s because she’s always so well put together.  On the particular day we spoke to her, she looked positively radiant, as if she had just woken up to start her day.  We were surprised to learn that she had been awake since 3 am!  This is usually the time she wakes up to prepare all the meats and fillings for the day.  Each morning, she slices vegetables, pickles some of them, chops herbs, slices meat, etc.  All of this before 6 am when she starts the stand!  If you are unfamiliar with all the fixings of a Banh Mi sandwich, we suggest you read our Banh Mi blog.  It’s not an easy feat to prepare all of these items at 3 am and still be cheery and upbeat come noontime.  She usually keeps the stand open until about 1 pm.  The school kids get out of class at around noon and very soon after that her stand is surrounded by hoards of young children drooling over the smell of fried eggs and fresh bread!

Life of a lady who sells Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh city

XO:  Ms. Anh, what inspired you to start a Banh Mi stand?
Ms. Anh:  My husband died two years ago.  He drank too much alcohol.  He was very ill for a long time so he could not work.  He was a policeman.  I started selling Banh Mi 9 years ago for more money because at that time my daughter was not married yet.  My mother used to sell Banh Mi when I was younger so it was easy for me to choose this business.


XO: 
And who do you support?
Ms. Anh:  Well, my daughter is married but I live with her and my son-in-law so I help out a bit with the house.  I live here actually [points to the home next to the stand].  I also support my mother.


XO:
  That’s a lot of people that you support on one income!  How much do you earn?
Ms. Anh:  I make 2 million VND a week on average.  Sometimes, it’s less and sometimes it’s more.  I don’t spend very much.  But vegetables and meat and bread are expensive.


XO:
  Tell us about how much you sell each sandwich for and what your specialty is.
Ms. Anh:  You’re eating the special sandwich!  [It’s true… we chowed down on her delicious Banh Mi sandwich as we were speaking with her!]  Normal sandwiches are 15000 VND and this one [referring to the special sandwich] is 20000 VND.  It has all the fillings and the special homemade sauce.


XO:
  Yes this sauce is delicious!  What is in it?
Ms. Anh:  Why?  You want to sell sandwiches too?


XO:
  😀 How much did you start selling sandwiches for when you first opened up shop?
Ms. Anh:  4000 VND!  Each year I increase by 1- or 2000!


XO:
  We hear that you are only open Monday to Friday now.  Business is good?
Ms. Anh:  Yes I get lots of customers who come back and they like my sandwiches.  They work only Monday to Friday so many people don’t eat Banh Mi on the weekend.  I make enough money so I enjoy my free time.


XO: 
So what do you do on your free time? Do you go out for dinner often?
Ms. Anh:  Sometimes.  I like Chinese food a lot.  My sisters and I will go out for Chinese food in District 5.


XO:
  What about traveling?  Do you go away for the weekend ever or take a trip somewhere?
Ms. Anh:  No I have too many responsibilities and not enough money.  My friends always say they want me to go with them and they offer to pay, but no.  I don’t want to.


XO: 
Ms. Anh, can we take a picture of you?
Ms. Anh:  Okay only if you make me look beautiful in the photo!

You can find Ms. Tuyet Anh and her stand near the corner of Nguyen Du and Dang Tran Con in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City.  She is there from 6 AM until about 1 PM (or until she runs out of bread) from Monday to Friday.  Ask for the special sauce on your sandwich, and tell her you saw her photo on the XO Tours blog and that she looked beautiful. 🙂

Tuyet Anh who sells banh mi in Ho Chi Minh city

Tuyet Anh who sells banh mi in Ho Chi Minh city

Stay tuned for more Vietnam travel tips and tidbits on Vietnamese culture.  If you would like to learn more about Vietnamese culture, join us on our Sights Tour!

Cruising the Coast: The Top 5 Best Beach Destinations in Vietnam

Best Beach Destinations in Vietnam

Best Beach Destinations in Vietnam

CNN.com recently published an article about the best beaches in the world, and we are happy to report that two of Vietnam’s beaches made it on to the list!  However, we feel that more than two of Vietnam’s beaches have world-class standing.  With more than 3400 km of ocean coastline and remote islands galore, the list of beautiful beaches in this country could go on for a while.  In addition to the Vietnam travel tips we’ve provided in previous blogs, here is our take on the top 5 beach destinations in Vietnam.

The best coastal areas and beaches in the country :

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the region you want to see)

  1. Phu Quoc Island
  2. Nha Trang City
  3. Mui Ne
  4. Da Nang and Hoi An
  5. Cat Ba Island and Lan Ha Bay

1. PHU QUOC ISLAND

Beautiful Phu Quoc Island Beach

Phu Quoc Island

Phu Quoc is a small island off the southern tip of Vietnam, close to the shoreline of Cambodia.  Historically a collection of fishing villages on the island, the shores are slowly becoming filled with hotels and resorts.  The demand for accommodations and restaurants has grown tremendously in the past few years but the island has still retained its rustic charm.  Dirt roads, small beach side restaurants serving grilled seafood right on the white sand, and undiscovered sapphire blue waters are just some of what you will get to experience in Phu Quoc.  But hurry – the new international airport just opened in August to serve flights from Singapore and nearby Southeast Asian countries.   Many have touted Phu Quoc to be the next Phuket!

When you are in Phu Quoc, check out Long Beach where a lot of the development is.  Long Beach is actually the first beach in Vietnam to be featured on CNN.com’s list!  If you are more adventurous, you can rent a motorcycle and go to the other side of the island to the breathtakingly beautiful Bai Sao beach.  Bai Sao is very popular among Vietnamese tourists so it’s entirely possible that you will see hundreds of people there if you go during domestic tourism season, but fear not!  Just walk a little farther past the rocks to find a deserted beach spot for yourself!

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2. NHA TRANG CITY

Nha Trang Beach City from high above

Nha Trang Beach City

Nha Trang is the most popular tourist beach destination in Vietnam and definitely the most developed in terms of accommodations, restaurants, and nightlife.  It is also one of the premier destinations in Vietnam for scuba diving and snorkeling!  The water doesn’t have the aqua blue tinge like the beaches in Phu Quoc but the main beach at Nha Trang seems to stretch on for kilometers with no end in sight – just clear waters and sand as far as your eyes can see!

This beach is so popular that direct flights run from Nha Trang to Moscow!  Since this beach city is so frequented, it’s important to know that if you want quiet time on the beach, you will have to venture out a little farther than the main strip.  You can rent a taxi or motorcycle and go towards the Cam Ranh Airport to the Bai Dai beach for a more serene atmosphere.  If you want to stay where all the action is, keep in mind that the beach will become packed with tourists in the late morning and early afternoon so for some peace and quiet, visit the beach in the early morning and enjoy the sunrise!  Remember that Nha Trang faces the east so the only time to see the sun along the horizon is during sunrise.

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3. MUI NE

Mui Ne Beach and water Sport

Mui Ne Beach and water Sport

In the last several years, Mui Ne has seen rapid development.  Although it is hardly the bustling beach city that Nha Trang is, Mui Ne has a little bit of everything – great restaurants, nightclubs and a beautiful shoreline!  What’s more, Mui Ne is the water sports capital of Vietnam!  Scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kiteboarding are just some of the activities you can enjoy in Mui Ne and many outfitters are well set up for it.

Most resorts and hotels are directly adjacent to the beach but recently many hotels have been built across the street from the main strip.  Although they are generally cheaper, be aware that the hotels on the beach side may not allow you beach access.  Due to the varying water levels and changing shorelines, it’s entirely possible that you won’t have a sandy beach to sit on as the shoreline will come right up to the resort’s concrete barrier.  But, many hotels on the beach side have started to build artificial sand beaches and infinity pools to compensate.  Nevertheless, the sound of the breakwater hitting the concrete is just as soothing sometimes! And if you miss the sand, you can always visit the two big sand dune areas in Mui Ne, the red sand dunes and the white sand dunes.

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4. DA NANG AND HOI AN

My Khe beach in Da Nang

My Khe beach in Da Nang

The area near Da Nang has long held a special place in the country’s history.  It was a very important military base town during the war and the remnants are still seen today!  One of the most famous beaches in the area, China Beach, served as the military base during the war.  Now, with just a few guesthouses, eateries, and war memorabilia, China Beach is one of the most pristine beaches in Da Nang – a must see!  Da Nang also has some of the swankiest resorts in Vietnam.  If you’re looking for an all-inclusive type experience with all you can eat and drink deals and massages all day, Da Nang is the place to go.

That being said, Da Nang can be appealing to backpackers as well because there are parts of the beach line that are still undeveloped.  Alternatively, you can take a taxi or hire a car and go to Hoi An.  Hoi An has beautiful beaches and is a very well preserved ‘old town’ type city just 40 minutes outside of Da Nang.  Its charming and quaint atmosphere is sure to impress all types of travelers and since it is also along the ocean, it has a beautiful beach area just a short motorbike ride away.  In fact, An Bang beach in Hoi An was named in CNN.com’s best beaches in the world!  An Bang beach has just enough restaurants and bars where you can sit on the beach and drink a cold beer but not so many that it starts looking like a resort town.  It’s just as charming as its parent city, Hoi An!

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5. CAT BA ISLAND AND LAN HA BAY

cat ba beach

cat ba beach

Lan Ha Bay is essentially an extension of Ha Long Bay off the coast of Haiphong city.  This lesser-known bay is really popular among local tourists in the summer months of July and August and its most famous beach on Cat Ba island is completely packed with people!  This effect is even more apparent because the beach itself isn’t very big.  However, if you find a quiet time to go, Cat Ba beach is quite easily one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam.  Imagine white sand under your toes, turquoise water and limestone formations in the horizon.  It’s very awe-inspiring and something right out of a magazine!

As it is just a small and scarcely developed island, you may find it hard to do any activities besides enjoying the beach.  But, this area of Vietnam is a mecca for rock climbers and the town on the island is well set up to lead tours around the bay.  You can also rent kayaks and boat around the islands to find your own private beach!  You may even spot some squatters living within the caves of the rock formations – apparently, there are 700 people living either on their boats or in the caves in the Ha Long Bay/Lan Ha Bay region!  It’s quite the sight.  🙂

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We hope you make it to the beach during your trip to Vietnam!  For more Vietnam travel tips, visit our blog at www.xotours.vn/blog. Our unique tours will allow you to discover the best of Vietnam.

 

Shallow Pockets: Traveling Vietnam on a budget

Travel Vietnam on a budget

Travel Vietnam on a budget

Vietnam is one of the most popular budget travel destinations in the world.  Although one can have a very lavish vacation in this Asian paradise, it is still quite easy to travel on a tight budget.  The easiest way to travel frugally is to know how and where to find the bargains!

HOW TO TRAVEL VIETNAM ON A BUDGET

(Please click on the link below to jump directly to the category you would like to see)

  1. Food and Drink
  2. Transportation
  3. Lodging
  4. Activites and Shopping 

Food and Drink

Relatively speaking, food in Vietnam is cheap, especially if you avoid expensive restaurants which are generally targeted towards tourists.  One of the cheapest meals you can find is banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich).  They are filling, non-fussy, and tasty!  Another budget food option is to visit a Com Binh Dan – a type of street food establishment with a wide array of dishes.  For less than 50000 VND, you can have a hearty and authentic lunch.  Less than $2 will also get you a hot bowl of pho, a cold glass of Vietnamese iced coffee or fresh cut fruit at the market!  The great thing about eating on a budget in Vietnam is that you don’t sacrifice taste and quality.  If you’re looking for cheap international eats, the backpackers’ area of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi are the best places to go.  Many small establishments and restaurants cater to the tourist crowd and provide no-fuss basic international meals at a very low price.

A streetside food joint, a Com Binh Danh is a popular lunch place for locals. Look for a place that is packed with people, indicating that the food turn over might be high!

A streetside food joint, a Com Binh Danh is a popular lunch place for locals. Look for a place that is packed with people, indicating that the food turn over might be high!

When purchasing bottles of water, try to buy them at small stores or stands.  Bottles of water at hotels or restaurants can be very expensive.  Another cheap option to hydrate yourself at a restaurant is to order tra da, or iced tea.  It’s very refreshing on hot days and usually safe.  A glass of tea will cost much less than bottled water.  Although alcohol is very expensive in Vietnam, beer and vodka is quite cheap!  Beer costs less than what it would cost in the US or Australia – $0.50USD can buy you a big bottle of beer!  Even some imported beers are inexpensive.  As a contrast, wine is incredibly expensive as Vietnam is not known for producing wine.  Most wines are imported into the country primarily for tourist consumption so the markup is very high.

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Transportation

It is common knowledge that planes will be more costly than buses and trains but if time is of short supply and if there are many destinations on your travel schedule, planes may be the best option for you.  Vietnam Airlines is the national airline company and although they have seat sales sometimes, they are not a budget airline.  That being said, Vietnam Airlines offers huge discounts if you book tickets during the last five days of every month (you don’t have to travel on the last five days, just book them when the discount is offered).  Alternatively, Air Asia flies to many destinations in Vietnam and is a pocket-friendly airline.  During busy season to a popular destination, we have found that there is little difference in price between the two airlines.  In these cases, and if demand for seats is high, booking early can sometimes be beneficial as prices may increase closer to the flight date.

For those with more time to travel by ground transportation, open tour buses are an excellent way to get from one destination to another.  Open tour buses are those that operate independently of an organized tour.  They are, by far, the cheapest way to travel longer distances in Vietnam.  For instance, you can take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne (a 4-7 hour drive) for $6USD.  Or, for around $50-60, you can stop at multiple destinations along your journey and stay as long as you want (as long as you give 24 hours notification before boarding the next bus).  There are many different companies that operate long-distance buses – the tickets can be booked at a travel agency or at the actual company’s office.  In the backpackers’ areas, the offices are lined up one after the other.  The buses are assigned seating so it may be a good idea to get tickets early in order to get a seat that you want.  Trains are also a popular mode of transportation for long voyages.  On one train, Vietnam Rail operates the majority of the cars but many other private companies operate tourist cars on the same train.  The private tour companies are targeted towards tourists but Vietnam Rail cars are generally $7-10 cheaper than the tourist cars.  To save money, you can travel on night buses or trains and save a night’s accommodation!

While in the city, the choices for transportation are the city bus, xe om (motorbike taxis) and taxi.  City bus is generally the cheapest but certain places in the city can be less accessible.  Taxi fares in the city  are relatively high and it can add up quickly!  A practical and economical alternative to the city bus and taxi is the xe om, which translates literally to ‘hug taxi’.   A xe om is easily identified – you will see many people waiting on their bikes on street corners looking to give a lift to a tourist.  They can be quite cheap assuming you will negotiate a price down.  Of course the price depends on where you want to go, but if you are going from one place to another in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, a xe om should cost you no more than 20,000 VND.  As a comparison, a short taxi ride within District 1 may be roughly 30,000 VND.  If you want to venture into some of the other districts that are farther away, hiring a xe om is not only more economical but also a great way to experience the city!

Xe om drivers are found everywhere and are generally eager to give you a ride, if they aren't taking an afternoon nap... :)

Xe om drivers are found everywhere and are generally eager to give you a ride, if they aren’t taking an afternoon nap… 🙂

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Lodging

Budget lodging options are plentiful in Vietnam!  In the cities, many of the tall and narrow homes have been converted to guest houses or small hotels.  Although there is quite a range in price from city to city, it’s very easy to find a room for $10-30 a night.  Most will also have some sort of included breakfast – eggs, pancakes, bread, butter, tea, coffee, juice and more!  Finding a hotel with an included meal may save a lot of money in the grand scheme of things.

Many of the tall narrow houses in Vietnam have been converted into hostels or budget hotels.

Many of the tall narrow houses in Vietnam have been converted into hostels or budget hotels.

Homestays have become an increasingly popular form of lodging, especially in the smaller towns in Vietnam.  Not only are they budget-friendly, it’s a great way to understand a little bit about daily life in Vietnam.  Most homestays are booked through travel agencies, except for tourist villages like Sapa where you can walk up to the many homestays advertised.  In Vietnam, one requires a license to host travelers in their home.  Homestays turn out to be an excellent bargain!  Meals are also often included and although they are not fancy, they are usually more than sufficient.  We recommend buying water and any other drinks that you might need beforehand at a store or street vendor rather than at the homestay – the markup for bottled water is very high.

Another type of lodging option that may be of interest to you is ‘couchsurfing’.  This phenomenon has been a part of Vietnam travel for a long time and is becoming increasingly popular among backpackers in the country.  If you are not familiar with that term, Couchsurfing is a means for people with homes (and couches) to connect with travelers who need a place to crash.  The biggest appeal of Couchsurfing – it’s free!  If you are traveling on a really tight budget, we recommend that you check this service out (www.couchsurfing.org).

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Activities and Shopping

Activities and attractions are usually the biggest expenses during your stay in Vietnam.  Places like the Cu Chi tunnels or various monuments can charge an entrance fee and if these are places you’d like to visit, there isn’t much you can do about it.  If you are fond of tours or attractions while traveling, we recommend factoring this into your budget.  It can be an excellent way to understand the culture and you can trim your expenses in other ways.

When shopping for souvenirs or goods, avoid tourist markets like Ben Thanh Market.  It’s very tempting to shop in such places because of the convenience.  But simply go outside and visit the street vendors.  The prices are much lower and they are more open to bargaining.  If you are able to, visit Cho Lon market in District 5.  This is a wholesale market and you will be surprised at the price difference in goods between District 5 and District 1!

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We hope we helped you save a litte bit of money during your time in Vietnam!  To find great shopping bargains around Ho Chi Minh City, join us on our Shopping Spree Tour!