Living in Vietnam on a Budget: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, week 5

If you're curious about living cheaply in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, here's our budget travel experience this week. This week Ho Chi Minh City transformed for Tết 2018 (the Lunar New Year) and we spent our time doing regular Vietnamese Tết family traditions. As far as budgets go, we splurged a bit but stayed under $50 per day budget in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Our goal: $50 per day total, including transportation, accommodation, visas, and bills back home. For two people.

In every budget update I will add a prorated estimate of our bills back home (loans, phone plan, etc. which may vary slightly by month), to include in our $50/day travel budget. I am not including travel insurance -- this would add about $5.75 per day to our total.
  • Days: 7
  • Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • Weekly spending: $218.50
  • Avg. spending per day: $31.22
  • Avg. spending per day incl. bills back home: $34.42
  • Avg. spending per day overall in Asia: $44.16
Happy Tet 2018!

So what are our living expenses in Ho Chi Minh City this week?

  • Conversion rate: 22,073 Vietnamese Dong (VND) = US$1.00 (100,000VND is about $4.53)
  • Accommodation: $64.62 
    • If you're wondering where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, lots of people will say the Backpacker's district in District 1 (D1) or expats areas in District 7, or District 3... but we love our District 8 AirBnB homestay! Ho Chi Minh City's District 8 is not as frequented, so it's very much a Vietnamese neighborhood. However, it's super close to the "action" of the city. It's not where the expats hang out, which we prefer.
  • Transportation: $6.01 
    • Transportation in Vietnam is mostly via motorbike, and you can get anywhere using Uber or Grab bikes, for about $0.50-$2.00 per ride. You can rent a scooter if you want... but that's still terrifying to us!
    • This week, we took one Uber and one Grab, both of the times cars... which are more expensive for one person, but generally break even for 2+ people. Still, a round trip for two people at $6.01 isn't bad!

You can park your motorbike indoors at restaurants and other establishments.
  •  Food and drinks: $142.43
    • What a fun week of food and drinks! Vietnamese food is still amazing. We tried traditional Tet food for Vietnamese New Year, mostly southern Vietnamese food since we are in Ho Chi Minh City.
Beef pho is so fun to eat, adding limes and herbs and sprouts and all sorts of sauces until it's perfect!
    • Lots of things like restaurants close during Tet, so we stocked up on some food and alcohol for the first time! We normally buy under $0.50 beers, but this week we bought a bottle of Tequila (290.000vnd or $13.14, and no we didn't drink it all). We also bought a couple of cases of beer for about 250,000vnd or $11.33 for 24 beers.
Tequila is cheaper in Vietnam than it is in America. Mix with fresh sugarcane juice and you've got a perfecto cocktail!
    • We ate with our hosts a few times during Tet. I'll write up all about it (look for the link below coming soon)!
Delicious banh tet
    • Fruit is incredibly varied and sometimes very different here. Our lovely hosts share some of their fruit, like the star apple aka breast milk fruit. It certainly is milky and sticky and I love it. 
Vu sua, milky breast fruit
Fruit vendor on the street. Did you know there are pink pineapples?!
    • On New Year's Day we hit up Heart of Darkness Brewery for amazing craft beer and some western food. Nice treat for $30.75!
    • Finally, we had a hilarious circumstance where our host, who works at a meat processing plant, was gifted an entire pig's head for the new year. Vietnamese people eat lots of crazy things, but our hosts had no idea what to do with a whole head! Knowing that Warren is a butcher, they gave it to us and said to do whatever we want. Well, Warren butchered it and made delicious pork face stew. We also have been eating the jowls with eggs :)
Butchering on the floor in the bathroom!

Tasty face stew
  • Entertainment/miscellaneous: $5.44 
    • We love our hosts, so as a Tet gift we bought them a huge banh tet (rice and bean and meat treat) for 120,000vnd ($5.44).
The District 8 market in Ho Chi Minh City has been way crazier with everyone buying Tet gifts and treats.
    • Most of our entertainment this week was from the Dong Tau rooster our hosts were gifted for Tet... aka the Vietnamese Dragon Chicken!!! It has the dumbest hugest legs and is kind of ugly. Apparently, they are an expensive delicacy (think $200 for a rooster) and their meat is amazing. Luckily for this guy, he has gotten to live a while, because our hosts can't bear to kill him. His days in Ho Chi Minh City are numbered... I think he's going to be regifted to someone who can handle the slaughter.
Our hosts' dragon chicken. He lives INSIDE and crows at 5:00am.
    • We also participated in family picture day with my District 8 yoga instructor (remember her family from last week?), which is a Vietnamese new year tradition. We headed over to District 7 to see all of the beautiful Vietnamese new year flower displays. Everyone posed and they invited us into their photos!
Random poser -- it was packed!

We help them learn English, they invite us into their home and family.

Check out some other posts about Vietnam!

Vietnam is a great budget travel destination, and even with Ho Chi Minh City being the biggest city, it's still very cheap and easy to enjoy on a budget. By staying in District 8 and making some local friends, we were able to splurge a few times on alcohol and fancy meals, but stay within out $50 per day budget.


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