The buying power of the USD in Vietnam is fantastic. For this blog post I will assume a conversion rate of 20K VND to 1 USD for easy conversion.
You can easily get by with less than $10 USD (~200K VND ). It's a huge city and if you want you can spend thousands of USD a day. However, if you want to live it up a little and eat a lot of tasty foods, you can have a great time with $50 USD. Here is how I spent the money.
Slow and Steady
For me, the ideal way to start the morning is slowly.
I want take my time getting dressed, warming up my mental engine, and planning some tasks for the day. With that in mind, I usually head to one of my typical coffee haunts. I've got a list of coffee shops that I'll write about in detail in another blog post. The main ones are:
- ID Cafe
It's clean, quiet, and spacious. I go here if I want to lounge in a comfy chair, drink some coffee, and plan out my day. Unlike the other coffee shops that I'll list, this place doesn't stand out in any particular way. However, it does everything well and thus makes it a reliable place to visit. Coffee is decent, wifi is good, and ambiance is nice. The one thing to keep in mind is that there are two locations that I am aware of. The one I prefer is the one in district 3.
- Cafe Tram
This is the place I visit, when I'm looking for reprieve from the hectic city. Their wifi is not fast, but that's not the reason I visit this place. I visit Cafe Tram for it's serenity and beauty. They managed to build a quiet, isolated, forest framed by with water fountains and a koi pond that you walk on top of. It's surreal.
- La Rotonde
I fell in love with this place the moment I walked through the nondescript doors. You climb a dimly lit, black spiral staircase, that is adorned with metal fleur-de-lis, to discover an airy, multi-floored cafe. The walls are white painted bricks adorned with vintage Vietnamese photographs and art. This place is a hipster's wet dream.
- Thuc Coffee
This place is a no frills coffee shop. The name literally means "awake" and it is open 24 hours a day. I visit this place when I want strong coffee and fast wifi to crank out some work at any hour of the day.
At all of the coffee shops I listed, prices are around 40K VND or 2 USD for a fantastic cup of coffee. If coffee's not your thing, these places have a myriad of drinks from smoothies to fresh pressed fruit juices.
After taking a couple hours appreciate my coffee and plan out my tasks for the day, I usually grab banh mi because it's tasty and efficient.
My favorite location, thus far, is Banh Mi Huynh Hoa. It's take out only and there is a line at all hours of the day. The lines consists of locals and foreigners . Don't worry, it moves quickly. My approach is to buy a sandwich (35K VND or 1.7 USD), buy a diet Coke (10K or .5 USD) at the nearest convenience store, and then drive down to the riverside (near here). I find a comfy bench at the riverside park, dig into my sandwich, and soak up the city vibes.
Sometimes, I'll get approached by guys who want to to buff my shoes for 40K VND or 2 USD. I always agree to it. If you are like me and travel in a nice pair of leather shoes or boots all day, you'll appreciate the buffing. My shoes get minor scrapes and dirt from all the motorbike riding I do so the cleaning and buffing brings them back to life. Eating a sandwich while getting my shoes buffed is weird, but satisfying experience.
If I'm too lazy to make the trip to a banh mi shop and riverside, I'll just eat at the cafe I'm currently at. All of the cafes I've listed, serve tasty foods for around 100K VND or roughly 5 USD.
So the first half of the day, with coffee, lunch, and maybe shoe buffing brings the total to around 200K VND or 10 USD.
There is a lot to do in the city during the day time. My preferred way of killing time is to ride my motorbike and wander the city. I'll stop wherever I want to and eat whatever seems interesting at the street side stalls.
One thing to note is that I avoid the afternoon time because it is hot and crowded. Also, I hate Ben Thanh because it's a tourist trap. It is crowded and full of kitschy crap that I don't care about. Also, since it's a tourist trap, the prices are higher than usual.
This is a huge city and there is all sorts of entertainment available. It all depends on your tastes. As such, I won't include this amount in the total for the day.
My ideal start of the night is at Pasteur Street Brewing company. They are a Ho Chi Minh City based craft beer brewing company. The beers are ~80K VND or 4 USD. You can also get a 6 beer sampler, which I recommend if you enjoy beers. The sampler costs 220K VND or 11 USD. The sampler is great when I visit with friends. It's a fun way to learn about each other's beer preferences and chat. The appetizers here are great as well. I like their Sloppy Nacho, which is nachos topped with sloppy joe meat sauce.
After that I'll head to Yakitori Shindo for some Japanese skewers with beers or high balls (seltzer, whiskey, and lime). High balls are dangerous because they are refreshing an not alcohol forward. You can't taste the alcohol at hall so you'll pound several before the buzz hits you. You've been warned. Last time I went, it cost me around 400K VND or 20 USD for two high balls, an omakase set skewers, and another 5 skewers.
The 400-600K VND puts me in the fine dining level.
When I don't feel like being pampered, I'll hop from one street food vendor to the next, buying whatever looks tasty, until I'm stuffed into oblivion. The vendors hawk everything from grilled octopus and meats, to soups and pastries. I've found Vietnamese, Japanese, French, Korean, and so much more from all parts of the world. I usually spend around 20K - 50K or 1 to 2.5 USD per vendor.
By the end of off dinner, I'll have spent around 300K to 600K VND or 15 to 35 USD. I'm going to split the difference and say I spent 25 USD on average.This brings my daily total to around 35 USD.
After dinner, I've got a few choices and the all involve drinking and music.
- Yoko Cafe
This is one of my favorite spots to go in the evening. They usually feature live music or open mic and provide a chill atmosphere. This is the place I prefer for dates or conversations with friends. Music is focus, but it isn't so loud that I can't have whispered conversations.
- Acoustic Bar
This place is always packed. Every time I've gone, I've ended up standing. They feature live bands almost every night. The music ranges from pop covers to screamo rock. I go here if I just want to listen to music and drink with friends.
- Chill Sky Bar, One Plus Beer Club, or some other rooftop bar
This is the night club of Ho Chi Minh City. Music is stupidly loud and the drinks are pricey. People go to be seen and bleed money on alcohol. I like going here when I've drank a lot already and want to dance my butt off with friends.
How much you spend at the night life venues is up to you. The drinks at these venues are around 100K or 5 USD. For me, if I'm just buying drinks for myself, it'll be around 3 drinks or **300K VND or 15 USD) since I've been drinking since dinner.
This puts the grand total of the day at 1M VND or 50 USD. This is how I would spend a day. That 50 USD can be split in many ways and Ho Chi Minh City is very accommodating of that. The restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops I've listed are just a small fraction of what this hectic and beautiful city has to offer.
I suggest you visit.