Maybe you’ve heard the real estate bubble in Vietnam has burst – some housing prices dropping from their highs by 30-40% in 2012!
Maybe you’ve heard that inflation in Vietnam at the end of 2012 was rising at an analyzed rate of over 7%!
Maybe you’ve heard that Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product had its slowest growth rate in 13 years in 2012 – just 5.03%.
Maybe you’ve heard that direct foreign investment in the Vietnam’s economy was dropping dramatically.
OK, never mind! How about the price of a cup of coffee in Saigon? A bus or taxi ride? A bowl of Phở? Or that pair of “Oakley” designer sunglasses?
I thought I’d share just a few of my observations about the price of things here in Saigon. I admit, my findings are random and non-scientific. But, this is a blog … not a government economics report :-). And I have lived here in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for over 6 years now – walking the streets, riding the busses, drinking the coffee, and eating the food every day. So, I have a clue.
Here are some of my reflections on Saigon’s prices. (BY THE WAY …. I’ll check back now and again to try to keep these prices as current as possible).
Napkins – 5¢: Napkins in those small plastic wrappers are on every table in Ho Chi Minh City, but are seldom free – usually 1,000 vnd. They’re often scented and always refreshing on a steamy Saigon day.
Iced Tea – 10¢: Trà đá (iced tea) (brewed, not bottled) will be available at every table in the Saigon. Usually it will cost you 1,000 – 2,000 vnd with unlimited refills!
Bus fare – 25¢: January 1, 2013 just brought in a whopping 25% price increase for a ride on Saigon’s local buses! But, fear not. It won’t break your budget. A ride within the city limits still costs only 5,000 or 6,000 vnd (25¢). And most of the time, the air conditioning will be working, and the driver won’t smoke.
Hột vịt lộn – 29¢: Go ahead, give it a try. REAL Saigon Street Food! For just 6,000 vnd, you’ll have stories to tell AND enjoy a great snack. I’d recommend getting hột vịt lộn xáo me (duck fetus with tamarind sauce) – really extra special and only 8,000 vnd (40¢).
Dừa tấc – 29¢: A delicious iced coconut juice drink spiked with a twist of nước ep quả tắc (similar to tangerine juice) for 6,000 vnd.
Bánh Tráng Trộn – 60¢: One of Saigon’s most ubiquitous and unique street foods, bánh tráng trộn is readily found on many streets from roving vendors. Definitely give it a try. You’ll likely incur a cost of about 12,000 vnd (60¢) for this one-of-a-kind Saigon Street food snack.
A Lottery Ticket – 50¢: Wherever you sit or eat or drink in Saigon, within minutes you’ll be approached by a needy person selling a lotto ticket. The tickets are just 10,000 vnd (50¢) and will help out (just a small bit) someone who is in survival mode (the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the disabled – generally, those in dire need.) Buy a ticket or two (or more) and feel good and maybe, just maybe, become a billionaire (vnd, that is!) Have a local (someone you trust) check the winning numbers for you each evening.
Saigon Zoo – 60¢: A very pleasant (and even serene) morning or afternoon can be enjoyed at the Saigon Zoo for an admission price of 12,000 vnd! A real bargain, considering it might be the only place in Ho Chi Minh City to escape the city’s street chaos.
A Day at a Saigon Pool – 72¢: Whether you’re looking to do a few laps to help reduce the impact of eating all that great Saigon street food or just wanting to cool down and splash a bit at one of Saigon’s many public pools, it will likely cost you about 15,000 vnd to get the chance. (NOTE: Coming Soon – Eating Saigon!’s blog on Saigon’s pools.)
Bánh Mì – $1.00 (maybe 75¢): After eating Phở, enjoying a bánh mì sandwich from a Saigon street vendor may be the “next best” Ho Chi Minh City eating experience – likely costing you between 15,000 -2o,000 vnd.
Phở – $1.50: Let’s get this out of the way right a way. If you’re coming to Vietnam you MUST enjoy a bowl of phở – perhaps on a daily basis. On the streets or in small neighborhood eateries, you’ll find phở bò or phở gà ranging from 25,000 – 45,000 vnd ($1.25 – $2.25 USD). Certainly, a bit more in Saigon’s rapidly expanding phở chain restaurants like Phở 24 or Phở 2000, and in any of the 4-5-star hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.
Eating Tip: Stick to the streets and neighborhood eateries for not only the best phở prices, but the most delicious bowls of noodle soup!
Vietnamese Coffee – $1.00: Saigon is a cafe society. Whether you squat on a small plastic stool on the street or sit in a trendy, gardened cafe, you MUST try Vietnamese coffee. Order it “có phin”. That means you’ll get your own small personal coffee drip system. Wait for a bit as the hot water slowly percolates through the coffee grinds drop-by-drop into your glass, and enjoy unique, strong, a bit bitter, and delicious Vietnamese coffe. Expect huge price variations. On the streets outside tourist central, a cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee with condensed sweetened milk) can be as little as 8,000 vnd. At the center Saigon trendy cafes, as high as 65,000 vnd. A reasonable price for a good cup of coffee at a nice cafe should run about 20,000 -25,000 vnd ($1 -$1.25 USD).
If you’re looking for western cup of coffee or a cappuccino, ̣see below at “$2 – 5”.
Xôi Kem – $1.10: Need a sweet treat? Want to enjoy a unique Vietnamese dessert at a good price? Try sticky rice with ice cream for just 22,000 vnd.
Taxis -$4.00: Yes, there are meters. And most of the time the driver will engage the meter. However, the size of the internal gears that turn the meter seems to vary from company to company and from individual cab to cab. My taxi fare on the exact same route from the airport to my apartment has varied from 55,000 to 90,000 vnd ($2.60 to $4.30 USD). Local folklore (and my own experience) says that Mai Linh and Vinasun taxis seem to use the most accurate gears system in their meters (and thus the best prices.) Within the Saigon inner city limits, few rides should exceed 100,000 vnd ($5 USD).
Xe Ôm – $2.00: For many reasons – price, efficiency in travel time, and a unique Saigon experience – and a bit of a thrill – try taking a Xe Ôm (motorbike taxi) to your Saigon destination. Traffic jams – no problem, ride up on the sidewalks. One-way streets – never mind such details. And discover the intricate web of Saigon’s hidden alleyways connecting the clogged main streets. The price, perhaps 60-80% of cab fare. In key tourists spots, they’ll ask more. In center city, try to haggle them down about 30% of the first asking price. Within center city, a fair price should be 30,000 – 40,000 vnd ($1.50 – $2.00). More distant inside-the-city destinations, perhaps 50,000 – 60,000 vnd ($2.50 – $3.00 USD).
Rice & Noodle Dishes – $2.25: The mainstays of Ho Chi Minh City cuisine, on the streets and in small Saigon restaurants are a wide variety of rice and noodle dishes – cơm, cơm tấm, hủ tiếu nam vang, miến, etc. Prices vary widely depending upon location, air conditioning (or not), quality of meats and veges, of course. But, generally, in Eating Saigon! -kind-of eateries, you can expect to pay between 35,000 – 60,000 vnd ($1.75 – $3.00 USD) for a good lunch or dinner plate.
Cappuccino – $3.00: If you’re looking for western cup of coffee or a cappuccino, ̣no place in Ho Chi Minh City can beat the quality of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at their several locations about Saigon! Here and elsewhere in Saigon, expect to pay about 65,000 vnd for a western coffee.
Ice Cream – $3.50: Lots of good ice cream is available in Saigon – both local and international brands. A reasonable serving – 2 scoops with some topping with cost you about 70,000 vnd.
A Room in Saigon – for 2 hours! – $3.35: You can rent a room in most Ho Chi Minh City neighborhoods for 1 to 3 hours. Hmmnnn? – doesn’t seem like enough time to get some good rest?? The 2-hour price is just 70,000 vnd ($3.35 USD). A friend told me about these rates – I swear! 🙂
Invasion of the West! – $5.00 -$6.00: A whole series of international chain restaurants are currently invading Ho Chi Minh City (and seem to be controlling increasing amounts of territory)! Burger King, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Gloria Jeans, Dominos Pizza, and more.
Eating Tip: Avoid these places – mediocre food for inflated prices. If you must, expect to pay standard international prices for a meal – 120,000 vnd.
Cell Phone SIM Cards – $10: Local phone calls are cheap in Vietnam. Avoid overseas roaming charges by picking up a local SIM card for your mobile phone. While you’re traveling in Saigon and throughout Vietnam, it will be helpful to pick up a local SIM card for your cell phone (reach fellow travelers who decided to visit a different museum, call your next hotel, make a reservation for tomorrow’s tour, and the like.) Phone calls – and even 3G capability – are relatively inexpensive in Vietnam. You can get lots of chatting or messaging minutes for a 100,000 vnd ($5 USD). Mobiphone, Vinaphone, and Viettel are just a few of your options. Sold at many small shops along both main and side streets.
See a Movie – $3.50 – 7.50: Want to retreat into an air-conditioned, pop-corned environment and enjoy an English-speaking (Vietnamese subtitled) first-run western movie? There are several options in Saigon. My favorite is at Megastar Hung Vuong in District 5’s Hung Vuong Plaza. A complex pricing structure here, depending upon the day of the week, your seating location, the number of visual dimensions in the film, and, a new variable, number of speakers in the theater!
Hotel Rooms – $15 – $250: You can readily find hotel rooms in Saigon for a price from anywhere between $15 – $250 USD per night (even a few at $10 and at $500!!). It all depends upon what level of luxury you are seeking, and how far removed from the authentic-developing-country Vietnamese culture you choose to place yourself. Until Eating Saigon! begins to offer its own reviews and experiences with local Ho Chi Minh City accommodations, two good resources to find – Where to stay in Saigon? are:
Massage – $10 – $15 – $50: Enjoy a face, foot or body massage while you’re in Saigon. The level of “luxury ambiance”, the distance from Saigon tourist central, and the number of “Stars” on your massage facility (but, maybe NOT the “quality” of your massage) will determine the price you will pay.
Vietnam Visa Renewals – $130: Typically, local Saigon tour agencies handle all the administrative hassles of obtaining your renewal visa. This way you can avoid the bureaucratic frustrations with trying to obtain the visa yourself. The local agencies will add about $35 to the actual governmental visa “stamp fee”. As of January 1, 2013, Vietnam visitor visa prices have increased dramatically. My friend just extended his 3-month multiple entry visa for an additional 3 months through a local Saigon visa renewal service and was required to pay $130 USD.
For new entries into Vietnam, you can pick up your “Visa on Arrival” at the Saigon airport, but only AFTER you have already received at your home your “Visa Approval Letter.” Here are the fees published by one major on-line Vietnam visa processing company.
“Designer” Brand Names – $5 or $225: Let’s understand clearly, in Vietnam, there are NO consumer protection agencies, NO trademarks infringement enforcement concerns, NO serious warrantees, guarantees nor consumer legal recourse. There are LOTS of retail rip-offs.
General Price Tip: You DON’T get what you pay for in Vietnam – at least most of the time. Name brands are a rip-off almost 95% of the time. Example: If a pair of “Niki” running shoes are a bargain at just $45 USD, then surely those running shoes with BOTH a “Niki” and an “Addidas” label must be a better deal at just $50! (I’ve actually encountered this!). Those excellent looking Northface packs for only $25 – will the zippers fail after just 3 weeks? Very possibly. And those $5 Oakley sunglasses on the street and those $225 Oakley sunglasses at Saigon’s high-end shopping plazas may very well have come out of the same shipment box from China. Now you have been warned!
ENJOY YOUR SHOPPING!