Ahhhh, Saigon, or known today as Ho Chi Minh City. Home to fantastic bahn mi’s, millions of scooters, gorgeous rooftop bars, and all the pho you can eat. There are so many things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
I just spent one month in Saigon, working from my laptop and exploring the city. I rented a scooter and braved the crazy traffic, ate countless excellent meals, and met many pleasant locals and travellers.
Saigon is a raw and vibrant city. The Vietnam War held the economy back for several decades.
But now there is an exciting buzz in the air. The economy is growing at a fast pace, with GDP growth of around 6-8% per year in recent years.
Since this is a personal finance site, I’ll be focused mainly on how I spent my money in Saigon.
Saigon one-month cost summary
No surprise here. Three of the most significant expenses are housing, transportation, and food. This holds consistent for most households in Canada.
One month costs in Saigon
|Entertainment – drinks||$ 150|
|Entertainment – other||$ 100|
|Motorbike rental||$ 80|
The most expensive part was the housing. District 1 is the most expensive rent in Saigon, with District 3 also getting up there in price. I stayed in District 3 in a decent one-bedroom, using an Airbnb and paid about $700.
I stayed at Huy Son apartment in District 3, right on the edge of District 1. It was great because it wasn’t too touristy, but close to the action of District 1. Within a one-block walk of the apartment, there were lots of amazing places to eat and café’s nearby.
The apartment was spacious, about 500 square feet, with maid service three times a week.
One of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City was sampling the food. The best and cheapest options were Vietnamese food. For about $2-$4, you can get a fantastic meal. But I found I got tired of eating Vietnamese food for every meal.
You can find any type of cuisine in Saigon, and I found great choices for Italian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese food. For a proper sit-down meal at a non-Vietnamese place, it costs anywhere from around $5-$12.
Getting around in Saigon is ridiculously cheap. A cab from the airport to my apartment cost me $5. A motorbike Grab ride, which is Asia’s version of Uber, costs $1-$2 to go to most places.
I rented a motorbike for the whole month for $80, and gas cost $10 only. I made good use of the vehicle and explored a lot of the city.
I recommend getting a cell phone holder for the motorbike so you can use Google Maps to navigate around because Saigon is tough to get your bearings.
Also, if you’ve never driven a motorbike, I do not recommend learning in Saigon. The traffic and drivers are crazy, and if you’re not used to the road rules, it can be dangerous.
Entertainment and nightlife
Saigon has everything that comes with a bustling big city. It’s a vast urban sprawl with multiple districts that all have a different feel to it. District 1 is where the main action is, with locals and tourists alike gathering on the weekend.
At a typical bar or nightclub, a beer will cost $2-$4. Cocktails and wine will cost a lot more, usually around double the price of beers at every venue.
My favourite part of the nightlife was the rooftop bars. Chill Skybar was my favourite rooftop bar in Saigon. Beautiful views of the whole city but it comes at a price. Beers here will be $4-$6, and cocktails and wine will be double of that.
Ho Chi Minh City has the most cafés per person that I’ve ever seen. You got your big Starbucks-like chains such as Highlands, to the small street stall cafes that seem to pop out everywhere you turn.
Coffee is super cheap, starting from around $1 for a standard coffee to about $3 for the fancier Western-style coffees like a cappuccino or latte.
Things such as gym memberships, spas, and cell phone plans are dirt cheap here compared to back in the west. Getting cash is easy as there are multiple banks and ATMs to withdraw money from.
The most interesting thing I tried was going to the dentist here. I needed a simple cleaning done, so I looked up the best-reviewed dentists in Saigon and chose one of them.
I was a bit nervous before the appointment about the quality of service. But when I got there, I was relieved to see the facilities were clean and modern, and the dentists and assistants spoke good English and were friendly.
A deep cleaning cost me $17, with x-rays included. The dentists recommended a crown repair also after seeing the x-rays, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to take the plunge for that yet!
I tried to open an online bank account, but it wasn’t possible on a tourist visa, so I had to stick to using my Canadian bank account. Also, before leaving from Canada, I made sure to get a credit card with no foreign exchange fees.
Unlike flights booked from Canada, flights within Vietnam are dirt cheap with a ticket to Ha Noi or Da Nang being less than $100.
Pollution and traffic
Although the city was fantastic, the pollution and traffic were too much for me to handle. The pollution was terrible, with the Air Quality Index flashing in the red danger zone for most of my stay there. I got sick and found it hard to breathe when I was driving around outside.
For those reasons, even though it was mostly great, I couldn’t live in Saigon and decided to leave after one month.
If you live in Ho Chi Minh City for longer, you can save even more on rent and by buying a motorcycle and cooking more meals at home. It’d be easy to get by on $1,200-$1,500 per month.
If you don’t mind pollution and traffic and love the hustle and bustle of big-city life, Saigon is an amazing place. There are so many things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. For large city lovers, it’s cheap and filled with great nightlife, food, and people.