Brooke vs. the World has asked travel bloggers to put together their best thrifty and resourceful travel tips for a helpful, free ebook. If you think you’re thrifty and would like to participate, check out the official rules.
It’s pretty common knowledge that Vietnam is a cheap country; it frequently shows up on lists of 10 countries you can visit for under $500 and is a well-known backpacker destination. But Vietnam is growing economically and prices are rising rapidly. For backpackers this has mostly affected the price of food and drink. I recently read a blog post that commented how a beer in a busy backpacker’s bar now costs 45,000vnd (over $2). To a first-time traveller this is going to seem pretty cheap (as indeed it is) but this is a massive increase in price on a beer in the same bar only 3 years ago and more expensive than neighbouring Cambodia or Laos. If you are in the middle of a RTW trip, every dollar counts, right? If you are paying $5 for a room, do you really want to pay almost half of that on one beer? Of course you don’t! So here’s my guide on how to keep Saigon cheap.
1. Don’t always drink at the biggest, busiest bar
In the backpacker district (mainly the roads Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien and De Tham) there are 3 large bars, all featured on prominent corners of the three aforementioned roads. They are all over 3 stories high, adorned with bright lights – or a large snorting bull for one of them – and play the loudest music. All three scream “Come here for a good time!” and if you happen to have missed them, then no doubt somebody will approach you on the street with the promise of ‘buy one get one free’ drink offers. Don’t be fooled, all of these bars are owned by the same people and they know how to make money. If you drink in these bars then your money will disappear pretty quickly. Check out the smaller bars that line the streets in between and you will find that you get a lot more for your money.
Even better: try a Bia Hoi where you can try locally brewed beer for a fraction of the price. Bia Hoi are often recognisable by the small plastic chairs and tables set outside on the street.
2. Find the expat rag (or an expat) and look for events with a free bar
One of the best things about Saigon is the expat scene so look for a copy of ‘The Word’ or ‘AsiaLife’ magazines which can be found in the bars in Pham Ngu Lao. In here you will find any special events that are going on in the city. If a bar is having an anniversary celebration, or a new restaurant is opening then you can often find a buffet and free drinks. We once drank free wine all night at the opening of a new gym! If you are planning to do this, then you should probably dress up a little so you don’t look out of place.
You can find The Word online too! http://www.wordhcmc.com/
3. Check the taxi metre and find the cheapest taxi company
In any country in SE Asia you should always check the fare chart before getting into a taxi (if there isn’t one then do not get into the taxi) so do a bit of maths and work out which one is the cheapest. You’ll be surprised by how much they can vary in price. Never get into a taxi that insists you pay in USD as paying in VND will always be cheaper. Whilst this may only save you a dollar each time, that’s an extra drink at night isn’t it?!
Another useful thing to know about taxis in Saigon is that the rip-off ones will always hang around outside major tourist spots and yell loudly as you walk past. The reputable companies will be those waiting quietly at the back. We only ever used MaiLinh, VinaSun, Vina or Petrolimex taxis.
Of course, if you really want to save money you should ditch the taxi altogether, the majority of Saigon’s sights are in District 1 and can be walked to from the cheap hostels in the backpacker district. If you can cope with the heat, traffic and bad pavements then try walking around the city!
4. Don’t take a XeOm if you are more than one person
If you are travelling alone then a XeOm, or motorcycle taxi, will be cheaper than a standard taxi. Generally they are about half the price of a taxi: this will be even cheaper if you have good negotiation skills or find a regular driver. If you are in a group of 2 or more people then it will be cheaper to get a large taxi and split the cost.
5. Buy food in the backpacker area or from street stalls
The cheapest restaurants are to be found on the three roads mentioned earlier or on the street stalls. If you opt for the street stalls then buy from places that seem to be busy, the busier the better and try to avoid meat or seafood that has been out in the sun all day.
6. Don’t buy souvenirs from Ben Thanh market
Ben Thanh market is an iconic feature of Saigon and it is worth a look around but it is much more expensive than the streets around it. You will find the same products much cheaper on the streets along Le Loi and at the Tax Centre just a stone’s throw away. Read my post about Ben Thanh market on Cheapo Air here.
Have you been to Saigon, do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear them! Please leave a comment below.