Living in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam – My 7 Essential Tips

Moving to Vietnam Was Very Difficult For Me

I wasted a ton of time and money simply because I landed in a city I had no prior experience with. In contrast, moving to and living in Bangkok was easy for me because I had lived outside of Bangkok and visited the city so frequently it was no issue to get set up there fast and easy.

I knew exactly where I wanted to live, how much I would be spending and I had all my “places” I loved going in Bangkok for food, drinks and shopping. It also helped I had built in friends which made the city fun and easy.

Not so with Ho Chi Minh City! That’s really what made this move so difficult.

Your mission…

Figure out what the heck Saigon Vietnam is like in 5 days and pick a place to live for the next 6 months.

Seriously, what I did was kind of crazy. Landing in a city I had ZERO experience with, no support group, no help and and setting myself the goal of getting an apartment as soon as possible.

Normally I would like to travel to and visit a city at least once before moving there so I could get a feel for the place. I’ve been to Hanoi a few times and really like it there and have an idea of what the city is like. For HCMC? I just had to hit the ground running, spending money and traveling around the city like a mad man. Being stressed out, tired and irritated.

Districts in Saigon Vietnam

I began my trip by staying in a cheap hotel in District 1, near the famous (or infamous) walking street. Honestly, it’s like Kao San road but smaller and with no clubs. I have no idea why it is “infamous” because I’ve had way more one night stands with random Thai girls I meet from nights out on Kao San Road (pro tip – Thai girls go to Kao San to hook up with foreign men specifically). The walking street (Bui Vien Street) in Saigon is just a street filled with bars and cafes. Nothing to do there other than drink and watch a soccer match.

From there, I set off everyday for the next 3 days looking for apartments. I looked at district 1, 2, 3, 7 and Binh Thanh district.

District 1

District 1 is the city center and it’s not the best place to live. Loud, busy but a lot of fun. Think of it like the center of Bangkok. It’s where all the action is and it’s fun to go to, but it’s not ideal for living. For me, I want a space where I can sort of get away from it all to focus on work and my online projects.

District 2

District 2 is pretty cool, it’s on the other side of the river and is becoming a new expat enclave. It’s pretty rural and not particularly developed. Though it does have things like a Starbucks and higher end shopping centers that cater to the foreign teachers who work at the various school in D2.

I’ve meet expats that love living in D2 and others that hate it. For me, it’s just too far away from all the other districts and it’s not particularly close to things that are important to me like a market where I can buy food and a gym.

If you’re thinking about living in D2, be prepared to buy a motorbike as you’ll need one to get around this district as again, it’s simply far away from everything else and a bit rural (like a small town).

District 3

District 3 is characterized by a canal. It’s actually where I ended up getting my first apartment in Vietnam that I lived in for a total of 3 days. Yea, it was that bad.

This district is not ideal. The canal, while lovely is always loud due to the heavy traffic that happens from 3 pm to 7 pm. It’s also very polluted and not AT ALL walkable.

I made a huge mistake living here. I was stuck in my apartment, constantly needing a bike or taxi to get to a cafe, or get food or go to a gym. It’s not a place where you can comfortably walk to cafe or get food easily.

Plus it smells, it’s loud, tons of bikes, bad pollution. 3 days I had enough! Good spot to visit because it has a lot of local places but not to live.

Live in this district and get a cheap place ONLY IF you’re going to be commuting to work everyday because the location is center and it’s convenient for this purpose only. If you’re a digital nomad like me, you’ll want to skip on living in D3 as the cons outweigh the pros.

District 7

Again, another far away district. District 7 is quite large so depending on where in D7 you are, you could be close to the city center or far away.

I personally was not impressed by D7. There are a lot of new apartment buildings and you can find a nice place for cheap (if that’s important to you check out D7 then!) but it’s a weird district in that the surrounding are is not nice.

Your building will be an oasis in D7, surrounded by construction and country roads. D2 is at least more beautiful in appearance.

Bin Thanh District

Where I live in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. I personally love it. It’s in the middle of district 2 and district 1. Allowing for easy access both areas as well as still being local and convenient.

It’s a walkable district with a lot of local cafes and food. Taking a motorbike to the gym or the mall is cheap and you can get produce like fruit, vegetables and meat from local wet markets with ease.

It’s great, and you have easy access to the city center without living near the city center. For me, it’s Bin Thanh all the way. Simply because I can walk outside my building in the morning and get a cup of amazing coffee for cheap at a local cafe and watching YouTube or do some reading.

Get a Sim Card at Your Hotel

In most countries it’s ideal to get a sim card at the airport, Ho Chi Minh City is no different BUT if you’re planning on living here for more than a month you’ll want to hold of on the airport sim cards as they are priced for tourists and you can get a better deal by getting a sim card at your hotel.

Download Grab App and the Go Viet App

This is how you get around the city in Vietnam. It’s awesome and cheap. You basically install this app and can summon transportation to come pick you up anywhere in the city to take you anywhere you like.

You can request a bike, car or taxi. You can also have food delivered too. Grab and Go Viet is how I got around the city in my first week to all the different districts.

What about Uber? They no longer operate in Vietnam. Also install both apps and set them up so you can price match. Go Viet is often much cheaper than Grab that uses an algorithm to charge you.

Basically, if you’re constantly taking the same trip day after day, Grab will start to increase the price. My bike ride from my apartment to the gym went from 8,000 Dong to 12,000, to 16,000 to 22,000 up to 25,000.

Because I had Go Viet installed, I was able to use them when Grab got a bit ridiculous. My 5 minute ride to the gym should be 12,000 Dong to -16,000 Dong.

Negotiate Your Rent

Vietnamese don’t like to negotiate with foreigners. They typically won’t budge on their price until you walk away and say no.

Also, everything they say to you is B.S. They can discount the price, they just want to get the most out of you they can.

So basically, that is how you negotiate here. I tired to buy a single coaster for my coffee mug and the woman said she could only sell it as a set (6 coasters) and for a price of 300,000 Dong.

I told her I wanted 1 and that I would pay 50,000 Dong for one (as the price for single coasters I saw being sold elsewhere for 20,000 Dong but were made of cheaper material). She said I could have one for 100,000 Dong.

I said no and told her 50,000. She said no and that I could go now. So I did. As I was walking away, she yelled to me “OK!” and told me I could have it for 80,000 Dong. Still more than I wanted, but I respected the fact that she wanted to make a sale so I said yes.

Rent works the same way too. I was looking at apartments and the price was 10.5 million Dong. I said can you discount me to 10 million Dong and they said no. I tried everything, I said I’m signing a long term contract so discount me, they said no.

Side note, if you’re signing a 6 month or longer contract be stubborn about lowering your rent as most foreigners sign short term contracts.

It was not until I told them I signed a lease somewhere else that they said they would discount me to 10 million.

Yea annoying. But this is how I learned how Vietnamese negotiate. So learn from my mistake. Lie and tell the place you like you’re going to sign a lease for another place and see what they say.

Also, whatever price they give you, aim for 500,000 to 1 million Dong less than the asking price. Also try and scope the building for anyone who lives there and ask them how much they are paying (if possible).

Rent a bike first before buying

Most will tell you that if you’re living long term to buy a motorbike but I suggest renting for a month and seeing how much you use it and if you even like it.

In Hanoi, you need a bike but Ho Chi Minh City is way more annoying. I find myself spending 25,000 to 60,000 Dong per day on Grab depending on where I went. At this spending level, I would not save much by owning a bike.

It would also come with phantom costs as well. Time spent on repair and maintenance. Having to pay to park everywhere. Having to stop on the side of the road to check my phone to see where I am because you WILL get lost in this city.

I LOVED driving in Hanoi but Saigon is a bit too much for me. Hot, dirty, pollution and tons of bikes. It’s rather nice being chauffeured everywhere.

Conclusion

I’m not too crazy about living in Saigon at the moment. The city is not really for me and I much prefer Bangkok. BUT the people here are very nice and welcoming, the girls are quite pretty and the food is good. Also, the internet is really, really fast here for some reason.

Have any other living in Vietnam tips? Post a comment below! Comments are manually approved due to spam.

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