How Far Will $20 Go in Ho Chi Minh City?

Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City is one of the world’s most exciting cities. I love it, not the least because of the great value it provides. But when people ask me how much it costs, I can’t really say. I don’t have a budget. I don’t need to. Unless I go on a spending spree, I will never spend anywhere near what it costs to just survive in Australia.

So just how good is that value? After living here on and off for over seven years, I decided to do a little experiment and plot out three, one-day itineraries, including food, activities and entertainment for less than $20 a day. No repeats allowed…and I wasn’t prepared to stay home.

Day 1

I head down to the local park and join in with the locals sweating it out on the free public exercise machines. After working up an appetite, I drop by a local street food stall for pho, a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup and iced, green tea, Vietnam’s favourite breakfast. ($1.75).

Mid-morning I meet a Vietnamese friend at a quirky cafe to exchange language lessons. Coffee and a snack come to $3. For lunch, I grab a baguette, filled with chicken and salad, from one of the hundreds of banh mi ladies around town and follow it up with a platter of fresh pineapple ($2).

In the afternoon I head for the Museum of Fine Arts to see the latest exhibition. Checking out the beautiful architecture of the colonial-era mansion that houses the museum is worth the price of admission alone ($0.60).

Explore Ho Chi Minh City’s Museum of Fine Arts for less than a dollar.

I’m less than halfway through my budget for the day, so I pull up stumps at a local bia hoi (fresh beer cafe) for a couple of cold drinks. It’s the perfect way to relax and watch the madness of rush hour unfold from my cosy spot. ($1).

Dinner is a generous serving of stir-fried noodles with beef and lemongrass accompanied by a local beer from a stylish restaurant in the city centre ($4). Afterward, I wander along Nguyen Hue Street where local families and tourists are enjoying the cool breezes, colonial architecture, coloured lights, fountains and the best selfie shots in town. My three-kilometre journey back home sets me back $3.80.

Total for the day: $16.15

Day 2

I start the day by joining in with a local aerobics session in the park. At $4 a month, it’s hardly worth counting in a daily budget. Once I’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time for breakfast. With so many dining options in Ho Chi Minh City, you could try something different every day for three months and still not exhaust all the possibilities. Today I tuck into won ton soup with Chinese pork and prawns for breakfast ($2.50), fresh spring rolls ($2) for lunch and marinated barbecue pork and pickled vegetables on broken rice for dinner ($2).

Savour a lunch of fresh spring rolls for just $2.

After shaking it with the local ladies, I spend the rest of the morning catching up on correspondence in a cafe. You can sit for as long as you like—and make use of the free WiFi—without the staff chasing you away. A mixed fresh fruit smoothie sets me back $2.50.

In the afternoon I head by to a local public pool. I like the one with the deck chairs and shade. At $3.50 for entry, it’s a slightly more expensive option but even on my $20 a day budget I can more than afford it. After dinner, I head to the movies to watch the latest release of a Hollywood blockbuster in English ($4.70). A drink and some popcorn set me back another $3.

Total cost for the day, including a couple of parking fees for my motorbike, comes to $21, but seeing as I was under budget yesterday, I’m not too worried.

Day 3

I switch up my morning exercise regime with a brisk walk down by the local canal. Breakfast is a bacon and egg baguette and a fresh local coffee ($2). Around 10 a.m. I wander over to another museum I’ve meant to visit and spend the morning in quiet contemplation for $0.80.

For lunch, I head to a local restaurant for com trua van phong, a set menu favoured by workers. Soup, a choice of meat, vegetables, rice and a drink, comes to $3.

In the afternoon I meet up with my local Toastmasters speaking club. I’m a member, so it’s free, but guests can attend for $1.75. Personal development, networking and new friends for less than the price of a coke back home. We head out for coffee and beers afterward and then share a seafood hotpot. My share, including two beers, comes to $7.

Add in some parking fees and my day has cost less than $16.

So, it’s true. Ho Chi Minh City is exceptional value. For less than lunch at a cheap restaurant in Australia, I can have three meals, snacks, beers and fill my day with different activities. I can think of dozens of other places I can see and visit and still come in under budget. Even with the occasional splurge for dinner and drinks, it’s more than possible to eat well and have fun in this vibrant city for less than $20 a day.

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