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  1. Conquering the Roads of Vietnam: Step One – Buying a Used Motorcycle

    October 21, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Motorbikes, motorcycles, or scooters are a huge part of the the culture in Vietnam. They are great on fuel, they keep the roads from becoming too congested, they’re like mobile aircons. Yes, it is a bit scary at first, but if you’re moving to Vietnam you really should consider getting one. I love to walk, but in Vietnam it’s too damn hot and the sidewalks are too cluttered with bikes, stalls, and holes. The public transportation system in cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are not great. They’re limited, often packed, stifling, and not very convenient. Hands down, a motorcycle is the best way to get around. Unless you know you’re going to be in Vietnam for a really long time, I recommend buying a used bike because they motorbike in Vietnamare cheap, easy to repair, and they don’t attract as much attention from the infamous Vietnamese police. Also, like any vehicle, the resale value isn’t great — once you drive a new motorbike off the lot you can knock off a quarter of its value, so don’t think you’ll be able to sell your 2 year old scooter for anything close to what you paid for it. On the other hand, a 10 year old scooter is almost worth the same as a 12 year old one. I’ve bought two used bikes in Vietnam — this morning I was very close to buying a third (it’s addictive). Here’s what I’ve learned about the process.

    Where to buy

    There are a bunch of places to get bikes owned by foreigners, or by people who are looking to sell to foreigners. Here’s a breakdown of a few online sources. In order to compare them, I’ve checked all the sites to see how much the average Honda Dream is (a popular backpacker’s bike).

    • Travel Swop – A website where you can sell or buy things from other travelers. You can definitely find some deals on here, but most of the bikes are Honda Wins, Dreams, or Waves and they’ve been driven from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh (or vice versa) being repaired with cheap Chinese parts along the way. Of course, there are exceptions, so browse the site daily because they’ll go quick. Honda Dream: $250/5,300,000 VND
    • Tigit Ho Chi Minh City – Mainly sells to backpackers, but will also sell to people living in the Saigon area. Bikes are well maintained and fairly cheap. The owner is British and he’s happy to help with any questions you might have. Honda Dream: $300/6,380,000 VND
    • Craigslist Vietnam – Again, you can sometimes find good deals on here, but you don’t know how well maintained the bike has been. There are some jerk-wads on there that will try and rip you off so beware. Honda Dream: $275/5,850,000 VND
    • Quang Minh Motor Hanoi – A fairly popular shop with the Hanoi backpackers. I haven’t had any experience with them, but I’ve heard the owner speaks very good English. They don’t show what they have online, but I read about a sale that listed some very reasonable prices. Furthermore, the bike comes with a free helmet and they will also deliver. They’re mainly directed at tourists who want to ride around Vietnam for a while, so the bikes may have a lot of miles on them. Honda Dream: $200/4,255,000 VND
    • Honda 67 and Cub Factory Ho Chi Minh – If you’re looking for something stylish and classy, this place can hook you up. They mainly restore Honda Cubs, Honda 67s, Honda Challys, which are good options if you are looking for something under the 50cc mark — anything over that and you legally should have a Vietnamese license. It’s English owned and the bikes are well maintained. Honda Dream: unknown

    used motorcycle store in VIetnam

    Used bike store

    If you’re looking for the best deal, you might be better off avoiding that list and simply hitting the streets. Look for signs on bikes that say xe bán. This means vehicle for sale. You should be able to find some used bike stores that will have a wide selection. Bike repair shops sometimes have a couple bikes for sale out front. These are probably good options, because you know the bikes have been carefully looked at by a professional. If you want to go this route, it’s important to shop around a bit. Look at the websites previously mentioned and get an idea how much they are selling the type of bike you want for. To a Vietnamese sales person, a non-Vietnamese person just looks like some dollar signs taped together. You might have to go to multiple shops to find an honest person that will give you a fair price. Don’t be afraid to barter. Bring something to write numbers down with, or use your cell phone. Better yet, bring along a Vietnamese person with some experience.

    What Type of Bike

    This largely depends on what type of person you are. If you want something showy, there are a lot of cool vintage bikes that have been fixed up. Saigon Scooter Centre has old Vespa’s that have been updated with new engines. They’re real sharp looking, but costly. If you just want something straightforward, easy to use, inexpensive, reliable, and with enough power – I recommend a SYM Attila. They are fully automatic, so you don’t have to worry about shifting gears or stalling it. They are made from quality parts unlike some of the Honda bikes that have often been repaired with cheaply made Chinese parts. You can take the Attila to a SYM dealership if you need to repair it, which reduces your chances of being ripped off. I’ve heard about multiple backpackers that have rode them from Saigon to Hanoi (over 1500 km). They go about 28 kilometers per litre or 80 miles per gallon. They are very affordable. In Vietnam, everyone wants the latest thing whether it be the new iPhone or the new model of Attila. This means perfectly good Attilas are being sold at great prices. In fact, you can pick up a used one for about 3,500,000 VND or $165. It’ll be about 10 years old, but as long as it was well maintained it should be fine. The only downside to the Attila is that it looks like a spaceship mated with a jet ski. The newer models are actually pretty sharp, but you’ll have to pay a couple thousand if you want one of those.

    Sym Attila motorbike in Vietnam

    Despite the jet ski like appearance, you can’t drive it in the water.

    Before You Buy

    Before you throw your money down, make sure that the bike comes with a registration card (a little blue card that has a serial number, make and model, name of the original buyer, etc). You’ll need this to avoid getting your bike impounded. Every bike should also come with a license plate.

    Bike Inspection Checklist

    Check to make sure the following parts work:

    • The horn
    • All the lights including: signal lights on front and back, brake lights, headlights, rear headlight
    • Brakes – front and back
    • Engine – put the bike on its centre stand (make sure the back tire is off the ground), start it up, gun the engine. Listen for clicks, knocks, and anything else that sounds bad. The engine is probably the most expensive thing to fix, so this is important.
    • Gears – test every gear if you can. If you can test drive the bike this shouldn’t be hard, but if you are running it on the bike stand it might be tougher. The transmission is probably the second most expensive thing to fix.
    • Tires – Check to see how worn they are and if they are wobbly. If just the tread looks worn down it’s a pretty cheap fix, but if the tire wobbles when it spins then you’ll probably need to buy a whole new wheel.
    • Mirrors – not a huge deal because they’re cheap, but a lot of bikes will be missing mirrors.
    • Speedometer/Odometer – These break often and easily. Most bikes in Vietnam don’t have working ones. Neither of my bikes have speedometers, but I don’t think it’s much of a problem. You rarely even have the chance to go over the speed limit. An odometer is handy for knowing when to get your oil changed, but unless you are going a long distance, you can determine that by time.
    • Fuel gauge – another item that rarely seems to work on Vietnamese bikes. I’m used to not having a fuel gauge on my motorcycles, so it’s not a problem for me at all.

    WikiHow also has a good checklist
    Having repairs done is a good way to get a bit more bang for your buck. If, say, everything looks great except the back brake, don’t be afraid to ask them to get it fixed before you agree to buy it. Most places that sell bikes will have a mechanic that they can get cheap repairs from.

    Finalizing the Deal

    When a deal has been made you pay the person, they give you the keys and the blue card, you drive away. That’s it. If you haven’t learned how to drive yet, you can probably easily haggle free delivery. Learning to ride will be easier at home where you can take it slowly, as opposed to learning on your way home from the motorbike store and risk wrecking your new set of wheels.

  2. Buying Beef in Vietnam

    October 16, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Beef stall at a Vietnamese market

    Beef stall at the market.

    I consider myself a bit of a meat connoisseur. I worked in the meat department of a grocery store from the age of 16-21… some of the best years of my life — not really. Since coming to Vietnam, it’s been a struggle finding the right cuts of meat to buy. The pieces are all there, but they don’t cut it up the way the western world does. Steaks and roasts meld into one. I find myself staring at hunks of meat for abnormally long amounts of time, trying figure out what part of the cow it came from. Is this a piece of butt or a flank? If I stare at it long enough maybe it’ll come to me. Of course, reading the label doesn’t help. In Vietnam, they write everything in Vietnamese — go figure. Translating the text usually leaves me even more confused. For example, thịt thăn viền mỡ will translate to loin fat rim, but it’s actually a strip steak/striploin/club steak, or porterhouse/boneless sirloin in Australia. Even more difficult is buying the beef at the market where there are no labels, only a blood covered man with chunks of dead cow. By the way, if you are going to buy your beef at the market I suggest going early. They will run out of certain cuts, and the meat isn’t refrigerated so the longer it sits in the sun, the better your chances are of getting sick. That being said, as long as it doesn’t smell rancid and you cook it properly, you should be okay. It’s fresh at the market — most likely killed that day, but the supermarket sometimes has an advantage that goes by the guttural sound Úc, which means Australia. Australian beef is better than Vietnamese beef. The cows are often shipped over live, so you’re not even giving up that much freshness. Watch for those two magic letters on your beef labels, kids.
    A chart that shows cuts of beef in English and Vietnamese

    Vietnamese/English Beef Cuts Chart

    Have a look below for some beef related English to Vietnamese translations or download the PDF version so you can print it and bring it with you to the grocery store. Much like in English, there are multiple terms for cuts of meat, so there may be a few different translations. Also, in my research I found some words that were used to describe very different parts of the cow. I tried to determine the best and most accurate translation, but if there are any mistakes please let me know. The last thing I want to say about beef in Vietnam — it isn’t great. Far from it actually. In soups like pho and bun bo Hue, it’s fine because it’s cooked slow and it absorbs the fantastic broth. A steak, on the other hand, isn’t going to be even close to the quality you’d get in Canada or USA (two of the best countries for beef in the world). I’ve sat in restaurants chewing on a piece of beef like a dogs trying to crack through a bone. Sometimes my jaw gets too sore and I have to spit it out. If you are buying beef to cook, make sure you cook it slow and buy a decent cut. If you are ordering beef in a restaurant, I recommend soups, luc lac, bo kho, or bo ne.

    Buying Beef in Vietnam English-Vietnamese Translations PDF

    Beef Terminology

    • Ba chỉ – plate
    • Bă vai rút xương – Boneless shoulder
    • Back Ribs – Xương sườn
    • Bắp bò – shank
    • Bịt tết – steak
    • Bò úc – Australian beef
    • Bò xay – ground beef
    • Các miếng bít tết nhỏ – Skirt steak
    • Cổ bò xương số 7 – 7 bone pot roast
    • Đấu nạc lưng – Blade
    • Đùi bò – thigh (top round or topside rump)
    • Filê – Tenderloin
    • Lõi mông – Eye of round
    • Màng vai nhỏ – Chuck roll
    • Mông – round
    • Mông dưới – Bottom round
    • Mông trên – Top round
    • Nạc cube – Cube roll
    • Nạc đùi gọ – Silverside
    • Nạc đùi ngoài – Outside
    • Nạc đùi trong – Topside round
    • Nạc lưng – Striploin
    • Nạc thăn – Knuckle/Sirloin tip
    • Nạc vai – boneless shoulder, chuck
    • Nạm bò – boneless beef topside
    • Nạm thăn – Flank steak
    • Quay – roast
    • Rút xương – Boneless
    • Sườn – ribs
    • Sườn cốt lết – Spencer roll
    • Sườn để nướng – Rib steak
    • Sườn non – Short ribs
    • Sườn vai – Blade
    • Thăn chuột – Short Loin
    • Thăn ngoại – sirloin
    • Thăn ngoại dưới – bottom sirloin
    • Thăn ngoại trên – Top sirloin
    • Thăn nội – tenderloin
    • Thăn phi lê – Fillet mignon
    • Thăn vai – Rib eye
    • Thăn viền mỡ – striploin
    • Thịt bụng – flank
    • Thịt cổ bỏ – Neck
    • Thịt đùi – Sirloin Butt
    • Thịt đùi ngoài – Outside Flat
    • Thịt đùi trong – Eye of Round
    • Thịt mông bò – Rump
    • Thịt nạc thăn – Top sirloin
    • Thịt thăn nội – Tenderloin
    • Thịt ức – Brisket
    • Thịt vai – Chuck
    • Ức bò – brisket
    • Xương – bone
    • Xương hình chữ T – T-bone

  3. If you’re not a teacher, what the hell are you doing in Vietnam?

    October 14, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    I’ve met a lot of people since moving to Vietnam – both Vietnamese who want to practice their English, and expats (the word we use for immigrants that are white) – and it’s always assumed that I’m a teacher. Where do you teach? You teacher? So, you must be the new teacher at such and such a school. I’m getting a bit tired of having to tell them that I’m not a teacher, but what’s even more tiresome is trying to explain what I am doing in Vietnam.

    Two years ago, I traveled through Vietnam for about 25 days. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure I liked it. The people seemed pushy. They were always trying to sell something to me/rip me off. The pace of life was so rapid compared to Laos, the country I was just in. But once I got away from the tourist areas I found the people to be very friendly and helpful. I adjusted to the pace of life and enjoyed how quick and exciting everything was. Vietnam was taking ahold of me. One morning, I woke up early and walked out of my hotel to a lady selling soup on a corner. I ordered one bowl. It was promptly served. I lost myself in it. The atmosphere, the sights, the sounds, the delicious delicious bowl of soup. That was it. I knew that I’d be back in Vietnam. It had to happen.

    bowl of duck soup in Vietnam

    Inspiration from a bowl of soup

    As all this was going down, I was reading the book The 4-Hour Workweek. The ideas in it were so simple, so obvious, but so under-utilized. If you know nothing about it, click on the link, read the synopsis, and buy the book. It could honestly change your life, especially if you feel over-worked and unsatisfied. The author, Tim Ferriss is an efficiency machine. He’s constantly trying to become the best/happiest person he can be, and he wants to share his discoveries with you.

    the book The Four Hour Work Week

    Life changing book

    So anyways, Vietnam and Tim Ferriss’ self-help masterpiece are a game-changing combination. My head raced along with the scooters in the streets. I don’t want to be a typical 9-to-5er. I don’t want to work for someone else. I want to make my own rules to life. I vowed to never work for a company again. I would generate my own income by living my life, the way I want to, and from where I want to.

    When I went back to Canada, my partner Sara and I came up with a plan. She would finish school, get her teaching degree, and I would work for just one more year, saving up money for my first mini-retirement, a term I learned from The Four-Hour Workweek. Why work through the prime of your life and then retire when you’re less lively, and perhaps limited in your activities? Mini-retirements throughout your life are a much better way to do it. This was an incredibly obvious thing to me. My dad passed away without any warnings at the age of 55. He was less than two years away from retirement, and it was all he could talk about. It felt like he never got the prize that he was promised at the end of it all, so I definitely wasn’t about to bust my ass for it. When Sara graduated, she found a job in Vietnam and I excitedly started thinking about what I wanted to do there as a retired man in my early 30s. I love photography, shooting and editing videos, and writing. Vietnam is a great big boiling pot of inspiration when it comes to those art forms. Every corner has something exciting and new. I also love Vietnamese food. I couldn’t wait to get to Vietnam and bury my head into all the culinary joys. I added that to the list of potentially profitable passions.

    living room and front porch, where I do most of my work

    Our living room and front porch.

    Fast-forward to now, one month since moving to Vietnam. Life is good. Living in a third-world country can be very challenging — stressful sometimes, but it’s my stress, not the stress that someone else is projecting on me because they want me to make more money for them. It’s also very exciting — a trip to the grocery store is an adventure. I see or experience something new everyday. In the past month, I’ve made more new memories that will last a lifetime, than I did the entire previous year. Vietnam is a great place for me to start this little experiment. It’s so cheap to live here, and Sara’s school pays for our rent. The only things I spend money on are internet ($5/month), electricity ($25/month), water ($10/month), my cell phone ($5/month), petrol (approx $15/month), security ($2.50/month), food and drink (varies — I could eat every meal out and only spend about $300/month). That’s around $340 a month when you split the electricity, internet, security, and water between 2 people. I’m very very very slowly going through my savings.

    My day usually starts by dropping my wife off at her bus stop, then driving around until I find a sign advertising a dish I’ve never tried. I order it, take a couple photos, and jot down some info as I swoon over it’s deliciousness. Then I head home and post up my findings to my website Vietnamenu. I’m hoping that after a year or so I’ll have enough content to generate a steady flow of Google juice, which I can turn into cash. If not, I’m happy just collecting culinary trophies while practicing my food photography, and learning about cooking and flavor combinations.

    Computer, camera, and GoPro

    My work gear

    After sharing my breakfast with the world wide web, the rest of my day depends on what I feel like doing. Maybe I’ll grab a coffee and do some writing. Maybe I’ll strap on my GoPro and shoot some video as I zigzag in and out of traffic, then do some video editing, and post it up to my Youtube channel. By placing ads on the videos I’m able to generate a bit of an income. I started carrying a camera wherever I go, because you never know what crazy thing you’ll stumble across. Making money off Youtube is a bit of a slow process, but for me it’s more about keeping myself happy and creatively satisfied.

    I know some people couldn’t do what I’m doing. Without a job they would feel valueless, like they aren’t contributing to society, which could lead to boredom and depression. Luckily, my hobbies lend to this lifestyle. I feel more motivated now than I ever have. Not having a job to get in my way, pin me down, and leave me exhausted at the end of a day, makes me feel free. Tomorrow could bring something fantastic. The world is my really tasty, fresh out of the ocean, with a little bit of lemon and seafood sauce, oyster.

  4. A Rant About Vietnam: Saving Face

    October 9, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Vietnam has taken me on a roller-coaster ride since I’ve been here. There’s the ups and the downs, but the ups usually take longer — you know, like how a roller-coaster slowly ascends. click. click. click. And then, when it gets to the top and goes over that hump, it’s a quick exhilarating drop that only lasts a second. Well, Vietnam is like that. The ‘ups’ are longer, and the ‘downs’ only last a little while. But I guess the whole exhilaration thing kind of screws up my metaphor. Vietnam is like a box of chocolates… No. What I’m trying to say is, don’t think that I hate living in Vietnam just because I rant about it. I love it here, but I have to get my frustrations out somehow, and if you ask anyone living here if they have frustrations they will tell you, “Yes, yes I freakin do”.

    Before coming to Vietnam, like good boy scout, I did a lot of research about the culture. One thing I had heard about, but wasn’t really that familiar with, was the concept of ‘saving face’. It isn’t when you tell someone that they have to lay off the makeup. Despite the adventurous eating habits of the Vietnamese, it isn’t when you cut off the face of an animal and save it for later. ‘Face’ is your reputation, or your dignity. If you make someone look bad in front of their friends, you are making them ‘lose face’. This doesn’t just apply to calling someone out on their farts. It can be something as little as refusing to let someone pay for your meal, or pointing out a mistake that a person made. Personally, I think it’s stupid. The guide books will tell you to respect this part of the culture. Vietnamese man eating at the marketI say, shit all over it. Why? Because it needs to be done. Sometimes people need to be humbled. We should be able to recognize when we’ve made a mistake, confess to it, and make it right. Just look at the Vietnam War. One of the reasons that war lasted as long as it did was because America didn’t want to lose face. I think, they knew it was a mistake long before they actually withdrew all their troops, but they slowly backed out of it, like a straight guy that just walked into a gay bar, pretending that they knew what they were doing the whole time. You’d think Vietnam would have learned something in those 10,000 days.

    It seems as though I am the only one that’s allowed to lose face in Vietnam. I’ve been told not to low-ball people at the market, but I’ve been ripped off (big time ripped off!) several times. The rice grain that broke the sack (a Vietnamese saying that I just made up) is when I went to a plant nursery looking for some water plants for our pond. It was incredibly difficult communicating what I wanted, but I managed to buy one water lily. The cost was 500,000 dong, which, amongst all the confusion, I handed over without hesitation. I’m going to sacrifice my face now and admit that I’m an idiot. With all the zeros on the money it’s easy for me to get confused when converting the cash into my native currency. In my head I was like, “$2.50, that’s a pretty good deal”, but I actually paid $25. It wasn’t until later that I realized this. A few days after that, I was driving along and I noticed another nursery. I popped in to see how much they were charging for their water lilies. The lady showed me 6 fingers. At first I thought 600,000 and that I hadn’t gotten ripped off at the previous place, but then I thought about where I was. Vietnam is known for it’s remarkable plant growing conditions, and it’s low low prices. I pulled out my phone and typed in 60,000. The lady looked at it and nodded.

    Sara sits by the pond and the water lilies.

    Sara enjoying the $3 water lily just as much as the $25 one.

    I think that was the first time I had ever been upset about something being much cheaper than I expected. Sixty thousand versus five hundred thousand… I paid $25 for something worth $3. That’s a hell of a white-man markup. I was so tempted to go back to that original nursery and give them a piece of my mind, but what would I say? They don’t understand any English. Instead, I prepared for war. I started keeping track of the prices of food. I keep my receipts from the grocery store, and then when I go to the market and they tell me that a head of lettuce costs 10,000 dong (50 cents) I go, “pfffffffffffffffffffffffft” right in their face, then I whip out my receipt and show them that I bought one at the grocery store for 3000 (about 15 cents). They try and keep their face intact, blabbering on in Vietnamese, but I just give them the old talk-to-the-hand-cause-the-face-don’t-wanna-listen (universal language) and walk away. I’ve started collecting Vietnamese faces. Like a Native American collecting scalps, I ride around on my scooter looking for faces to add to my collection. A driver makes a stupid turn without signalling and almost crashes into me, I yell at them.

    “What the hell are you doing, assface!”

    They don’t understand, but the yelling attracts attention and they feel embarrassed — that’s another face on my belt.

    Gas station in Vietnam

    Beware of scams at gas stations.

    Today, I was a victim of the gas station scam. Sometimes, the attendants will purposefully forget to reset the meter, so you end up paying for the previous patron’s fuel on top of your own. It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. Usually I’m ready for it, but today I was filling up a new bike, so I was distracted looking for the gas cap. By the time I noticed, it was too late. The cost was 120,000 dong. It should have only been about 90,000, but for 30,000 it’s worth it to have the man’s face. I yelled some obscenities, pointing to the number on the gas pump and shaking my head as if to say, “shame on you”. The man shrunk up like a scolded dog. I paid him the money and he quickly retreated in shame, probably to go hide under a tree. Should I have just let him get away with it? Maybe laughed like, “Oh, you got me”. If there are no consequences, what will stop them from doing it again? If you’re going to act like a child, I’m going to scold you like one. Speaking of children, I’ve heard countless tales of Vietnamese assistant teachers that have put children at risk by not listening to the western teacher. The reason why could be two things:

    1. They didn’t understand the instructions, which won’t be admitted because it’s considered losing face. Instead they’ll nod their heads saying, “Ok, ok” but really they’ll be thinking “What they hell does this lady want me to do?”. One of the assistant teachers was actually fired because of this. His reaction to being let go: “Okay, okay” while nodding his head. He would have shown up to work the next day if the principal hadn’t gone get a Vietnamese person to translate the news to him.
    2. They disagreed with the instructions and decided to do it the Vietnamese way. Parents put their children in western schools, and pay quite a bit of money for it, because they want western standards. Apparently, this includes keeping your children safe from fires, strangers, and paper cutters.

    I would have had all those assistant teacher’s faces in a second. I’d be wearing them on top of mine and dancing around the room. In my eyes, if you don’t correct someone for putting a child at risk you’re a bad teacher — forget the taboos of the culture.

    If you’re traveling to Vietnam, I’m going to go ahead and tell you the opposite of what Lonely Planet and Frommer’s say (you should probably always do the opposite of what they advise). If a Vietnamese person tries to take advantage of you, take their face. If you really want to help the culture go forward into the next century, yell at them when they make a mistake. Shame them for trying to rip you off. Learn phrases like ăn gian (cheat), and quá đắt (too expensive). I’ve read that the consequences could be dire, but they’re pretty small people. You could probably beat up a few of them at a time. Seriously though, just because a culture has been doing something for a long time, doesn’t mean it’s right. The world is constantly changing. It’s time for everyone to be honest with one another, be direct. No more beating around the rice paddy field.

  5. The Vietnamese Have Been Eating Hipster Since Before Hipster was Hip

    October 1, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Southeast Asian hipster

    Southeast Asian Hipster

    I’m not a hipsterologist or anything — in fact, I once thought being hipster, scenester, and emo were all the same thing (an hour long rant set me straight). However, I did live in Toronto, Canada for about 8 years, and… Well, if you live at the zoo, you’re going to learn about animal behavior. Most of my hipster behavioral studies courses have taken place at cafes or restaurants, so I think I’ve got a pretty good sense of their eating habits. Since moving to Vietnam and having the chance to study an entirely new race of people, I have found some interesting similarities to the hipster race. I’ve decided to break it all down and see who eats more hipster – the Vietnamese or the hipsters. Lace up your Cons, this shit’s on.

    Eating Local


    This is very important to them. Hipsters frequent weekly local markets to pay more money for food that’s sourced closer to their home. Of course, in winter the local markets shut down, so hipsters go into hibernation, only eating ironically when they absolutely must. It’s how they stay thin enough to fit into their pants.


    The markets are daily, all year round, and almost everything is grown or raised locally. How locally? Well, if I look out the window of my suburban house right now, I can see a couple cows grazing on the neighbour’s trees. It would be easy to source all my food for a year from areas within 100 miles. If you pull that off in Canada you write a book about it.

    Winner: Vietnamese

    Dining Furniture and Tableware

    A chair at a table in a Vietnamese dining room


    Studies show, a hipster’s food actually tastes better if it’s served on a vintage looking plate. Ideally, it should be somewhere between Madmen and Downton Abbey era. Ugly tableware also works, as long as it’s being used ironically.


    All the furniture in Vietnam is pretty ugly. I’ve yet to determine if it’s done ironically, but the sense I get is that they just have really bad taste. Our table is pretty retro though. I could picture Peggy Olsen sadly eating alone at it.

    Winner: Hipsters

    Gluten free diet


    To a hipster, gluten is about as evil as mainstream music. They would prefer to drink beer made from millet, rice, or corn than traditional barley. In Germany, they would be arrested for that nonsense. A science person told me gluten has something icky in it that affects people who have celiac disease and hipsters.


    Although, the Vietnamese aren’t against eating gluten, they don’t really eat it that much. They prefer rice noodles to wheat based ones. They don’t really eat cake or cookies. Even their bread is only half wheat flour (the other half is usually rice flour). They do like their beer though.

    Winner: Hipsters

    Nose to Tail Eating


    A new trend that hipsters have started yammering on about is eating ‘nose to tail’ — not wasting any part of the animal. There are some trendy restaurants/hipster hangouts in Toronto that are based on this. They serve up tasty dishes like cow brain tortellini, and beef tongue risotto. Of course, non-hipsters have been eating nose to tail for a long time now – what do you think hotdogs are made out of? But the difference is, hipsters brag about their whole-beast-eating. This is essential to the movement. They use it to spout knowledge about the food industry and French novels.
    The Vietnamese rice porridge, chao long.


    When I go out for breakfast I usually pass by 3 or 4 places that are serving up chao long. It’s basically rice gruel with pig innards – intestines, cheeks, heart, kidney, liver, whateves. Last weekend I saw a dog’s head for sale at the market. That’s right, the head of a dog hanging off a hook at a stall in the meat market. Now, I don’t speak Vietnamese so I can’t say whether they are bragging about eating nose-to-tail, but c’mon – if you ate a dog’s head for dinner you’d be telling anything that still had ears.

    Winner: Vietnamese

    Free Range


    I’m not sure if it’s because of animal cruelty, or because of evil corporations like Monsanto (perhaps a combination of both), but hipsters hate corn fed animals. If a hipster eats meat, they want it to be free range — cows that eat grass and not corn, chickens that are allowed to roam around and eat whatever they can find. Unfortunately, this is not that easy to find in North America. You have to go to specialty stores like the hipster haven Whole Foods.


    The cows in Vietnam are furious at the western world and how they treat their livestock. The chickens are too. They have been cawing and clucking about America’s poultry industry since before the egg. In Vietnam, some of the cows and chickens don’t even have fences to contain them. They wander around my subdivision eating and making barnyard noises to their soon-to-be-eaten heart’s content. Not like in those prisons we call pastures – with their fences, which are sometimes electric! How barbaric!
    Cows on an abandoned lot in Vietnam
    Winner: Vietnamese

    Vegan diet


    The ability to not eat meat or dairy is perhaps the hipster’s greatest weapon. It just takes one vegan hipster to make a room full of people feel like a smear of shit on the bottom of a worn out work boot. Combine this with a gluten-free diet and you have the Megazord of hipsters – a pale, frail, skinny as a rail, smug spewing machine.


    Vegans in Vietnam? Bahaha! Even vegetarianism in Vietnam is a joke. The other day I went to a vegetarian restaurant in a Buddhist temple and got a bowl of vegetarian crab noodle soup (bun rieu). The broth is made by crushing crabs whole and filtering the juices out. There were slices of pork loaf floating in it, for Buddha-sake!

    Winner: Hipsters


    Hipsters – 3

    Vietnamese – 3

    It’s a tie! I guess we’ll have to wait and see what crazy food fad the hipsters come up with next. Maybe they’ll stop eating food that involves chewing. Or perhaps a diet consisting entirely on foods that make your farts smell bad. If it’s hacking up phlegm in restaurants, the Vietnamese will surely take the title.

  6. A Rant About Vietnam: Everything is so Cheap…ly Made.

    September 24, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Vietnam is great. If you get the chance to come here, do it. The people are friendly. The food is amazing. It’s exciting and challenging and rewarding. Sometimes it makes me want to put on a hockey skate and stomp a puppy. To stop myself from doing that, I must vent. That’s why this article exists. Consider one week’s worth of puppies saved (at least from me — I can’t save the ones that will end up on a Vietnamese dinner plate).

    Made in Vietnam Clothing Store

    When I first came to Vietnam, I couldn’t believe how inexpensive everything was. A rolling pin for 35,000 dong? Hell, let’s get two — one for cooking, one for chasing overly cocky paperboys with. Then, somewhere between being zapped by my own bug zapper and a ruined meal due to a pepper shaker’s lid not staying on, the age-old expression came to mind: you get what you pay for. In Vietnam, everything is cheap and everything is cheaply made. The country is basically a giant dollar store. Either they don’t have inspectors, or they just don’t give a damn. I’m quite sure the stores that sell this crap don’t care. One place I went to had a shelf on display that was very rickety. I had a quick look at it and saw that only a few of the screws were put in. I figured they just threw it together to display it and didn’t worry about putting all the screws in since it wouldn’t be used anyways. I bought one, brought it home, and started to put it together. It turns out the screws weren’t put in because the holes weren’t drilled properly. I could only manage to get 6 out of 12 screws in, and now I have a shelf that can only be used to hold feathers and tissue paper. I’m convinced that the store knew what was up, but they sold it anyways. I’d ban the place, but if I banned everyplace I got ripped off at I would end up having to buy everything in Singapore. Perhaps Vietnam is exporting all of their quality goods to the western world. In 2013 they exported $128.9 billion worth of goods — 17.8% of that was to the United States. Have a look at the tags on your clothing, America. You’ll probably see made in Vietnam a few times. First you melted the faces of innocent Vietnamese villagers, and now you’re forcing them to wear sub-quality tee-shirts? Damn you, USA!

    Here’s a list of things we’ve bought that deserve a big fat FAIL:

    • Salt shaker – the inside rusted after 2 weeks
    • Pepper shaker – lid won’t stay on
    • Shelf – mis-drilled holes
    • Adhesive hook – doesn’t stick
    • Bug zapper – electrocutes user
    • Garbage bags – large slices in them
    • Spatula – broke in half after one use
    • Peeler – broke during third use
    • Steamer tray – doesn’t fit pot because it’s slightly oval


  7. A Rant About Living in Vietnam: The Driving

    September 16, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Of course, I have to preface this article by saying that I love Vietnam. I am enjoying living here and I am excited about what’s to come. Everyday I see something new, and everyday I feel a stronger connection to the country. That being said, it’s sometimes an extremely frustrating place to live. It’s difficult to stay positive when something goes wrong. In Vietnam, when it rains it pours — both literally and metaphorically. So here goes a bit of a rant. Let this be a warning to someone who is considering a move to Vietnam, but mostly let this be a therapeutic exercise for me — cause there’s a history of people losing their shit in ‘nam.

    Motorcycles driving in Vietnam
    It’s been called organized chaos, but I call it a lack of sense and patience. The drivers in Vietnam don’t like to stop. They’ll literally risk their lives so they don’t have to. I still don’t know if it’s safer for me to stop when I’m making a left hand turn (and risk being rear-ended or attacked for making someone have to stop), or to just plow into the stream of motorcycles without hesitation like I was playing GTA or something.

    In the one month I’ve been here, I’ve spoken to three people that have seen a dead accident victim on the road (one of the people had actually seen two on separate incidents). In my 30 years in Canada, I don’t know anyone that has had to witness that. In fact, traffic related deaths are 4 times higher in Vietnam than Canada. When I talk to people who have been in Vietnam for a while, they tell me it’s because of stupidity. One story I heard involved a woman who decided she’d try and drive underneath a transport truck as it turned past the motorcycle lane — like she was in The Fast and The Furious or something. I see the stupidity everyday. I was waiting by an intersection for five minutes and I witnessed three separate people turn the total opposite direction that their signals were indicating.

    When I first arrived, I asked someone for advice on how to safely drive. They gave me two great tips:

    1. It’s best to just keep right and go at your own pace. They also noted that if someone is coming at me, going the opposite direction that they should be, I should let them be closest to the curb. Driving the opposite direction on a road? That sounds like an awfully stupid thing to do — I see it everyday.
    2. You are responsible for everything in front of you. This means if someone pulls out in front of you from an alleyway and you don’t have time to stop and you crash into them, it’s your fault. When I’m about to turn onto a road my head is on a swivel. I’m looking left, I’m looking right, I’m looking over my shoulder, I want to know everything that is around me. Apparently, I’m just wasting my energy. I should, like the rest of Vietnam, just drive out into the road and not even look to see if anything is coming. The good drivers in Vietnam will blast their horns as they approach a road — they still don’t actually look to see if it’s safe, but the equivalent of yelling, “Lookout, here I come!” is better than nothing.

    A large roundabout in Vietnam.
    Another example of backward-ass thinking — when approaching a roundabout in Vietnam you should drive into it without hesitation. Then, when you’re in it, you give up the right of way to the other vehicles that are entering it. I don’t have too much experience with roundabouts, but that seems paint-chip-eating-stupid to me. It results in vehicles having to yield at every entrance as they go around the circle trying to get to their exit.

    I have an extreme hatred for four-way stops. They’re pointless, they’re bad for your vehicle and the environment. I was glad to leave them behind in Canada (especially after I received a ticket from Officer Oink-oink for going through one on a freaking BICYCLE!). In Vietnam, they don’t put up with that nonsense. In fact, 80% of the intersections have nothing at all. I like to call them commonsense intersections. When I arrive at one, I simply use my commonsense. I can’t let lights or signs tell me what the best approach is — that’s the first step in the robot revolution. The problem is, the sense that is common in Vietnam is a diluted version of the sense that’s common in Canada. It would be like adding 20 cups of water to make Kool-Aid instead of the normal 8 cups. The Kool-Aid guy would break through the wall and be like, “Nooo!”. So, the result is an intersection that is a traffic accident waiting to happen.

    I guess in order for me to stay safe here, I’m going to have to look like a nerd — slowing down, looking both ways, signalling properly. All the other drivers are going to laugh at me, but I’ll have the last laugh when I signal to drive around the corpse that just got run over by a truck… I think I just went too far. I feel better though. Rant over.

  8. Finding a House to Rent in Vietnam

    September 7, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    On our first trip to Vietnam, Sara and I loved it so much that we decided to move there. It’s been 3 weeks and we have finally found a place to live. We move into our first Vietnamese home tomorrow. It was a difficult task to find a place, but we did it. Here’s how.

    If you are in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City there are a few services for expats that will help you find a place to live. They’re usually nice houses or apartments that are furnished and have western amenities. However, if you know where to look it’s possible to find a rental for much cheaper, and the adventure in finding it will make it that much more special.


    You’ll probably start your search for a home by doing Google searches. There are some Vietnamese websites that list housing for rent. Avoid the English websites as they are filled with people looking to make a buck off of you.
    Here are some good ones:

    • Vatgia – You can buy almost anything from this site. Check their real estate section for rentals. You’ll need a translator like Google Translate to get you through it.
    • Cho Tot – The Craigslist of Vietnam. Used goods and a real estate section with rentals from individuals and companies.
    • Facebook Groups – These groups are filled with foreigners, so some prices might be a bit high for Vietnam, but every once in a while you can find a deal and you can also save by not having to hire a person to take you around.

    The Drive Around and Look for Signs Strategy

    House for rent sign Vietnam

    Some signs will be in English and Vietnamese.

    This was the best strategy we found. A lot of great places don’t advertise online. They just put a sign out on their gate and wait for phone calls. It’s the best way to find gems. You also get a better sense of the neighbourhood when you are on the street, rather than on the computer.
    The magic words are: Cho Thuê. It means ‘for rent’. A sign might also say nha cho thuê (house for rent), followed by a phone number. We enabled GPS on our phones and took a photo of all the signs we found. That way we could put them on a map and keep track of them all. Of course, it helps to have a scooter. Walking around in Vietnam is not ideal. The heat and the poor quality, or lack of, sidewalks make renting a scooter well worth it. When you get a few numbers you’ll need to find a Vietnamese person to make calls for you. If you don’t know anyone, ask the hotel clerk. Ours was happy to do it. In fact, she even went with us to see a place after she was done work that evening. What a totally unselfish act! Or was it..?

    Word of Mouth Strategy

    Tell everyone who will listen that you are looking for a place to rent. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to help – mainly because they can make some money off of your dilemma. In Vietnam, the homeowners will often give the first month’s rent to someone who helps find them a tenant. It’ll cost you nothing extra – only the homeowner. Besides the potential gain in profit, people are mostly friendly in Vietnam and if they speak English they often want to show-off or practice their skills. I had random people that I met on the streets calling me about a house that their friend’s sister’s landlord had available.

    Visiting a house

    Small house in Vietnam

    This is the whole house. Kitchen in the back left, bathroom beside it, loft is the bedroom.

    It’s very rare to take the first house you see. There is a lot of crap out there. You need to be patient, and don’t feel pressured to say ‘yes’.
    Be sure to check the water pressure. Usually the water tank is on the roof, if not the pressure might be very low. Don’t expect to have hot water coming out of the taps in the kitchen. If the shower is Vietnamese style then it will probably just be a hose and shower head attached to the wall. This isn’t a bad thing, but be sure to check and see if they have a water heater attached to it. If not, then you’ll either have to buy one or take cold showers. Having an air conditioning unit in the bedroom is crucial, unless you like sleeping in a bath of sweat. It is possible to buy one and get it installed, but they are fairly expensive. A lot of houses won’t have windows in the bedrooms. It may take a bit of looking around to find one that does. Not all places will come with a fridge or washer. Most likely, none will come with a stove or dryer – that’s just not how they roll in ‘nam.

    To Furnish or not to Furnish

    A furnished apartment will cost you a lot more per month. Depending on how long you are planning on staying, the 2 million or more you save a month could make up more than enough to buy all your furniture. Here’s a rough breakdown of furniture costs:

    Item Cost (Dong) Cost (USD)
    Couch 6 million $300
    32" TV 7 million $350
    Dining room chair 600,000 $30
    Dining room table 1.5 million $75
    Fridge 6 million $300
    Stovetop 800,000 $40
    Coffee table 1 million $50
    Desk 1 million $50
    Microwave 1 million $50
    Toaster Oven 1 million $50
    Washing machine 6 million $300
    Air con 6 million $300
    Shower heater 2 million $100
    Queen bed 3 million $150
    Queen coil spring mattress 5 million $250
    Bedside table 1 million $50
    Wardrobe 4 million $200


    Dog bedspread comforter

    What a beautiful blanket.

    If you have the available cash you might want to pick out your own furniture and avoid the mostly gaudy and uncomfortable Vietnamese style stuff. Here are a couple of stores that have reasonable prices and will deliver:

      • Uma – place that sells Ikea type furniture.
      • Gia Re Vietnam – Have a couple locations in HCMC.
      • Expat Blog – Used furniture from fellow expats.

      Your best bet might just be driving around with your head on a swivel. A store that doesn’t have a website will probably have lower prices than a large corporate store. You can also have furniture made custom for a reasonable price in Vietnam.

      I Found a Place, Now What?

      According to Vietnamese law, a foreigner can legally rent a property in their own name if they have been granted permission to stay in the country for a minimum of three months. The duration of the lease has no limitations. So if you have a three month visa, you should be alright.

      You will need to sign a lease that should state:

          • The name and address of you and your landlord
          • A description of the property including the furniture provided
          • The rent amount and method of payment
          • When you can move in
          • When you are allowed to move out
          • The responsibilities of both you and your landlord

      It’s a good idea to have it written in the contract that your landlord will be registering you with the foreign police. This needs to be done, but it is left up to the landlord to do it. If they don’t do it, and it’s not stated in the contract that they would, you could get in trouble.
      At the bottom there will be a space to provide the date, and both you and your landlord’s signature.
      You’ll also probably need a photocopy of your passport and the Vietnam visa page that’s in it.
      Many landlords will want to you to stay for 2 years, but this can be negotiated and I recommend you do your best to get it down to a year. You don’t know what unforeseen problems may arise (for example, roosters living next door).
      In Vietnam, they often ask for three months rent for a deposit. Again, try and negotiate that down to a month or two. If you can’t, make sure it’s in the contract. Some landlords will even want 6 months deposit. I think that’s way too much and I would probably walk away, but use your own discretion.

      When the contract is signed the landlord will have 30 days to register you with the foreign police. He may need to borrow your passport for that, and might need proof of employment.

      It’s unlikely that you will have electricity included, but sometimes the landlord will work a deal out with you to pay it and then bring you a photocopy of the bill. Rent is usually paid at the beginning of every month. Probably in the form of cash. Bills that you have to pay (most likely all of them) are brought to your house. If you are home you simply give them the cash and they go away for a month. This even includes internet and TV. If you aren’t home, they leave a bill and you have to go in to pay it. Make sure to keep track of your bills and what you have and have-not paid.

      Finding a place to live can be overwhelming and stressful at times, but try and look at it as an adventure. Guesthouses are inexpensive, so take your time and don’t rush into anything. You may see some terrible places and feel like you’ll never find anything to your liking, but keep searching. That gem could be right around the corner.

  9. Travel Photo of the Week: Our New Home

    August 10, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Thu Dau Mot's Market

    Thủ Dầu Một, Vietnam

    This area is the heart of the city. The building contains a Vinatex supermarket, just west of it is Chợ Bình Dương (Binh Duong Market), and further west of that is the Saigon river. Sara and I sweated buckets walking around. In the market, the crowd was as dense as the air. It’s an unusual and exciting place, but a bit overwhelming. I’m hoping that by the end of our two years here I’ll be able to tackle even the bloodiest corners of the market (literally bloody).

  10. Travel Photo of the Week: It’s good to be back in Vietnam

    August 5, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Thu Dau Mot, Vietnam from the Becamex Hotel

    Thu Dau Mot, Vietnam

    Yesterday at 4:30AM Sara and I landed in Ho Chi Minh City’s ariport after 31 hours of transit. We were very tired, but even more excited. Our new home for the next 2 years will be Thu Dau Mot, a city just north of Ho Chi Minh City. We are staying at the Becamex Hotel. The photo shows the view from our balcony. The large buildings sticking out into the horizon are located in Binh Duong New City. It’s a brand new city that will be the political and administrative city for the country. Sara will be teaching there while I drink beer and hangout by the pool. It’s good to be back in Vietnam.