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  1. 7 Reasons to Move to Vietnam

    December 16, 2014 by IFOTC

    I think I’ve covered the negative aspects of Vietnam pretty well, so I thought it was about time I started convincing people to move out here. My commune isn’t going to start itself. No, Vietnemura needs people to be successful. Here are 7 reasons to drop everything and move to Vietnam.

    A cook in Vietnam taking orders

    Vietnemura Wants You!

    1) Opportunity

    Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In the last 5 years, their average annual GDP (PPP) growth rate was 5.9%. Compare that to America’s 0.6%. Furthermore, starting a business in Vietnam doesn’t require a giant pile of money. With just $5000 it’s possible to get a small business going. Start-up costs for a restaurant in New York would be at minimum $300,000. For that kind of money in Vietnam, you could start a very high-end establishment (when restaurants are high-end we call them establishments). Pho24 is one of Vietnam’s largest franchises. They are the country’s only franchise to have success internationally with locations in Tokyo, Macau, Hong Kong, and Manila. To open a Pho24, the owner Ly Qui Trung says it costs an average of $80,000. That’s nothing compared to opening a Denny’s in America — between 1.3 and 2.6 million dollars.

    sushi restuarant in vietnam

    Rent it for $600/month

    Back when Sara and I were looking for a place to live, we were shown a former restaurant that was for rent in Thu Dau Mot, a growing city and the capital of Binh Duong province. The rent was $600 a month. It was 3 stories, had underground parking, a rooftop patio, and was on one of the busiest streets in the city. I drove by it the other day and saw that a sushi restaurant will be opening up there soon.
    Staffing costs in Vietnam are ridiculously cheap — too cheap. In 2013, the average monthly salary of a Vietnamese worker was under $150. I suggest paying your employees much more than this, but you get the picture.
    Not everyone wants to own a restaurant, and in fact I don’t really recommend that as a business unless it’s your passion. There are many people coming to Vietnam to grow their startup businesses. Bootstrapping is a term used to describe a business that operates on very little money. A business built from nothing. It’s usually financed by the owner only and it slowly builds as the business profits. By not relying on outside investing, the owner has full control. There is a bit of a bootstraping culture going on in Saigon. 70% of the city’s population is under 30. They are excited to work, are tech savvy, and affordable.
    If you’re not into computers, you might want to consider exporting goods from Vietnam. Last week, I went shopping for a chair and found a store that was making beautiful furniture that I know would cost at least $2000 in Canada. They were selling it for around $500. I’m sure if you packed a shipping container and found a good dealer, you could clear around $500-$700 per piece. I know one guy who makes his living by fixing up vintage motorbikes and finding buyers in the UK.
    Of course, doing business in Vietnam can be a huge headache, but there are companies that can handle all the details for you. Also, it’s worth noting that the standard corporate income tax rate in Vietnam is 25%.

    2) Cost of Living

    Whether you are looking to pay off debts, or if you just want to live a more high-flying lifestyle, Vietnam is a great place to call home. When the weekend hits, I like to go out with friends, have dinner, drink a few beers, play some pool, and maybe even end up in a private room at a karaoke bar. A night like that would cost a fortune in Toronto, my former city. I could easily blow $100 on one night. In Vietnam, dinner, drinks, pool — about $20. A beer out in Toronto: $6, in Vietnam: $1. A case of Heineken in Toronto, $46.95. In Vietnam: $17. That should be the only thing I need to say. You should be on a plane by now.

    Case of Tiger Beer bottles in Vietnam

    Tiger, a popular beer in Vietnam. 24 bottles for $17.

    Rent in Vietnam is very reasonable. We pay 10,000,000 dong ($467) per month for a 3 bedroom partially furnished house. We saw some places that were a bit smaller for about $300/month. A furnished, fully serviced 1 bedroom apartment in downtown Ho Chi Minh City will go for about $500.
    Most of the people I know have maids. Some even have a cook that will do their shopping for them and prepare dinner everyday. Laundry service is quite affordable and they’ll even pickup and drop off your clothes so you don’t have to leave your air-conditioned palace. I haven’t shaved myself since I got here. Forget the Dollar Shave Club, Vietnam is the 50 cent shave country.
    Right now, I spend an average of $515/month. That includes buying some new stuff for our house, and eating out at least once a day (sometimes 3 times a day). If we cooked at home everyday, we’d save even more. For a pound of boneless chicken breasts it costs about $1.42. In Canada, it would be about $4.60/lbs. Don’t get me started on how inexpensive rice is here. Sometimes, I buy sacks of it just to work on my throwing technique for weddings.
    Numbeo breaks down costs pretty well. You can compare your city with a city in Vietnam. It’s not always accurate — it claims membership to a fitness club is $60/month in Vietnam when I’ve seen it for much cheaper (some gyms are only $7/month) — but it’s fun to look at it and think about how much money I’m saving. To have a taxi wait for you for 1 hour costs $26 in Toronto. In Vietnam, 84 cents. Geez, that’s like $20 for an entire day of waiting. I should hire a taxi driver to wait outside my house all the time.

    A bowl of Mi Quang - Vietnamese Food3) The Food

    I don’t need to say much here. Go to your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and try a bowl of pho. That’s like sticking your feet in the pool, it feels great and it’s only a matter of time before you dive in fully. There are so many great dishes in Vietnam. Everything is so fresh. The food is a big part of the reason we came here. So big, in fact, that I started documenting all the food I tried. Have a look at the website here: VietnaMenu – A foodie’s guide to traveling Vietnam.

    Vietnamese Coffee with ice and milk4) The Coffee

    Coffee gets it’s own section. I know, I could have stuck it in under the food section, but that would be like a blind man purposefully kicking his seeing eye dog. Give it the credit it deserves, dude. The coffee in Vietnam is very rich, so rich that it’s mixed with sweetened condensed milk. The combination is like chocolate. Drink it over ice, or enjoy it hot. Vietnam has a huge cafe culture. You can’t throw a bean without hitting a place that sells coffee. People sit in garden cafes all day, using the wifi, drinking, and socializing. The atmosphere is relaxed. The staff don’t pressure you to leave or buy anything. It’s pretty amazing how easy it is to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Just find a cafe set back from the road with lots of greenery. You feel like you’re in a different world as you sip the greatest drink ever. That’s right, I said it, the greatest drink ever. Chocolate milk and I had a falling out, and beer has made me vomit too many times.

    5) Motorbikes

    Vietnam wouldn’t be what it is today without scooters. You can ride them year-round, they’re really cheap on gas, they can traverse a city like no other machine, and they’re a lot of fun. They’re the perfect mode of transportation for Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, they estimate there is 3.5 million motorcycles (the population is about 7.8 million). I love the fact that I can jump on my bike and buzz over to the store, the cool breeze blowing on my face as I zip in and out of traffic. In Toronto, my largest supplier of stress was my car. Parking, insurance, repairs, the price of petrol, the self-inflicting damage that occurs when I’m sitting in traffic. In Vietnam, parking is almost always free for motorcycles, you don’t need insurance to ride a scooter, repairs are insultingly inexpensive, I spend maybe $3 a week on fuel, and I haven’t had to sit in traffic once here. Granted, I don’t live in Ho Chi Minh City, but a normal one lane road can probably fit 5 scooters side-by-side. That’s like having a 5 lane highway everywhere. Once you learn to drive the Vietnamese way (aka like a crazy person), you’ll love Vietnam’s scooter culture.

    6) Never a dull moment

    Compared to Vietnam, North America is so boring. Everyday is the same. Everything is so predictable. When people talk to you you can understand them. Boooooorrring. In Vietnam, most the time I don’t know what the hell is going on. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone drives around the corner:

    In the last 4 months, my mouth has been agape more than it’s been closed. Soon, my strongest muscle will be whatever muscle I use to raise my eyebrows. In the evening, when Sara and I sit down with a drink and talk about our days, it sounds like a dystopian novel that takes place in Toontown:
    On my way to the market, I almost crashed into a scooter carrying bags of goldfish, because I was looking at a guy who was selling live squirrels at the side of the highway. When I got to the market, I was looking for lamb, but I accidentally went to the stand selling dog meat. Talk about barking up the wrong tree.
    *Everyone within earshot laughs uncontrollably for several minutes.

    7) Travel

    Travel is our passion. In Canada, it’s difficult to go anywhere exotic. Our trips were limited to places within a 4 hour drive — so basically, other parts of Ontario. The country is just too big and spread out. In Vietnam, we can make it to the ocean from Ho Chi Minh City in an hour and a half. The Mekong Delta is about the same. If you prefer distancing yourself from sea level, Dalat is about a 7 hour bus ride (and about 1500 metres above sea level). The Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh can be reached in about 6 hours by bus. All of these rides are under $20. If you’re located in Hanoi, you have a whole slew of other options including the magnificent Halong Bay, Sapa, and China. Flights in Vietnam are also very cheap. Currently, the best budget airlines are Jetstar and Vietjet Air. If you plan it right, it’s possible to get a return flight to Singapore for about $50. Some people I know fly to Singapore for the weekend just to buy some stuff they can’t get in Vietnam. Although, what more do you need than cold beer, delicious food, amazing coffee, endless excitement, and the occasional escape?

    A beach in Da Nang, Vietnam

    See you on the beach.

  2. Video: Vietnam in the Rain

    December 7, 2014 by IFOTC

    A motorcycle ride in Vietnam during the wet season, can quickly turn into a soaking. The rain comes fast and furious. A rain jacket can help, but most people just pull over and wait it out. In one downpour, I decided to strap on my GoPro and embrace the rain. With the right music, a ride in the rain can be a beautiful thing.

    More information about riding a motorcycle in Vietnam.

  3. Backpacking South America – Series 2, Chapter 1: Lake Titicaca

    December 2, 2014 by IFOTC

    If you missed the first series, check it out here: Backpacking South America: Lima to Machu Picchu

    The second series starts in Puno, Peru where we take a boat out on Lake Titicaca. We go to Uros, the floating islands, and stay with a local family on Amantani Island.

    To read about the adventures, including tips and costs, go to the blog post: Budget Travel – Lake Titicaca, Peru

  4. Vung Tau, Vietnam: Jesus Hates Me. This I Know.

    November 25, 2014 by IFOTC

    If you’re looking for a short vacation while in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau will hook you up with that sweet sweet ocean noise. It’s the closest beach town to Saigon, so it’s popular but certainly wasn’t busy when we went on a Monday/Tuesday. The city is on a peninsula and it feels very Miami Vice. Check out the video, read the article, and view the map for all the information you need on Vung Tau, Vietnam

    First off, we took a bus from the backpacker district, because we were there already and the money we’d save going to the bus station wasn’t worth the effort. FUTA Bus Lines is located at 205 Phạm Ngũ Lão (the street that runs along the south side of the long park). Buses leave throughout the day, cost 120,000 dong, and take about an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can go to Miền Đông Bus Station and browse around for the cheapest option. You might save 30,000 dong ($1.50 or the cost of a delicious lunch).

    Ryan diving into the pool at the hotel.

    Cooling off at the hotel pool.

    The bus will drop you off at Vung Tau’s bus station. It’s downtown — about a 20 minute walk to Back beach, the largest and most popular beach in Vung Tau. You’d probably be able to find a hotel there no problem. We didn’t want to spend our vacation shooing off hawkers, so we stayed at the south-end of the peninsula across from Pineapple beach. A taxi there cost us 100,000 dong, a bit much but I heard taxis are more expensive in Vung Tau. We stayed at Sunny Blue Cap Resort. It was nice. It looked like it needed to be freshened up, but we were happy to have a pool that overlooked the ocean, and there were plenty of areas to sit and relax. The cost was $35/night. Quick note, we called the hotel ahead of time because we needed to check to see if they’d let us stay there with only a copy of our passports. They said it was okay, but we were told they didn’t have any double rooms left, only triples. We ended up booking a double through Agoda, and when we arrived they put us in a triple (for the price of the double).

    If we didn’t want a pool, we probably would have stayed further down Ha Long street. A cool option would be Hoa Tieu Hotel. I’m basing that on the location, the price (a room with a balcony that overlooks the sea for $25/night), but mostly on the fact that it looked really neat from the outside. Another crazy looking hotel was the Jolie Mod Hotel at 150 Ha Long. It’s circular and right on the water — pretty Bond villain-like. There’s a lot of 80s/early 90s hotels in Vung Tau that are looking a bit outdated and rundown, but pretty cool.

    Jolie Mod Hotel in Vung Tau VietnamAfter an afternoon of relaxing, we walked along the coast and stopped at New Delhi Indian Food restaurant. It was excellent – the best Indian food we’ve had in Vietnam so far. It’s on Ha Long street (check the map below).

    Vung Tau livens up at around dusk, when the Vietnamese are off work and looking to unwind. The beaches get busy. People are swimming, exercising, and socializing. Unlike the western world, the Vietnamese don’t go to the beach to sit in the sun. They hate the sun. In fact, they’re called the vampires of Asia… that’s not true.

    The next day we ate a blah breakfast at the hotel, then rented a scooter from a place down the street. For 150,000 dong, every inch of Vung Tau can be yours. Renting a motorbike is hands-down the best way to traverse the city. The road along the coast is an easy ride with many cafes along the water to stop at. We did a complete loop that was only about 30 minutes of driving and offered much to see.

    Large statue of Jesus in ung Tau, Vietnam

    Jesus about to bungee jump.

    Here are the places we went to:

    • Jesus
      That’s right, we finally gave up our heathen ways and had a visit with the lord. Vung Tau has a huge Jesus statue on a hill that you can go into and climb the 200 or so steps to a balcony on his outstretched arms. We made the half hour hike to the top of Small Mountain only to find out that Jesus doesn’t allow anyone wearing shorts inside of him. You also can’t bring in bags, wear sleeveless shirts, or spit inside of him. Your loss, Jesus. I was pretty sure that climbing to the top of him was going to help me see the value of having Christ in my life, but instead we sat outside making puns at Jesus’ expense.
    • The Lighthouse
      Since Jesus wouldn’t give us the panoramic views of Vung Tau that we so desired, we headed to the lighthouse on top of Small Mountain. When we got there it was closed; we still had access to the grounds, so we got our views, and there was a stand there that sold cold drinks. A shady place with a great view and a cold beer — that’s probably better than a stuffy old lighthouse.
    • The White Palace
      An old French-style house that was once the summer home for the Governor General of Cochinchina, Paul Doumer (who later became President of France before being assassinated). It was built in the early 1900s on the former grounds of a fortress that actually fired the first shot against the invading French ships. The interior is nice. There are some great views, and the palace has a collection of artifacts found on sunken ships from around the area.

    The White Palace in Vung Tau, Vietnam

    Ryan standing in front of the White Palace

    For breakfast, lunch, or even dinner make sure you try banh khot, a Vung Tau specialty. It’s a rice pancake that’s fried and topped with shrimp. Very delicious! For more information about the dish check out VietnaMenu’s profile on banh khot.

    Of course, the seafood in Vung Tau is great. If you are looking for a classier dining experience, Ganh Hao has some delicious dishes and it’s right along the coast. We ordered a whole sea bass, plus some crab soup, and some water spinach. The fish was grilled to perfection. Total cost of the meal was about 440,000 dong. If that’s too rich for your blood, Quán Bia Tươi is a better option. The seafood is good, but the highlight here is their cheap draft beer (bia tươi means fresh beer). I think it was like 30 cents for a glass… real cheap, and pretty tasty.

    We stayed two nights in Vung Tau. In the morning, we headed back to the bus station and caught a Hoa Mai Tourist minibus back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was slightly cheaper than FUTA Bus Lines (95,000 dong), but took longer and the driver was into high risk maneuvers.

    We have lots more information on budget travel in Vietnam and more to come.

  5. 7 Thing you Should Know Before Drinking Beer with a Vietnamese Person

    November 19, 2014 by IFOTC

    A bottle of Saigon Green Beer at a bar in Ho Chi Minh City

    Saigon Green, a very popular beer in Ho Chi Minh City

    Pounding back beers is a popular activity in Vietnam. Beer consumption in the country is going up every year. In 2013, Vietnam was #1 in Southeast Asia for beer consumption per capita. Considering it is only #8 for per capita income, that’s pretty good (or maybe bad). Heineken predicts that in 2015, Vietnam will be their largest market. There are many restaurants that will plop a case of beer down next to your table, along with a bucket full of ice, and let you drink until you pass out or have to go pick up the kids from school. My landlord loves to “take beers” with me. Whenever I see him he invites me out. Last week, Sara and I had to pay our rent. Remembering the drunken sloppy night that was last rent-due-day, and the proceeding day’s hangover, I sent him a text message early in the day: Can you please come get the rent early, I have to go out for dinner with friends tonight. It was a lie that I told on behalf of my liver. He asked if I could drop it off on the way to my friend’s house. I agreed to meet him at a restaurant where he was drinking with his work friends. Of course, when we arrived he insisted we have a beer with him. I told him we only had one hour before we had to be at our friend’s house. He managed to drive four beers into me in that time.

    When drinking with a Vietnamese person, there are a few things to remember:

    1. Beer is served with ice… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing
      It’s hot in Vietnam. Ice is a man’s best friend, specially in a country where they eat dog. If the beer isn’t refrigerated, you’ll definitely want ice. If the beer does come cold, you still might want to drink it with ice. The slow watering down of the beer will help you get through the night. Also, the ice doesn’t affect the taste of the beer as much as you’d think. Only one large chunk is used and it’s replaced before it melts too much. A girl will swoop in with a pair of tongs, dip them into your drink, take the ice hunk out, and drop in a new one. You’ll have to get used to the fact that those tongs have been dipped in other people’s drinks. More beer will help with that.
    2. If one person wants to drink everyone has to.
      Every drink must be preceded with the clinking of glasses. When you grab your glass, watch as your Vietnamese drinking companions grab theirs. Sometimes I pretend that I’m a gunslinger in the wild west. I hover my hand around the handle, wiggle my fingers a little bit, watch everyone else to see if their hands reach for their glasses, then grab it and lift it up for everyone to toast.
    3. Một, hai, ba, vô! (pronounced mot, hi, bah, yo)
      In English we say cheers, in Vietnam they say 1, 2, 3, cheers, usually while standing. I’ve also been told that vo means in, as in put the beer in your mouth. I heard that from a drunken Vietnamese person whose English is fairly bad, so take it for what it’s worth.
    4. It gets a little competitive
      If you notice your opponent companion watching you as you both chug beer down, it’s because they are watching to see when you will stop. They don’t want to be the first person to put down their glass. Things can get sloppy fast if you play this game. Sometimes challenges are delivered, “một trăm phần trăm” which means 100%. This is a challenge for you to chug the rest of your beer. Being a good drinker in Vietnam is seen as being a strong man. As a westerner, it is often assumed that you’ll be a good drinker, and that will be put to the test. Do not underestimate a Vietnamese person’s drinking abilities. Even though they are small, they can drink a lot.
    5. Food will most likely be ordered
      If you’re asked to go drink beers, there will probably also be food involved. Vietnam has lots of bar snacks that satisfy your hunger and make you want to drink more. Some examples: frog legs, chicken wings, snails, cockles, bo luc lac, and hột vịt lộn (duck eggs with a partially developed fetus in them). This is a great way to try new food — you’re slightly braver because of the alcohol, you have people there that will eat it if you don’t like it, and your Vietnamese friends will be happy to show you how to eat it.
    6. Going too far
      Inevitably, the night will hit a point when everyone is too drunk to make good decisions. More beers will be ordered. More challenges made. Sometimes, the beer girls are treated poorly. Once, a man I was drinking with handed his glass to the waitress and demanded that she chug beer with me. She obliged, even though it was obvious that she didn’t like beer, and she didn’t want to drink out of the old man’s glass. I said, “no, no, it’s ok” but my drinking companions demanded it. I tried to spare the poor girl by only drinking for a second. Worse than that though, is the amount of drinking and driving that happens in this country. If you’re going out to drink with friends, take a taxi. Even if you think you are only going out for a couple. Taxis are cheap, lives are precious. On a Saturday night, there are a lot of drunk people on the road. You shouldn’t be one of them. I’ve sat with a Vietnamese man and drank 8-10 beers in one sitting. He kept up with me the whole way, and he’s almost half my size. At the end of the night, I walked home and he hopped on his scooter and zig-zaged his way home. The World Health Organization says that “60% of hospitalized road trauma patients are estimated to have a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit”. I’ve been told, “it’s part of the culture” and “everyone is doing it”. That’s even more reason to not do it. It’s crazy to hear expats who wouldn’t drink and drive in their home country, talk about how it’s okay in Vietnam, where traffic accidents happen more often and are more deadly.
    7. Happy drunks
      Despite the competitiveness at the drinking table, Vietnamese people just want to have a good time. By the end of the night, you’ll find that their big red faces will be plastered with a smile and they’ll be throwing compliments at you. Don’t be too surprised if they throw an arm around you or even hold your hand as you walk out of the bar, specially if you were able to keep up with them. Usually, they call it a night by 10 or 11 PM, but you’ll be happy to go. Drinking in Vietnam is fast and furious. After chugging down all that beer you’ll sleep like a baby, and wake up feeling like a 90-year-old on their death bed. It’s the circle of life.

    For more about beer in Vietnam, have a look at our Vietnamese Beer Review.

  6. Review: HotelQuickly App – Last minute deals on Hotels in Asia and Australia

    November 12, 2014 by IFOTC

    Mira Hotel in Thu Dau Mot, Binh Duong, VietnamThere’s a fine line between being spontaneous and unprepared when traveling. We like to have a layout of the city we are going to — know where the hotels, restaurants, and main attractions are. Unless we are traveling at a busy time, or there’s a place that we really want to stay, we don’t book a room ahead. Usually, we just have a list of 3 or 4 places that sound good, and then take the chance that at least one of them will have an opening. Most of the time, we end up at the first place on our list, but there have been a few times we were brought to the edge of craziness, running around like headless chickens, sweating profusely, yelling obscenities at each other, as we carried our heavy bags from hotel to hotel, eventually staying in a room that could be confused for a bus station bathroom. Now that we’re in our 30s, this isn’t allowed to happen anymore. I’ve been given strict orders from the higher up (ie. Sara). Luckily, the internet is always at my fingertips and there are really smart ambitious people out there. HotelQuickly is a free app that allows you to book hotels last minute at a discounted rate. It includes hotels from 14 countries in Asia and Australia. By selling last minute (maximum one day ahead of time), they’re able to offer a best price guarantee. Let’s try it out and see how much we can save.

    Screenshot from a phone of the HotelQuickly App

    A screenshot from the HotelQuickly app.

    A search for a hotel today, for 1 night in Ho Chi Minh City, brought up 10 options ranging from just over 2 million dong/night to 417,000 dong/night. The app may have more hotels, but it only shows you the top ten options. By default it sorts it by “Best Deal”. In this case, it’s the Rex Hotel, a famous hotel known for it’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The first guests in the hotel were American soldiers. The military’s daily conference was held there during the war. It’s a hotel with a lot of history and prestige. Normally, a night there would cost you around 2,880,000 dong ($135). HotelQuickly is offering it for 1,925,000 ($90). I’d love to stay here, and this would be a great opportunity to do it, but the whole “on the cheap” part of our website is saying, “no dude, no”. That’s alright, the app allows you to sort by “Budget”. There I find the Boss 3 Hotel for 417,000 dong (about $22) a night. That’s more like it, but is it actually cheaper than “the other guys”. Boss 3’s website shows me a price of 574,482/night. Agoda is quoting me 511,688. says 630,000 dong. Expedia – 468,000 dong. It looks like HotelQuickly is offering the room for 51,000 dong cheaper.
    Boss 3 Hotel profile on HotelQuickly app

    Boss 3 Hotel

    But what about those pesky taxes and fees? I click “Book Room” and HotelQuickly adds up the total – 480,000 dong. Expedia, the second cheapest option I could find, comes to a total of 550,800 dong. Whoo-hoo, even more money saved! HotelQuickly came through with the cheapest price. I kiss my phone. It tastes like money. I pretend it’s the money I’ve just saved using HotelQuickly (it’s actually the money I was just handling before I picked up my phone).

    The app allows you to look at photos of the hotel, check out information about the facilities, and view it’s location on a map. The cost of the room will depend on how many nights you plan to stay, if you are booking the same day or one day ahead, and how late in the day you book it. That’s right, the longer you wait to book, the cheaper it’ll get. In fact, since I started writing this article the price of the Rex Hotel has dropped from 1,925,000 dong to 1,477,000. I love this, it makes hotel booking into a sport. I can see myself slowly making my way to the hotel of my choosing, as I update the app over and over again to see if the price drops, then booking literally 5 seconds before walking in the door (that might not be a good idea).

    Rex Hotel Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

    2 hours later, Rex Hotel’s price has dropped.

    It’s important to note that this app doesn’t allow you to choose how many people are staying in the room. It guarantees a standard room with double or twin sized beds, so it’s really only good for 1-2 people, otherwise you aren’t guaranteed a bed for your 3rd homie (although many hotels can offer a cot at an additional cost). Of course, it doesn’t cover every inch of Asia, so be sure to check to see if your next destination is available on it (they’re expanding quickly). Overall, I found it to be smooth, easy, and intuitive — perfect for a last minute hotel scramble. It uses GPS, so you don’t even have to type in your location, and you can sort by proximity. As I get older, my hotel finding strategy is changing. HotelQuickly has made this transition easier as it allows me to still not book ahead, but it takes away the worry of getting stuck in an overpriced dump-hole.

    To save even more money use our promo code after downloading the HotelQuickly app. Go to “Credits”, click “Redeem”, and enter RNEMU. You should get 400,000 dong in credits. Note: you must spend at least 15 real dollars on your first booking, so the credit will only be applied to any costs over $15. That’s for the first booking only.

  7. A Rant About Vietnam: Parenting

    November 6, 2014 by IFOTC

    I’ve lived in Vietnam for just less than 3 months now. I feel as though I’m getting used to the craziness that this country has to offer. I’ve seen a lot since my first afternoon stroll, when I saw a man drunkenly fall while getting up from a beer can covered table and then getting on a scooter and driving away. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the insanity, even when my survival is being compromised, but I really can’t stand watching a parent risk their child’s life by putting them on a scooter.

    Three people on a scooter in VietnamA few nights ago, Sara and I were cruising around the shopping district. It was a Friday night. The roads were busy with scooter drivers who were taking their eyes off the road to peer into stores. Suddenly, a bicycle came from the opposite lane and toppled over in front of us. It had been hit by a scooter as it tried to turn left. I quickly stopped and watched the woman on the scooter struggle to stay on the back seat as she held her baby in one arm. Once she got her balance, she yelled something in Vietnamese at the two young girls on the bicycle and held up her baby who was crying. Now, I’m not sure who was to blame for the incident, although in Vietnam you’re responsible for what’s in front of you, so usually if you crash into someone you’re at fault, but I don’t care either way. All I could think about was how this lady was using her baby as a way to make these girls feel bad. Like they jeopardized her baby’s life. Listen lady, you brought your baby out on a busy road at night. It’s Vietnam. Shit happens — a substantially large amount of shit happens. Your baby was at risk because you thought it would be okay to bring it out, and without a helmet, in a country where 10,000 people a year die of traffic accidents.

    When I’m driving down the highway and a man flies by me with his 5-7 year old daughter, going about 80 km/hour, no helmet on either of them — I almost want to pull over or find another route. I’m paranoid that I will cross paths with them again, further down the highway, with the bike on it’s side, a crowd gathered, and a streak of blood on the pavement. Driving is a risk in Vietnam. I’ve ranted myself stupid about it already. And yet you see images like this one all the time here.

    A Vietnamese man driving a scooter while holding a baby that isn't wearing a helmet.

    Even the baby knows this is a bad idea.

    When I decided I needed a photo of a baby on a motorcycle, it literally took 3 minutes until I had this one, plus a few more to choose from. I’ve driven a motorcycle with one hand before. I don’t feel safe doing it. If the need for a sudden stop or a quick swerve comes up, you’ll either have to grab the handle bars (and drop the baby) or crash. Holding a baby and driving with one hand makes me furious. What the hell are these people thinking? These rants are suppose to calm me, but this one is just making me angrier.

    In 2007, Vietnam made it illegal to ride on major roads without a helmet. This rule didn’t come with any exemptions for children. According to the World Health Organization, only 32% of children in Ho Chi Minh City are wearing helmets. Why are so many kids without a helmet in Vietnam? Well, when the helmet law was made parents saw that there was a loophole. In Vietnam, you can’t legally fine a child under the age of 16. That’s similar to the western world though, right? Parents are responsible for their underage children. The difference is, in Vietnam there was no rule that stated that a parent can be penalized on behalf of their children. No penalty? I guess that means no consequences… unless you count a dead child. In 2010, the legislation finally changed making it possible to fine the parents if a child that’s over the age of 5 isn’t wearing a helmet (but under the age of 5 is ok!). However, the change in law didn’t seem to have the impact that it should have. Perhaps, because there were no fines being given. Instead of enforcing the rules, the government decided to educate the people. They’ve put out ads, distributed flyers, and even gave out free children’s helmets. It didn’t really work. Even with ads like this one:

    How can you not put a helmet on a child after seeing that? According to a 2008 WHO survey, 57.8% of parents with non-helmet-wearing children under the age of 14 believed that the helmet would do neck damage to their child. This is a misconception that has been going around Vietnam for a while. There isn’t any evidence to support it.

    Another popular reason given by parents, the kids don’t want to wear them. That’s right, the children are like, “No mom, I don’t wanna wear this stupid helmet and I’m not brushing my teeth anymore either!” and the parents just go with it. In Vietnam, children are put on a pedestal. They are considered the future of the family and sometimes have more power around the house than their parents. I’ve seen some really bratty kids at the supermarket. They crash the cart into people and the parents don’t say a thing. This really surprised me because most of what I read about parenting in Vietnam is that the children are very respectful to their elders, but I haven’t noticed any of that. My landlord’s fat kid disobeys his dad like it’s his job, and without any consequences.

    There’s a saying in Vietnam, nhiều con hơn nhiều của. It translates to, many children are better than many possessions. Awww, aint that sweet. Except, it’s talking about the value of child labour. For the sake of the nation, I hope that the government reinstates the two-child policy.

  8. Conquering the Roads of Vietnam: Buying a Motorcycle

    October 21, 2014 by IFOTC

    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.

  9. Buying Beef in Vietnam

    October 16, 2014 by IFOTC

    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

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

    October 14, 2014 by IFOTC

    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.