People ask us what was it like living in Ho Chi Minh city.

It’s hard to put it into words, so I’ll explain it via song:

The lively song – with a rollercoaster pace – is a perfect representation of how your emotions go “Zing Boom” on a daily basis when living in Ho Chi Minh city (HCMC).

Living in Ho Chi Minh
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. — FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF

As digital nomads, we have found some great places to base ourselves for one to three months. Generally, as long as our visas permit.

As part of the new Digital Nomad Editions, I plan to write up our experiences in the typical Tripmasher tongue-in-cheek / tips-filled kinda way. Here’s our first entry for life in HCMC.

Living in Ho Chi Minh
Life along the river. Love the DIY alfresco dining!

Day One: Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City?

Tip 1: Accommodation for Digital Nomads living in HCMC

After much Googling about the different districts in HCMC, we narrowed it down between District 1 and District 3. We settled on District 1 and the deciding factor was the awesome find on AirBnB for Mi Place Homestay. (Use this link to get $26AUD off your next AirBnB stay)

living in Ho Chi Minh
Mi Place is located in the Da Kao area of District 1

Where else in the world do you get to hang around with people working in artificial intelligence, early childhood learning, and start-up mentoring? Or get to meet 25-year-olds crushing it in Silicon Valley, finance whizzes with a dream, property-savvy foodies and import-export couples? Plus the countless backpackers who gave us a reason to eat and celebrate.

Living in Ho Chi Minh

District 1 is the heart of HCMC in terms of business and tourism. Beautiful embassies line the streets; opera houses, churches and shopping plazas light up the night sky; travellers crowd the footpaths of the hedonistic backpacker area, and all visitors explore the sights via bike or foot. It’s a large and busy area, but there are places of respite like the Botanical Gardens and Tao Dan Park.

District 3 has a more chilled-tempo than District 1 with tree-lined streets filled with colonial buildings. Many of the pagodas and traditional architecture can be found here. District 3 sits next door to District 1 and we found it a great neighbourhood for us foodies with many new restaurants opening up.

Tip 2: Where you stay will have an impact on who you meet and what you will experience. Choose wisely.

When thinking about a place to stay it was important for us to be close to food options (tick), have great amenities like washing and cleaning service (tick), super fast internet (tick), communal areas to mingle, and a kitchen (tick, tick). The best thing about Mi Place is that the owners live in the building and help you navigate the big city with tips on where to eat, getting around and sights to check out. And furthermore, we knew we were supporting young Vietnamese entrepreneurs and not some international conglomerate. Be global, but buy local.

Day 1 report card

Dog status: Tồ, the resident black lab at Mi Place was not quite sure about us upon first meeting.

Living in Ho Chi Minh
Look at that adorable face!

Crossing the roads: Are you kidding?!? I like living thank you!

Beer: Excellent, cold and best enjoyed while chatting with a bus driver who teaches you how to say ‘cheers’ and gets you tipsy on your first night in the city.

Week One: Living in Ho Chi Minh city

Tip 3: There are multiple ways of saying hello, so stick to “sin jow”, because your ability to determine the ages of Vietnamese people is seriously flawed. 

During our first week in the city, we felt like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. We had to learn and re-learn a few things such as being wary about making number gestures with our hands. It can mean something totally different! Discover that 5am is a totally acceptable time to start your day and work out. Learn to eat lunch at 11am otherwise, all the good stuff is gone. Be at the ready to marvel at the all-day affairs of drinking coffee and playing checkers.

Living in Ho Chi Minh
Typical scenes along the river at dawn and dusk.

Tip 4: Eat everything (Except for the suspicious bowl of red curry-esque soup with white lumpy bits. Don’t eat that!)

Week one for us was all about food. In our neighbourhood we had some fab options like the famous Lunch Lady, ‘broken rice’ stands, the best Pho in Saigon at Pho 25, Banh Mi carts a-plenty and HCMC’s famous frog congee. Shopping wise there’s a local market a couple of blocks away where we could pick up fresh produce and a short taxi ride away we found a large supermarket. Ultimately, we ate out a lot! You can check out our Vietnamese food guide for the top dishes to try.

Living in Ho Chi Minh
Street Banh Mi carts are everywhere in HCMC. Try a few and find your lunch favourite.

Week 1 report card

Dog status: Tồ, is way more comfortable with our presence. Sitting on our feet while we prepare lunch.

Crossing the roads: What the hell do you call this traffic? I’m officially playing the human version of Frogger.

Fitness: On hold as we found Ba Ba Ba beer and a lady who sells the tinnies cold for 10,000 VND (50c). She is also open very late.

Week two: Ho Chi Minh sightseeing

Tip 5: Explore a little bit of the city every week

As we delved into coding the Tripmasher app, so did we discover the programme for the city by visiting sights such as: Independence Palace, Turtle Lake, War Remnants Museum, backpacker area (Phạm Ngũ Lão street), Ben Thanh Market, and Le Duan Street passing Notre Dame Cathedral and the post office.

Living in Ho Chi Minh
The best way to enjoy Turtle Lake is to people-watch while savouring a bag of banh trang tron. The popular snack of rice noodles is seasoned with chilli sauce, herbs, fish, and quail eggs.

Our favourite place to explore was our own neighbourhood. It was a treat to be able to get to know some of the characters of the area, always receive a welcoming smile from the Lunch Lady, and enjoy evening strolls along the river.

Living in Ho Chi Minh City
Just some of the characters from the neighbourhood.
You will not go hungry with the mammoth portions of noodle soup from the Lunch Lady
You will not go hungry with the mammoth portions of noodle soup from the Lunch Lady

Week 2 report card

Crossing the roads: We took advice from my former manager who previously lived in HCMC. We walked purposefully across the road, said a hail mary at the end, and reconciled the fact that we age 1 year every time we cross the road.

Mi Place Homestay: Feeling like a part of the family

Living in Ho Chi Minh City
The founders (Duc, Tu and Mi) with To whose is enjoying bathtime.

Beer fitness: Coach level. More join the rooftop sessions. Now with added food!

Living in Ho Chi Minh city

Week three: Day trips from Ho Chi Minh City

Tip 6: Say yes to random

We said “yes” to random and found ourselves on a 2 hr bus ride down to Hoi Tram for a golf tournament and boxing fight night. We don’t even like golf, but it was free and we are on a budget.

It was actually quite fun travelling through the southern part of Vietnam towards the coast arriving just in time for the sunset and crazy winds. If you are a skilled golfer, I bet you would like the technical challenge of the winds. If you are a girl with long hair and wearing a dress that has a tendency to Marilyn Monroe at inopportune moments, then the winds will NOT be your friend. Hoi Tram is actually a beautiful beach resort area and a perfect escape from HCMC for a bit of Vitamin Sea.

Living in Ho Chi Minh city
Fight Night and Golf Tournament at Hoi Tram. My favourite part would have to be the smoke tunnel
Cu Chi Tunnels - Living in Ho Chi Minh City
Another tunnel outing we enjoyed was a half day trip to Cu Chi tunnels. It was hot work going through the tunnels, but a fascinating insight into the systems put in place during the war.

Week 3 report card

Coffee obsession: Daily. Drink black. Drink iced.

Living in Ho Chi Minh City
And drink with friends visiting from Oz!

Tripmasher app: Realise we have a LOT more work to do. Back to it then.

Crossing the roads: Found an intersection with pedestrian traffic lights. Winning!

Week four: Time to experience the famous nightlife in Ho Chi Minh city

HCMC is perfect for both early risers or night owls. If you want to escape the heat, start your day early and watch the markets and streets come to life. If you fancy a night out on the town (or ten), then you are in the right place in HCMC.

Living in Ho Chi Minh
Neon Nightlife by Chelsea Marie Hicks

A few times we found ourselves ambling from bar to bar until the small hours of the morning and can highly recommend the music and company at T&R bar. For us we realised we only had seven more days in HCMC, so we decided to step it up a notch. Explore more, party more, work more, and eat more.

Week 4 report card

Beer fitness: Champ level.

Dog status: I think Tồ knows we are leaving. Tồ makes friends with new people…people that will stay. Tồ is smart.

Crossing the roads: Professional level, but still terrified.

Speaking Vietnamese: Appalling! Given the language is tonal and we’re Australian and tend to inflect at the end of sentences, we just know we are getting things very, very wrong. Must try harder.

Cost of living in Ho Chi Minh

Living in Ho Chi Minh city receives a score of 8.2/10, according to the Nomad List  and we would have to agree. Ho Chi Minh is definitely an affordable and vibrant city The desirable double attributes making it a perfect digital nomad base. For us, living in Vietnam (for a total of 6 months now) has meant that we could travel to places like India and Indonesia with some of the extra money we saved. Here’s a breakdown of our expenses based on the month of December 2015.

VietnamDecember 2015 totals
(for 2 people in Vietnamese Dong)
Rent (inc fast WiFi, water, laundry, utilities)9,100,000
Food (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and drinks)12,000,000
Nights out (Seafood dinner at Ben Tranh Markets, Christmas Dinner, BBQ dinner, Dinner at Bloom, Pub nights at T&R)4,500,000
Day trip Cu Chi Tunnels (transport + entry)418,000
Tourist Sights (Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum)90,000
3 days in Da Lat (Transport + accommodation + motorbike hire + entrance fees)1,158,000
Transport (Uber)752,000
 TOTAL28,518,000 VND
$43USD a day ($21.50 each)

Pretty amazing that you can live, sleep, work and take weekend trips all for $21.50 a day!

Things to note when living in HCMC

The weather dial is always set to hot, so if you love the heat then you’ll find the city great. Otherwise, make sure your apartment/room has air conditioning.

Note that Vietnam is one of the fastest growing countries in the region economically. This means that it is in a permanent state of construction or repair. This can mean the noise and air pollution is something you will want to consider for long term stay. We didn’t really notice the air pollution, but the noise – YES! After a while, you get used to it, but making use of the serene parks and weekends to Da Lat or the Mekong Delta, will make it easier to respond to the hectic energy. The positive to all this energy and development (and we think it’s a BIG positive) is that it is bursting with young people with ideas creating marvellous opportunities to connect, learn and make friends.

Hope this gives you a fair representation of what life is like in HCMC. We loved it and wold definitely return.

If you are planning on making the move, I would suggest reading our posts on general tips before arriving in Vietnam, tourist scams in Vietnam, and if you want to discover some islands then check out our spotlight on Phu Quoc and Con Dao islands.

Have a question that’s not covered in the post? Please get in touch via the comments below or contact form.

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Digital Nomads blog edition: Living in Ho Chi Minh city