Why I am living in Saigon, Vietnam

I’ve just realized that I’ve been living in Ho Chi Minh City (the locals call it “Saigon”), Vietnam for more than a year.

Ho Chi Minh City at Dusk

I believe there’s no better place to stay in South East Asia for online entrepreneurs that are running non-venture backed businesses than Vietnam’s largest city and commercial hub. Here’s why.

1. Fast Internet

The internet is very fast. Downloading large files, making Skype calls or using Javascript-heavy SaaS apps is no problem.

I’m sure that there are plenty of places with faster Internet (Singapore, Hong Kong?), but the internet is good enough to be highly productive.

When I was living on  in the Philippines or  in Bali I constantly had internet issues.

Here’s a speed test I just ran at my apartment:
internet-speed-saigon

2. Cost of living

Saigon is one of those places where you can easily get by on $800/month, but you could also spend $4k/month if you are living the high life.

Compared to other digital nomad hotspots, Saigon (district 1) is slightly more expensive than Chiang Mai and a bit cheaper than Bangkok or Bali.

What I love about SE Asia is that not only are the living expenses here low, services like getting massages are very cheap. For example, I’ve recently hired a carpenter do build me a custom stand-up desk for about $65

How much does it cost to live well in Saigon?

Extrapolating from my current November expenses, this is how much I think I’ll spend this month:

  • Western style apartment in district 1 (including maid 3x week, electricity, internet): $500
  • Scuba diving vacation to Con Dao (small island near Saigon): $500
  • Motorbike rental: $60
  • Eating at restaurants: $300
  • Eating at home / buying groceries: $150
  • Going to cafes: $75
  • Misc expenses (phone credit, drinks, cinema, …): $150

Grand total: $1735

I don’t drink a lot of alcohol and rarely go to bars/clubs (the nightlife is stellar here!). Also keep in mind that I’m spending $500 on a scuba dive trip this month, so my actual living expenses are about $1200.

Check out my apartment:

aparment1

apartment2

James Clark who is much better with money than I am manages to spend less than $800/mo living in Saigon.

3. Efficient Transportation

If you are willing to get on a motorbike, getting arround Saigon is actually a lot more efficient than in other big Asian cities like Bangkok, Manila or Bali. Even taking a Taxi is usally faster than in said cities since there are not as many cars clogging the streets here.

Traffic in Saigon is crazy, but actually fairly safe. I rarely go faster than 40 km/h on my motor scooter.

saigon-traffic

On the flipside, public transport sucks. Sometimes I wish Saigon had a transportation system like Singapore or Vienna. That being said, I’d take a motorbike in Saigon over the BTS in Bangkok anytime.

4. Saigon is “happening”

I know this sounds vague, but there is so much energy here. Saigon is a huge city (6.6mm) full of people that are trying to make it happen. So many people are working hard trying to build a better future for themselves and their family.

Tons of driven people from all over Vietnam move from the countryside to Saigon to build a better life for themselves.

5. Great Cafe culture

Even though I don’t drink coffee, I love working from cafes.
There’s tons of great cafes here. Most of them have great WiFi and serve unlimited iced green tea for free.

idcafe
Above picture shows one of my favorite cafes, ID Cafe. The pic is stolen from James Clark, check out his post “The incredible cafe scene of Ho Chi Minh City”.

6. Little language barrier

If you are living in district 1, you’ll get by without ever having to learn Vietnamese. One of the things I disliked most about Thailand (Chiang Mai in particular) is that’s almost impossible to communicate with locals if you don’t learn the local language.

Vietnamese people are very proud of their language and identity, but that doesn’t keep them from learning English (unlike  people in places like France or Thailand).

7. Great food

I love Vietnamese food. The food is tasty, cheap, fairly healthy, but a bit heavy on rice and noodles. Jodi loves the food here so much that she is about to start offering food tours.

A bowl of Pho. Pic stolen from Jodi @ Legalnomads
A bowl of Pho. Pic stolen from Jodi @ Legalnomads

The great thing about Saigon is that if you’re not in the mood for Vietnamese food, there’s tons of other options. There are restaurants serving world-class food from places such as France, Italy, Japan or Spain. I probably eat sushi 2-3x per week.

8. Incredible community of online entrepreneurs

I know at least 20 other online entrepreneurs from all over the world that are living here and working on their businesses. This is an incredible community to spend time with and bounce ideas of each other. Most of them are members of the Dynamite Circle. There’s also a pretty cool coworking space called Saigon Hub.

Remember, you’re the average of your 5 best friends.

Bonus: Hiring opportunities

I haven’t fully taken advantage of this yet, but I have a couple of friends that are building out teams here in Saigon. Jesse Lawler has hired 5 or so software developers here while Steven is building a team of marketers.

Entry level programmers go for as little as $400-$500 per month while entry level freelance graphic designers can be hired for $2/hour.

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If you want to learn more about living in Saigon, check out this podcast I recorded with Dan Andrews a while ago. Also check out this post called “Bootstrapping in Saigon” by  Jon Myers.

Have you visited Saigon? If so, did you like it?
Do you have any questions about living in Saigon?

Leave a comment below.

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Image credit.