Alex James - Living on a budget in Vietnam


I still cringe when I think about all the money I needlessly wasted at my placement. Not having a concept of the exchange rate got the better of me more times than I’d care to mention, as well as just generally being frivolous in the early days came back to bite me after a few months. So I thought I’d compile my top ten tips on how to not lose all your cash in ten days.

1. Learn the numbers in the local language as quickly as you can. This helped me to no end. Once they realize you’re not the average Westerner they’re likely to be pretty lenient on the price. If they still aren’t willing to give you a decent price don’t be afraid to walk away.

2. When you use an ATM take out the maximum amount it’ll allow. Taking out the equivalent of $20 – $30 here and there resulted in me losing over $100 in overseas transaction fees.

3. When catching a cab look for one of the smaller ones driving around. They’re likely to be cheaper. Try and get an idea of how much the ride will cost before departing. If you’re not happy with the price, find another taxi. This will make sure the driver doesn’t rip you off.

4. Laundry was probably the most costly aspect of my stay. Try and make your clothes last longer than you would at home. This may mean washing them by hand. It’s a chore but it’ll save you a truck load in the long run.

5. Walking is a great way to see a city or town. You’ll find more shops, cafes, galleries and people. Plus, in most countries, walking is free. Score.

6. If you’re buying a train, bus or boat ticket ask about student discounts. You never know.

7. Eat where the locals eat. You’re guaranteed an authentic meal at a damn good price.

8. Thoroughly check the bill after eating at a restaurant. Don’t remember ordering that bottle of French wine? Didn’t think so.

9. Bring food with you on long train and bus trips. Restaurant cars and rest stops are always overpriced. A loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter go a long way.

10. Don’t ever be rude to the merchant or cab driver. Keep smiling. It’ll make haggling much, much easier.

I’m sure there are plenty more money-saving tips. What have I missed? 

Quick facts
Capital: Hanoi
Government: Republic
Language: Vietnamese
Population: 88.1 million
Religions: Buddhism
Timezone: GMT +7
Climate: climate, with humidity averaging 84 % throughout the year
Currency: đồng
"Discovering Vietnam and how radically different it is from England (I really did fall in love with it) has also made me want to travel more and explore the world and all it has to offer. I would never have been this adventurous had I not been on this placement; it’s really opened my eyes to the world."

Marianne, English teacher