Early FI Destination: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)

Early FI Destination: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)

When it comes to picking out an early FI destination, Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) has to rank way up there, near the top of the list, of desired destinations the world has to offer.

Foody Heaven

First and foremost, though, when I think of Vietnam, it’s the food that immediately pops into mind. In my own humble opinion, there’s nothing else better out there than authentic Vietnamese food; it’s not only really tasty and unique, but many dishes are especially healthy too (since herbs/greens are typically used in abundance to complement a dish, just make sure to lay off of on indulging in too much fish sauce!).

And once you factor in the exceptionally affordable prices for a typical meal eaten at home (or out in the town), the appeal of Nam becomes even more enticing.

Ho Chi Minh City, in particular, is a major hub of the country (it’s where much of the hustle and bustle resides), so it makes for a most logical starting point when we’re talking about early FI and Nam.

Most recently, I had a chance to re-visit the motherland, and my first course of action upon waking up the first day was to hunt down a nice steamy bowl of pho.

I stumbled upon Pho Cong, a restaurant located in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City, but one I had never tried before.

I ordered the pho bo uc (Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi) for 75,000 VND (which works out to a measly ~$3.23/bowl).

All things considered, you get a pretty good-sized portion too, and a solid meal.

As it pertains to beverages, in Vietnam, it’s all about Ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee). At a popular shop like Highlands Coffee, this will set you back around 45,000 VND for a large order (~$1.94 USD/large).

Of course, you can always do it yourself, or get it at a local street food vendor for like only ~10k VND (~$0.43/cup).

Even at the more “high end” shops like RuNam Boutique, it’s still “only” ~$5 USD.

RuNam Boutique iced coffee
RuNam Boutique

Now, it’s all relative, of course, but compared to the rest of the world, I don’t particularly think that $5 USD for a “gourmet” beverage is too darn expensive. Personally, I’d rather stick to the cheaper stuff, but to each their own.

Regardless, for early FI and trying to maximize your foodie experiences, your bucks still go a long, long ways out here in Vietnam.

For most meals, I’d say between ~$3-5/entree will usually get cut it; for beverages, more so around ~$1-2/each.

Here’s some more local eats for you.

Bánh xèo
Bánh xèo

Next, we have food options from some random local chains, such as Hue Delight, to share with you.

Below is one of my all-time favorite soup dishes.

Bun Bo Hue
Bun Bo Hue

Like I mentioned earlier, most Vietnamese dishes are heavy on the greens…

Banh Hoi
Banh Hoi

Rice dish.

You can even get fresh seafood, say in Vung Tau (about ~2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, via bus) at a very affordable price.

Even when visiting the more popular (and tourist packed) favorite restaurants, like Ganh Hao.

In my most recent visit, we ordered some seafood fried rice.

Some oysters.

Coconut crab.

And some noodles.

All in, if memory serves, I believe the bill was just ~$40-50, to feed a (happy) party of 5.

getting hyped for some Vung Tau seafood
getting hyped for some Vung Tau seafood!

Not too bad, if you ask me.

And let’s not forget about arguably what is the best banh mi in town (in terms of value), Banh Mi Huynh Hoa.

Here we go!

47,000 VND (~$2.02/sandwich) for a protein-packed meal!

Well, the above banh mi I ordered isn’t the healthiest of options out there, but for ~$2, there’s a lot of value to be had, nonetheless.

And the list of awesome food options in Ho Chi Minh City goes on, and on, and on…

Oh yeah, and if you want to branch outside and away from Vietnamese food, I’m pleased to report back that the non-Vietnamese food options are immense and of high quality. Definitely, I’m seeing lots more (and better) restaurants open up as the years go by.

For example, Pizza 4P’s has got multiple branches in Ho Chi Minh City, and it’s legit, delicious pizza.

The Original Cheese Pizza is where it’s at!

They’re even sourcing their cheese from a local farm these days.

Artisan cheese fresh from Da Lat! 4P's
Artisan cheese fresh from Da Lat!

The result is this delicious pie you see below!

Without question, this was some of the best pizza that I’ve ever had in Asia.

The prosciutto pizza was on point too!

Furthermore, Matchandeul Korean BBQ in District 7 has got to be some of the best I’ve ever had in my life.

Quite honestly, the Korean BBQ available in Ho Chi Minh City blows away anything I’ve had to date in places such as Manila, for comparison.

Happy campers! Matchandeul Korean BBQ
Happy campers!

Much better than the standard fare served up in many Korean restaurants in Asia!

When it comes to tasty eats, Ho Chi Minh City has got that in spades.

Overall rating, it’s gotta be 10/10 in my book.

Bustling City

So far, we’ve got food (a very important early FI criteria) checked off.

How about the hustle and bustle of the city?

Ho Chi Minh City is a very happening place, so if it’s city life you’re after, well, you’re gonna love it, there’s just so much stuff to see/do/immerse yourself in.

About 3 years ago, I visited Nguyen Hue Street, and I have to say, it looks to be even more alive and festive now than it was back then.

Perhaps, it’s because I arrived during the Lunar New Year celebration?

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City at night


In any case, when the lights come on at night, it’s gonna be a magnet for attracting crowds throughout the city.

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City bustling

At night, Nguyen Hue Street reminds me of Osaka, Japan a little bit.

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City feels like Osaka

And even for those of us from the states who must get our sports fix in, relax, there are plenty of bars in town that you can visit to make sure you don’t miss the main event.

49ers vs. Packers Conference Championship in HCMC
49ers vs. Packers Conference Championship

Lots of tourists/foreigners/expats/etc. too, so you definitely won’t ever feel alone in Ho Chi Minh City.

Did I mention Lunar New Year’s celebration?

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City New Year Celebration

Very festive.

And the local culture is very unique from most other places in the world; this is a very interesting place.

Getting ready for fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City New Year Eve Countdown

There it is!

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City New Year fireworks

So glad I was able to experience this!

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City New Year 2020

Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a lot of fun, indeed!

For experiencing the local market (and if you wanna haggle a bit), there’s the world famous Ben Thanh Market, located in District 1.

Ben Thanh Market (where all the tourists go)
Ben Thanh Market (where all the tourists go)

If you never been before, here’s a basic tip when negotiating — whatever price the vendor gives you, counter with an offer that is 90% lower than the initial asking price. If they say no, just start walking away until they stop you and agree to your terms.

Cut through all the b.s.

Boom, there you go.


Although I will say that, after getting acclimated to all the number of malls found in places like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, etc., when it comes to shopping, Ho Chi Minh City is kind of lacking in this regard.

The ones that they do have, like Vincom Center, meh, it can’t compete with the likes of say SM Megamall or SM Mall of Asia (both SM malls are located in Manila).

VINCOM Center; Ho Chi Minh City

But there are lots of small shops, bars, cafes, etc.

Overall, I’d say 7/10.

Modern Living

District 1

So, when it comes to Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 is kind of iconic, and it’s even got a memorable landmark in place, the Bitexco Financial Tower.

Bitexco Financial Tower; Ho Chi Minh City
Bitexco Financial Tower

However, it’s worth remembering that deep in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a relatively old one, and it’s certainly showing signs of aging…

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City streets

It’s not uncommon to find lots of trash littered throughout the streets, unfortunately.

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City trash on streets

Now when it comes to trying to pick out an early FI destination that is most suitable for an individual, it’s gonna vary quite a bit because everyone’s got their own unique taste.

I mean, a lot of people like that more “old town” or “rustic” feel, because it’s I dunno, more authentic?

welcome to the “hood”

Just speaking for myself, I personally prefer “shiny and modern” since I’m not a fan of finding the stuff (in abundance) shown in the following image…

rats in Ho Chi Minh City
it’s the year of the rat… but oh hell no!

That’s just not my bag.

But you know, it comes with the territory.

As an early FI destination, Ho Chi Minh City, well the older regions like District 1, I can’t say I would want to live there long-term.

Binh Thanh District

Rather, I’d have to venture farther away to the newer development projects, like the ones found in Vinhomes Central Park (Binh Thanh District), near the country’s tallest new skyscraper, Landmark 81.

Driving over to Landmark 81
Driving over to Landmark 81

Out here you’ll find more “cookie cutter” condos, but hey, it’s really nice/shiny/clean!

Nice amenities too!

It feels a lot like Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Manila… I do have to say so.

Albeit, on a much smaller scale than BGC, unfortunately.

How bout jogging through the park shown below, instead of the nitty gritty (polluted) streets of District 1?

It’s like city living kind but with a chance to escape the noise!

Sign me up for some of that.

You could settle out here in Binh Thanh District for a very modern + convenient early FI lifestyle, and still be within short driving distance to the hustle and bustle of District 1.

Win, win!

And you’ll even be able to ice skate, if you want, inside the mall!

Here’s what the inside of the Landmark 81 tower looks like…

For the privileged few… Maybe you?

District 7

If not Binh Thanh District, than District 7 is also still located within the greater Ho Chi Minh City area, and it’s super modern too.

District 7 residential condos
District 7 residential condos

The streets are very clean here.

Further, District 7 seems to be where Korea Town is located, so it’s got a nice mix of Korean/Vietnamese flare.

Like I said…

If you’re also into Korean food/culture, perhaps District 7 should be high up your list for consideration as a possible early FI destination?

Personally, I love it out in District 7.

For long-term living in Ho Chi Minh City, District 7 has got my vote.

But in any case, there are many different options, so I’m sure you’ll be able to locate the one that works best for your own needs.

Again, for those who like it so fresh and so clean, overall, I’d score things 9/10 (definitely lots of inventory to choose from to make it happen!); Binh Thanh District and District 7 ftw!

Safety and Transportation

Let’s face it, transportation in Vietnam is dominated by motorbikes. So yeah, good luck dodging them, because you’re going to have to on a regular basis.

On one hand, it’s kind of nice because the traffic out in Ho Chi Minh City isn’t too bad (relative to say Manila or Jakarta), but on the other, pedestrians have to be extra careful when crossing the road. There are literally bikes flying at you from all directions/angles at all times, and lots of roundabouts as well, where things tend to get quite chaotic.

Once you get the hang of traffic, it’s not too bad, but I definitely would never classify things as being “safe”.

In addition, there’s not too many stoplights, so this is also something that isn’t ideal for pedestrians trying to get around town. So, always be mindful of your surroundings and proceed with caution when walking the streets!

For getting around on a vehicle, the good news is that Grab fare is pretty affordable, with most short/medium distance car rides only costing ~$2-4. For longer distance travel, like going from District 1 to the airport (or vice versa), which can take ~30 minutes, it’ll typically set you back around $5-7 (depending on demand).

If you want to save some $$$, you can also get fare via a motorbike, instead of a car ride.

Ho Chi Minh City motorbike
yours truly back in 2016

More dangerous, yes, but you can save some dough doing that, if you dare.

All things considered, transportation costs are cheaper than Manila, for sure.

Shoot, you can even travel in style and ride in a comfy limousine to get from District 1 to Vung Tau (about ~2 hours), arriving at the beach for just ~$8 (one-way ticket); Vie Limousine will even drop you off at your hotel!

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City; traveling in style limo to Vung Tau

Pretty cool, yah!?!

And one day, hopefully sooner than later, Ho Chi Minh City will have a functioning subway system for mass transit!

early FI destination Ho Chi Minh City subway construction

The subway project is taking forever and a day, though, so I wouldn’t hold my breath counting on it reaching completion status anytime soon.

Still, way, way, way down the line, there should be some light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to!

Oh yeah, and last note on safety, I’ve ALWAYS been warned about drinking any kind of tap water at restaurants… In other words, it’s probably NOT safe, so avoid it (to err on the side of caution). Further, the ice can be suspect too (I’ve heard personal accounts of people who got upset stomachs because of ice, though I never have myself), so when in doubt, stay clear of that too.

Instead, I only drink bottled water/beverages, whenever I’m in the older regions of Ho Chi Minh City (e.g., District 1).

better safe than sorry!

For now, when it comes to safety and transportation, as an early FI destination, Ho Chi Minh City gets a 6/10.

Language and Communication

If you stick to only hanging out in the tourist/expat areas of Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll likely be just fine only knowing English and zero Vietnamese. With that said, if you really wanna experience “real” Vietnamese culture, you’ll probably have to get outside your comfort zone a little bit and venture into those obscure hole-in-the-wall places that not many people are talking about online via social media.

For example, you might end up at a hu tieu restaurant like this, Hu Tiu Nam Vang Thanh Dat.

Where they don’t speak a lick of English…

So unfortunately, it can be a little difficult trying to place an order without comprehending at least some basic Vietnamese.

hu tieu nam vhang; Ho Chi Minh City
hu tieu nam vhang; Ho Chi Minh City

And really, it would be a shame to miss out on some of these experiences because they really are the stuff that makes Vietnam… Vietnam.

I’ll admit, there were more than a few times I ran into difficulties trying to order something on the menu, or get a bill, because of the language barrier (I don’t speak much more than a lick of Vietnamese).

Usually, from my own experience anyway, the locals are friendly so things aren’t impossible… just not easy, like say communicating in Hong Kong, Manila, Bali, etc.

Overall, I’d say relative to the rest of Asia, the English-speaking you’ll find here is about 6/10.

For sure, things are getting a lot better, as the younger Vietnamese kids can’t help but immerse themselves in social media (like the rest of the world).

It will be fun to track how things progress over the next decade here…

Cost of Living

As an early FI destination, Ho Chi Minh City has a lot to offer. As already covered earlier, food and transportation is really affordable here.

How about housing?

Unfortunately, I was too busy hanging out with fam bam this trip to do enough due diligence and research on the local real estate market here… So, alas, I cannot comment at this time. Hopefully in the future, I’ll have a lot more to say and share with readers!

In addition, I don’t know how foreign ownership really works in Vietnam (I have zero personal experience).

However, I did find this snippet online, so it’s worth sharing at this time.

Global Property Guide

As ALWAYS, please do your own research and due diligence first before making any kind of financial decision!

All I know is that just like much of SE Asia, real estate prices have been soaring in Ho Chi Minh City, for awhile now…

Most likely, you’ll still be able to pick up a condo in a high-end area like Binh Thanh District, or District 7, for an “affordable” price, relative to other world-class cities (e.g., Paris, London, New York City, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.).

I mean, again, I didn’t do enough research or talk to anyone, but just pulling up numbers from the web, you’ll get listings like the following:

Dot Property listing; Vinhomes Binh Thanh District
Dot Property

Which works out to the following, for a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom studio, that’s 100 square meters.

~$441,000 USD for a luxury condo unit in a freshest/shiniest/cleanest part of Ho Chi Minh City?

At first glance, that actually looks cheaper than what you can find in BGC today… So, overall cost of living has got to be at least 8/10, I think…

Now, when it comes to BGC vs. Ho Chi Minh City as an early FI destination?


Haha, to each their own!


Keep up the fight!


What do you think about Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as an early FI destination? Would you consider living here long-term? How has your own experience been here?

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