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Vietnam: Digital Nomad IndieDev

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We’ve had a busy year traveling and developing games! So far, we’ve been in Korea (3 months), Thailand (3 months), New Zealand (2 weeks), Australia (1 month), and now Vietnam (3 months).

Since we’re nearing the end of our stay in Vietnam, we wanted to share a little of what it’s been like here. (We were too busy preparing for our trip down to New Zealand to publish our Thailand blog post previously, but we’ll post it soon. We enjoyed Thailand so much, we’re returning after a quick trip to Cambodia!)

Danang

Overview

Danang was incredible. It’s the 3rd largest city in Vietnam and feels like a small city – it’s small enough where, in some parts at least, you can get to know people and they can get to know you, but it’s also big enough where there is lots to do and see – a large downtown area with shopping, markets, temples, large stretches of beach, and sightseeing areas (like Marble Mountains, Ba Na Hills, Son Tra peninsula, which includes a newer temple with Lady Buddha, plus a beach surrounding a large hill filled with monkeys). The main beach – My Khe – was used for R&R by Americans during the Vietnam War.

Danang even has free city wifi! It doesn’t reach all parts of the city, but I found it’s generally reliable downtown and in certain areas.
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Proximity

Danang is also really close to Hoi An – a popular tourist destination and a low cost bus ride away. It’s also easy to visit Hue (although we didn’t make it there), which apparently has scenic ocean and mountainous views along the way to a palace/citadel. Many tourist reviews for Danang were from people who passed through the city on a tour of Vietnam, stopped for one attraction, and continued onto Hoi An with their tour but wished they had the time to explore Danang.

I’m guessing Danang will be even more of a tourist destination over time, as the city is constantly building and adding onto attractions. A resort was being built right in front of our apartment on the beach while we were there. Many of the tourists to that part of Danang came from other parts of Asia, particularly Japan and Korea. We were surprised by the special tourist restaurants and shops that only opened when busloads of tourists came by.
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The Downside

Unfortunately, local businesses regularly dump waste into the ocean, including the main beach (My Khe beach and the surrounding areas). Tourists who swim in the beach usually end up itchy afterward…I was looking forward to a lot of time swimming in the ocean while in Danang (since our apartment building was almost right next to one), but we ended up spending very little time at the beach while we were there.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang(View from the apartment balcony. Unfortunately, the area in front of the beach was closed for resort construction, but it was a 15 minute run to beach access.)

Good Morning Vietnam!

It was only the downtown area and some tourist areas where we were approached by persistent taxi drivers and motorbike rental companies. In the area where we lived, there were very few Westerners, so locals seemed very curious by us and interested in us. (This is might be different closer to the main beach, where more foreigners live.)

Adults and children frequently greeted us with “hello,” sometimes with a handshake. Some people just stared at us (even while riding motorbikes), but many were genuinely excited to see us. It’s hard to describe exactly what it was like.

Sometimes it felt like we were in a parade or very minor celebrities of some kind because of frequent “hellos” and reactions from people. There were 2 kids who popped out from their doorway, said “hello,” giggled, hid, repeat. This happened multiple times we saw them. (In general, there was a lot of giggling from children.) Parents with small children also tried to get their children to wave to us and say hello. Adults had interesting reactions too – There was one man who shook Manne’s hand every time he walked by.

Apartments

One of the main differences between Vietnam and other countries (Korea, Thailand) so far is that even in cheap apartments in Vietnam, it is common for a maid service to come by twice a week. At the Saigon apartment, this extended to free laundry service done for us. When we tried to help with the trash, the maid rushed to do it for us, so it was never really an option to clean for ourselves.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang(Another view from the apartment balcony.)

Danang – Favorite Places

Lady Buddha

This temple was built relatively recently and has incredible views over the ocean since it’s built up on a hill. At the time we went, it was free to get in, but I expect this will change at some point. It’s a pretty large place already, and they’re continuing to build.
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Son Tra Peninsula

It’s worth exploring the peninsula more since there are great views of the ocean and monkeys up in the hills!
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Marble Mountain

This area is incredible, although it is hard to climb so many stairs in the intense heat! (Do this as early in the day as you can!) Marble Mountain is almost like someone extruded a small part of the world and forgot to change the elevation of the land surrounding it (a half-baked SimCity map).

Marble Mountain is made up of few small, high mountains, all clumped together right next to one of the major beach areas. It is absolutely worth a visit. There are many caves on the side of the mountain and temple areas throughout the mountain. The views of the city, other mountains, and ocean are amazing from the top.
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The Mountains/Ba Na Hills French Village

We didn’t explore the mountains too much, but they’re supposed to be worth checking out by motorbike (or the train to Hue). We did take a mountain trip when we went up to a theme park in Ba Na Hills. It was…an experience. There’s a great YouTube video of this place that pretty much sums up our experience there. The cable car ride to the top was incredible and absolutely worth it (you can even see waterfalls in the jungle on the way up!).

It was also nice to experience different weather up there – a mix of fog and some cooler weather, in contrast to the constant heat and humidity of life below. We didn’t read too much about the village before we went up there, so I actually didn’t realize it was a theme park. I just read that it was some sort of French village and one of the top rated things to do in Danang. Apparently, some French people used to have villas up in that area, but there is nothing left behind by the French now.
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It has some rides and an arcade, but it’s mostly a place to walk around and take pictures. The buildings turn out pretty incredible in the pictures, but in person, they look pretty unrealistic. Most of the tourists are from other parts of Asia. We didn’t see any other Westerners for a few hours, aside from the people paid to perform and take pictures with tourists. (Manne also became part of the show at some points, with tourists wanting to take pictures with him.)
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All in all, it was an interesting place to see, but there isn’t much to actually do there.
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The Dragon Bridge

It looks amazing during the day and breathes fire on the weekends (at night)!
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Dragon-BridgeVietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Dragon-Bridge(Notice the shape of the Heineken ad. :))

Hoi An

Hoi An is a really nice city – One I’d love to revisit. There’s a huge night market and an incredible number of shops in the ancient city surrounding the river. (Hoi An used to be a center for international trade.) We happened to go there during a Japanese cultural festival, so it was even more crowded than usual – the river filled with boats and lanterns.

Since it’s a city filled with tourists, the restaurants, tailors, etc. were more persistent with trying to get us to use their services. It’s a wonderful city to visit, but we don’t find it as nice a place as Danang for long term stay, as restaurants are more expensive and the service pushing can quickly become tiring.

Hoi An – Favorite Places

We were only in Hoi An over a weekend, as a short trip we made with an indie game developer friend from New Zealand (who we met multiple times while in Danang). Although we didn’t go while we were in Hoi An, our friend and other travelers recommend a snorkeling trip to the nearby Cham Island. There’s even an overnight option on the island! (Unlike the beaches in Danang, the islands are supposed to be just fine for swimming, since they don’t have the same problems with water pollution.)

Old City/Night Market Area

This is the main area of Hoi An and is an experience at night. This is a great place to try a variety of snacks and foods from the food stands and local market. Don’t forget to try the Hoi An speciality dishes, like cao lau! (“cow”)
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My Son (“Mee Sung”)

Even though it was extremely hot when we visited My Son and it takes a while to get there from Hoi An, it was absolutely worth it. (I recommend you go there with a tour guide though. The negative/disappointed reviews I saw online were mostly from people who went there without a guide and didn’t seem to get much context for the place from the signs alone.)
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My Son is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and was made by the Cham people. Unfortunately, large parts were destroyed during the war, and you can see bomb craters around the site. My Son has a fascinating history and is something I can’t do justice in a short paragraph. If you’re ever in the Danang/Hoi An/central Vietnam area, be sure to check out My Son with a guide.

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon was, honestly, a shock. We naively assumed it would feel more like Danang, just with even more motorbikes and a much bigger city in general (like an expanded Danang downtown area). Unfortunately, we had a bad first impression of Saigon, but after a couple of days, the city grew on us more.
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Pro Tip

Always read about local scams and things to watch out for before visiting a new city, even within the same country!
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Our First Day

Like our first day in Bangkok, our first day in Saigon was not great (I’ll post a link to our Thailand post when it’s live.) The general rule for both Thailand and Vietnam is to never get in a taxi without a meter. Although our first taxi driver said “yes” when we asked if the taxi had a meter, it didn’t…and he wanted to charge us an insane amount to get downtown.

We avoided that scam and went over to the designated airport taxi line, getting into the first taxi that showed up. After a little while, Manne noticed the meter was jumping up way too quickly. Long story short – Even after we noticed the problem with the meter, we ended up overpaying, as the driver offered to turn off the meter and drive us for a fixed rate (a rate which was also very inflated, but we didn’t know any better because we hadn’t done our research before going to this new city). (There are apparently only 2 taxi companies in Saigon currently that have legitimate meters.)

We quickly started missing the straightforwardness of Danang! To add to the unpleasantness of our first day, Manne discovered some money went missing (USD we went out of our way to get before leaving the airport so we would have it ready for our upcoming Cambodia visa!). We had no idea how it ended up disappearing between the airport and the taxi ride to the apartment!

The shock of Saigon was more pronounced because we expected it to be more like the quieter city of Danang, rather than approaching it like Bangkok. After our taxi issue, we read up on local scams and problems tourists encounter in Saigon. We probably did too much reading on the subject, because the internet is excellent at making it sound as though danger is around every corner! (To be fair, if I were to write a blog post on San Francisco, after having lived there a few years, it would also come across that way.)
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Getting Used to the Big City

It didn’t take too long to become used to Saigon, and we ended up really enjoying it. If we were to go back though, we wouldn’t stay in the city center – A big part of the reason the city felt overwhelming initially is because we were close to one of the major walking streets (a big draw for tourists). This meant that in the area where we lived, it was common for restaurants, spas, tourist agencies, etc. to hand out fliers, tell us about promotions, and sometimes block our path to tell us about their restaurant’s happy hour (the sidewalks in front of these places were so small, it isn’t hard at all to block someone’s path). While it was nice to be in the center of everything (easy for sightseeing), we prefer not having to always be on guard!

There were parts of Saigon where we didn’t have to guard our pockets as closely and felt like we were treated more as humans than simply wallets. The areas less frequented by tourists are really nice!

Both of us were shocked by the number of tourists in general. We weren’t expecting there to be nearly as many foreigners as there are in Bangkok! (Many tourists seemed to be from Australia, less from Europe.)
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Saigon – Favorite Places

Cu Chi Tunnels

Fascinating place to learn more about the war. If you’re claustrophobic at all, skip the trip down into the tunnels! It was tough work “walking” through those tunnels.
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War Remnants Museum

The museum is from the perspective of the Vietnamese in the south. It shows global protests about the war, photographs from the war itself and photographs of 2nd and 3rd generation victims.
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Independence Palace

It’s like stepping back in time and was surprisingly difficult to navigate between floors. It’s worth checking out! The bunker down below was particularly interesting.
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Vietnam History Museum

If you don’t have a chance to check out My Son or the Museum of Cham Sculptures in Danang, this museum has some artifacts from the Cham people. It has a lot of interesting artifacts in general, and the water puppet show is an experience, if you haven’t already caught it elsewhere!
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Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-HCM-Saigon-History-Museum-Water-Puppets

French Area (for lack of a better term)

While there isn’t much to do in the upscale area near the Opera House (unless you really like shopping in malls), it is an interesting area to see. The Opera House, cathedral, and post office are incredible buildings (the post office was even designed by the same architect who designed the Eiffel Tower).
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Houses & privacy

Houses were very different than what we were used to. Most in Danang had large windows on the bottom floor (the doors were almost always open for airflow), so you could see and hear everything that was going on inside the house. With smaller houses, the entire bottom floor opened up completely to the busy street. When we walked by in the evening, many families were eating dinner on the floor, watching TV and some, singing karaoke. (This makes a lot more sense to me now than it did before – tile floor is so much cooler than sitting on a chair! It is very hot in Southeast Asia.) It doesn’t seem like there is much privacy in general.

Backalleys

While I wouldn’t recommend many alleys in the US, I loved the backalleys of Vietnam! Some houses have small shops, hair salons, pharmacies, or restaurants set up on their first floor. These shops are a lot cheaper than large supermarkets or small convenience stores (which seem to be geared more toward tourists, located across the street from hotels and hostels).

When we arrived to Danang, our first question was “Where is the store?” but we quickly learned the cheaper and closer stores (and pearl drink stands) were scattered throughout the many small streets behind us. There are so many interesting places in these alleyways, I can’t recommend them enough! We were surprised to discover a small local market in an area we evidently hadn’t thoroughly explored. (I wrote down the address 90 Hai Ho, located somewhere in the middle of the market, for anyone interested in checking out that area.)
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Carts selling goods

In Danang, there were motorized carts that came by at all hours of the day and night, repeating the same automated message. I had no idea what people would possibly want to buy in the middle of the night. Near the end of our Danang stay, we learned they were selling bánh chưng (rice cakes) and other food items. (These carts weren’t as loud as the ones in Korea.)

Karaoke

Karaoke is huge in Vietnam! I didn’t realize how huge until we came here. It was pretty entertaining to walk outside after it got dark. Some people set up karaoke outside their houses, with chairs, tables, and beers, and many restaurants also had outdoor karaoke on the sidewalks.

Outdoor restaurants

I realized I’ve become so used to restaurants being built in a certain way in parts of Southeast Asia, I forgot they’re different than Western restaurants. (It’s going to be strange going back to the US for a while sometime next year! Previously, I had reverse culture shock when I came back from Sweden, and I’m sure it’ll be similar after coming back, following 1.5+ years in Asia!)

Anyway, there are street stands that are food carts with tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk, but there are also many restaurants in Danang that are entirely open. Some may have a small indoor area (with a collapsable roof that opens entirely, only closing when it rains) but even some “indoor” restaurants don’t have walls. It is really nice in the evening to have the openness of these restaurants – fans + a breeze are better than just a fan!

Many restaurants take up most of the sidewalk with their outdoor eating area, plus parking.
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As it gets dark, these restaurants really fill up with people and become very loud. We were surprised that so many people (mostly men) were out drinking at restaurants every night of the week. The later we walked around at night in Danang (and by later, I only mean 8pm vs. 6pm), the more excited people were to try to talk to us (I think the large quantities of beer on their tables helped).

During the day, people frequently greeted us with “hello,” but the longer the drinking had been going on, the more likely people would be to ask elaborate questions. Usually, this is how one of these conversations would go: We are walking past a “sidewalk” restaurant, and someone in a group tries to ask, “Hello, where are you from?” If Manne responded “Sweden,” they might look a little confused and then laugh as we continued on. If I responded, “America,” they would say, “Oh, America!” and become really excited and still laugh as we continued on.

(I eventually learned that America is the easiest for people to understand, whereas the US, USA or United States is confusing. Sweden, on the otherhand, was confusing for most people we met in Vietnam. We eventually learned the Vietnamese word for Sweden but didn’t have a chance to try it on anyone to see if they knew where it was. Unlike Thailand, where some local people even know some Swedish and hand out restaurant menus in Scandinavian languages, Vietnam doesn’t have as many Scandinavian tourists.)

Sidewalks

Basically, sidewalks in Vietnam are mostly for everything except walking. If they aren’t entirely taken up by scooters and or restaurants, people ride their scooters on them, cook on them, sometimes burn trash or leave altars out on Buddha days. Most small dirt patches around trees are used for incense, and sometimes people hang incense on trees in a can.

Manne read online that people in Vietnam actually walk less than anyone else in the world! I found that hard to believe at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made – it’s difficult to walk in both Thailand and Vietnam due to traffic and heat!

It’s also common for people to drive their scooters right up to restaurant doors, not even getting off their scooters to get food to go. (The same is true with riding up to bahn mi stands.)

Since “parking lots” are the sidewalk areas immediately in front of restaurants, people don’t have to walk more than a few steps to go to a restaurant, especially when they leave their scooters just outside their houses or even inside their houses.
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Hammocks

After traveling around Vietnam, I’ve come to the conclusion that other warm places (like California) really underutilize hammocks! Some people keep hammocks in the back of their scooters and set them up between trees just about anywhere in the heat of the day. (These people are very, very smart!) We saw a lot of people taking an afternoon nap or relaxing by the river or ocean in their hammocks in Danang.

Beaches

For a couple of weeks, we went for a run down to the beach in the mornings (before the heat picked up).

(I never thought I’d get used to running in humidity, but I managed to run regularly for maybe a month or so, although I had to be careful with hydrating during and after the run due to the heat. I frequently got headaches after running anyway due to dehydration.)

Anyway, I couldn’t believe how many locals were swimming and washing in the ocean in the morning. The beaches were just as popular in the evenings, with local juice vendors (sugar cane juice primarily) setting up tables and chairs on the sidewalk near the beach. These juice vendor setups are popular places for adults and young people to hang out.
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One late afternoon, it was just about to rain when I ran down to the beach. (It’s so much cooler out when it rains or is about to rain!) Usually people hanging out along the sidewalk at the beach were pretty curious about us, so we got even more hellos, handshakes, high fives when we went there. This one day in particular, locals found it especially funny that I came to the beach just as the rain was starting. While everyone rushed off to their scooters, they warned me the rain was coming, through a combination of Vietnamese and hand gestures.

English/Communication

A lot more English is spoken in Saigon and Hoi An, but a few people knew some English in Danang. We mostly got around with limited Vietnamese knowledge, writing down Vietnamese words/places, and gesturing.

My pronunciation of some words is apparently really terrible because some people (more used to foreigners) could understand me, but others could not. I came to Vietnam knowing nuoc (water), chuc mung (congratulations), cam on (thank you), and that’s about it. We since added to our vocabulary chay (vegetarian), mang ve (takeaway)…mostly a lot of food related words.

I was able to use psuedo sign language for most items, which some shopowners seemed to get a kick out of. This worked for items like soap and deodarant, but I once ended up with ramen when I tried to point to the toilet paper because that was one I did not want to sign.

A tip to people who work in retail – If someone comes in who can’t speak the language, it helps tremendously if you look at the person frequently (even if this feels uncomfortable). There were many instances where I wanted to gesture or ask for something else (items that were impossible to reach), but the shopowner rarely looked at me, so it made it much harder to communicate.

I’m not sure why it was so common for some shopowners to think we only wanted one item (or in a restaurant, that we both wanted to eat the same meal, rather than ordering two different meals). Do you know why this is? If so, leave a comment below! Often, I’d gesture to something, which the shopowner would get and then immediately type a number into a calculator without looking up, so I couldn’t ask for additional items.

Curiosity

As I mentioned above, most people in Danang were very curious about us, although we weren’t able to communicate too much. I enjoyed it when people tried to have a small conversation even though we didn’t speak the same language. There were a couple women running different bahn mi stands who really took a liking to us.

One of the women tried to talk to me about the weather while she made the bahn mi. She spoke Vietnamese as she pointed to the sky, and I just nodded in agreement. (She could have been talking about the heat? Or rain? I had no idea.)

One little girl in a restaurant commented on Manne’s white skin (her mother translated), which was a new one.

In every country we’ve been to so far, a few people have wanted to give us some sort of food for free. It’s usually a snack they think we’ll like, such as a taro bun (very sweet and good!), banh nam (also extremely good but hard to describe – a stuffed, transparent snack wrapped in a large leaf). People are genuinely interested in sharing their food and culture with us, despite the fact that we’re programmer types who are generally pretty quiet.
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French

I quickly discovered that a number of words in Vietnamese were influenced by French, such as “op la” (omlette). I was curious if much of the French language was still used in Vietnam. It turns out that some of the older generation does speak French, as well as people educated in universities. An older man in Danang spoke French to Manne as he was walking by (the man asked how he was). Manne wasn’t sure how to respond, and I was so surprised to hear French that I couldn’t think of a response fast enough. I wished more people spoke French in Vietnam so I could practice and communicate more!

From what I read, Cambodia has more of the French language “left behind” than Vietnam does. I guess we’ll see for ourselves when we’re there later this week!

Board Games

I previously had only seen board games played some on the streets of New York and in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Board games and card games are frequently played outside in Vietnam – sometimes at cafes/restaurants and sometimes on tables set up on the sidewalk. There was one small park/cafe area we often passed by that was a popular hangout place for older men, for playing games and drinking beer.

Prices

I’ll cover prices briefly here, as I’m going to cover this topic more in detail sometime later next year, after we have more countries to compare. (Follow our Twitter @Golden_Alg, Facebook page, or sign up for our newsletter for an update.)

Since I mentioned people are often out at restaurants at night drinking beer, you may be wondering how much a beer is in Vietnam. One beer is usually around 10k VND (or a little more, depending on the brand), which comes out to less than $0.50 USD each. The price only gets to over $2/beer mostly at Western places in Saigon.
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(Unsurprisingly, the prices of food and drinks at Western places in Saigon were shocking for us, so we opted mostly for Vietnamese and Indian food. It was hard to justify Western prices after spending months of eating in Vietnamese restaurants, where it was rare to pay more than $5 total for 4 meals and 2 drinks. Food delivery was also much more affordable than we were used to. We bought multiple meals (4 or 6 meals at once sometimes), and even with an extra food delivery charge, it rarely came out to more than 300k VND (about $13 USD).)

Small “Theme Parks” for Kids

We saw a couple small parks for kids in both Danang and Saigon, which feel more like small carnivals than a regular park. Instead of swings, these parks had rides like you might see in a mall and/or a bouncy castle. I even saw one with a small rollercoaster. One of these parks near us in Danang also had some outdoor exercise equipment which were used by the adults (and some kids), while kids rode the rides.

(Outdoor exercise equipment is just as popular in Vietnam as it was in Korea. It isn’t necessarily equipment you would find in a gym. For example, with one of them, you stand up and swing your feet backward and forward. There are no weights on it, so it functions like a standup swing.)

Seafood

Vietnam has a lot of seafood and a lot of seafood places! These places are very popular. We went to one in Danang because it had a lot of very happy looking people at it all the time (mostly groups of men). We were surprised by how expensive the food was. By watching the other groups more, we realized one plate of seafood was usually shared by a group of men and that more beer was consumed than seafood, so it isn’t necessarily a place to have a meal. It seemed more like a place to celebrate, as each of these groups were regularly toasting and seemed very excited.

Smoking

Like NYC, Vietnam has many small kiosks that sell just cigarettes, water, sodas and sometimes SIM cards. We were surprised by how common smoking is in Vietnam. Since most restaurants are outside or have an outdoor balcony (Saigon), many restaurants do allow smoking.

Napkins

In central Vietnam (Danang, Hoi An), we had to get used to napkins made of paper. It was different, but it worked. In Saigon, it was less common for there to be napkins on the table. Instead, you could purchase a wet napkin for about 3k VND (roughly $0.13 USD).

Coffee

People love their coffee in Vietnam. The coffeeshops are completely full in the mornings and are generally busy in the afternoons. Don’t just stick Vietnamese coffee (iced milk coffee – ca phe sua). Try to find a place that is full of Vietnamese people in the morning and just ask for coffee. It was a new coffee experience for us!
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Badminton

Popular! Sometimes, impromptu badminton courts were set up in parks and on sidewalks.

Butterflies!

Can anyone tell me why Vietnam has so many butterflies?! It was incredible! Just about every outdoor space we went to (with flowers and vegetation) had an incredible number of large, colorful butterflies. This was true at the Lady Buddha statue in Danang and Marble Mountain. There were even some at the Cu Chi tunnels in Saigon.

Lizards

In addition to the small lizards common in Thailand, we saw a couple larger lizards. When I went running on the large path near the beach, these lizards would sometimes run into and out of the small dirt patches on the sides of the sidewalk.

Taxis

I already mentioned that you need to be careful with getting a taxi (especially from the airport!) in Saigon, but other than that, taxis were really nice in Vietnam. They were very reliable in Danang, and they were always on a reliable meter (no haggling like in Thailand!).

Money

You may have gathered from my mentions of how much things cost above (3k, 15k)…Vietnamese money is confusing initially! I can’t tell you how many times we pulled out a 10,000 bill, thinking it was 100,000. Usually it doesn’t take very long in a new country to get used to the money, but it took us a little longer in Vietnam.

The first time Manne went to an ATM, he was so thrown by all the zeros that he only got 200,000 dong from the ATM…less than $10. The first time we went to the ATM, it felt strange to withdraw 2 million! (Less than $90.)

International Stores

Vietnam has some Korean and Japanese stores/restaurants. The most prominent is Lotte, which we saw in both Danang and Saigon. Saigon has a ton of international brands, including H&M, Chewy Junior, The Pizza Company, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC.
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Personal Space?

This is more of an anecdote because I found this interesting – and confusing! Anyway, we were in line to check out at a main grocery in the mall in downtown Danang, and as we got closer to the cash register, people behind us started crowding in on us. First, a woman with her child stood right next to us in line, leaving her child behind us (the child seemed distressed by this). Then, an older couple slowly crept just in front of us until they wedged their way completely in front of us. (There wasn’t much space to maneuver in this crowded cash register line, and this happened over the span of maybe twenty minutes – it was a very slow line.)

By the time it should have been our turn next at the cash register, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that this older couple had cut and were going to be run up next. They surprised us by gesturing that we should unpack our cart to get run up. We chalked it up to a confusing lesson in cultural differences and personal space – We couldn’t figure out why they would wedge their way in front of us and at the last minute, let us go ahead anyway.

Maybe there are some instances in which a straight line isn’t really used, and instead people just crowd around and remember who’s next? If anyone has any insights on this, feel free to comment below!

Games in Vietnam

Mobile Games
Like the rest of the world, many Vietnamese people seem glued to their phones. We saw a lot of people playing mobile games while running shops or stands. Danang had many, many PC cafes.

(We weren’t as good at finding PC cafes in Saigon for some reason. Maybe there aren’t as many in District 1 since it’s tourist central?)

It was pretty cool to see an Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max poster in front of a game shop!

PC Gaming Cafes
I even saw the bottom floor of a house converted into a PC gaming cafe, with 10+ computers and kids crammed into the entryway. I wish I had a picture of that. It was a sight.

Something that occurred to me while in Vietnam is that it would be really intimidating for girls to enter these PC gaming cafes, even if they really wanted to play games. (PC gaming cafes are generally filled with boys.) I don’t know if there are any girls-only PC gaming cafes, but I hope there are, so girls aren’t scared away from PC games. (I absolutely would have been intimidated to try games in an all-boy PC gaming environment when I was young.)

Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-PC-Gaming-Cafe

The Statistics
As I mentioned in the Korea post, I do some freelance work for LAI Global Game Services, and again, some of that work encompassed rewriting the Southeast Asia pages on global game market statistics. The revised pages may not be up until later this year, but here are some of the highlights for Vietnam:

  • Vietnam is the largest games market for revenue in Southeast Asia.
  • E-sports are huge!
  • Vietnam has the 8th largest mobile gaming market worldwide (making up almost 1/2 of Vietnam’s gaming revenue).
  • At least 50% of the population owns smartphones – even in rural areas, with the fastest growing smartphone market in SEA.
  • I was also surprised to learn that Vietnamese people consume a lot of Chinese movies and soap operas, so there’s no real need to change Chinese cultural content for Vietnam (the way you might need to for Western markets).

Game Industry

We were fortunate enough to meet another indie game developer from New Zealand while we were in Danang. He and his wife had been living there off and on for about a year. It was really nice to have the opportunity to meet up a few times with another game developer while we were there, as it can feel somewhat isolating to develop games in parts of Southeast Asia.

Of course, the largest game industry conference for the region is Casual Connect Asia (this year in Singapore), but as it turns out, there’s a games conference right in Danang! Unfortunately, we missed it, as it happened earlier in the summer (May). It’s called the Vietnam Game Summit and seems to have a good turnout.

I haven’t come across other game industry conferences in Vietnam so far, but it’s surprising one of the larger cities wouldn’t have one. If you know of any others, please let us know in the comment section below!

Food

Vietnam is a big country. Like most other countries, the food changes depending on which region you go to. Some cities have dishes they’re known for, and some dishes are made differently in the north, central, or south.

Bahn mi

This is an absolute must to try, and it always costs only 15k VND (about $0.65 USD) at bahn mi stands. This is a food heavily inspired by the French, using French baguettes and pate with Vietnamese flavors inside.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Bahn-Mi(Bahn mi comes wrapped in paper, sometimes receipts from imports/exports to China.)

In Saigon, they used pickled vegetables in their bahn mi, which wasn’t the case in Danang (central Vietnam). Each bahn mi stand also prepares their sandwiches differently, so it’s worth trying multiple times.

Although both Manne and I became mostly vegetarians while in Thailand (there’s a story behind this!), we did eat some meat and seafood in the first weeks of Vietnam because we wanted to try the local food.

(We quickly discovered that the meat made us sick anyway, and if we wanted to avoid food poisoning, it was better to stick to vegetarian food.)

We didn’t try any vegetarian bahn mi while in Danang, but we found a lot of vegetarian food closeby in Saigon, including multiple bahn mi stands with vegetarian options.

Even among the vegetarian options, bahn mi changed, sometimes drastically, depending on the place. For example, one place only use mushrooms with lettuce, pate, sauce, and pickled vegetables, whereas others used different types of mock meat instead of mushrooms.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Bahn-Mi

Mi quang (“Mee”)

Awesome bowl of thick noodles, vegetables, meat/tofu/mock meat, with some broth for flavor. A must try!

Bun kho (“Boon”)

Bun is just word of a type of noodle. It’s similar to mi quang but also has crunchy things. One of my favorites.

Cao lau (“Cow”)

A specialty dish of Hoi An. It’s similar to bun kho but has larger crispy foodstuff in it.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Hoi-An-Food-Cau-Lau

Com dia

This is just the daily special with rice, usually a mix of meat (or mock meat if vegetarian), vegetables, and rice. It’s worth trying since it’s a staple dish. If you go to a vegetarian place on a Buddha day (a day when people put altars on the sidewalk and the vegetarian places have more activity than usual), you’ll see a lot of people coming and going, ordering com dia to go.

Banh xeo (“She-oh”)

Try this at least once or twice. The level of crispiness depends on the place. Bahn xeo is extremely popular, and is a sort of omlette (aka pancake), folded over, that you put vegetables and meat in, then dip in sauce. We actually weren’t the biggest fans of this dish, but I’m glad we tried it while in Vietnam. There’s a highly rated bahn xeo place down an alley in downtown Danang that is always busy. Check it out if you can!
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Bahn-XeoVietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Bahn-Xeo

Bun thit nuong (“Boon”)

Bun thit noung and bun kho were two of my favorite dishes. It was slightly different at the places we tried in Danang and Saigon, but both places were incredible.

Pho (“Fuh”)

If you haven’t tried it already…or even if you have…try out a bowl of pho while in Vietnam! It’s great, and cheap. We got it for 35k/person (around $1.50 USD).
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Pho

Lau

Hot pot! Again, if you’ve already tried it in your hometown, also try it in Vietnam, preferably with a few friends. It’s a big dish!

Snacks/Drinks

Ca phe sua (“sue-ah”)

Vietnamese coffee. This tastes different depending on where you get it, so be sure to try it a few times!
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Vietnamese-Coffee

Bahn xoai (aka mango steam bun cake)

Very sweet. I can’t remember exactly what it tasted like now, but I remember it being amazing. We tried it at a stand in Hoi An.

Bahn tran

Or, as a food stand in Hoi An called it, Vietnamese pizza. 🙂 We tried this at two different places. The second place, we were less impressed with, but one of the food stands in Hoi An had amazing bahn tran – crispy, with some egg and other items mixed around inside, and hot sauce for a kick.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Hoi-An-Bahn-Tran-Pizza

Spring rolls

Try them fried and not fried! A must while in Vietnam!
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Spring-Rolls

Banh Gao Nhat Ichi chips

A sweet, honey-flavored circular chip.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Vietnamese-Snacks

Indonesian chips

If you don’t have a chance to make it over to Indonesia, try Indonesian chips while you’re in Vietnam. They come in bags at the grocery store or in chip bags.
Vietnam-Digital-Nomad-Travel-Gamedev-IndieDev-Danang-Indonesian-Chips-Snack

Have you been to Vietnam? What were your experiences like with the locals and the country? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the author

Currently working on simulation game “In the Heart of Borneo.”

Designer & Programmer
Golden Moose Collective

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  1. […] I mentioned in my previous blog posts for Korea and Vietnam, I do freelance work for game localization and publishing company LAI Global Game Services, and, as […]

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