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You’d never expect this place would be so great

April 5, 2012
Hanoi, Vietnam

For the past eight days I’ve been spending time with friends in Vietnam; I’ll be leaving in a few days to link up with Simon in Thailand, but for now, I’m really impressed by Vietnam. The country has a great deal going for it.

In the ancient town of Hoi An and the capital city Hanoi, the lifestyle is generally very laid back and relaxed.  Excellent cafes and restaurants, offering both local fair and foreign food, are everywhere. Nearly all offer free, reliable WIFI connections.

Prices are very reasonable even in the fancier western-style places, and they border on ridiculously cheap in the local ones.  For a great lunch today of grilled pork and rice noodle soup accompanied by a huge plate heaped high with fresh local herbs to accent the flavors, friend and I paid $3. Total. For TWO.

In Hoi An, a popular tourist town about thirty minutes’ drive south of Da Nang, at the northern end of what was once South Vietnam, our group of five adults and five children dined out in style each evening. We always ordered multiple courses, and several rounds of drinks. Yet the bill seldom exceeded $100.

A fifteen-minute taxi ride to the beach from our hotel in town cost $3.75.  In Hanoi, the metered taxi rate works out to about $0.85 per mile.  And the drivers I’ve dealt with have all been scrupulously honest.

Another thing that’s very noticeable here is that no one expects tips. I suppose it may have been different if the Americans had won the war.

Taxis may be plentiful and cheap, but in order to really explore any city, I prefer walking. And though the weather here can be hot and humid, Hanoi has many lakes and is actually very pleasant to explore on foot.

It also feels extremely safe. My friends here have three young daughters aged from two to six. When I went out with them, the two older ones were able to ride their bikes around their neighborhood without a care in the world.

My friends rent a 3-story, 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house with a courtyard and several balconies for just $1,150 a month– HALF what I pay for a tiny 2BR apartment in Hong Kong.  And that’s in the up-market Tay Ho (West Lake) district popular with wealthy locals and expats.

Looking around Vietnam today, it’s hard to fathom that forty years ago the United States was still fighting an incredibly costly ideological war over what was then a communist backwater. Thankfully, Hanoi was left largely intact. The Americans never mounted wholesale bombing campaigns over the Vietnamese capital.

Of course, before the “American War,” as they call it here, Vietnam was a colony of France. And while many ordinary Vietnamese suffered under the colonial regime, French colonial influence undeniably left some positives behind.

The wide tree-lined boulevards, lakes, and magnificent colonial architecture, as well as the vibrant cafe society which define present-day Hanoi, are largely a product of the French colonial legacy.

Bottom line…  Hanoi has a lot to offer if you have the ability to live the PT lifestyle, either because your job is location-independent, or because you have the financial means to support yourself from passive income.

And that applies whether you’re carefree and single, or you have a young family like my friends who are based here. For the right person, the quality of life you can enjoy here for the small amount of money you have to pay is really very difficult to beat.

Until next time,

Tim Staermose, Chief Investment Strategist
Sovereign Man

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About the author: Born to a Danish father and British mother, in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Tim Staermose has led an international life since the day he was born. Growing up, he also lived in Egypt, Denmark, and Singapore, before eventually settling in Australia, where he completed his education and took out citizenship. Since then he has also lived and worked in Hong Kong, and Manila, Philippines, in the field of equity research — both for a bulge-bracket Wall Street investment bank, and for an independent investment research firm. Today, when not traveling the globe looking for investment and business opportunities for the Sovereign Man community and catching up with his diverse, multinational group of friends, he divides his time between Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Sefton Hanley

    I also am based in and travel around asia a lot (currently really enjoying the boom in Phnom Penh) and we always joke that you can see the difference of British or French colonialism. The British left good roads and law courts, the French left Good coffee and bread. 

    Not sure who got the better deal. 

  • Bui

    You are lying.

  • Michael

    Vietnam is terrific. Cleaner than Thailand. Beautiful country and people. 

  • Matesol

    I spent three months in Vietnam.  You didn’t mention that it’s also VERY easy to buy gold in Vietnam. When people make big purchases, such as buying a home cash up front, they buy gold bullion and pay with gold.  

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