Is Twitter Still Relevant in 2017?

Twitter is one of the oldest social networking sites still popular today. Having been around for over 10 years this microblogging platform has changed a lot over the last decade. At its core, however, is still breaking news and the 140 character limit.

Yet, after all this time, is Twitter still relevant? Should you invest time in maintaining an active Twitter account for your business or personal brand? Here’s my experience.

I’ve used Twitter to promote this blog and my Youtube channel. I’ve also used Facebook and Instagram. Besides just promoting my own content, I’ve used Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to try to build relationships with other digital nomads, freelancers, and business owners.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that using Twitter gets me much lower engagement on my content. I’ll get 100-200 likes by posting something on Instagram, but get just a single like or retweet if any, by posting the same thing on Twitter.

I’ve also checked my Youtube analytics. Facebook always drives more traffic to my videos than Twitter. In the last 28 days for example, Facebook has brought 53 visitors to my videos versus just 3 visitors from Twitter.

youtube view analytics

In other words, engagement with my content pretty much sucks on Twitter. You could argue that the reason for this is because my Instagram account is older and more established than my Twitter account. Fair enough. That doesn’t explain the huge discrepancy, however, between my Twitter and Facebook.

Both of those accounts were created the same month. Plus, since creating those accounts, I’ve spent 18.5 hours building up my Twitter account vs just 8.5 hours growing my audience on Facebook (I log my daily time usage). It just doesn’t add up. Except, it does.

If you’ve ever watched Gary Vaynerchuk, you’d know that he always says, “Marketers ruin EVERYTHING.” It’s true. The typical trend for a medium (television, social media platform, whatever) is as follows.

First, regular people begin giving their attention to the medium. Then, a few trendy marketers get the idea to start advertising to these people. The marketers realize they’re getting a great ROI.

They scale up their marketing efforts, and tell their friends. Soon enough, the signal to noise ratio on the platform shifts significantly. Consumers start by trying to tune out the noise. You’ve seen this before. How quickly do you reach for your phone when there’s a commercial on TV?

It’s the same reason Twitter engagement sucks. Too many people just promote their own shit on Twitter without repping the great stuff everyone else is putting out. Even worse, a lot of people just automate their Twitters entirely. Because of this, it’s hard to get your content to stand out above all the noise.

Everybody’s talking but nobody’s listening. Twitter isn’t such a great broadcasting channel because of this anymore. You’d be surprised how few extra views or purchases having 1k or even 10k followers will get you. Yet, that doesn’t mean Twitter is irrelevant these days.

While I don’t find Twitter very useful for promoting my own stuff, I have found engaging with others very fruitful on Twitter. Twitter is how I met the awesome Jake Darby of Nomadic Hustle as well as an awesome graphic designer in Matt Lawrence (reach out to him if you want an awesome design at an awesome price).

I’ve already hung out with Matt in Saigon, and there’s a good chance I’ll be filming some vlogs with Jake later this year. I’ve also chatted with Peter Lievels (founder of nomadlist), Dan Norris, and Robert Koch (the blogger behind 30daystox).

If you want to get the most out of Twitter, you’ve got to understand you won’t be able to do so via endless self-promotion. In 2017 Twitter is a place to easily connect with other high level people, and build relationships that’ll enrich both your personal and business life.

If you view Twitter through this lens, it’s far from irrelevant. In fact, it just may be the best social network out there today.

4 Reasons Kuala Lumpur is Good For Border Runs

I’ve already done a post on whether KL is a good destination for digital nomads. The short answer — KL isn’t super exciting, but it’s an inexpensive city and a great place to focus on getting work done (click here for the longer answer).

That post was one of my most popular posts the last several months. You seemed to have gotten a lot of value out of it. For that reason, I thought you might enjoy me dishing out a bit more information to you on KL. While KL may not be the best destination for many nomads, it’s a great place for border runs or a weekend getaway. Here’s why.

#1 Cost of Living

Kuala Lumpur is very inexpensive. Budget hotel rooms can be found for just $10-$20/night. Food is cheap as well. The Malaysian and Indian food in KL is among the cheapest I’ve seen in Asia. Presumably the Chinese food in KL is cheap as well. I can’t comment with as much authority on that, however, as I’m not into Chinese food much.

Regardless, a couple dollars will easily satiate your hunger regardless of which culture’s food you like best. You could easily live a decent lifestyle in KL under $1000/month. It’s a bit more expensive than Saigon or Chiang Mai, but not much. While you’ll spend a bit more each day here on a short trip because of increased accommodation costs, this $1000/month figure should give you a good idea of how affordable KL is.

#2 Airport

KL is an awesome hub for flights. Kuala Lumpur is well connected to lots of the other top cities in Asia. Whether you’d like to go to Bangkok, Saigon, or Bali, you’ll find KL often has some of the most competitive prices on international flights. I’ve also found it’s typically cheaper to fly to the US from Kuala Lumpur than Saigon or Bangkok.

These cheap flights, however, make KL an awesome border run destination because they get you the stamps you need for your passport at a surprisingly affordable cost.

#3 Few Awesome Tourist Attractions

Kuala Lumpur has some really cool tourist attractions. The Petronas Towers, and Batu Caves for example, are two of the coolest sights Southeast Asia has to offer. Beyond that, however, my experience of KL suggests that it’s a fairly uneventful place to live. Perhaps that would change if you really established roots there.

From what I’ve seen, however, you’ll likely get bored staying in KL for a few months. Instead of trying to make Kuala Lumpur your base city, I’d recommend using it as a place to visit for border runs or a short vacation.

KL petronas towers

#4 Ease of Entry/No Visa Fee

The final reason Kuala Lumpur is great for border runs or weekend getaways is that visiting Malaysia is easy. US citizens, along with most other nationalities don’t need visas to enter the country. There’s also no fee for visitor cards on entrance, or departure fees either. Getting through immigration shouldn’t cost you any money in most circumstances.

Many nationalities also receive permission to stay in Malaysia for 90 days upon entry. This offers you a lot of flexibility in how long you stay. You could plan to visit for the weekend, fall in love with KL, and extend your stay extremely easily.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to love about visiting KL on a border run. KL makes border runs inexpensive, convenient, flexible, and interesting. I can’t think of many other cities in Asia you can say the same for. If you’re planning to base yourself long-term out of Thailand, Vietnam, or any country in SEA really, do make a plan to visit KL for one of your border runs at some point.

Learning Efficiently & Becoming Mentally Strong

Often when we have opportunities in life we’ll say, “Awwww I should apply for this job but I’m not ready yet”. Or, “I should join this soccer team but I don’t think I’m good enough yet”. Or, “I should do X experience but I’m not ready”.

Visualize this. Someone is learning to ski. They go down the little hill again and again and again. At first the little hill is a bit scary, but they quickly become accustomed to it. Yet, they keep repeating this now easy task over and over again.

They’re intimidated by the challenge the big hill has waiting for them. They want to keep doing the little hill again and again to avoid the big hill. At the very least, they think repeatedly practicing the small hill will eventually make the bigger hill less scary.

This may work on some small level, but it’s important to recognize that repeating easy tasks has diminishing returns. While skiing down the little hill may continue to be fun, the pace at which you’re learning slows the longer you attempt the same task and expose yourself to the same repeating stimuli. This is an important realization, but one you probably don’t want to acknowledge.

We like doing things we’re good at. We don’t want to hear that the best way to improve is to do the things we’re not fully comfortable with. It means we have to face our fears.

It means doing things that may feel awkward or uncomfortable to us. We may have to change our perspective or attempt to expand our minds in ways that are mentally exhausting or frustrating.

Put simply, reaching your potential is impossible if you only repeat a small number of tasks you’re already comfortable with. Of course, there’s a balance too. If you stretch yourself too far you’ll learn inefficiently.

You shouldn’t be studying CSS if you don’t know basic HTML yet. If you’re learning English you shouldn’t study words like ‘Abolish’ or ‘Accumulation’ before you’re comfortable with more basic vocabulary like ‘fast’ or ‘smile’.

Inefficient learning is the best case scenario of this approach as well. More likely, you’ll just give up. You’ll claim learning to code or learning English “just wasn’t for me”.  Dangerous.

The best way to learn things, and the best way to expand your comfort zone is to do something one step or level beyond your current abilities.

If you’ve become comfortable with HTML, learn CSS. If traveling across the country doesn’t feel challenging to you, travel to another country. When giving a speech to 10 people stops being scary, give a presentation to 20 people.

Do the things that challenge you. Do the things that scare you. Before long, they’ll cease to be challenging or scary. Your abilities and comfort zone will have expanded. When this happens, you’ll know it’s time to move on to life’s next challenge for you 🙂

Hilarious Nightmare Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hey guys, today’s videos is one of my favorites I’ve ever recorded. The video doesn’t dive deep into incredible mental frameworks. It doesn’t offer any crazy facts you’d never heard of before. This video is quite comical, however. Let me explain.

Last month I stayed in a hotel in central KL for only $14/night… including breakfast. While this sounded cheap, these prices aren’t unheard of by any means for a well traveled nomad in Southeast Asia. I’ve stayed in solid places in Vietnam for under $10/night.

Unfortunately, Hotel Pudu 88, the hotel I stayed at in May was far from solid. If you’ve slept in budget accommodation before you know what to expect: A small room, poor view, older facilities, that kind of stuff.

Hotel Pudu 88 was legendary in my books, however, for being so ridiculously bad. In addition to the typical cheap room stuff I mentioned above, Hotel Pudu 88 had many other surprises waiting for me as well.

For two nights I enjoyed the luxury of mold on the ceiling, a sticky door handle, feeling itchy in bed (who knows why), flat pillows, mirrors that had toothpaste on them from the last guest, and the list goes on and on. The staff even refused to let me borrow one of their power adapters to charge my phone (I was forced to purchase the adapter from them).

Let’s continue. I got two more juicy details you’re going to love. The free breakfast we were promised? Bread. To their credit, however, a toaster, peanut butter, and sugary jam were available to go with that bread.

The whole breakfast area was depressing. The other people wouldn’t make eye contact with you. It was as if everyone was in a state of disbelief all their hopes and dreams had amounted to residing in this bottom of the barrel accommodation. Despite laughing as I write this post, I’m only exaggerating this story slightly.

My favorite part of the whole ordeal, however, was when I asked to get some toilet paper from reception. Now, when we got to the hotel they left us half a roll of toilet paper in our room.

This may be sufficient for one person staying overnight, but we’re a couple staying two nights. I was staying with my girlfriend and I just can’t see how two people needing one more roll of toilet paper during that stay is in any way unreasonable.

I ask the front desk guy if we can have a roll of toilet paper and he says and I quote, “Take one.” And there was some preeeety heavy emphasis on the one. Man, I thought I was frugal.

Anyway, is there much of a point to this story? I don’t know. This place was even dirtier than the $6/night hotel I stayed in that asked not so jokingly if I wanted a lady with my room. I guess the biggest thing would be to see just how bad budget accommodation can be in Southeast Asia.

I get that many of you are newer digital nomads that simply can’t afford to drop $50-$100 a night on a baller place to stay in during your travels. I get it, me too. However, understand that sometimes there can be a big difference between $6/night and $12/night or $120/month for an apartment and $200/month.

For an extra few dollars per night, you can get a lot more comfort that’ll allow you to easily focus on doing the most important thing — generating income. If $5/night extra is a significant hit to your budget… it’s time to focus on making more money. Don’t live like an animal.

Don’t get stuck in the phase where you’re bragging about how cheap everything is abroad forever. Appreciating the lower prices in foreign countries is just the first level of expat and digital nomad living.

Enjoy it, but then get grinding. A better ideal, is to be making enough money that you’re far more proud to talk about the income you’re bringing in than the cheap street food and rock bottom accommodation you’re staying in.

Is Kuala Lumpur a Good Destination for Digital Nomads?

If you ask most digital nomads where they recommend living in South East Asia they’ll probably answer your question with one of the “Big 3” nomad hubs. They’ll suggest you live in Saigon, Chiang Mai, or Bali. Yet, while these digital nomad hubs are popular for a reason, it’s important to recognize that many other options exist as well.

One of those options is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a solid choice for digital nomads for several reasons. For one the cost of living is very low. Airbnb apartments are extremely affordable as are the hotels. We’re talking $350-$450/month for a solid place on Airbnb.

Stay longer or find a place on the ground and you’ve got a good shot at finding an even better deal. Food is cheap as well. Budget meals at restaurants can be found for $1-3/each. Yet, cost of living isn’t the only reason to live in Kuala Lumpur.

KL also has several coworking spaces. In fact, a quick search on coworker.com will give you 30+ possible places to work from. While you can’t expect to find the same number of digital nomads at these spaces as the ones in Chiang Mai or Saigon, there are nomads here. Plus, they’ll be more excited to connect with you as finding others living the location independent lifestyle is more of a rarity in Kuala Lumpur.

A really nice bonus of being a digital nomad in Kuala Lumpur is that it’s extremely cheap to get flights into and out of KL. Getting to a place like Bali or Koh Lanta can be expensive for someone that’s bootstrapping with an extremely limited budget.

Even with all of these benefits, however, KL isn’t an ideal digital nomad base in my eyes. It has some nice tourist attractions like the Petronas Towers or Batu Caves, but overall KL feels a bit boring to me. Does that mean I was hanging out in the wrong places or not meeting the right people? Perhaps.

I’d venture you’d probably grow bored of the city too if you stayed a week or more though. There’s just not the chaos of Saigon or the awesome leisure activities Bali or Chiang Mai have.

Conclusion

Kuala Lumpur is worth a visit as a tourist. It can also be great for visa runs (we’ll discuss this in a future post). KL has cheap food and booking accomodation for 1-3 months on airbnb isn’t difficult or overly expensive. The city is a bit boring, however.

My recommendation for other digital nomads? Don’t base yourself in KL for too long. Unless of course, you want to stay in a boring city for a while to limit distractions and make it easier to focus on work.

Weekend Food and Fun in KL

Hey guys, here’s a video I recorded last month in Kuala Lumpur. It mainly focused on some of the foods you’ll find in Malaysia, but you’ll see some shots from a Chinese Market in KL as well.

The food in KL really is excellent. In addition to being cheap $1-3/meal (watch the video for some meals we ate and the prices), the food scene in KL is also diverse. There’s lots of great Indian, Chinese, and Malay food to be found. Plus, these different ethnicities often blend their styles of food together.

This makes for many interesting dishes. Of course, there’s lots more to KL than just the food. The Petronas Towers are an amazing landmark and something you absolutely have to see while you’re in KL. There’s also some solid live music playing in the markets and around the city.

If you’re not into Malaysia’s food or culture fear not, however. Next week I’ll be posting some videos on the hilariously bad nightmare hotel we stayed at in KL (think mold on the wall, sticky doorknob bad), plus whether KL is a good destination for digital nomads.

Until then, enjoy the video!

5 Reasons to Live in Saigon

#1 Cost of Living

Western style accommodation in Saigon only costs $250-$350 for a small room. $1000/month will easily get you 2 bedrooms in many of the most luxurious high-rise apartments in the city if you’re running with a higher budget.

Food is also cheap. Buying food on the street in local restaurants will run you $1-2 for a meal at most places. Nicer western restaurants may cost a few dollars more. My favorite Indian food, Chicken Saagwala for example is $4. A pizza for two may cost $7-10.

There have been many months I lived on just $500/month. These days, however, I probably spend closer to $700-$800/month alone or $1,000/month with my girlfriend living with me. $1,000/month is probably a comfortable budget for single people under 40 who’d like to live in a nice apartment with a pool or hit the bars and clubs a couple times a week. You may need to budget more if you’d like to do both.

#2 Menial Tasks Outsourced

Outsourcing your menial tasks in Saigon is extremely affordable. You can hire people very cheaply to do your laundry, clean your room, cook for you , etc. While the lazy side of you will love having someone clean your room, the biggest advantage of this outsourcing is that it frees up time and energy for you to focus on more meaningful tasks.

Whether that’s generating more leads for your business, learning a new skill, or building a better dating life, having someone do your menial tasks will free up a lot of space in your mind and schedule to focus on more important things.

#3 Food Paradise

Aside from being cheap, the food here is also delicious. There’s lots of great choices for both local and international food. Local food is very healthy compared to the cuisine in other countries. The health movement has also picked up in the last few years.

The people in Vietnam are opening up more health shops selling supplements, organic foods, green smoothies and more. Although it’s usually more expensive to eat at the healthy restaurants, we’re not talking about anything too ridiculous. A decent sized green smoothie will set you back $2 while a buffet brunch/lunch at the Vietnamese equivalent of Whole Foods costs just under $10.

#4 Dating

Hahaha you know this one had to make it in the list. The women in Vietnam tend to be more feminine than their western counterparts. They’re also thinner. Whether you want to find a sweet loyal girl to marry or party it up as a young single guy, Vietnam is a good choice for you.

The female foreigners living here almost exclusively date other foreigners, however. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a western girl holding a Vietnamese guy’s hand. This is for many reasons, which I’m sure you could easily figure out for yourself.

Again I won’t comment for women, but as even an average socially adjusted man you’ll love your dating life in Vietnam.

#5 Close Proximity to Other Countries

Vietnam is just a hop away from several other interesting countries. With neighbors like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, and the Philippines all 3.5 hours or less away by plane, you’ve got a lot of great options for a long weekend getaway.

Cambodia in particular is very easy to reach by bus. 6 hours. That’s all it takes to go from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Well, that’s what they say at least…

Conclusion

As you can see there’s a lot of great things about living in Saigon. That’s one of the reasons I’m likely to stay there. I’d recommend you give it a shot too. It doesn’t get as much love as Chiang Mai, but after having lived in both, I’d say it’s just as lovable. Even more lovable to some.

The Story Engine: 7 Secrets to SKYROCKET Business Growth With Content Marketing

I recently finished reading The Story Engine, Kyle Gray’s new book on content marketing. If you haven’t heard the term before, content marketing is a type of marketing that utilizes the creation of content (written articles, Youtube videos, social media posts, etc.) to generate interest in a brand.

The difference between content marketing and traditional advertising, however, is that while content marketing often stimulates interest in a company’s products or services, the content itself doesn’t explicitly promote the brand.

One example would be a personal trainer releasing videos on how to exercise with proper form or how you could make consistently exercising a habit. In fact, this is the primary way popular Youtube fitness instructor Elliott Hulse built up his brand to over 2,000,000 Youtube subscribers and nearly 400,000,000 views between his two channels.

Yet, growing a brand isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, and that’s why I was so excited to read Kyle’s new book. Kyle had been extremely successful building up tech startup WP Curve’s blog and growing the company’s revenue with his content marketing strategy.

Although I can’t give everything from the book away, in this post I wanted to share a few key insights I had from reading The Story Engine.

#1 Content Marketing is For Those In It For the Long Game

Like Kyle says in the book, content marketing won’t give you the immediate returns a Google or Facebook ad campaign hypothetically could. In fact, Kyle says it usually takes a great article 6-12 months to generate enough traffic just to offset the cost of creating it.

This is something that turns a lot of marketers and business owners off. Having to wait several months or years for content to have a positive ROI isn’t something most people are willing to do. Yet, the biggest benefit of content is that it becomes more valuable over time.

#2 Documentation is Important

When Kyle took over the content marketing operations at WP Curve he struggled. He had such a difficult time in his first few months at WP Curve that he almost quit. Part of the problem was that he lacked experience with Slack, Trello, and other communication tools remote teams often use to communicate. He was also inexperienced working remotely himself.

More than anything else, however, he cites his difficulties with lacking the proper documentation and processes for himself and his team of writers. The writers and other freelancers you hire will only be able to perform as well as the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) you’ve created for them.

If your processes aren’t well refined, you’re unlikely to get a polished result. Yet, there is one positive spin Kyle puts on this. He writes, ‘“…Every interactions with freelancers or team members will create an opportunity to improve your processes. Remember, “fix the process, not the person.”’

#3 Content Marketing Casts a Broad Net

As a content marketer, you’re not an archer shooting an arrow and aiming for a small bullseye. You’re more like a fisherman with a large net trying to catch all the fish he can. Many of the people that consume your content won’t be your ideal customers. Most of them won’t ever purchase anything from you.

That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable, however. People that consume your content are likely to become what Kyle calls “brand ambassadors”. Although brand ambassadors may not purchase from you directly, if they’re engaged with your content there’s a good chance they’ll refer ideal customers to you when the opportunity arises.

Though hard to track, these recommendations are incredibly valuable.

#4 Content as Recruiting

Kyle suggests that one possible way to approach your content marketing efforts is to write content that would inspire someone to want to join your team. Apart from making a future talented teammate more likely to want to join your organization, writing in this way may also improve the quality of your content. Gregory Ciotti from Help Scout is a big advocate of the content as recruiting frame saying that,

“With the ‘content as recruiting’ concept well understood, you’ll keep higher standards for your publishing, you’ll have an easier time encouraging your teammates to write, and you’ll be more deliberate with transparency…”

#5 Content Marketing Is Best For Certain Types of Businesses

While The Story Engine discusses many of the benefits of content marketing, it’s also transparent in that some businesses are more well suited to content marketing than others.

Content is best for businesses with digital products, recurring revenue streams (such as web hosting or other SAAS products), high-ticket items, and businesses that benefit from educating their consumers.

Content marketing options are more limited for local businesses, however, because their “net” for capturing attention is confined to the local audience. The big exception to this, however, is tourism.

Businesses working in local tourism can easily market to a wide audience by writing content to help potential tourists plan activities during their trip. This is extremely effective, because it sells something a consumer wants at precisely the moment they’re ready to purchase it.

Marina Bay

(A high-ticket tourist destination like the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore would be the perfect candidate for content marketing.)

#6 Why Most Blogs Fail

In The Story Engine Kyle offers several reasons blogs commonly fail. I’ve listed his six reasons with a short summary of each (in my words) below.

I. Shiny Object Syndrome — Inexperienced content creators too often shift the tools they use or the topics they cover. This continually changing content makes it virtually impossible to build any traction or trust with an audience.

II. No Differentiation — Content marketing is competitive and “me-too” content simply won’t receive attention in most industries.

III. Isolation — The blog focuses too much on self-promotion.

IV. Keywords over Value — The marketer writes for search engines in an attempt to rank for keywords, rather than writing content that’ll help an audience solve a problem that’s relevant to them.

V. Burnout — People burn out on creating content because they don’t have context and a larger vision to feel certain they’re invested time and energy will have a positive ROI.

VI. Can’t Scale — A single founder creates content an audience loves, but later hires are unable to reproduce the voice of the founder.

#7 Why Retargeting Isn’t All You Need

Retargeting is a type of marketing that displays advertisements or offers to people that have seen your content before. These “warm leads” often do get high conversion rates. The problem is that you’ll quickly deplete your retargeting opportunities if you’re not receiving fresh traffic each month. As Kyle writes, “…Retargeting only appeals to the traffic you currently have.”

Creating new content will lead to new traffic. This steam of new traffic today will be the potential retargeting list of tomorrow. As a bonus, having a block filled with valuable content and being seen as an authority in your field will further increase the conversation rates of your retargeting efforts too!

Conclusion

Beyond all this, The Story Engine will also teach you more about how to manage writers, how to hire a content manager, getting ideas for content, and how to train your team so that you’re able to gradually remove yourself from the content creation process.

In short, reading The Story Engine will be an excellent use of your time. You’ll greatly deepen your knowledge of content marketing, developer new marketing strategies for your business, and become more profitable in the long-run.

Grab Kyle’s book on Amazon now!

StoryEngineBook

Top 5 Tips for Living in Saigon, Vietnam

Saigon is one of South East Asia’s most popular hubs for startups and digital nomads. There’s so many good things to be said about living in Saigon (check out this kickass post by Arielle Gold for more on that), yet the hustle and bustle of living in Saigon can also be a huge adjustment.

While Saigon has an awesome vibe, rock bottom cost of living, and an incredible food/coffee scene, the city is also loud, polluted, and chaotic. That’s why many expats and nomads have a love hate relationship with the city.

Having lived in Saigon for two years, I’d agree that the city’s pollution and lack of nature will drive you crazy after a while. Living here permanently would certainly kill the charm after a while. However, Saigon still remains a destination every digital nomad or remote worker should try living in for at least a month.

Below I’ve listed my top five tips for living in Saigon. Follow these pieces of advice and you’ll have a much easier transition to living in the world of pho and endless motorbikes. Taking action on these tips will also help you maximize your time in the city and ensure you get everything you can out of this city.

#1 Do Not Live in Pham Ngu Lao (The Backpacker Area)

Pham Ngu Lao is the city’s tourist trap (as are Bui Vien and De Tham). If you’re looking to meet other travelers, hit up the bars, or get international food Pham Ngu Lao is a great place to visit. It can even be a solid place to stay for a night or two. There’s a seemingly endless amount of hotels and hostels in this part of town.

Living in Pham Ngu Lao isn’t likely to be an enjoyable experience, however. For one, you’re going to be paying inflated prices. Everything from food, to drinks, to sunglasses are more expensive in this zone of the city.

Locals are also more likely to try to scam you or steal your things in this area. The locals tend to be less friendly around Pham Ngu Lao too. With new drunk backpackers shooting into town each night, and locals seeing the worst of foreigners, could you blame them?

There’s more reasons you wouldn’t want to live on Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien, or De Tham Street as well. The bars often play loud music late into the night. Trying to sleep with loud music outside isn’t so intolerable if it’s just one or two nights. Can you imagine having that annoyance every day, however?

The never ending stream of motorbike guys offering you weed, men selling sunglasses, and girls offering massages gets old fast too. In short, don’t live in the backpacker area of the city. Anything over a week and you’ll probably start to go a little crazy. Where should you live then?

There’s a few options. District 1 is the central district of the city, and is a solid place to live in (as long as you get outside the Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao area). Living in District 1 will have you close to most of the city’s best bars, restaurants, and entertainment options. Accommodation in D1 is pricier than most other parts of the city, however.

District 3 and the Binh Thanh district are also central options with slightly lower price points. These districts also have comfortable western style accommodation while the surrounding areas still have an authentic local feel to them.

The other two popular options are District 2 and District 7. These districts are where a lot of the wealthier Vietnamese and foreigners live. D2 and D7 also offer some of the most luxurious apartments, pools, and villas the city has to offer. They are a bit isolated, however, which may be something to consider.

If you’re looking to get English teaching jobs or other local work, you may have a slightly longer commute to deal with living in D2 or D7. Depending on which part of these districts you live in, you may also find your cost of living creep up a bit in these areas.

Overall, there’s a lot of great places to live in Ho Chi Minh City. For most people, however, Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao aren’t the best choice.

pham ngu lao fruit shakes

(Smoothies in Pham Ngu Lao)

#2 Try the Local Foods

The point of traveling isn’t just to take cool pictures for your Facebook or Instagram profile. Far more important is getting to experience the local culture and try new things. A big part of that is food.

While Saigon has a great selection of international cuisine (I’m a big fan of the Indian food), the city also has countless dishes you’ve probably never even seen before as a Westerner. While you can indulge in comfort foods every once in a while, don’t be afraid of the local food.

Everyone will try Pho and Bahn Mi, but there’s so many other great local dishes to discover. Bun Cha, Bun Bo, Bun Rieu, Com Tam, Bahn Trang, the list goes on and on. I’ve been living here for two years now and I’m still discovering new foods on at least a monthly basis.

You don’t have to eat the entire dish of a new food if you don’t like it. With most food options costing just $1-3, however, almost everything is worth a try. The one thing to be careful of, however, is that dog is a food here. That may be the only thing you couldn’t forgive yourself for trying.

local vietnamese rice and noodles

(Curry rice and beef noodles)

#3 Make Local Friends (Or Date Locals)

There’s so many things to learn from interacting with the local people. You’ll learn new ways of thinking, which you can learn from even if the Vietnamese way of thinking about certain topics isn’t ideal (nor is the Western way on other subjects).

Beyond that, you’ll also get a more authentic cultural experience from dating locals or making Vietnamese friends. Where is the locals favorite place to hang out in any city? HINT: It’s often not the place that the tourists hang out. In fact, you or the other foreigners living in the city may not even be aware many of the locals’ favorite spots even exist.

I had a girlfriend in Vietnam for example ask me to go to ice cream with her. While I’d taken her to Baskin Robbins in the past, for this date she took me to a famous local spot in District 5. At that ice cream shop you multiple flavors of ice cream frozen into the inside part of a coconut at 1/3 the price of a smaller serving at Baskin Robbins.

Talk about cool! Yet, you’ll never have these experiences without befriending the locals. Saving money, making new friends, and having fun cultural experiences. Talk about win/win/win.

best coconut ice cream saigon

(Excellent coconut ice cream in District 5)

#4 Manage Your Cost of Living Carefully

Saigon is an interesting city in that it can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d like. I’ve seen shared accommodation for under $1/day. I’ve also seen luxury villas with private pools for a few grand per month. Of course, most of the city’s accommodation is somewhere in between.

Most foreigners live in apartments that range from $200-$800/month. I think the real sweet spot, however, is around $250 to $450. For that price you’ll get a comfortable serviced apartment in the center of the city that includes cleaning and often laundry as well.

Saigon also has hundreds if not thousands of dining options for you regardless of your budget. You could easily hack it here and subsist for $5/day even eating out every meal. I’ve done it in the past, but wouldn’t recommend you do the same long-term as it can get old having such limited options.

I’d estimate I spend around $300-$400/month on food these days. You could certainly spend more or less depending on your needs. That would likely be comfortable for most people, however. Just note that expensive wines, cocktails, coffee and western food can quickly drive up your monthly expenditures.

Overall, there’s two important things to remember about your monthly expenses in Saigon. The first, is that doing some of the frugal activities you’d do at home may not be worth it financially. For example, taking 30 minutes to walk somewhere may save you some decent money in a western country like the USA.

Yet, the same thing in Saigon would probably only save you a $2 taxi ride or $0.70 motorbike fare (using Grab or Uber). Eating out is also expensive in the West, but in Vietnam is often almost the same price as if you’d prepared the food yourself.

While walking or cooking your own food may have legitimate health benefits, it’s not worth doing those activities for the minuscule cost savings they may offer. Outsourcing your rudimentary and repetitive tasks is almost always an intelligent decision in Vietnam considering the low wages locals are willing to do those tasks for.

The other recommendation I’d make to you is be careful about how much you raise your standard of living. An apartment for $1,000 or even $700/month with a kickass pool and view may seem like a deal you just can’t pass up on.

If you’re making $2,000/month or less, however, (which is most English teachers and many new remote workers), those few hundred dollars in potential savings each month by renting a cheaper apartment are HUGE for you.

You could save money to pay off student loans, invest in your future, or simply work fewer hours to have more time to develop new skills or build a long-term sustainable business. In short, enjoying more purchasing power due to Saigon’s low cost of living doesn’t mean you have to indulge in every luxury the city has to offer.

In fact, spending your money wisely and making sure you get excellent value from all your purchases will inevitably leave you more successful and happier long-term.

cheapest private accomodation near center of saigon

(Example of rock bottom prices in private “accomodation”. A little depressing to say the least, but only 1,600,000VND/month or $70.50/month, and fairly near the center of the city.)

#5 Understand the Good Comes With the Bad

There’s a lot of things that can get frustrating while living in Saigon for months or years at a time. The “me-first” attitude of the locals, smoking, pollution, language barrier, etc, can get old fast. Some of these things are more in your control than others. You could easily close the language gap a bit by learning at least the basics of Vietnamese.

The city’s pollution, smoking habits of its residents, and lack of nature isn’t really escapable without leaving Saigon altogether though. Leaving the city for border runs, or just taking an occasional weekend getaway can do wonders in refreshing your appreciation for the city.

The lack of nature for example is a lot more tolerable after spending a weekend lounging on the beach in Mui Ne or Nha Trang. When this isn’t possible, however, it’s important to just remember that the perfect city doesn’t exist.

You’ll never find a place that checks every box: Low cost of living, excellent nature, dating opportunities, friendly locals, language, safety, visas, great food, weather, cleanliness, etc. Yet, when a city’s flaws get to you, the best thing to do is appreciate all the good things the city does have.

It’s kind of like life really. If you don’t appreciate what you have, you’ll never be happy. Although Saigon is far from a perfect city, the food, low cost of living, networking opportunities, and vibe make it a place like no other. That’s why I’ve lived here the past two years, and that’s why you’ll be proud to call this city your home too, even if for just a month.

Cam’s $350 apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hey guys, after living there for more than a year, I’m finally bringing you a tour video of my apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I wanted to move to a new place before publishing this video. Now that I’m settled into my new apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I thought it was finally time to post this video.

The blog post below and video above should give you a good idea of what a mid-range apartment in the center of Ho Chi Minh City offers.

Price

The apartment in the video above costs $350/month. I made a special deal with the owner that those $350/month would include electricity if I didn’t use air conditioning. Obviously, however, most apartments in Ho Chi Minh City are going to require you to pay for electricity and some charge for water as well. Fortunately, for me, $350/month included everything.

Location:

Located in District 1, the apartment has a great location. Although some expats choose to live in Binh Thanh, District 2, and District 7, many of the foreigners living here would argue that apartments in District 1 have the best location in the city. This apartment in particular is situated between the large Diamond Plaza shopping mall, and the Saigon Zoo.

The nearby area also has countless restaurants where locals eat Pho, Koreans enjoy Kim Chi, and foreigners stab ribs. Of course, the different ethnicities aren’t afraid to enjoy the food from each others’ countries either!

Apart from this, the apartment is located in the quiet 18BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Alley. This alley has many foreigners living in it. It may not have as many expats as the nearby 18A or 18B alleys, but it’s a more peaceful place to live. For that reason, prices tend to be a bit higher in the 18BIS alley.

Pho

Utilities & Amenities

As noted before, air conditioning, electricity, and warm water are all offered by the apartment. Although my amazing fan didn’t leave me wanting for air conditioning much, those that “can’t live” without air conditioning would be fine here. Just budget a little extra for electricity.

Free laundry and cleaning are also included with your rent. At any time I was able to put my clothes in a basket outside my room. I’d then usually wait about 36-48 hours before they were washed, dried, and returned to my room. I’d have to hang them up in the closet myself afterwards, but hey, you can’t complain about this service considering it’s free 😉

We’d also have a lady clean the room about twice the week. She’d come in and wash the floor, dust the table, clean the mirror, change the sheets, make the bed, etc. Although you don’t realize it until you leave, having someone to do these tasks for you makes your life a lot easier! More importantly, it saves you time you can invest in more profitable or enjoyable endeavors.

Although the common area had a kitchen, it wasn’t something I ever used. My apartment had a fridge, however, and that was something I did enjoy using from time to time. The apartment also offered free parking. This is a nice perk if you’re renting in the $150-$350 range. Some of the cheapest apartments for foreigners won’t offer you parking.

The one disappointment I had with the apartment was its unreliable wifi. Although it would sometimes be fine for listening to youtube videos or other educational material; the wifi would often go down or work at unusable speeds for hours at a time. That was a big letdown.

Apartment Rules

My apartment in the 18 BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Alley didn’t have any unusual rules. We had a key and were free to come and go as we pleased. You had to pay a one month deposit, and pay your rent and other monthly bills in a timely fashion. You were expected to keep noise at a reasonable level at night. Prostitution and drugs were banned. You get the deal.

Conclusion

Just $350/month can get you a solid apartment in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. Although my apartment was a bit small and had unreliable wifi, it had a number of other perks that made it a great value.

Excellent location, cleaning, laundry, free water, free electricity (excluding air conditioning), free parking, and even a handy guy on-site to call if the water wasn’t working or you had any other problems. In short, Ho Chi Minh City offers great value for the money in its apartments.

It may not be as nice as Chiang Mai (which we’ll cover in the next week or so), but the apartment scene here still offers great prices compared to virtually anywhere in the Western world.