What tourists can buy for one dollar in Vietnam

By Darren Barnard   May 19, 2024 | 04:00 am PT
One of the biggest incentives for people to travel or live in Vietnam is the low cost.

As a westerner here you can enjoy a relatively luxurious lifestyle with perks that would be unaffordable back home, such as frequently eating out rather than cooking at home and routinely getting chauffeured around the city.

The exchange rate for US$1 is currently around VND25,000 and that stretches a long way in this country compared to how few services or items a foreigner is able to spend that on in the west.

Let's explore what you can buy with one buck in Vietnam.


Many expats living in Vietnam struggle to answer the question - when did you last cook a meal? This is a wonderful dilemma that exists as they are able to consume delicious food cooked for them usually in rapid time as well. Although dishes such as bun cha and pho may be just above our minuscule budget of $1, there are still numerous mouth-wateringly enjoyable foods that you can buy for less than that here. For example, xoi (sticky rice) or some bowls of noodles soup such as bun moc or bun thang and of course, the ever-reliable banh mi can easily be enjoyed for VND25,000 or less.

In the west, many people have to prepare food at home for their week at work where the ingredients can easily surpass 10x our budget or if you want to be more social, you can spend the equivalent of that in a restaurant or cafe during your lunch break and watch significant chunks of your salary vanish each lunchtime.

One of the drawbacks of a cheaper dining experience is less rigorous food safety and hygiene testing taking place, and practices such as handling food barehanded are unfortunately common here. This lack of caution can lead to cases of food poisoning such as the recent incident in Dong Nai Province, leading to over 500 people hospitalized after buying banh mi in an eatery.


Another compulsory item for many to survive the working week is the delightful hit of caffeine. In Vietnam you can enjoy a ca phe sua (milk coffee) within the constraints of our budget and you will even get served a glass of water or if you're particularly lucky, a side of ice tea along with it.

A ca phe sua here costs around US$0.59 - whereas the average price of a small cafe latte in an American Starbucks is $2.95. Therefore, one trip to a cafe in Vietnam can often be the equivalent of an entire working week of getting your daily dose of caffeine goodness.


If you want to enjoy the numerous culinary delights of Vietnam, you are likely going to have much greater success with the aid of a motorbike. One liter of popular fuel RON95 costs around VND23,130 and diesel usually costs closer to VND20,000.

The same amount of gasoline in the U.K. would set you back around $1.87, almost twice as much. Although it may not sound too significant, if you consider a Honda Wave Alpha 110CC motorbike has a fuel capacity of 4 liters, it will cost nearly $5 more to fill up your bike each time you visit a gas station.


For those who prefer entrusting their safety with someone else, you can enjoy the services of numerous ride-hailing apps in several cities across the country. Although you may need to split the bill for a car with a few of your friends to reduce expenditure to nearer our budget, you can frequently take a 10-minute journey on a motorbike across districts in many cities for under $1.

Despite your safety being jeopardized to a greater extent compared to using similar apps to hitch a ride in the west, I'm certain many would jump at the opportunity to travel across the likes of London, New York or Paris for less than a dollar.

Multiple alcoholic beverages

Another reason you many need to rely on the previously mentioned services is if you have indulged in some social lubricants with friends or colleagues. Many claim that Vietnam is home to the cheapest beer in the world, and although that is difficult to verify, you can definitely enjoy at least two cups of bia hoi for less than a dollar. Alternatively, if you are further north, you can drink the not-so-smooth, questionable rice wine for less than one dollar a shot.

Foreign tourists sit at a beer stall in Hanoi, August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Foreign tourists sit at a beer stall in Hanoi, August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

Comparatively a pint in the U.K. will cost the equivalent of $5 on average, with that price almost doubling if you are in the capital. A huge reason for that, similar to other western countries, is that alcohol, along with cigarettes are heavily taxed.

Meanwhile, tobacco taxes account for approximately 38.85% of the retail sale price of cigarettes in Vietnam, much lower than 50-80% seen in other countries in the west, such as France (80%).

Fruit smoothies

For those who opt for an equally refreshing non-alcoholic beverage, you can enjoy a range of thirst quenching smoothie or juices within the confinements of our low budget. Alternatively, you could purchase two sugarcane juices for under a note here.

Of course, one of the significant reasons for this is due to factors such as how easy it is to grow tropical fruits, low labor costs and a decrease in members of staff/luxurious amenities compared to the west. An imported banana smoothie in the west in an air-conditioned cafe with countless members of staff and expensive interior will likely cost at least five times the amount you spend for the same product here.

Miscellaneous services

Labor costs are one of the biggest banes of life whilst living in the west. People dread something going wrong with their car or other valuables with the awareness of the significant percentage of an upcoming bill being dominated by these fees. Whereas here in Vietnam, many simple services that an individual requires can be attained for less than one dollar. Some of these include getting a new key cut, fixing a watch, replacing a battery or washing a motorbike.

One of the greatest advantages of these services here are they are in abundance and often take just a few minutes to be resolved. Contrastingly in the west, similar services may include significant waiting time and cost many times the amount compared to Vietnam.


For those traveling in Vietnam, many want to conclude their trip with buying some souvenirs. It would be inconceivable in many countries to purchase any memorable items to take home with you, however, arguably the most popular souvenir here can often be purchased for less than one dollar, the iconic non la or conical hat.

Whilst slowly making your way through security and immigration at any Vietnamese international airport you will see many westerners donning the traditional hat as they await to board their flight home with a grin on their face, knowing they have had a trip of a lifetime.

Ultimately, you can wake up in Vietnam on the weekend, have an egg banh mi for breakfast, fix those items you need mending, enjoy a fruit smoothie or coffee to refresh, before meeting friends for some alcoholic drinks via a motorbike taxi across the city and pick up some noodles on the way home with the wonderful realization that each part of your day cost less than a dollar.

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