Is Dating Draining Your Bank Account? Consider Vietnam.

In places with a high cost of living, such as Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, dating can seem like an unnecessary expense. Though these cities never want for entertainment, their respective restaurant and bar scenes make simple dates like dinner and a drink seem like ill-advised investments.

Perhaps that’s one reason why some millennials have been flocking to Vietnam to put down roots instead. The country has a booming tech scene, and many speculate that foreign investments could make it the next Silicon Valley. Not only is Vietnam more affordable than most stateside metropolises, but it’s also beating out other hotspots in Asia for its high quality of life, reasonable cost of living, and numerous entrepreneurial opportunities.

Vietnamese were recently rated as the most satisfied lovers in Asia, with 83% of Vietnamese claiming that they are fulfilled by their primary relationship. According to the survey, finances are the leading source of conflict for Vietnamese couples as compared to couples in other Asian countries, likely because 78% of Vietnamese couples share a joint bank account—the highest rate in Asia. Nevertheless, just 7% of couples in Vietnam report having weekly arguments of any kind compared to 25% of all Asian couples. In addition, whereas 28% of couples in Thailand think about leaving their partners at least once a week, only 8% of Vietnamese couples make those same considerations.

Ho Chi Minh City emerged as the most affordable dating destination in Asia, with dates averaging approximately US$35 compared to US$80 for a date in Singapore. With that amount, lovebirds can satiate their appetites at a dinner for two, catch a movie, and still have money left over for cocktails at the end of the night.

With a booming craft beer scene and plentiful night markets, Vietnam is the perfect place for young romantics to fall in love. No longer will they be forced to “Netflix and chill” at home. Instead, they can go out and explore the city together without breaking the bank. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature nerd, or looking for a bustling nightlife, Vietnam has something for you.

Next time you find yourself getting frustrated at your local dating scene, consider that “the one” might be waiting for you on the other side of the world. The good news is that with all the money you’ll save by moving to Vietnam, you’ll be able to treat him or her to adventures that you would have never thought possible!

4 Low-cost Exercise Ideas to Help You Stay Fit This Summer

Low-cost exercise? Yes, please! Warming temperatures and longer days are reminding us of our upcoming summer vacations and those holiday pounds we’re yet to shed. And it turns out, a healthy and active lifestyle isn’t just good for your body, it’s also good for your wallet.

A balanced diet and regular exercise can help you avoid health problems down the line and keep your medical costs low. Contrary to popular belief, staying fit doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the right workout can even be fun!

Here are our favorite low-cost exercise adventures near our headquarters in Santa Monica and our first launch country, Vietnam. Hopefully, these ideas inspire you to find fun, affordable ways to stay fit this summer and beyond, wherever you live!

  1. Bike the Strand.

It doesn’t get more West Coast than the Strand bike path. Beginning at Will Rogers State Park in Santa Monica, the Strand offers cyclists a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean while they traverse up to Torrance State Beach, passing sights like Marina del Rey, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach along the way. Bike rentals are available at different locations along the path. At 40-miles round trip, it’s the perfect all-day workout, and you won’t feel guilty when you stop for ice cream along the way!

  1. Explore the outdoors.

Hiking is a great way to stay fit while also taking in gorgeous sights. Filled with lush jungles, sprawling countrysides and gorgeous mountain ranges, Vietnam is a paradise for people who love the outdoors. Located in the Northwest region of the country, Sapa is considered one of the best treks in Vietnam. Sapa is home to Mt. Fansipan, the highest peak in Vietnam, and the area is home to several ethnic minorities who will help you discover a side of Vietnam that tourists rarely see. Cao Bang is another popular hike that offers gorgeous rivers, mountains and jungles to admire. Stop by the nearby Ban Gloc waterfall on the border with China to cool off from the humidity.

  1. Try stand up paddle boarding.

If you’re not a strong swimmer, stand up paddle boarding might be the sport for you. It’s low-impact compared to surfing, but it has the same benefits when it comes to improving your balance and giving you a full body workout. Once you get the hang of it, you can relax and enjoy the ocean views. Stand up paddle board lessons are often offered at popular beach destinations around the world and are especially popular in California and Hawaii.

  1. Stroll through urban landscapes.

Big cities are great for walking and offer plenty of historic sites If you’re visiting a new locale, try booking a walking tour to get familiar with the city and meet other travelers. In Vietnam’s two largest cities, Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) and Hanoi, a variety of free guided walking tours are offered. If you opt for a street food tour, you can burn off the extra calories while you walk! In Los Angeles, you can find several staircases to help you break a sweat, such as the Culver City Stairs near Santa Monica, the Murphy Ranch stairs in the Santa Monica Mountains and the Santa Monica Stairs which overlook the Pacific Ocean.

But remember, exercise is only half the battle! To complement these low-cost exercise ideas, next month we’ll share tips for maintaining a healthy diet without spending a fortune. Stay tuned!

 

7 of the Coolest Festivals Around the World

Whether traveling or at home, festivals are a great opportunity to immerse yourself in new cultures and traditions. Check out our list of the coolest festivals around the world:

  1. King Hung Temple Festival
    Vietnam – April

Taking place in the third lunar month, the King Hung Temple Festival is a traditional Vietnamese celebration that honors the Hung Kings, the country’s first emperors who founded the nation. The festival began as a local tradition and then was recognized as a national holiday in 2007. Now a decade old, visitors of the festival topped 7 million in 2016.

The main ceremony consists of a procession that starts at the bottom of Nghia Linh Mountain and concludes at the top where King Hung Temple is located. During the procession up the mountain, celebrants offer prayers and incense to express their respect and gratitude to their ancestors.

  1. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
    Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA – October

If you’re looking for a more family-friendly festival, Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta is a must-visit. Tourists from all over the world visit this southwestern gem to celebrate its annual ballooning. Hundreds of balloons will take flight in the 78-acre launch field this October, and the festival also offers music and entertainment.

  1. Songkran Water Festival
    Various locations in Thailand – April

Thailand celebrates its New Year on the 13th of April every year and the word “Songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti which translates to “astrological passage.” The Songkran festival coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart and is in keeping with the Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar.

The holiday is known for its water festival when major streets are closed to traffic and used as arenas for water fights. Participants of all ages celebrate this tradition by splashing water on each other. In some areas, traditional parades are held and a “Miss Songkran” is crowned.

  1. Holi
    Various locations in India and around the world – February/March

Originally known as “Holika,” Holi is an ancient festival of India. This “festival of colors” is celebrated at the end of February or early March on Phalgun Purnima, the last full moon day in the eleventh lunar month. People celebrate by throwing colored powder on each other, hence Holi’s nickname.

Once celebrated by the Aryans, Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The festival aims to renew relationships and build harmony among people of different beliefs and backgrounds.The festival has gained much popularity over the last few years and is now celebrated all over the globe.

  1. Oktoberfest
    Munich, Germany – September/October

Though the first Oktoberfest held in 1810 began in October, the festivals were gradually moved up to September so that visitors could enjoy warmer fall weather. Oktoberfest festivities begin at noon on the opening day when the Mayor of Munich has the honor of tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer. Once the barrel has been tapped, all visitors are then allowed to quench their thirst. Although the festival originates in Munich, Germany, there are many Oktoberfest celebrations all over Eastern Europe and in areas with high populations of Eastern Europeans.

  1. Krampusnacht
    Tyrol, Austria – December

Perhaps not one of the best festivals for children, Krampusnacht celebrates the darker side of the Santa Clause myth. Krampus is a Christmastime figure known to punish delinquent children, and on December 5th men dressed in wooden masks and goat or sheepskin suits roam the streets in his likeness. The origin of Krampus is mostly unknown, but most anthropologists agree that the tradition is pre-Christian, going back to pagan mythology.

Today, Krampusnacht is celebrated in many places across Europe and has even become popular in the United States. In 2013, over 200 Krampuses participated in Austria’s first ever annual national Krampusnacht. On both the East and West coasts, in Philadelphia and Seattle, other Krampus parades are held to signify the beginning of the Christmas season.

  1. Edinburgh Festival Fringe
    Edinburgh, Scotland – August

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe began in 1947 when eight theater groups that were uninvited to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival decided that “the show must go on” and put on their own “fringe” festival instead. Seventy years later, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and takes place every August for three weeks in Scotland’s capital city.

For three weeks this August, thousands of performers will take to hundreds of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows that include theater, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, musicals and more. Performers range from big names to unknown artists looking to build their careers. In 2016 there were 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues.

Celebrating Tết: How Vietnam Rings in the New Year

America’s New Year festivities subsided over a month ago, but in Vietnam they’re just concluding their celebrations. Tết Nguyên Đán is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” and celebrates the arrival of the spring season. Called Tết for short, the festival begins on the first day of the new lunar calendar year and lasts up to a week. This year the holiday began on Saturday, January 28th. Customs vary depending on the region, but center around family fellowship and hopes for the new year.

The first day of Tết is usually reserved for the immediate family. Superstitions dictate that the first visitor of the year will determine a family’s fortune for the entire year, making unannounced visits a major faux-pas. The act of being the first person to enter a house is one of the most important rituals during Tết, and hosts put a lot of consideration into choosing their first guest. Someone successful with strong moral character would be an ideal choice and guarantee the family luck throughout the year. However, as a final precaution, the owner of the house will usually leave a few minutes before midnight and come back just as the clock strikes midnight to prevent anyone else from entering first who might bring misfortune to the household.

In the following days of Tết, people visit other relatives and friends. The second day is usually reserved for friends, and the third reserved for teachers, who are highly respected figures in Vietnam. Performances and parades are common as citizens cause commotions in the streets with firecrackers, gongs and drums to ward off evil spirits. It’s at these celebrations that you’ll see Vietnam’s famous Mua Lan, or Lion Dancing. Dancers costume themselves as the animal, which appears to be a cross between a lion and a dragon and symbolizes strength.

Food also plays a huge role in celebrations, with certain dishes reserved specifically for the holiday. One example of a Tết dish would be Bánh chưng and bánh tét, which is tightly packed sticky rice filled with meat or beans and wrapped in dong or banana leaves. Preparation can take days and parents like to regale children with the histories of Tết while the food boils overnight. Dried candied fruit called Mứt are rarely eaten outside of Tết and in the Southern region family altars are decorated with fruit as an offering.

Tết is the perfect occasion for tourists interested in visiting the thriving Southeast Asian country and experiencing their culture and traditions. But if you’re unable to make the trip, you can check out Tết firework displays in various parts of Southern California and Houston, TX. So if you missed Tết this year, it’s never too early to start drafting your 2018 bucket list!

In the meantime, Happy Lunar New Year to everyone around the world!

 

Traveling to Vietnam: Things to Eat, Drink and See

As we roll out our launch, a few of our U.S. employees have been traveling to Vietnam to assist our team there. It’s a country that is embracing technology, and recently the New Economics Foundation even rated it the 5th happiest country in the world. Happy people in a thriving country seem to go hand-in-hand.

I am based at our Santa Monica headquarters, which isn’t a bad place to be either. However, I wouldn’t mind taking an extended stay in Vietnam to help with our launch.  Although it would be mostly work and no play, I think I would use a couple “sick days” to explore this fascinating country.

Recently, my colleagues put together a list of things to do in Vietnam.  Little did they know, I already had been creating a list of my own. Here’s what I’d do if I ever find myself traveling to Vietnam!

What to Eat, Drink and See When Traveling to Vietnam

First stop, Ho Chi Minh City!

Eat

  • Sure, you can go to a fancy place and spend as much money on a meal as you would in Los Angeles, but why? I’d head over to Quan Hoa Dong and hit up the street food stalls. Eating is more than just food you consume, which is why I recommend experiencing this mother-daughter owned restaurant located near the Ben Thanh Market. It may be a step up in price compared to nearby markets, but it’s as authentic as it gets and I think the quality and vibe are worth the extra money.
  • With so many expats in Vietnam, it makes for exciting culinary experiences. Thus, Pizza 4P would be on my list. This pizza joint was started by 4 friends from Tokyo and I’ve heard nothing but great things. Not only did Thrillist review it as one of the best pizzas in the world, but the New York Times also raves about the freshness of ingredients.

Drink

  • I’d start my day at The Workshop Café. If Monocle has approved this café, you know it’s gotta be good. It’s refreshing to see baristas who actually care about their jobs (I’m talking to the 98% I deal with on a daily basis here in LA!) and are excited to showcase their top bean choices and drinks for your delight. My personal recommendation is the coffee from Dalat in Central Vietnam.
  • After a long day of work, I’d head over to Pasteur Street Brewing Company and grab a couple cold ones. It feels like a secret bar located off an unassuming alley. But their beers are top notch. Considering they distribute to over 50 places around the country, it’s safe to say Vietnam is catching on to high quality beer!

See

  • I’d wander around the city and look for architecture created by Vo Trong Nghia. This world-renowned architect was just awarded the Prince Claus Award, which honors visionary artists and organizations worldwide. With Vietnam making great strides to be a more eco-friendly country, it’s this man’s work that makes it easy on the eyes to go greener.
  • The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre is a world-class creative hub that aims to showcase and encourage further awareness of artistic and cultural expression in Vietnam. Aside from showcasing world-class art, FCAC offers a publicly accessible library, workshops, classes, a co-working space and a café bar. The motivation behind this social enterprise is to focus on wellness as you network and connect with others.
  • Chua Hue Nghiem is a temple recommended by a couple of our colleagues in our Vietnam branch. Like most temples in Vietnam, it’s a total work of art and an amazing place to experience.
  • I’d get around in a vintage restored Vespa thanks to Vietnam Vespa Adventures, and hopefully not break 7 bones in my body while perusing the city. Actually, my wife would probably fly out to Vietnam in a rage if she knew I was on a scooter. I’d be better off getting a bicycle made out of bamboo HERE.

Well, those are the things I’d do if I was the one traveling to Vietnam. Stay tuned for adventures in Hanoi!

5 Things to Do in Vietnam That Won’t Break the Bank

You’ll find many awesome things to do in Vietnam, but we picked five to get you started. As Vietnam continues attracting foreign investors and growing its economy, its popularity as a travel destination is increasing. Encompassed in this diverse region are secluded coral reef beaches, uninterrupted sand dunes, Amazonian-like jungles and foggy mountain ranges where hidden temples lie.

Vietnam is also one of the most culturally diverse countries in Asia, with more than 50 ethnic groups represented. As one of the most affordable destinations in Southeast Asia, and with a dry season that begins in November, Vietnam is the perfect place to visit to beat your winter blues.

Cat Tien National Park

If you’re in the southern region of Vietnam, the 177,915-acre Cat Tien National Park is a must-see. The park spans an impressive biodiverse area of lowland tropical rain forest and offers some of the best hiking, mountain biking and bird watching in the region. Many visit the park to see primates, specifically gibbons and langur monkeys. You’ll have to head in early or book a night tour to see most of the wildlife, or you can visit one of the park’s animal rescue centers, Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre or Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre. The park can only accommodate a limited amount of visitors so there’s no need to worry about overcrowding, but reservations should be made in advance. Entrance to the park is only 50,000VND, about $2.25, but be warned that fees into different areas of the park can add up and many tour guides offer inclusive rates.

Floating Markets at Cai Rang

Floating markets are one of the more touristy things to do in Vietnam on this list, but for good reason. The Cai Rang Floating Market is the largest in the Mekong Delta, starting around 5:00am and running through midday. It’s worth waking up before the sun to beat the boatloads of tourists. Cai Rang is a wholesale market and sellers tie their products to long poles above their boats to advertise to smaller traders.

Cai Rang can be seen from the road and there is even a bridge that offers a perfect perch for photography. Still, taking a boat to the market is a one-of-a-kind experience and well worth the $10-15 price tag. A boat tour includes a breakfast break at a local orchard, and you’ll be led around a fairly large garden growing a big variety of local fruits free for sampling. After breakfast, you’ll return to the boat and get to explore some of Mekong’s canals. The tour concludes around mid-afternoon just as humidity reaches its peak.

Temple of Literature

If you’re in the bustling city of Hanoi, the historical Temple of Literature is a rare example of well-preserved traditional Vietnamese architecture and honors the nation’s most esteemed scholars. Founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius (Khong Tu). Inside you’ll find a pond known as the ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity’, a low-slung pagoda and statues of Confucius and his disciples. It is the site of Vietnam’s first university, established in 1076, when entrance was granted only to those of noble birth.

After 1442, a more egalitarian approach was adopted and gifted students from all over the nation attended the university to study the principles of Confucianism, literature and poetry. In 1484, Emperor Ly Thanh Tong ordered that stelae be erected to record the names, places of birth and achievements of exceptional scholars. 82 of 116 stelae remain standing. Paths lead from the tiered gateway on P Quoc Tu Giam through formal gardens to the Khue Van pavilion, constructed in 1802. Admission to the temple is 30,000VND or approximately $1.50, making this one of the least expensive things to do in Vietnam on our list.

Water Puppetry

If you’re craving some local culture, look no further than water puppetry, a tradition that dates back to the 11th century, where it originated in the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam. Many villages in Vietnam have communal ponds that are perfect stages for these impromptu performances, encouraging the widespread popularity of the art form. Water puppetry is shown in a pool of water with the water surface being the stage. The themes of the skits reflect rural culture with a strong reference to Vietnamese folklore, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation. The popular Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is located in Hanoi and ticket prices range from 60,000-100,000VND, or no more than $5.

Pirate Islands

Formally known as Hà Tiên Islands, this island group is located in the gulf of Thailand and earned its nickname from pirates who were known to plague the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. There have even been rumors that pirate treasure is hidden on the islands, and in 1983 two men armed with a 300-year-old map secretly scouted them for buried bounties. In 2009, some fishermen were surprised to stumble upon some ancient coins.

With less than 2,000 inhabitants spread throughout seven islands, Pirate Islands is certainly remote and probably one of the least touristy things to do in Vietnam on our list. There’s limited electricity until 10pm, after which the only light comes from candles and boat lights. While this may seem primitive to some, a nighttime boat ride allows for a beautiful view of sparkly fish leaping through the water, thanks to a phosphorescence phenomenon.

Pirate Islands are reachable by green cargo boat or passenger boat, both of which cost under $5. There are a few simple homestays on the islands and if you buy seafood from the fisherman, your hosts will gladly cook you dinner.

So there you have it. Five awesome things to do in Vietnam on a budget!

Remittances Flow into Vietnam with More Force Than the Mekong

Remittances Give a Major Boost to Vietnam’s Growing Economy

So what are remittances anyway? A remittance is when a foreign worker transfers money to an individual, usually a relative, in their home country. They compete with international aid as one of the largest sources of external finance for developing countries.

Vietnam is quickly becoming known as a tech haven for entrepreneurial millennials, and perhaps as a result, Vietnamese living overseas are seeing more value in investing in their country’s development through remittances. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam, and has benefitted greatly from overseas contributions. Over the last five years, remittances to this metropolis have increased roughly 10-12% on average.

The city’s banks have received more than $20 billion in remittances over the last 30 years, accounting for more than 60% of the country’s total. The majority of the money went to production and businesses, another strong sign that the country’s tech scene is thriving. Ho Chi Minh City currently has 2,500 businesses with a combined investment of nearly $1.7 billion and 117 projects worth $275 million set up by remitted funds.

Remittances Make Real Estate Market Boom

Realty is another market that’s booming in Vietnam, and 21.6% of Ho Chi Minh City’s inward remittances have gone towards real estate. Vietnamese realty now ranks second in attracting foreign direct investment. And related policies and requirements have been loosened to help encourage foreigners and Vietnamese overseas to purchase real estate in Vietnam.

As Vietnam looks to develop tech parks comparative to Silicon Valley, remittances are an integral piece of the country’s future economic growth. They are mainly wired from the United States, Australia and Canada. In 2015, remittances to Vietnam topped $12.24 billion, up from $6.18 billion in 2007, accounting for 6.4% of Vietnam’s GDP.

The U.S. is the biggest sender of the money with about $7 billion in total in 2015, said Tran Thi Tuyet Mai, general director of VietinBank Money Transfer. Many banks in Vietnam are attempting to increase their inbound remittance flow by expanding their service to non-traditional markets, namely Russia and Taiwan, where there is a considerable number of Vietnamese businessmen and workers.

So, stay tuned!

Money Can’t Buy Happiness. Or Can It? Ask the 5th Happiest Country in the World.

Vietnam Ranks Fifth in the Happy Planet Index

There’s a popular saying that money can’t buy happiness, but an objective look at how the quality of life has risen for Vietnamese in relation to their economic progress might cause one to reconsider that assertion.

Vietnam ranked fifth in the Happy Planet Index report, which assesses 140 countries and measures factors that contribute to a healthy life, such as life expectancy, wellbeing, inequality and ecological footprint. As only one of three countries with an ecological footprint that is considered environmentally sustainable and an average life expectancy of 75 years old, Vietnam is leading the pack as the happiest country in Asia.

Vietnam even edged out Costa Rica, which was ranked as the overall happiest nation, under the inequality rating that measures wellbeing and life expectancy. Vietnam’s school enrollment is an impressive 98% and the country serves as a worldwide example for poverty reduction since decreasing the amount of people living in poverty from 58% in 1993 to 10.7% in 2010.

So, Money Can’t Buy Happiness or Can It?

In 2015, Vietnam’s economy rose by almost 7%, exceeding even its own government’s expectations. This economic growth is a result of increased foreign investment as well as domestic demand. The government has concentrated its efforts to strengthen the business industry, particularly the private sector, through a rigorous socio-economic development plan that will dramatically increase the country’s productivity between 2016-2020.

The only caution in the report is regarding Vietnam’s currently impressive ecological footprint. If the country continues developing their economy at this rate, it could mean bad news for sustainability in the region. In addition, while income inequality in Vietnam is comparable to other countries, the gap in opportunity and wealth is widening as it becomes a more developed nation.

These are all things to consider as Vietnam positions itself to be the next international tech hub. For the time being however, Vietnam can enjoy its designation as one of the happiest countries on earth, and take note of how its recent economic success has translated to a higher quality of life for its citizens.

So it looks like the jury is still out. What do you think?  Money can’t buy happiness? Or can it?