Category: Saigon

When traveling in much of the developing world, having money in small denominations is important. Even when traveling in the so-called “First World,” having small denominations is helpful for tips and such. But in Vietnam, as Triporati expert Richard Sterling reports, having small money is essential. Without it, getting the simplest things done becomes a chore.

Richard moved to Vietnam last year and sent this dispatch about life in his Saigon neighborhood.

The View From 608

Life as I see it from apartment 608 on Ngo Tat To (”No Tattoo”) Street, Saigon

By Richard Sterling

A DOLLAR AND A DIME

You’ve always got to have “small money” in your pocket. In Vietnam or any other “Third World” country, any poor country, you need small money. There are too many persons who simply can’t or won’t break a five. Or a six, as the case may be. Here in Vietnam, for example, we have the 50,000 Dong note. A laughably big number for a sum that amounts to a three dollar bill. Years ago I asked a beggar here, when he pressed me for alms, for change of a 50,000 Dong note. More the fool I. The poor old sod had maybe one one hundredth of that in his krinkly, wrinkled hands. Then there was the time in Mexico when I was pulled over by a traffic cop. I earnestly tried to convince him that the stop sign was hidden by the tree (so providently placed), and so I couldn’t see it. He politely responded, “It’s not much money, Señor.” The smallest I had was a tenner. I asked him if he had change. He might have had a pocket full of ones and fives, but the answer was, of course, a smiling “Sorry, Señor.” I ponied up the ten-spot. Lesson learned. Carry small money. Always, carry small money. Continue reading »

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