I love my country. I want to promote my country as much and as honestly as I can. Given my past experience in the hospitality industry, I am a bit drawn towards reading and writing about it. I really want to do some analysis on the arrivals to Vietnam, but the government body responsible for recording data makes it annoyingly challenging for me to work with the data.
Problem 1 – No excel files
First of all, there is no feature on the website to download data in an Excel file. You have to download data and put it yourself in an Excel file. On the other hand, the Singapore Tourism Board makes it super easy to store data on an annual basis as you can see below
Problem 2 – Inconsistent naming and order of entries
Copying data from an HTML table wouldn’t be so bad if the order of entries stayed the same across the tables. However, it isn’t the case. The order is all over the place as you can see below. Countries are mixed up differently from one month to another
Even that is the case, vlookup can still help overcome the challenge. However, vlookup requires consistency of variables’ names. In the screenshot above, Cambodia is spelled differently in April and March 2019 reports.
Problem 3 – Redundant variables’ names
Redundant variables’ names like in the screenshot above violate the integrity of data. If you use vlookup, the results will be redundant and inaccurate.
Given how they display the data online, I don’t have much faith that internally, things are different. My bet is that there is no data-centric approach and even if data is used, it must be a time-consuming, laborious and primitive endeavor.
On 2nd May, 2019, an increase in gas price in Vietnam was announced, an 8th time such a development took place in 2019. Here is a chart that illustrates the gas price in 2019 so far. The number is in VND, our national currency. The exchange rate is at 23,314 VND for $1
Those are the two types of gas we use in Vietnam with the green one as the more popular choice and we measure it in liter, not gallon. With the exchange rate of 23,314 VND for $1, Vietnamese pay approximately $0.95 for a liter (22,190 divided by 23,314).
According to gasprices.aaa, the national average gas price in the US is $2.888 per gallon. As a gallon is worth 3.785 liters, on average Americans pay $0.76 per liter for gas. Given that GDP per capita in the US and Vietnam in 2017 is $59,532 and $2,343 respectively, according to WorldBank, it’s extraordinary that we pay more per liter in the poorer country.
I am not a chemical expert and the gas used in each country may be different in essence, but it serves the same function and the living costs in both countries are affected by gas prices.
The difference is even worse when you compare the gas price in Vietnam to affluent states in America. Keep in mind that different in America, where gas price varies from one state to another, Vietnam has universal gas price regardless of where you live in the country. Take Massachusetts as an example. GDP per capita in the state in 2017 is $64,507, but the gas price in the state is just $0.75 liter, compared to $0.95 in Vietnam.
Unless I am missing something terribly important in my assumptions, the expensive gas price that we have to pay in Vietnam is ridiculous and ludicrous. And how many companies would give employees a raise 8 times in a span of 5 months to keep up with the increasing living costs? Exactly!
Last month, Vietnam Electricity (EVN), the state-owned company that has a monopoly over electricity in Vietnam, announced an 8% price hike, citing an increase in production cost. Obviously, it leads to the hike in everything’s price and living cost overall. But what frustrates me the most is the fact that as a monopoly, the company is terribly run. It invests in other verticals where it doesn’t have the knowledge or capabilities, on top of a terrible management, something that is not uncommon in Vietnam. As a consequence, EVN suffered huge financial losses. According to this article, EVN’s loss amounts to $94 million, despite having the monopoly. The loss includes ridiculous expenses such as building a golf course or luxury villas for the company’s officials. To cover these losses, it routinely jacks up the electricity price. There is almost no oversight.
Even more frustratingly and shamelessly, they hiked the electricity price during the hottest season the country has even encountered. The highest temp recorded is 43.4°C (110.12°F). At 6AM, it’s already at 87.8°F.
This kind of egregious behavior isn’t exclusive to EVN. Gas price in Vietnam frequently increases, thanks to Petrolimex, another monopoly. The problem is that once these crucial commodities become more expensive, everything else will as well. When the price of the commodities is lowered; however, the living cost rarely follows or gets cheaper. Meanwhile, the wage in Vietnam is not even close to keeping up with the rising living cost, rendering whatever income an ordinary folk earns increasingly small.
I love my country. We have great cuisine and sceneries as well as an authentic culture. However, I don’t want to live in a place where I cannot meaningfully save anything simply because living costs increase almost on a monthly/quarterly basis while wage does once a year at most. This and among other reasons I will share in the future whenever it is appropriate
Podcast has been the rage these days in the US in terms of the medium to consume and distribute information. I can imagine why that is the case. There is a lot of navigating through traffic on the streets, doing mindless work at home and at one’s job or working out in a gym. Users need something to help them power through the boredom without using their eyes. On the content creator side, a podcast episode takes less work and time to produce than a video. As long as you have a reliable recorder, a decent Internet connection and more importantly, what to share with the world, that’s enough for a podcast episode.
I have been wondering whether Vietnamese folks at home will like podcasts as much as we do here in America. I quickly polled two friends of mine who are millennials and work professionally in the biggest city in Vietnam. They both told me that they didn’t think podcast would interest Vietnamese people as our folks nowadays tend to consume more tabloid news and instant gratification. There is some truth in that.
There is coverage on Vietnamese people’s losing interest in reading. Reportedly, my countrymen on average read one book a year. If a book is 300 pages long, that’s less than one page a day. I often see on my Newsfeed a lot of junk content shared by my connections. As a huge fan of reading and consuming quality content, that’s a seriously concerning sign. I suspect that there are several reasons for that. Firstly, we were dealt with a bad hand growing up. Reading is not part of our curriculums at school. We don’t get to know the beauty of reading when we are young. I didn’t. I grew up learning only maths. Luckily, I went to a high school where a lot of my peers read and the habit rubbed off on me. Secondly, there is not a whole lot of quality content in Vietnamese. Even though English is popular now among the young, folks still prefer consuming content in our native language. If they felt comfortable with English podcasts, there is no shortage out there. But content in our mother tongue is in short supply (or at least none that I have ever heard of). Sometimes, there are some quality pieces, but there is no consistent source of audio content on the market.
Nonetheless, there are signs that I think are favorable for podcast consumption as a trend. First, terrible traffic in Vietnam. If you ever travel to Hanoi or Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), you’ll experience the terrible traffic there. There is traffic jam at ALL times from 7:30am to around 7pm every week day. My house in Vietnam is 10km away from the city center where I used to work. Every day, it took me at least an hour in total to commute back and forth, let alone time to meet friends. As in the case here in the US, folks can listen to podcast instead of music. Another favorable condition is that mobile Internet in Vietnam is cheap. About 200,000 VND, you can have decent speed and data packages to download podcasts. Plus, young professionals make up a big part of the population in Vietnam. My impression is that a lot of them want to learn and grow. The problem, as mentioned above, is that they don’t seem to find content in Vietnamese that they can consume comfortably. Last but not least, there are many interesting Vietnamese folks out there worth interviewing, from entrepreneurs, designers, chefs, actors, mathematicians or authors.
I hope that in the near future, Vietnamese people will read more and the podcast culture will catch fire for the sake of knowledge consumption and advertising hidden talent and minds.
Last week, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in a press release that Vietnam’s aviation industry meets the international safety requirements. The approval means that Vietnam carriers can now open direct flights from the S-shaped country to the US.
It is a huge announcement. There are hundreds of folks traveling back and forth between the two countries on a daily basis, whether it’s for business, leisure or just a quick family visit. As of this writing, flights from Vietnam to the US have at least one layover. If you live in a less popular city like myself in Omaha, it will require at least two stops. In my experience, it took me 3 stops and at least 33 hours for a one-way trip. Layovers are just a waste of time. It’s not just about the time spent at the airports, but also about the hassle in scheduling.
Direct flights will definitely ease the pain and facilitate the travel between the countries. It’s a boon for tourism and commerce. So much productivity can be saved. American travelers will be more tempted to visit Vietnam as the first destination in the region when the flights are no longer as long and taxing as they were.
I am really excited about this development for my country. Becoming a flight hub matters a great deal to our tourism and economy. There is still a very long way to go, but it’s a bright first step. I really hope the carriers in Vietnam will jump at this opportunity.
For the past few days, I saw some positive articles on the economic performance of Vietnam. First, the GDP growth rate in 2018 is the highest in 11 years, reaching 7.08%
Our trade surplus reached $7 billion in 2018
This is Vietnam’s GDP per capita compared to neighboring countries
Even though the GDP per capita is around $2,500, there is a wide gap in terms of income between cities in Vietnam. In big cities such as Ho Chi Minh (or Saigon) and Hanoi, the income level is much higher than the GDP per capita mark. When I was still working in the country back in 2014, my salary after tax was already around the $1,400/month. Granted, the living cost in Saigon and Hanoi is pretty expensive as well. In fact, students who study abroad usually complain about the high living cost in the two cities in Vietnam, given the low income in comparison with cities in Western countries. On the other hand, in other cities, an income of $300 – $400 can be considered very good. It goes to show the stark difference between cities in Vietnam.
The last time Vietnam’s GDP growth was below 5% was in 1999, almost 20 years ago. Hence, we have seen the growth rate in the region of 5-7% for almost two decades. Yet, I am not so confident in the future of the country. The infrastructure is abysmal. Here are a few photos of the infrastructure in Saigon and Hanoi that is terribly under-developed.
The country’s first metro project was started in 2007. 12 years later, the budget for the project increased by 300%, compared to the initial outlay. Yet, only 56% has been completed so far. The project can be halted in the near future if the bottlenecks are not settled.
At the time of approval in 2007, Metro Line 1 was projected to cost VND17.388 trillion. This ballooned to VND47 trillion over the years. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) shoulders 88.4% of the budget in the form of official development assistance loan (ODA).
As a Saigon native, I experienced first-hand for years the terrible infrastructure of my city. The streets were built several decades ago. Back then, there were not as many inhabitants in the city as there are now. Not even close. Fast forward, many people from poorer cities flock to the city for better career opportunities and income. More cars are bought and run. More big buses are operated. More houses are built. Yet, the drainage system and the streets in the city haven’t been upgraded accordingly. It usually took me 30 mins to commute over a distance of 10km with my scooter. The only time that the city doesn’t have traffic jam is probably before 7am and after 8pm.
From Saigon to Vungtau, a distance of 120km, it takes two hours and the travel can be pretty dangerous if you ride a scooter. In China, it takes 4.5 hours to travel from Shanghai to Beijing or vice versa, a distance of more than 1,300km. The difference cannot be bigger.
If you fly domestically in Vietnam, take my word. Either go extremely late or first flight in the morning. Any flight between 7AM and 10PM is almost guaranteed to be delayed. One of the reasons for the horrible delays is that the airports cannot accommodate the number of flights and aircrafts.
A country needs a robust infrastructure to grow. Right now, Vietnam doesn’t have that. I am not confident in the possibility that it will change any time soon in the future.
Furthermore, I am not a big fan of growing by being the source of cheap labor, being the factory of the world. It’s ok in the beginning, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. Vietnam needs to look at Singapore or Nordic countries to get some inspiration and lessons for using education and services to grow the economy. Plus, the infrastructure is amazing, at least in Finland.
Well, it’s finally and officially here! Formula 1 Vietnam Grand Prix is officially the latest addition to the calendar in 2020. As a long-time F1 fanatic, I am thrilled by this news. Our country will have an international sport event that will attract tourists and increase our country’s brand awareness. It’s not surprising to me any more that many people don’t know much about Vietnam. Hopefully, this event and all the publicity that comes with it will help make Vietnam more known on the world stage.
Formula 1 put together a cool video that shows the streets in Hanoi, where the race will take place. Check it out:
This is the track circuit. I am not a fan of street circuits, except Baku with its magical long straight and turn 1. I hope this track will be just as exciting
First of all, if you are looking for a website to learn more about Vietnam and particularly Saigon, I highly recommend this website – Saigoneer. Its section on street food is a great start. It’s in English and has lots of details.
There are a few upcoming initiatives announced recently in the industry:
There will be bi-weekly direct flights form Zurich to Saigon
Vietnam Airlines will soon operate direct flights from Danang to Japan
Vietnam Airlines is exploring the possibility of direct flights from Vietnam to America
Vietnam Tourism Association will soon carry out exams to classify tour guides in the country. Tour guides will be given 3 to 5 stars based on the results of the exams which will be free of charge and voluntary. Also, freelance tour guides are now mandated to be under contracts with authorized tour companies in order to do business
BBC Sport reported that a 2020 race in Hanoi, Vietnam was now secured barring an official announcement
Three points here. First, the tourism industry brought in $13 billion in the first half of 2018, an increase of 22% compared to last year. It is huge for a country like Vietnam. We have a lot to offer. A long coast throughout the country. An authentic and exotic cuisine. We have beaches, mountains and Mekong Delta, everything that a tourist can hope to experience. But our tourism has been plagued by the lack of standards in services leading to the poor return rate of guests. Our country is pretty much a myth that is worth exploring once and no more. In business, it costs 6 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. This is the same case. Even though the tour guide exam’s effectiveness remains to be seen (we Vietnamese are not known for world class execution), it is a small step towards the right direction. If we want to compete and have more guests return, maintaining high service standards is instrumental.
Secondly, having more direct flights is huge. Thailand and Singapore have two airport hubs in the region and look what the airports have done to their tourism. Direct flights will reduce the hesitation from guests when they have to make a decision on where to visit. Vietnam’s two biggest airports sorely need major upgrade. It’s a pity that some bureaucracy red tape has prevented the expansion of the airport in Ho Chi Minh City. We have the land to do so and the airport is ridiculously right next to the city center. I have been to quite some airports and I haven’t seen one that close to a city center. Nonetheless, having more direct flights will increase our appeal as a destination.
Lastly, I have been hoping for annual international event in Vietnam for years. Singapore’s F1 Grand Prix has been a remarkable success since its debut in 2008. Otherwise, Singapore wouldn’t keep hosting it. A race is usually a combination of music concerts, press conference, other activities and of course the racing itself. With the reach of Formula 1, Vietnam’s brand awareness which has been under-marketed due to lackluster branding and marketing efforts will hopefully be boosted.
CNBC released a short video clip on McDonald’s and Burger King’s failure in Vietnam despite glowing success in other countries and particularly other Asian countries such as China and Japan. While McDonald’s and Burger King have struggled in Vietnam, Pizza Hut and KFC have managed to attain some success in the market.
The video mentioned the following as the main reasons for the failure:
A lot of substitutes at a much cheaper price from street vendors
Burgers don’t fit Vietnamese cuisine preference of sharing food during meals
Personally, I have lived in the US for more than two years and I can count on one hand the number of times I have been to chains such as Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King or Chipotle. All of them were with friends or on our way back from trips. Burgers don’t appeal to us. We have a quite similar dish in Banh Mi, which is very delicious, quick to prepare and significantly cheaper. I lived in Danang for a year, the 3rd biggest city in Vietnam. It is half an hour of a scooter ride from Hoi An, where you can find some of the best Banh Mis in Vietnam. The price for local is about 50cents (maybe 1 dollar for foreigners), but the price at McDonald’s or Burger King’s restaurant is several times more expensive.
This is how Banh Mi is prepared and delivered, in about 1-2 minutes maximum. (Credit: Hoi An Tour Food)
I still remember the buzz when McDonald’s came to Vietnam the first time. People lined up to experience it. Nonetheless, when the hype wore off after a while, it comes down to whether McDonald’s offerings are competitive and whether they fit the culinary buds of the Vietnamese people. Apparently, they don’t. This is a failure of not understanding the end users’ preferences.
Towards the end of the clip, it was mentioned that McDonald’s is trying to localize the menus with Pho and Broken Rice. Well, I am not sure that will work because the same thing will happen. There are hundreds of street vendors whose product is so tasty and much cheaper than the well-known chain’s.