Photo credit: Gardenista cafe in Hanoi
If you’re like me, 2022 is shaping-up to be the year of open-borders and remote-work. Now is a good time to try the digital nomad lifestyle in Vietnam. The country is open and hungry for foreign travelers.
In this post, we discuss some of our favourite places in Vietnam to live as foreign remote workers, for both short-term and long-term stays in remote places.
We organize the post according to duration:
- Short Term (~1 month): Central Hanoi
- Medium Term (2-6 month): Central Highlands and Coast
- Longer Term (years): Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi Outskirts
~1 Month: Hanoi is the Best Place for Short-Term Digital Nomads
If you only have a month in Vietnam, Hanoi is hands-down the best place to be. Hanoi has plenty to keep you excited and engaged for a month, as well as lots of world-class memorable weekend-trips (Sapa, Ninh Binh, more) — all the while you can be comfortably productive during the work-week at funky cafes that cater to laptop-warriors.
Beyond a month, you can branch-out to more exotic and idyllic highlands (read more below ).
While living in Hanoi as a foreigner, we especially recommend living in the neighbourhoods peripheral to the Centre, like Đội Cấn, Liễu Giai, or Westlake. Read more about Hanoi Neighbourhoods and our recommended places to live in Hanoi as an expat.
Here are our top reasons why you should consider Hanoi for short-term remote-work:
- A thriving expat community, especially at the funky West-Lake for Westerners, and Kim-Ma for Japanese and Koreans.
- Tons of cute exquisitely-decored cafes for serious work (see our DIY Cafe-Tour of Hanoi for a few of our favourites), such as Nola, Gardensita, Foglian, Tiny Cafe, Hanoi Social Club, Milk and Honey, Joma Joma, and many many more.
- Plenty of expat-friendly co-working spaces, such as Toong, Co Working Space (Tay Ho), HanoiHub Coworking Space, and COGO Co-Working. Some have desks on a first-come-first-serve basis, while others have reservable desks. For example, you can rent a desk at COGO for only $100 USD a month, with free coffee and wifi!
- Indulge your quirk — whether its jogging, yoga, eccentric fashion, walking barefoot: there is low risk locals regarding you as a freak in Hanoi. Hanoi is quite accepting.
And, most importantly, Hanoi has a wealth of fun things to do, and amazing week-end trips. Check our list of 20+ things to do in Hanoi that aren’t lame. For weekend trips, here is a list of high-priority places:
- Cát Bà Island – tiny rocky archipelago close to Hanoi
- Ninh Bình – iconic karst landscape with rivers and caves
- Mai Châu – picturesque paddy fields amidst rolling hills and remote ethnic villages
- Tam Đảo – aka the “Northern Dalat” close to Hanoi
- Đại Lải Lake – lake beaches and open skies
For longer 4-5 trips, Hanoi is the gateway to mind-bending northern mountains that border China, such as
- Hà Giang – read our review here
- Cao Bang – lesser-known mountain gorgeousity
- Sa Pa – every tourist’s go-to mountain retreat in the north
2-6 Months: Central Vietnam is Best for Medium-Term Remote Workers
After a month of living among the huge crowds and honking shenanigans of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend escaping to the centre of Vietnam, with its idyllic highland hills and beautiful empty beaches. Here, we highlight our dream digital-nomad lifestyle along the axis of Pleiku to Quy Nhơn.
As an honourable mention, we also discuss the tri-city gem of Đà Nẵng, Hội An, and Huế.
Most of these places have substantial expats communities and are becoming reknown domestically as havens for remote-workers. Best of all, there are amble opportunities to escape to jungle-seclusion and/or beach-solitude.
Highland + Coastal Life: the Dreamy Digital Nomad Lifestyle
We’ve travelled all over Vietnam, and our dream digital-nomad lifestyle is to combine rustic mountain-life with close access to beach: this is available in the centre of Vietnam.
We’re not the first ones to notice: the highland towns of Đà Lạt, Pleiku, and Kon Tun have slowly grown in reputation as a refuge for remote workers. The easy-going, scenic towns have a pleasant welcoming ambiance, while still providing the necessary amenities for remote-work. The surrounding hills and villages are home to many ethnic minority-peoples, providing diverse and interesting cultural experiences, not to mention all the outdoor fun of waterfalls, hiking, and swimming, and more. Laos is also close enough so that you can easily do a border-run to get a new tourist visa.
Plus, when the isolation and misty-mountain chill become tiresome, these highlands are relatively close to the exquisite beaches of Nha Trang, Quy Nhơn, and Tuy Hòa. These coastal towns all have (for better or worse) a vibrant and loud beach-culture, with resorts, raucous seafood restaurants, and more. These coastal towns aren’t big cosmopolitan cities like Hanoi or HCMC, so don’t expect haute culture galleries or machine-learning meet-ups. Nonetheless, they provide the needed city-life when necesssary.
READ MORE: Quy Nhơn and Tuy Hòa are at the top of our list of some of the most underrated places in Vietnam
If you want to live the highland-coastal dual-lifestyle, there are several different pairs of towns to choose:
- Đà Lạt to Nha Trang (135 km / 4 hr drive) see route
- Pleiku/Kon Tum to Quy Nhơn (162 km / 5 hr drive), see route
- Buôn Ma Thuột to Tuy Hòa (195 km / 6 hr drive), see route
Đà Lạt is a small, hilly, green, temperate town with a few eccentric cafes and amazing vegetarian food. For Vietnamese city-folk, they describe Đà Lạt as a “dream”: with lots of trees, hills, fresh air, cool mountain temperature. It is known as the “love city” where couples go for romantic getaways. There are also some adventure-tourism opportunities nearby, such as waterfall-jumping. The beach-town of Nha Trang is only a 3-5 hour scenic drive down from the hills to the coast.
The towns of Pleiku and rural Kon Tum are more up-and-coming getaways, especially the latter. Compared to the bustling coastal cities, they are quaint and beautiful and have lots of cultural experiences. One of the best things to do is explore the ~700 nearby ethnic minority villages. One down-side is that the easy-going, small-town vibe can lull you into a lazy complacency. Quy Nhơn city is approximately 162 km away, and has a huge and well-kept beach that is relatively safe for swimming year-round, being protected from monsoonal storm surges. There are lots of cute fishermen towns that are exploding in interest for culture-tourism.
Best of all, the food in Quy Nhơn is amazing (and the centre of Vietnam more broadly) — food itself is a reason to stay in Quy Nhơn! You could do worse in life than to live between Pleiku and Quy Nhơn.
Tri-City Digital-Nomad Hub: Hội An, Đà Nẵng, Huế
The three cities of Hội An, Đà Nẵng and Huế are all relatively close to one another and offer a diversity of vibes & activities for fickle foreigners who want a little of everything. The town of Hội An has a hip, UNESCO-recognized ancient town and thriving boho expat community. Đà Nẵng has the hills, the city-life, the beach-town-vibe, and an international airport. Huế is out-of-the-way, has old eerie tombs, a legacy of haute culture, fewer tourists, and more friendly locals.
Two additional points make this tri-city area a favourite for remote working expats:
- all three towns have ample beaches that are relatively clean and safe to swim at for much of the year.
- all three towns have some of the best food in Vietnam, such as Mỳ Quảng, Bánh Bèo, and Bánh Mì Hội An. See a list of our favourite dishes to try here.
- at least two of the towns have sizable expat/digital-nomad communities with large, active Facebook Groups for renting/buying/selling and finding community events
- the three towns compliment each other in fun ways.
The last point is great for fickle expats who want a little everything. For instance, do you want to party with crazy backpackers? Head to Nguyễn Phúc Chu street in Hội An for its string of international-friendly pubs. Do you want to avoid Westerners and quietly appreciate old traditional culture? Head to Huế. Want some big-city vibes and entertainment and shopping? Head to Đà Nẵng. Do you pine for international food from back home? Head back to Hội An.
Personally, we think Hội An is a little overrated, while Huế is underrated. However, most expats seem to prefer the former. If you can tolerate a little anti-Western condescension from locals who are visibly sick of tourists, then Hội An is undeniably an attractive place that is beloved by many expats: the promenade, the old architecture, the hip-cafes (e.g., Hillside, Phin Cafe), the workshops and art-spaces and networking events are all incredibly compelling.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Things To Do in Đà Nẵng and region.
>1 Year: Ho Chi Minh City is Best for Long-Term Digital Nomads
On the scale of years, all roads lead to Ho Chi Minh City, especially for people who have a lot of ambition and hunger for opportunities, whether Vietnamese or foreigner. Why? The city is booming! If, over-time, you establish enough working-relationships and clients within Vietnam, then having a physical presence in the city becomes more and more important.
The city and its surrounding areas are known within Vietnam for their entrepreneurism and dynamism. If Hanoi is renown for its sophisticated culture and political power, HCMC is known for its high-octane pop-culture and embrace of global capitalism. The city (once known as Saigon) has a longer history of working with the West and participating in global trade — this predates the war, the aftermath of collectivization and subsequent re-liberalization in the modern age. Foreigners have likewise always been welcome: to this day, the city has the highest density of foreigners living and working in Vietnam.
In other words: digital nomads fit right in in HCMC. You can read more about the city’s culture in our article that compares North vs South Vietnam.
If you are just getting started in Vietnam, HCMC also has a lot of organized networking events and affordable co-working spaces. Importantly, the business culture is a little more welcoming in the sense that it is less predicated on personal relationships and more meritocratic than the North, i.e. less like the culture described in our article on Vietnamese Business Culture. On the downside, there is a lot of partying and expectations of doing work at karaoke bars and late-night “3rd shifts”.
To escape the honking and high-density craziness, consider living to the nearby beach town of Vũng Tàu
There are many many co-working spaces in Ho Chi Minh City. Our favourite co-working space is Nest, which doubles as a cafe. It is free, it has a beautiful building, it hosts a lot of art-events and workshops to help build networks. Importantly, it is a friendly and acceptable place to bring clients for in-person meetings.
Here is a list of co-working spaces in Ho Chi Minh City:
- Toong Coworking Space (multiple locations in the city)
- The Hive District 1
- Dreamplex (multiple locations)
- Saigon Co-Working
Neighborhub Coworking Space(permanently closed)
Beyond official co-working places, HCMC also has a huge variety of nice cafes that cater to laptop-warriors. We like ID Cafe
Is Remote-Work Popular in Vietnam? – No!
Except for freelancers and/or expats working for foreign companies, remote work is generally not popular in Vietnam.
During the peak of Covid-19, many offices quickly adapted to being fully-remote. However, once Vietnamese vaccination rates hit >95% and the country returned to normal, most companies quickly transitioned to hybrid work, and then back to fully in-person work.
Even among elite occupations or elite companies remote-working is not popular. For example, there is no “Shopify of Vietnam” with a 100% remote-work option. We know colleagues who were head-hunted for high-paying jobs at elite companies in Vietnam, and who had to turn down the generous offer because the companies refused to allow remote-work as an benefit.
Why is remote work so unpopular in Vietnam (except among freelancers)? Here are three reasons why, which have a to do with Vietnamese work culture:
- Intrinsic motivation – Vietnamese managers and employers tend to not believe that employees can be intrinsically motivated. The default belief is that if the boss isn’t there to lord over the employees, then employees won’t actually work hard (this is ironic given that the Vietnamese tend to have a very strong work-ethic).
- Maintenance of relationship – a lot of Vietnamese business gets done in meetings and meals that are meant to maintain relationships with business-partners and clients. These aren’t just elite inner-circle events: junior employees are often expected to attend and liven-up the atmosphere for the sake of the guests (some companies hire women just to entertain partners). Such maintenance of relationships cannot really be done remotely.
- Boss ingratiation – Vietnamese bosses and managers get a lot of positive attention from their employees, and they get to indulge in a work culture that doesn’t separate work-tasks vs. personal-tasks (“hey, can you pick-up my kids tonight?”) So, why would a boss let their employees work remotely when they get them to do so many personal tasks for them?