Category: SG Budget Babe

Savvy Travels – Hanoi Itinerary on a Budget

My husband and I recently travelled to Hanoi for a budget getaway, and our total expenses added up to about $700 per person for the entire week.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

Flights (return)



S$128 (6 nights)





Food & drinks

S$95 (approx. $15 per day)

Shopping / massage


Total per person


Against the backdrop of Hoa Lu

Flight tickets
For a short flight, Vietjet was our budget carrier of choice. Personally, we felt seats were comfortable enough and service was decent.

We paid $200 per person inclusive of taxes.

I would strongly encourage you to book a hotel or hostel within the Old Quarters, even though the ones outside the area offer more affordable rates.

Trust me, you’ll want to pay for that convenience because none of the tours will pick you up at your hotel if you’re located outside the Old Quarters. Most of the tour groups average about 8 to 15 pick-ups at the different hotels within the city every morning, and have only 30 – 45 minutes to gather everyone. 

So save yourself the headache from the horrendous morning traffic of trying to get into the Old Quarters on time, and just pick an accommodation in the area. You can’t put a price tag on convenience for this.

Local hotels are aplenty, and you’ll find many backpacker hostels going for as little as USD 4 per bed a night. Pay for the level of comfort you desire. 

Us at Hoa Lu, the old capital of Vietnam

Transport & Wi-Fi

Get local wifi (we opted for a portable wi-fi egg from Klook which was conveniently delivered straight to our hotel) so that you’ll be able to navigate Google Maps easily, and download the Grab app for cheap transport options before you go. In our case, we had no trouble with the wifi even while in the rural areas with our wifi egg (while other tourists were struggling to get a stable connection), which latches onto the area’s strongest wifi signal and supports up to 5 devices.

The Uber equivalent in Vietnam is called Grab, and you can book taxis, private cars and even motorbikes on the app for cheap.

Do not take the non-authorised taxis from the airport. Their taxi meters are rigged to run at a faster speed, so you’ll still end up being overcharged! So please learn from our mistake and either get your hotel to book for you, or just book via Grab.

Another example: we got quoted 100,000 VND by our hotel and a tour agency for a taxi trip to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, when it turned out to be only 25,000 VND on our Grab app -.-

Food and other expenses
In general, food in Hanoi is perfect for the budget traveller. You’ll be able to get a satisfying sandwich for as little as USD 1 on the street, and coffee that is better than Starbucks for just USD 2+. A bowl of pho (rice noodles with beef / chicken soup) will set you back by USD 3. You can also get the local beer for just USD 0.30 (5,000 VND – you didn’t read that wrong!) along Beer Street.

If you’re up for some learning while on vacation, you can also try out the Vietnamese home cooking class we did here – it was a real treat!

Getting around the city via Grab bookings was extremely easy and cheap.

Manicure services start from as little as USD 4, whereas you can get fantastic massages for USD 7 and up. 

DIY walking food tour
There are plenty of tour agencies offering guided food walks within the Old Quarters, but if you’re up for an adventure like we were and prefer to customize your own walking tour, here’s what we DIY-ed

– Local appetisers at Bánh Cuốn Bà Hanh (26B Au Trieu Street). Try the lemongrass pork!
– 4-cheese pizza at 4Pizzas 
– Grilled pork with vermicelli soup + crab spring rolls Bún Chả Hàng Mành 1 (don’t go to the imitation one across the street!)
– Coconut coffee at Cong Caphe
– Egg coffee at Cafe Giang (the original) or Lakeview Cafe (we preferred this)
– A mug of Bia Hoi (local beer) along Ta Hien Street 
– Eel porridge and dry vermicelli at Miến Lươn Đông Thịnh
– Custard apple & “breastmilk” apple at any fruit stall
– Bonus: get the best (and cheapest) foot massage at Vạn Xuân Foot Massage at the end of the day!

(Just download Google Maps and search using the stall names – it’ll show up!)

The fried eel porridge we had in Hanoi was the best I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Thinking about it now is making me drool again.

In addition, we did a cooking class with the local Vietnamese and it was one of the best experiences ever

Cycling in Tam Coc to see the limestone sights.

Day trips out of Hanoi
If you’re the spontaneous sort, I would recommend that you head there directly to any of the numerous tour agencies to book your day trips out of Hanoi. There are at least 2 – 3 on every street.

However, if you’re the anxious type who prefers to have all your bookings confirmed before you fly, then I highly recommend using an online booking agency instead. NEVER book directly through your hotel, as most of them will mark up the prices and sell you for a higher rate than what you’ll find on the streets.

I personally have been using Klook for all my travels in Asia, and never had an issue. Their mobile voucher redemption (no printing, hooray!), instant confirmation and impeccable customer service have won me over numerous times. What’s more, their prices are extremely competitive as compared to the local ones we did.

Our hotel manager told us to shop around but not book outside, boasting that he could match any price or even get it for cheaper. Unfortunately, that all turned out to be a lie as they sold us a day tour to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc for USD 50 per person, when Klook offered the same tour for USD 40 (less after using promo codes).

I highly encourage the following day trips:
– Hoa Lu and Tam Coc
Halong Bay (do the 3D2N version if you can, otherwise you’ll be spending 8 hours travelling to and fro on a single day trip)

Us at Halong Bay

At a beautiful cave we explored while on our Halong Bay tour with Klook

We kayaked in Halong Bay too!
Being rowed along the scenic river of Tam Coc

For first-time users, you can key in the promo code BB5 to add a $5 off voucher into your wallet (you can add the code into your wallet first for future use, valid until 30 November 2018). Don’t forget to also get $50 off in their year-end sale if you’re doing any bookings soon!

Click here to check out our adventures to Hoa Lu, Tam Coc and Halong Bay!

With love,
Budget Babe

What the property ads on Facebook aren’t telling you

I’ve been seeing a lot of recent ads on Facebook selling the idea that HDB owners who earn as little as $6k – $8k combined monthly income can:

– Upgrade to a private condominium AND 
– Own a second property AND 
– Get a 5 to 6-digit lump sum of capital 

all WITHOUT forking out any additional cash.

For many of you who have been targeted by these ads and are wondering what the catch really is, I’ll be debunking this today and sharing with you why I think such a message is completely unrealistic and misleading. 

Got such a good deal meh? How does it work?

To be fair, the situation isn’t completely impossible. Here’s how:

1. Sell your HDB flat at a higher price than what you bought it at previously
2. Use the cash profits from your HDB sale to pay for the minimum downpayment of 2 condos (1 to stay in, 1 to rent out).
3. The remaining cash forms your emergency fund.
4. Rent out your second property for $XXXX a month and use that to pay off your mortgage loan on that same property, ideally with excess to spare.


Unfortunately, for a family whose combined income is $6,000 a month, I feel that agents who recommend such a strategy aren’t being financially responsible. 

What’s the catch?

There are many downsides that these agents aren’t telling you about. I spoke with an honest property agent whom I trust in order to clarify this, and here’s a backward projection we came up with.

(Note: This is only ONE projection. I cannot possibly cover all the different scenarios, much less yours, in a single blog post. If you’ll like to understand more about your specific circumstance, please consult an agent for advice instead.

To obtain the full projection, please fill up this form here and I’ll get the agent to send it directly to you.)

We tried very hard to work out a backward projection that meets the claims purported in these ads, and the scenarios only worked out if we assumed a 1-bedder condo (for $800k) was purchased.

But there are many glaring issues that make this very unrealistic. For instance, is a smaller condo even realistic for a family with kids?

Moreover, there are many hidden fees not addressed:
– Condo maintenance fee
– Vacant periods where you’re in between tenants
– Property tax
– Higher income tax (due to rental income)

A few assumptions that we used in order for the backward projection to work out:
– Your HDB was a Built-To-Order (BTO) flat which you bought more than 5 years ago for cheap
– You sell your BTO flat for more than at least $100k – $150k of what you bought it at
– You “upgrade” to a condo but with smaller area (eg. 1 or 2-bedder)



If couple earns $6k monthly ($4,800 take-home pay…)

How will they afford to upkeep all these expenses WITHOUT dipping into their emergency funds?
What happens when the emergency funds run out?
What happens if one loses their job?
What happens if interest rates go up?
What happens if they can’t find a tenant?

While you’ll indeed be “upgrading” from a HDB to a private condominium lifestyle, ask yourself if a smaller house, possibly in a further location, is truly an “upgrade” at all.

Think about all your transport costs for a location much further away from the MRT station.

Next, now that you’re so highly leveraged, what happens if you lose your job? Will you be able to continue servicing your monthly mortgage debt?

What happens if the Fed raises interest rates, and your mortgage loan suddenly becomes more expensive to service?

What happens if you’re unable to find decent tenants to rent your second property to? Where will you get that additional income?

So…what’s in it for these property agents? Why are they hard-selling this lifestyle to me?

Plenty. They earn not just the commission from selling your HDB, but also TWO more commissions for helping you to buy your condo and additional property.

As for you, congratulations! You’re now knee-high in debt.

Is that what you REALLY want?


If your agent is simply selling you unicorns and rainbows instead of telling you the hard truth behind this magical-sounding strategy, I’d be wary of working with such an agent.

Property investment can indeed be your pot of gold, but if you go into it blind without really realising what you’re signing up for, don’t blame anyone but yourself (and your agent certainly isn’t going to take responsibility when it explodes on you years down the road…)

Look for one who is REALISTIC about fitting in such a strategy into your life and financial circumstances, without landing you knee-high in debt while they walk away with a smile earned from the three commission deals they’ve done for you.

To obtain the full backward projection I used in this post, please fill up this form here and I’ll get the agent whom I consulted to send it directly to you.

With love,
Budget Babe

Better Alternatives to UOB Stash

Disclaimer: I loved UOB One, but nothing riles me up faster than a badly marketed financial product (okay fine, a badly marketed financial product through lifestyle influencers who mislead their followers for the monetary benefit of a sponsored post co…

More Accountability Needed in Influencer Marketing

The Beautiful Teeth Whitening Kit, which was popularised by various social media influencers and sold like hotcakes earlier in the year, has now been confirmed to be potentially harmful by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), who has now banned sales of it to the direct public.

Social media was littered with popular influencers promoting the kit to their followers, with plenty of before-after photos that looked rather promising. Curious to know how they managed to amass so many photos? Well, they made buyers take photo to serve as a “1 month guarantee” for any faulty parts, that’s how.

On 20 July, I decided I had enough of the irresponsible marketing and promotional antics surrounding the much-hyped kit, and decided to verify whether it really was as good as many influencers were claiming.

I warned about how the kit was not approved by HSA (contrary to what the distributors were claiming), was potentially damaging to your teeth and health if accidentally swallowed. The so-called certifications they claimed were also questionable (I verified that it wasn’t true).

Screenshot from an influencer who was promoting the kit.

I also pointed out how it looked suspiciously like a MLM pyramid scheme (see also: How to spot a MLM scheme) and that what many of the distributors / influencers were telling people to be careful of fakes because only the $70 version was the “official, authorized” kit. But elsewhere, someone who got recruited revealed that her commission was $50 (while a reader of mine pointed out that the kit was available on Taobao for just $20. You do the math.) To recruit folks into selling for them, some of the original distributors were posing with lots of cash with the message “Want to earn? Come be a distributor!”

Credits: HardWareZone

“One seller, who only wanted to be known as Margaret, told Channel NewsAsia that she was not aware of the legal and health concerns surrounding the product. In a span of six months, she said she has sold more than 300 Beautiful teeth whitening kits and has not received any negative feedback.” (CNA)

In other words, that’s $15,000 in commissions for sale of a product that HSA has now denounced as potentially corrosive and which are not allowed for sale directly to the public. Another was boasting about how she earned $20,000 within a single month.

“Sellers of the product could face a fine up to S$20,000, a jail term of up to 12 months or both, for supplying an un-notified cosmetic product. Suppliers of products which do not comply with the labelling requirements may face a fine up to S$50,000, a jail term up to two years, or both.” (CNA)

Is this new wave of influencer marketing the new MLM?

The funny thing is, it remains to be seen whether the social media influencers who profited from selling this product to their followers will be held to accountability, or even fined. A little birdie tells me this is highly unlikely, and it won’t be long before we see history repeat itself.

But next time, it might not be in the form of a teeth whitening kit.

How to spot a MLM scheme

MLM (Multi-Level Marketing), also known as pyramid selling, is a controversial marketing strategy where the revenue of the MLM company is obtained from the people who join the MLM.Typically, the idea is that you recruit newcomers, who pay a fee to join…

Financial Roadmap

Ever heard of FIRE?It’s the new age movement that is taking the world by storm – Financial Independence and Retire Early.Living in Singapore can be stressful. We’ve been voted the world’s most expensive city, cost of living is skyrocketing, and our wag…

How much can you earn as a Uber driver?

Ever wondered how much you’ll make if you quit your day job and turned to driving Uber (like Wolverine) instead?In 2015, I wrote about how I encountered a taxi driver who told me he earns $7,000 a month. Back then, ride-hailing apps like Uber and Grab …