From investment banker to living in 'Nam

Buzz, buzz, buzz. The chaos of a trading floor. The constant shouting, yelling, and momentum that never stops until the markets close.

I loved the pressure because that’s when I did my best work. The trifecta of focus, execution, and speed always pushed me into a flow state until the end of the workday when I’d collapse back at home.

Last year I decided to leave and build my own online startup in the e-commerce space. I soon moved to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Vietnam where I was able to arbitrage the lower cost of living while building my business (#Baller Leather).

When I tell people that I live in Vietnam now, most are intrigued and wonder what it’s like because they have a war-torn image in their heads. But with four decades behind us, there’s actually a vibrant and youthful culture here that has risen from the ashes.

So what’s it like?

Traffic lights are rarely obeyed, nobody uses turn signals, and there is absolutely no etiquette in letting pedestrians cross the street. If you’ve ever played the game Frogger, that’s exactly what it’s like.

Yet with the motorbikes, chaotic traffic, and haggling street vendors - it all works itself out in the end, very much like a trading floor. You must embrace the chaos.

“There are no rules in Vietnam,” my travel agent says with great pride. Even in his line of work with the immigration department, he has the ability to “invent” two-year multiple entry visas out of thin air at the right price.


For most institutional investors, Vietnam is still a frontier market with some ways to go in market capitalization, corporate governance, and favorable regulations for foreign investors. Ho Chi Minh City is also building it’s first underground subway system to be completed in a few years, which reminds me of growing up in Taiwan during the early 1990s.

Mark Mobius from Templeton made a big splash earlier this year during a visit, saying Vietnam was one of the cheapest stock markets and he was finding lots of bargains.

If you ever make it to Saigon, here are some general tips that will make your trip easier.

Food - There are plenty of dishes besides pho. Different cuisines have their own flair that come from the north, central, and southern parts of the country. With the French influence, you also see the impact in cafe culture, sandwiches (banh mi), and architecture of older buildings. Former M&A lawyer Jodi Ettenberg has a great writeup about Saigon food you can check out here. Most street food will cost you anywhere from $1 to $3 US dollars if you are brave enough to try it.

Cafe Culture - Vietnamese coffee is one of the biggest exports of the country and cafes here are plentiful. You’ll be able to find one every couple of blocks within the city center with each cup running you $2-$4 US dollars. Travel blogger James Clark from Nomadic Notes has a great compilation of the best boutique cafes in town that he has personally curated over the course of two years. Personally I enjoy L’Uisine, ID Cafe, The Morning Cafe, and Tranquility.

Lifestyle Services - It’s possible to book a ticket to Vietnam and figure out your hotel, transportation, and basic necessities within 24 hours unlike most places where you’d have to book way in advance. Having a maid to clean the apartment, wash your laundry, and iron your clothes is commonplace where this is an luxury service elsewhere in the world. A private chef can even be hired for $100 US a month, delivering custom meals to you five days out of the week.

Hotels - The current business hotels are either the Intercontinental, Hyatt, or Sheraton. For those traveling on a personal trip, local boutiques start at around $30 US per night. There are also fully serviced apartments here, but most require a monthly rental to take your booking.

Nightlife - A favorite place we start out is called Beirut, where they serve Lebanese food with belly dancers in the evening, drinks, and shisha. From there, you have three main nightclubs to visit - Lush, Apocalypse Now, and Broma. If you stay out into night, there are seafood restaurants still open until 5:00AM to get your fill of grub.

That’s about it for the basics of Saigon.

If you heading this way on an upcoming business trip or vacation, feel free to reach out and get in touch to meet for a coffee or bowl of noodles. Michael Covel, the author of Trend Following and TurtleTrader is also based here in Saigon and we’d be more than happy to meet up.

Hope to see you soon. Cheers!

Terry Lin is the founder of #BALLER Leather, a boutique accessories company that offers 100% handmade travel wallets, card holders, and slim wallets designed with sophistication. You can find him @itsmeterrylin on Twitter or email

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