The first thing you will notice after you get over the fact that you have become an instant millionaire, is that there are no coins! The government stopped issuing coins in 2003, making your wallet significantly less heavy and transactions way less complicated. There are only paper notes now.
The lowest value banknote is the VND$200 (USD$0.01), and the highest is the VND$500,000 (USD$25.00) note. The front side of the notes all have an image of beloved Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh), whereas on the back are various national symbols. All the notes are divided into two distinct categories: the Cotton Family and the Polymer Family.
The notes that belong to the Cotton Family signify low value – you may barely use them, as there is not much you can buy with them. Locals love to collect these smaller value notes and use them for gambling during holidays such as Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year). The notes are prone to water damage and are easily torn. There are five notes in the Cotton Family: VND$200, VND$500, VND$1,000, VND$2,000, and VND$5,000.
The VND$200 (USD$0.01) note has a bronze color. You can buy absolutely nothing with this and it is rare that you will ever come across one of these. On the back is a picture of a tractor, as agriculture accounts for over 20% of Vietnam’s GDP.
The VND$500 (USD$0.02) note is pink, and on the back is a picture of Haiphong Port, an important trading port in the north of Vietnam, facilitating and contributing significantly to the economic development of the country. When it comes to the value of the note, the same can be said as with the VND$200 note.
The VND$1,000 (USD$0.04) note is a little more common, as is the VND$2,000 (USD$0.09) note. They both have almost the same grey brown color, so you have to distinguish them by the number or the picture at the back. On the VND$1,000 note is a picture of timbering in Tay Nguyen, Vietnam as forestry plays an important part in rural and mountainous areas of Vietnam. And on the back of the VND$2,000 note is a picture of Nam Dinh Textile Factory. With these you can buy a piece of candy, or perhaps pay your parking fees.
The VND$5,000 (USD$0.22) note is the most popular of the cotton family, has the biggest value, and has a distinctive ocean blue color. On the back is a picture of Tri An Hydro Plant, one of the largest hydro plants in the country, supplying electricity to the region. A bottle of water, or a glass of sugar cane juice will cost you VND$5,000.
The notes of the Polymer Family are more valuable. The more polymer notes you have in your pocket, the more power you have. There are six different Polymer Family notes and these are the VND$10,000, VND$20,000, VND$50,000, VND$100,000, VND$200,000, and the VND$500,000 notes. These notes are also much harder to wear and tear, and damage by water.
The VND$10,000 (USD$0.44) note has a brownish yellow color to it, and has the smallest value of all polymer notes, double of the value of the highest cotton note. The picture on the back depicts oil production on the seashore of Vietnam, as minerals still represent a considerable proportion of the GDP. For VND$10,000, you can buy a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) or a ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced milk coffee) – equaling the breakfast of champs in Vietnam. You can buy plenty of other street snacks too.
The VND$20,000 (USD$0.90) note is blue and has a picture of the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An, an emblematic symbol of the city symbolizing the fusion of diverse cultures in Vietnam. The size of the VND$10,000 is slightly smaller than the VND$20,000 note, and the latter is also awfully similar to the VND$500,000 note, which means mix-ups happen all the time. They are both blue, and the way you can distinguish is by the number, the image at the back or the size – the VND$500,000 is slightly larger. With VND$20,000 you can buy a bowl of pho or a dish of delicious com tam (Vietnamese broken rice).
The VND$50,000 (USD$2.19) note is a recognizable pink color. For this you can get a full, hearty meal at most restaurants, including dessert and a drink! On the back of this note is a picture of Phu Van Lau, a pavilion located on the main axis of the Imperial Citadel in Hue.
Now it starts to get expensive. With a VND$100,000 (USD$4.40) note, you are able to get a dorm bed in the backpacker district for a night, a manicure, or even a t-shirt. Things are that cheap in Vietnam! The picture on the back is of the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, one of the most beautiful structures in the country.
The VND$200,000 (USD$8.76) note has a sort of brownish-pink color to it that is in between the VND$10,000 and the VND$50,000 notes. On the back is a picture of Ha Long Bay, the quintessential must-visit spot in Vietnam. With this you can get a private double bedroom for a night.
Lastly, the VND$500,000 note is the biggest note in Vietnam, totaling about USD$22.00. This note has a picture of the home of Uncle Ho in Nam Dan, Nghe An province. You can live extremely comfortably on a budget of VND$500,000 a day and with just two of these you are a millionaire!
*Exchange rates (approximation, rounded off, as of publication):
*Double check rates so as to not get scammed.