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Vietnamese Coins

Vietnam’s own heavy metal is fading away.

Last Updated: December 20.2014

The Gist
  • Vietnamese coins were issued in early 2003 in the anticipation of coin-operated services
  • Many expected systems were never implemented and the coins became a public nuisance
  • Some vendors have refused to deal in coins because of the inconvenience factor
  • All Vietnamese coins have corresponding paper bills
  • For many reasons, local people prefer not to deal with coins
  • You can exchange coins for paper money at banks, although they might charge a fee

It was December the 17th, 2003, when the Vietnamese State Bank began issuing the 5,000, 1,000, and 200 dong coins now in circulation. The coins for VND2,000 and VND500 followed on almost four months later. They were quite distinct from one another, with the larger denominations cast in the same coppery colour while the VND500 and VND200 coins were a silvery white. All of the coins featured the Vietnamese emblem.

They were issued in the anticipation of coin-operated technologies in public transport and payphones, which the administration planned to introduce shortly afterwards. The thought was that the general public should have some time to become familiar with the coins before the introduction of these systems.

Said systems took a little while to appear, and some – like the MRT – almost never happened. Nobody foresaw the sudden irrelevance of public phones, either. In the meantime, with the rise of Vietnam’s economy, coins very quickly became more of a nuisance than anything else, and the general public rapidly grew impatient with them.

CoinRimFaceReversePicture
VND5,000Shell-shapedThe Vietnamese emblemLine “THE STATE BANK OF VIETNAM, Denomination 5,000 dong, Picture of One Pillar Pagoda.
VND 2,00012-section serrated sideThe Vietnamese emblemLine “THE STATE BANK OF VIETNAM, denomination 2,000 dong, picture of the Dragon House.
VND 1,000Consecutively serrated sideThe Vietnamese emblemLine “THE STATE BANK OF VIETNAM, denomination 1,000 dong, picture of Đô Temple.
VND 5006- section serrated sideThe Vietnamese emblemLine “THE STATE BANK OF VIETNAM, denomination 500 dong, traditional pattern.
VND 200Plain rimThe Vietnamese emblemLine “THE STATE BANK OF VIETNAM, face value 200 dong, traditional pattern.

Dong of the Decade

It’s been over ten years since these coins were issued in Vietnam and they’re already difficult to find on the market. Try to pay for certain items with coins, and you’ll soon see the general disinterest Vietnamese people tend to have in them. Vietnam, in fact, is one of very few countries with coins and paper money of identical values – and here, all of the coin denominations are available in far more convenient paper versions.

When they were first issued, however, it was a different story. Back in 2003, the coins were welcomed by young people as a kind of curiosity, while elderly people seemed pleased to see coins again after a long time of having only paper currency. They were frequently used, especially in larger cities like Hanoi and here in HCMC – and to encourage people to keep using them, the administration and other organisations began to set up as many automatic vending machines as possible. At one point, coins accounted for a full quarter of all change available. However, after a certain period, the automatic machines themselves fell out of vogue, while vendors in local markets, grocery stores, and on the street were starting to directly refuse them, frustrated with their ever-increasing stocks of heavy shrapnel. Nowadays, supermarkets do accept coins, although they will generally exchange them for paper money at banks when they do.

There are many commonly-given reasons why coins are only rarely used by locals in Ho Chi Minh City. The most frequently-cited reason is the inconvenience – the sizes of coins make them hard to fit into your wallet. If you’ve ever gone wallet shopping in this town, you’ll know that it’s highly unusual to find any with coin pockets– and with no other place to put them in other than your pants pocket, you’ll really feel their weight, especially on the hotter days.

Besides this, the quality of the metal makes the coins hard to preserve. Compared to coins in other countries in the region, Vietnamese coins are relatively poor quality and wear easily. Even banks recognise the inconvenience – every now and then a person goes to the bank with a collection of a thousand or so VND5,000 coins in a bag weighing nearly 8 kg for a mere five million dong deposit.

The lack ofservices inviting people to use coins is also a reason for the general lack of interest in them. It’s a sad reality that many people have to go to some effort to spend their own coins. If, as in other countries, automatic systems were popular and widely available, people here would probably have gotten used to them by now. As it stands, the low values of coins make it really hard to buy anything with them – when was the last time you found a use for a VND200 coin? If you do ever manage to get a good collection of VND200 coins together, you may as well melt them down and sell the metal – local inflation has made the materials used to make the coins more expensive than the face value.

The Fate of Coins

In the middle of 2011, the State Bank of Vietnam announced that it would stop issuing coins into the Vietnamese market. While until now there has been no regulation to prevent people from spending them, in practice there hardly needs to be – Vietnamese people are truly sick of them.

Just because it’s hard to use coins doesn’t mean that you should forget about them entirely. Many locals have become very creative in dealing with coins, and they’ve been used for a variety of different purposes, as toys and paper weights, amongst many other creative solutions. Some people have started collecting them in the hope that they’ll go the way of all such things and become valuable relics one day.

Vietnamese Coins
Obvious wear & tear.

With so many people hesitant to use coins even at supermarkets, charity boxes at the checkouts have become ideal places to put them.

If, despite your best efforts, you end up with a collection of a large number of local coins and don’t plan on keeping them, take them to any bank and ask to exchange them for notes. Keep in mind that some banks might charge a conversion fee.

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