With increasing numbers of young professionals living and working abroad, access to information is more essential than ever before, and insider knowledge about the best places to eat, shop or even just where to get drinking water in a foreign city can be hard to come by.
Going online in September 2016, Chameleon City is an app run by a team of locals and experienced expats living in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, whose job it is to point you in the direction of whatever it is you need while living in Vietnam.
Included in the team of experts are college students, seasoned expats, a specialist in Vietnamese law, and a specialist in sexual health, meaning they’re well prepared to answer just about any question you can fire at them, and if they can’t, they’ll get on the phone to someone who can.
The app itself is simple, easy to use and well designed. You simply open the chat icon, and you’re greeted with a messenger-style conversation box, you open a new chat for each different question, to keep the answers organised and easy to jump back to.
Founder Peter Petracca gives an example of how the app can be used practically: “On Valentine’s Day we noticed that all the restaurants in Hanoi were essentially offering the same thing, so we decided to give people an option that was different; craft cocktails at Unicorn Pub, followed by banh xeo at Banh Xeo Sau Phuoc, and another option for Ho Chi Minh City.”
The app strives to answer users’ questions and to arm them with localised knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
“A big problem we noticed was that the whole review industry was broken. Tripadvisor will give you the top 10 of someone who’s been in the city for a week, and people will perpetually go back to those top ten places, while missing the real gems the city has to offer.”
The team also highlight Hanoi and Saigon’s infamous Facebook forums for adding to the problem of broken reviews.
On to the App
The app is split into two distinct sections; the first is Life, offering everyday advice like where to find a decent barber, or where to pick up an industrial-size tub of sour cream, as one user requested. They’ve even conjured up flight deals to Hong Kong for the same price as Bangkok. The second section, Travel, is where the app secures its second major potential market, tourism.
Many of us have had the experience of paying what we later thought of as an unreasonable amount of money to go on a tour that turned out to be as boring as hell.
“I think there’s been a shift in travel trends away from air-conditioned buses towards walking the streets and finding authentic experiences,” says Peter. “The way we see it, just cut the crap and ask us what you want, and we’ll find it for you.”
Chameleon City is a service that many visitors and expats in Vietnam could well consider. But, like most on-time services, it doesn’t come without a cost; a one-month subscription costs US$20, and three months costs US$45.
Peter is quick to note the app’s money-saving potential: “We found that backpackers were the least likely to use it, yet they end up paying extortionate prices for a boat tour that we could have got them for a fraction of the cost. Sometimes a little looking around can save you some serious cash.”
Chameleon City is currently operating in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and is set to expand to other cities in Southeast Asia in the near future.
To find out more click on chameleon.city
Lead photo by Julie Vola