People are going head over, well, tails, for the lucky charms.
Bitcoin has been making people fortunes in recent times, and a more tangible version of the cryptocurrency is also poised to bring some Lunar New Year cheer to Vietnamese children next month.
Metallic coins with Bitcoin logos are joining the popular chocolate coins as alternatives to cash given away in red envelopes known as li xi, or lucky money, to children during Tet, the biggest festival of the year in Vietnam, which will fall in mid-February.
For the past few months, online shops in Vietnam have been importing coins bearing the Bitcoin logo to sell for VND80,000 ($3.5) to serve the rising demand for the currency that has helped many miners strike it rich following its boom in recent months.
Bitcoin, the biggest and best-known cryptocurrency, rose around twentyfold last year, climbing from less than $1,000 to nearly $20,000, a record level which has been attributed to surging demand in China, where authorities say it is being used to channel money out of the country.
A seller named Long in Ho Chi Minh City said he has been selling the physical Bitcoins for two months via Facebook.
The current demand is still low, around 10 coins per week, with each of his customers buying two coins on average, but it will rise as Tet nears, he said.
Each gold-plated Bitcoin that Long sells is 3 millimeters thick, weighs 28 grams, has a 40-millimeter diameter and is covered in a protective acrylic case.
Long said more online shops have started to sell the coins on Facebook, making it a more competitive market.
When the coins first appeared on the market, they were originally sold to real Bitcoin investors who wanted to keep them as souvenirs.
Though not as volatile, the price of these “souvenirs” also fluctuates more or less on the price of the crypto.
Hai, who also sells physical Bitcoins online in the city, said people have become less interested in the metallic coins over the past few weeks following a drop in the actual price of Bitcoin.
But if the value of the crypto bounces back on the global market by the end of this month, it is possible that the physical coins will gain more attraction, Hai added.
The coins are also easy to find on Amazon, Ebayand AliExpress, with prices ranging from $1.1 to $2.8.
Khanh, another seller in Binh Duong Province in southern Vietnam, said the government’s recent move to forbid the use of Bitcoin has also lessened interest in the physical coins.
Vietnam’s central bank said last October that the act of issuing, supplying or using illegal means of payment starting from 2018 may be subject to prosecution for violating regulations concerning the operation of credit organizations, a crime that carries up to 20 years in jail under Vietnam’s Penal Code.
But several restaurants and coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s commercial hub, have started accepting Bitcoin payments.
A staff member at one restaurant said that customers only needed a Bitcoin code to pay for their meals and that this method was more beneficial for the restaurant because Bitcoin payments did not appear on tax declarations.
The threat of jail does not seem to have scared some businesses that consider it the new age of currency, so the central bank is now working on a legal framework to control Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that are not currently recognized by Vietnamese law.
The virtual currency was created in 2009 by an unknown computer whizz using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Individual Bitcoins are created by computer code.
The total value of all Bitcoins in existence is now around $152 billion.
Reporting by Phien An