Living In Vietnam – Our First Three Months

So despite all the throwbacks I post and blogs being focused on our travels through Asia, we have been living in Vietnam for over three months (in case you didn’t know). Our plan before we left the UK was always to travel SE Asia for four months then to live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for six months or so. As I was so late to the blogging party during our travels, I’ve been fixated on filling in the gaps from the ‘travelling days’ and reliving our stories through photos and blogs. But now I think I need to fill a lot of you in on our actual life here in the Vietnamese capital. Having just passed our 3 month milestone and after renewing our visa for another 3 months, I thought there was no better time. As it’s my first blog about our life here, I thought I’d start with a list of questions we usually get asked all the time by friends and family back home!

why did we make the decision to move to vietnam?

We had both travelled in Vietnam before, albeit briefly, around 7 years ago on separate trips. All I remembered was the craziness that is Ho Chi Minh, partly why a lot of people miss it off their list when travelling Vietnam. It is a culture shock with the bikes and volume of people but we’ve grown to love it a lot. Our decision was not one we spent hours researching, deliberating and narrowing down other places – it was simply, Glen liked the idea of living in a big city again, I loved the idea of Vietnam, we knew there was a big expat community and we knew it was easy to fall back on teaching jobs if we needed to. So we kind of came here on a whim, but we are glad we did!

Fresh faced at the airport in June 2017…

To even fresher faced in Vietnam 6 months later!

If anyone was to ask me now – why should we try living in Vietnam? I’d say 1) it’s very very cheap, 2) the people are very friendly here in the south, 3) it’s easy to find work as an expat, particularly English teaching, 4) you can enjoy a great life for very little money and manage to save whilst living it up in a big city, 5) the climate is incredible (living in summer clothes is ideal), and 6) everyone should try living in an Asian capital if you have the chance!

Do we work?

Yes and no. My parents like to call it ‘practicing early retirement’ for which they do have a point. Even if you do have a full-time teaching job here, you only usually work around 20 hours a week. We spent the first two months making money online through profit accumulator and matched betting, as well as Glen supporting us with his rental income from his properties back in the UK. So we basically didn’t work. After Christmas, we thought it might be nice to have a little extra dosh so I found a freelance copy-writing project with a French company here in Vietnam and Glen took up some teaching work (around 10 hours a week) so yes we were/are working, but it’s very very part-time. It’s probably a period of our life when we will have this luxury so young so we are lapping it up while it lasts. We also have a nice little commission deal with the local guy, who’s now become a good friend, that we bought our motorbike off when we first arrived. Backpackers arriving in HCMC looking to buy a bike to ride up to Hanoi are often reluctant to buy from local dealers as they fear they are going to be ripped off. But that couldn’t be more wrong of our friend, so every time we recommend him and he makes a sale, he gives us a little commission – which at busy times is a great little side gig for us!

The cafe culture here gives us unlimited options for workplaces!

You’ll often find us at ‘Ben Coffee’ doing work and taking advantage of their great wifi, delicious food and nice vibe

Do we speak vietnamese?

Short answer – no. Long answer – we try to but not very well and to not much success. We have been a bit lazy with living in such a big city, most people speak English or we can get by by pointing and knowing a few words. We get a little embarrassed when people ask us about it because we’ve been here three months, we should probably know more than ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘please’, ‘1, 2, 3’ and ‘cheers’! In complete honesty, I’ve found it hard to pick up as Vietnamese has such a range of tone in their words with several accents being within one word. Plus, as opposed to the Thai people, we  have found that they aren’t as accommodating of ‘triers’ here so our ego is depleted every time we do try as they don’t know what we are saying.

We know the words for most of the food when we see it on signs etc, but speaking it is a different matter

Day to day life in some parts of the city

What’s our day to day life like?

We wake up around 7/8am and head to the gym every week day then once finished there we usually go to a man not far from our house that does amazing omelettes which is perfect post-gym fuel for £1! Then we go home to shower, Glen does some work on the betting, I work or blog for a bit, then we will head out around lunchtime to eat and to find a coffee shop to work in. We have our favourite cafes which we tend to lean to as they have the best priced drinks, good wifi and they know us well enough to take us to a table with a plug as soon as we arrive (we secretly love this). Sometimes, we will only work for a couple hours then we will go shopping, run errands or whatever else we needed to do that day before heading home around 5pm before Glen goes to work for an hour or so in the evening. On the weekends we usually go out to eat at nicer places, go to the swimming pool, shopping or go for drinks and meet friends.

Chilling poolside

Reading in our local park, another weekend favourite

One of our regular working spots does a combo meal with drink for £2!

What is it like to ride a motorbike there?

Glen does all the driving, I prefer to scoot around Thai Islands and I don’t think I have the confidence to attempt it here! Perhaps if we were staying longer I’d give it a go but right now I’m perfectly fine on the back of the bike with Glen or a moto taxi. As for what it’s like, it’s really not that bad – once you’ve been here a couple of weeks you do get used to it. When you are on the outside looking in, it looks like hell with hundreds of bikes crammed together centimetres away from each other with accidents just waiting to happen. It causes fascination to tourists who stand at the edges of the roads filming the thousands of bikes waiting at the lights.

Pollution can be a problem so we always wear masks…

We upgraded pretty soon and these ones are great – even if they do make us look like Hannibal

However, it’s actually a very different story when you are within it. Glen likes to describe it as like being in a school of fish, you move together and very slowly so you rarely risk collisions at high speed. We see a lot of bumps in traffic but very minor and most don’t even bat an eyelid when another bike bumps into them, we’ve had a couple of bumps into us before. The only thing I’d say, and I give Glen so much credit for this, is the fast reactions you have to have. The locals rarely look before pulling out onto a road, rarely indicate and tend to sway all over the road (usually because they are texting or talking). So you have to be on alert at all times; when we go anywhere I’m always looking too in case Glen doesn’t see something, but touch wood, we’ve been grand so far!

Glen on our little Yamaha!

Is it really that crazy to cross the road?

It’s a little overwhelming when you first arrive as it literally looks like ‘how on earth am I going to cross the road without being flattened like a pancake?’ but it’s not so bad. After a few days we were completely comfortable with crossing the road and letting the bikes and cars weave around you, you just have to take it slow and keep looking – if you hesitate, the bikes will hesitate and that’s what will get your toes run over! One of our guilty pleasures now is finding a cafe with a good view of a crossroads and watching the new tourists attempting to cross the road, the fear on their faces is great entertainment! You wouldn’t believe how many people try and run which is literally THE worst thing you could do.

Practicing on the small roads on day two

The roads got crazy recently when Vietnam won the U23 football championship semi-finals!

What do we eat?

Most of the time we cook breakfast at home apart from gym days where we go to our ‘omelette man’ and we try to eat local most of the time. We are pretty happy eating at street level as it is super cheap and makes you feel a lot more involved with the locals than eating in the fancier western places. We eat a variety of noodle soups, chicken/pork/beef/vegetables and rice, although we eat a lot less local food as time has gone on as we are finding it doesn’t have the variety we want. Recently, I’ve been having meals delivered as part of a healthy meal plan system. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do in the UK but it was always too expensive but here I can get 15 healthy meals for £23 which is great! Glen doesn’t mind what he eats and he’s a particular fan of the blood in the noodle soups (eurgh) so he eats at the vendors at the end of our street when I have my meals, then we will eat out in the evenings or at weekends depending on how we space our meals. I have to say though, even if we do eat at the more fancier places, you’re never really paying more than £7 for delicious gourmet food in a nice cafe or restaurant.

We often get takeaway from the street vendor on our road and this little lot came to £1.30!

Bun Cha Gio (grilled pork noodles) and Bo Kho (beef stew) are tow traditional Vietnamese dishes

Beef stew (again) and Pho (noodle soup) – £4 for everything

We called this vendor ‘pork lady’ and go to her once a week

This is a deconstructed Bahn Mi – it’s a huge breakfast that we have as a monthly treat – £1.50

‘Omelette man’ – £1 and it really hits the spot

Steak dinner can be as little as £10 in a nice restaurant

How much do things cost?

The captions in the above pictures give a good idea but generally street food varies from 50p – £2 which is crazy cheap for meals. When we eat out we hunt out places that are around £2-4 which is still very achievable in nice cafes and restaurants, it is very cheap here. Beers vary from 50p to £1.50 in nicer places and cocktails are around £3-4 in most places. In the beginning we cooked at home a lot in our little outside kitchen, a whole week’s worth of food shopping tended to cost around £25-30 so we found it was often cheaper to eat out than cook at home. Yay for me as I didn’t have to cook outside in the perpetual sauna!

The noodle soup from the street vendor down our road – Glen loves the blood!  

Enough sushi to stuff you completely plus beers can be as little as £10 for the whole meal

Meals like this at our regular vendor usually cost around £1.30 for two!

Are there normal shops?

I think when I said to some people (particularly the older generation) that we were moving to Vietnam, they imagined a very different life to the one we have. We can do and buy almost anything you want here, they have normal high street shops that they have in the UK as well as their own high street shops too.  The only thing is Vietnam has 100% import tax on a lot of items which means things like tech and make-up can be expensive so I tend to stick to Asian brands or have stuff sent over. But the beauty of Vietnam is that you can have practically anything made! I’m having a dress made for my brother’s wedding in May and am also currently having two playsuits made for super cheap!

Shopping for the material is one of the best things too!

Normal shops plus loads of markets to shop!

aNY PET HATES OF VIETNAM YET?

Plenty. I think that comes naturally with anywhere you live for a while, you just become accustomed to the life there and the daily gripes.  A few things still really get me, more so with the driving and the lack of indication and they also don’t seem to have an awareness here of pulling over for ambulances, they still try to get past them, overtake, and don’t move out the way which makes us pray we never will have to use one because its terrifying to watch. I also joke with Glen that we will be going back to the UK with a lot less manners than we came out here with because we’ve slowly learnt that in some places, i.e. the supermarket, if you don’t push in, you’ll never get to the front. And people don’t hold doors here, very very rarely have I encountered doors being held open when you are behind someone, so we’ve started doing the same!

My face/mood is generally like this whenever we are at the supermarket #restingbitchface

on the flip side, what do you love about vietnam?

We are really glad we came here. Firstly, one thing you can’t deny is that it is unbelievably cheap which makes living here a pleasure. Secondly, the people are friendly, Glen says they are friendlier than the Northern Vietnamese but personally I cannot remember to distinguish. Thirdly, the climate is superb. Being able to wear shorts and sandals every day is for sure a winner for me, even in rainy season you only get one monsoon in the late afternoon but it’s hot all year round. Fourthly, Vietnam is great to travel, you can catch a short flight or take an overnight bus to some beautiful places – we’ve been to Nha Trang and Phu Quoc since we’ve been here both of which I recommend.  And finally, their national spirit is pretty infectious as we saw recently when Vietnam got to the finals of the U23 Asian Football Championships, it was chaos on the streets here with flags and celebrations! There are plenty more I’m sure but I think those ones top it for now.

The city also has some lovely buildings – Central Post Office

Tan Dinh Church – i.e. The PINK Church!

… and a lot of cute coffee shops!

‘Storming’ the streets with bikes and flags after they got into the final!

What’s our plan?

So we’ve just extended our visa to last us until the end of April then we fly to Bangkok for a week before flying back to the UK. We are staying in the UK for 6 weeks to see my brother marry my lovely sister-in-law to be and catch up with everyone as we will have been away almost 11 months by this point. Then come early June we have a return flight booked back to Bangkok where we plan to live for another 6 months! This plan is rough and it may be longer than 6 months but Thailand has both of our hearts so the thought of living their together really excites us. Vietnam has been wonderful so far and I love love love the cafe culture they have here (they are such a social nation) but the pollution here in HCMC is so bad that we want to be in a city where it’s a lot healthier and Bangkok offers that as well as the banging Thai food!

The food, the people, the life – Thailand has our heart!

As for the next few months, we shall see what happens!

*** UPDATE JUNE 2018***

So actually after another 3 months of living in Saigon, we fell more in love with it than we ever thought we would, which made it ten times harder to leave! But we said our goodbyes to all our friends, sold our bike and gave up the lease on our little apartment and set off for the UK. We stopped in Bangkok for a week before flying home and did love it but realised we loved it more as a holiday place, and we couldn’t imagine ourselves living there at the time. So with this thought brewing in our heads, we flew to the UK for the big reunion with family and friends. As the weeks flew by in the UK, we realised we were toying with the idea more and more of going back to HCMC instead of making a move to Bangkok – in HCMC, we knew the city, our favourite spots, where we would live this time, how to get jobs and all our friends were there! In the end, it was a no brainer and we booked a flight from Bangkok to HCMC a few days later, we arrived earlier this month and we haven’t looked back!

Grace xoxo