Ha Noi to Ho Chi Minh City: Settling in Vietnam

5 months ago I landed in Ha Noi, Vietnam, from Hong Kong. My plan whilst travelling was always to find work somewhere in either China or South East Asia and, having left China, I’d set my mind on Vietnam. This article is about settling in Vietnam.

A statue commemorating the 1946 communist revolution of Northern Vietnam.

First Impressions

Now, it’s safe to say that my first week in Vietnam wasn’t the best; after having a few drinks on a night out (my first night out), I was stopped on my way home by people I presumed were police or security of some sort. After being questioned, I was forced to hand over my phone and wallet. Fortunately I had little cash in my wallet but, nevertheless, I was a little shaken the following day and at a bit of a loss. After a few days, and a few emails back and forth to family and the local embassy, I managed to get my head straight and head down to Ho Chi Minh City (I was in no mood for visiting Ha Long Bay or any other place).

‘Turtle Tower’ in the centre of Hoan Kiem Lake.

However, though my time in Ha Noi was somewhat tainted, I did quite like the city. Admittedly I didn’t explore as much as I wanted, but I saw a few interesting things as well as getting accustomed to the city life and local culture.

Cua Bac Catholic Church, just inside the French quarter of the city.

Firstly, as a lot of people may already know, the streets are rife with bikes and scooters; yes, cars are the second mode of transport here, maybe even third after bicycles. Somewhat like India, crossing the road is a game of chicken- most bikes will swerve around you, but it isn’t a sure thing.

Secondly, the street food. Compared to other countries I’ve visited, the street food here isn’t so much a small stall set up on a corner, but a small group of pans, ice buckets and raw meats kept together, serving small metal tables separating little multicoloured plastic chairs barely big enough to sit a portly Vietnamese adult. The smell, as with most street food, is a bit suspect at first but, after trying a few local dishes, becomes an all too familiar, comforting aroma.

All for udner £1.60!

Thirdly, the Vietnamese people are, on the whole, a friendly lot. Unlike the majority of Chinese people (for whom the Vietnamese show open contempt), the Vietnamese seem to embrace foreigners and, though you may find a few bad seeds, I found that most were more than happy to talk to me and help me when needed. It’s safe to say that in the west, or England at least, Vietnam isn’t generally a place people learn or know about, which I find to be a crime really (having said that, the majority of westerners know very little about any country outside their own).

Receiving the Bride at her house; part of traditional Vietnamese weddings…

Decisions

My time in Ha Noi was short, but was long enough that I got an idea of what to expect from other places in the country. My original plan was to skim through Vietnam and find work in Cambodia, namely English teaching (I’d found quite a liking for it in Nepal and decided I’d have a go at it). Luckily, during my travels, I’d kept in touch with an old friend from home who’d settled in Ho Chi Minh City and, after having a rethink of my plans, I was persuaded to stay in HCMC to teach rather than moving on to Cambodia. So, after finding a job and making a few friends, I was ready, and decided that settling in Vietnam was the best plan for the foreseeable future.

‘Uncle Ho’ in front of city hall.

The longest period I’d stayed in one place was three weeks, and the Buddhist Monastery would be far different from a thriving city in Vietnam. Not only did I have to get used to being stuck in one place, and actually making friends who I’d know for more than a few days (a downside to travelling), but I’d also have to get used to working again after nearly a year of not doing so.

More local food, including beer, for around £1.40.

All of this excited me and made me anxious; would I enjoy teaching? Would I find settling in Vietnam difficult? Well, it’s safe to say that the whole thing has been far easier than I expected and, after finding two well paid jobs, new friends, and a place to live, I’m happier than I ever thought I’d be, even if there is something missing. Overall, what makes it somewhat easier is that though Ha Noi is the capital of the communist country, Sai Gon is its heart and soul economically, commercially, and culturally, and is somewhere worth sticking around, for the time being at least…

Are you thinking of settling in Vietnam? Or settling in another country?

-Loui

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