Top 5 Tips for Living in Saigon, Vietnam

Saigon is one of South East Asia’s most popular hubs for startups and digital nomads. There’s so many good things to be said about living in Saigon (check out this kickass post by Arielle Gold for more on that), yet the hustle and bustle of living in Saigon can also be a huge adjustment.

While Saigon has an awesome vibe, rock bottom cost of living, and an incredible food/coffee scene, the city is also loud, polluted, and chaotic. That’s why many expats and nomads have a love hate relationship with the city.

Having lived in Saigon for two years, I’d agree that the city’s pollution and lack of nature will drive you crazy after a while. Living here permanently would certainly kill the charm after a while. However, Saigon still remains a destination every digital nomad or remote worker should try living in for at least a month.

Below I’ve listed my top five tips for living in Saigon. Follow these pieces of advice and you’ll have a much easier transition to living in the world of pho and endless motorbikes. Taking action on these tips will also help you maximize your time in the city and ensure you get everything you can out of this city.

#1 Do Not Live in Pham Ngu Lao (The Backpacker Area)

Pham Ngu Lao is the city’s tourist trap (as are Bui Vien and De Tham). If you’re looking to meet other travelers, hit up the bars, or get international food Pham Ngu Lao is a great place to visit. It can even be a solid place to stay for a night or two. There’s a seemingly endless amount of hotels and hostels in this part of town.

Living in Pham Ngu Lao isn’t likely to be an enjoyable experience, however. For one, you’re going to be paying inflated prices. Everything from food, to drinks, to sunglasses are more expensive in this zone of the city.

Locals are also more likely to try to scam you or steal your things in this area. The locals tend to be less friendly around Pham Ngu Lao too. With new drunk backpackers shooting into town each night, and locals seeing the worst of foreigners, could you blame them?

There’s more reasons you wouldn’t want to live on Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien, or De Tham Street as well. The bars often play loud music late into the night. Trying to sleep with loud music outside isn’t so intolerable if it’s just one or two nights. Can you imagine having that annoyance every day, however?

The never ending stream of motorbike guys offering you weed, men selling sunglasses, and girls offering massages gets old fast too. In short, don’t live in the backpacker area of the city. Anything over a week and you’ll probably start to go a little crazy. Where should you live then?

There’s a few options. District 1 is the central district of the city, and is a solid place to live in (as long as you get outside the Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao area). Living in District 1 will have you close to most of the city’s best bars, restaurants, and entertainment options. Accommodation in D1 is pricier than most other parts of the city, however.

District 3 and the Binh Thanh district are also central options with slightly lower price points. These districts also have comfortable western style accommodation while the surrounding areas still have an authentic local feel to them.

The other two popular options are District 2 and District 7. These districts are where a lot of the wealthier Vietnamese and foreigners live. D2 and D7 also offer some of the most luxurious apartments, pools, and villas the city has to offer. They are a bit isolated, however, which may be something to consider.

If you’re looking to get English teaching jobs or other local work, you may have a slightly longer commute to deal with living in D2 or D7. Depending on which part of these districts you live in, you may also find your cost of living creep up a bit in these areas.

Overall, there’s a lot of great places to live in Ho Chi Minh City. For most people, however, Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao aren’t the best choice.

pham ngu lao fruit shakes

(Smoothies in Pham Ngu Lao)

#2 Try the Local Foods

The point of traveling isn’t just to take cool pictures for your Facebook or Instagram profile. Far more important is getting to experience the local culture and try new things. A big part of that is food.

While Saigon has a great selection of international cuisine (I’m a big fan of the Indian food), the city also has countless dishes you’ve probably never even seen before as a Westerner. While you can indulge in comfort foods every once in a while, don’t be afraid of the local food.

Everyone will try Pho and Bahn Mi, but there’s so many other great local dishes to discover. Bun Cha, Bun Bo, Bun Rieu, Com Tam, Bahn Trang, the list goes on and on. I’ve been living here for two years now and I’m still discovering new foods on at least a monthly basis.

You don’t have to eat the entire dish of a new food if you don’t like it. With most food options costing just $1-3, however, almost everything is worth a try. The one thing to be careful of, however, is that dog is a food here. That may be the only thing you couldn’t forgive yourself for trying.

local vietnamese rice and noodles

(Curry rice and beef noodles)

#3 Make Local Friends (Or Date Locals)

There’s so many things to learn from interacting with the local people. You’ll learn new ways of thinking, which you can learn from even if the Vietnamese way of thinking about certain topics isn’t ideal (nor is the Western way on other subjects).

Beyond that, you’ll also get a more authentic cultural experience from dating locals or making Vietnamese friends. Where is the locals favorite place to hang out in any city? HINT: It’s often not the place that the tourists hang out. In fact, you or the other foreigners living in the city may not even be aware many of the locals’ favorite spots even exist.

I had a girlfriend in Vietnam for example ask me to go to ice cream with her. While I’d taken her to Baskin Robbins in the past, for this date she took me to a famous local spot in District 5. At that ice cream shop you multiple flavors of ice cream frozen into the inside part of a coconut at 1/3 the price of a smaller serving at Baskin Robbins.

Talk about cool! Yet, you’ll never have these experiences without befriending the locals. Saving money, making new friends, and having fun cultural experiences. Talk about win/win/win.

best coconut ice cream saigon

(Excellent coconut ice cream in District 5)

#4 Manage Your Cost of Living Carefully

Saigon is an interesting city in that it can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d like. I’ve seen shared accommodation for under $1/day. I’ve also seen luxury villas with private pools for a few grand per month. Of course, most of the city’s accommodation is somewhere in between.

Most foreigners live in apartments that range from $200-$800/month. I think the real sweet spot, however, is around $250 to $450. For that price you’ll get a comfortable serviced apartment in the center of the city that includes cleaning and often laundry as well.

Saigon also has hundreds if not thousands of dining options for you regardless of your budget. You could easily hack it here and subsist for $5/day even eating out every meal. I’ve done it in the past, but wouldn’t recommend you do the same long-term as it can get old having such limited options.

I’d estimate I spend around $300-$400/month on food these days. You could certainly spend more or less depending on your needs. That would likely be comfortable for most people, however. Just note that expensive wines, cocktails, coffee and western food can quickly drive up your monthly expenditures.

Overall, there’s two important things to remember about your monthly expenses in Saigon. The first, is that doing some of the frugal activities you’d do at home may not be worth it financially. For example, taking 30 minutes to walk somewhere may save you some decent money in a western country like the USA.

Yet, the same thing in Saigon would probably only save you a $2 taxi ride or $0.70 motorbike fare (using Grab or Uber). Eating out is also expensive in the West, but in Vietnam is often almost the same price as if you’d prepared the food yourself.

While walking or cooking your own food may have legitimate health benefits, it’s not worth doing those activities for the minuscule cost savings they may offer. Outsourcing your rudimentary and repetitive tasks is almost always an intelligent decision in Vietnam considering the low wages locals are willing to do those tasks for.

The other recommendation I’d make to you is be careful about how much you raise your standard of living. An apartment for $1,000 or even $700/month with a kickass pool and view may seem like a deal you just can’t pass up on.

If you’re making $2,000/month or less, however, (which is most English teachers and many new remote workers), those few hundred dollars in potential savings each month by renting a cheaper apartment are HUGE for you.

You could save money to pay off student loans, invest in your future, or simply work fewer hours to have more time to develop new skills or build a long-term sustainable business. In short, enjoying more purchasing power due to Saigon’s low cost of living doesn’t mean you have to indulge in every luxury the city has to offer.

In fact, spending your money wisely and making sure you get excellent value from all your purchases will inevitably leave you more successful and happier long-term.

cheapest private accomodation near center of saigon

(Example of rock bottom prices in private “accomodation”. A little depressing to say the least, but only 1,600,000VND/month or $70.50/month, and fairly near the center of the city.)

#5 Understand the Good Comes With the Bad

There’s a lot of things that can get frustrating while living in Saigon for months or years at a time. The “me-first” attitude of the locals, smoking, pollution, language barrier, etc, can get old fast. Some of these things are more in your control than others. You could easily close the language gap a bit by learning at least the basics of Vietnamese.

The city’s pollution, smoking habits of its residents, and lack of nature isn’t really escapable without leaving Saigon altogether though. Leaving the city for border runs, or just taking an occasional weekend getaway can do wonders in refreshing your appreciation for the city.

The lack of nature for example is a lot more tolerable after spending a weekend lounging on the beach in Mui Ne or Nha Trang. When this isn’t possible, however, it’s important to just remember that the perfect city doesn’t exist.

You’ll never find a place that checks every box: Low cost of living, excellent nature, dating opportunities, friendly locals, language, safety, visas, great food, weather, cleanliness, etc. Yet, when a city’s flaws get to you, the best thing to do is appreciate all the good things the city does have.

It’s kind of like life really. If you don’t appreciate what you have, you’ll never be happy. Although Saigon is far from a perfect city, the food, low cost of living, networking opportunities, and vibe make it a place like no other. That’s why I’ve lived here the past two years, and that’s why you’ll be proud to call this city your home too, even if for just a month.

Cam’s $350 apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Hey guys, after living there for more than a year, I’m finally bringing you a tour video of my apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I wanted to move to a new place before publishing this video. Now that I’m settled into my new apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I thought it was finally time to post this video.

The blog post below and video above should give you a good idea of what a mid-range apartment in the center of Ho Chi Minh City offers.

Price

The apartment in the video above costs $350/month. I made a special deal with the owner that those $350/month would include electricity if I didn’t use air conditioning. Obviously, however, most apartments in Ho Chi Minh City are going to require you to pay for electricity and some charge for water as well. Fortunately, for me, $350/month included everything.

Location:

Located in District 1, the apartment has a great location. Although some expats choose to live in Binh Thanh, District 2, and District 7, many of the foreigners living here would argue that apartments in District 1 have the best location in the city. This apartment in particular is situated between the large Diamond Plaza shopping mall, and the Saigon Zoo.

The nearby area also has countless restaurants where locals eat Pho, Koreans enjoy Kim Chi, and foreigners stab ribs. Of course, the different ethnicities aren’t afraid to enjoy the food from each others’ countries either!

Apart from this, the apartment is located in the quiet 18BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Alley. This alley has many foreigners living in it. It may not have as many expats as the nearby 18A or 18B alleys, but it’s a more peaceful place to live. For that reason, prices tend to be a bit higher in the 18BIS alley.

Pho

Utilities & Amenities

As noted before, air conditioning, electricity, and warm water are all offered by the apartment. Although my amazing fan didn’t leave me wanting for air conditioning much, those that “can’t live” without air conditioning would be fine here. Just budget a little extra for electricity.

Free laundry and cleaning are also included with your rent. At any time I was able to put my clothes in a basket outside my room. I’d then usually wait about 36-48 hours before they were washed, dried, and returned to my room. I’d have to hang them up in the closet myself afterwards, but hey, you can’t complain about this service considering it’s free 😉

We’d also have a lady clean the room about twice the week. She’d come in and wash the floor, dust the table, clean the mirror, change the sheets, make the bed, etc. Although you don’t realize it until you leave, having someone to do these tasks for you makes your life a lot easier! More importantly, it saves you time you can invest in more profitable or enjoyable endeavors.

Although the common area had a kitchen, it wasn’t something I ever used. My apartment had a fridge, however, and that was something I did enjoy using from time to time. The apartment also offered free parking. This is a nice perk if you’re renting in the $150-$350 range. Some of the cheapest apartments for foreigners won’t offer you parking.

The one disappointment I had with the apartment was its unreliable wifi. Although it would sometimes be fine for listening to youtube videos or other educational material; the wifi would often go down or work at unusable speeds for hours at a time. That was a big letdown.

Apartment Rules

My apartment in the 18 BIS Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Alley didn’t have any unusual rules. We had a key and were free to come and go as we pleased. You had to pay a one month deposit, and pay your rent and other monthly bills in a timely fashion. You were expected to keep noise at a reasonable level at night. Prostitution and drugs were banned. You get the deal.

Conclusion

Just $350/month can get you a solid apartment in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. Although my apartment was a bit small and had unreliable wifi, it had a number of other perks that made it a great value.

Excellent location, cleaning, laundry, free water, free electricity (excluding air conditioning), free parking, and even a handy guy on-site to call if the water wasn’t working or you had any other problems. In short, Ho Chi Minh City offers great value for the money in its apartments.

It may not be as nice as Chiang Mai (which we’ll cover in the next week or so), but the apartment scene here still offers great prices compared to virtually anywhere in the Western world.

Da Lat, Vietnam – Travel Tips & Things to See

In today’s video we’re going to take a tour through the charming mountain city of Da Lat. Located 300km from Saigon, getting to Da Lat is a bit of a journey. It’ll likely take you around 7-8 hours by bus depending on the time you leave (leaving Saigon during rush hour will add some time to your commute).

Flying is quicker, though more expensive. Going by motorbike is also an option and one that’ll offer you amazing countryside and mountain views along the way. I think buses are the best deal for most people.

They’re cheap at just 210,000 Vietnamese Dong each way ($9.25). The buses are also air conditioned and offer fully reclinable chairs that effectively double as beds.

Night buses are really popular as they allow you to sleep, save on a hotel for the night, and start the day early when you arrive the next morning. Regardless of how you get to Da Lat, however, the journey will be well worth it.

There’s lots to see in Da Lat: Ho Xuan Huong Lake, pagodas, waterfalls, the nightmarket, ect. Though small, this city could definitely keep you busy for a few days.

ho xuan huong lake

Da Lat is also considered the most romantic city in Vietnam. Many couples go there on their honeymoons, and you’d make any Vietnamese girl light up if you asked her to take a trip to Da Lat with you.

I’d recommend budgeting around 400,000 Vietnamese Dong ($17.60)/night. That’ll get you a very solid room in Da Lat. Some smaller budget rooms are even available for just 200,000 though ($8.80). Luxury resorts will run you from around $50-$150.

Unfortunately, something I didn’t realize before my most recent trip to Da Lat was that hotel prices become very inflated during public holidays. Most places will raise their prices 50%, 100%, or even more! Even with this being the case, the availability of rooms can still be limited during peak weekends.

For that reason, you should book early if you plan to travel to Da Lat during a Vietnamese holiday. Better yet, avoid the crowds and inflated prices by traveling at a different time.

Overall, a trip to Da Lat is a great break from the big city life of Saigon. Although I’d imagine living in Da Lat could get boring, the city does has some interesting tourist attractions and is certainly worth a visit.

Watch the video above to get a better idea of all Da Lat has to offer!

big dome in da lat

Visiting Saigon’s Chinatown & Chợ Lớn Market

Looking for an authentic Chinese tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City? Look no further. The Chợ Lớn Market, surrounding markets, and huge Chinese presence in District 6 make it a great place to visit.

Although I don’t go to District 6 much these days, it’s an interesting place to visit at least once during your time in Ho Chi Minh City. There’s history, authentic local living, and great deals to be had.

Yet, even if you’re not planning to visit Saigon, you’ll still find the video below interesting. It gives you an interesting view into the life of an average local in much of Vietnam. Plus, it’ll also show you just how cheap the markets in South East Asia can be!

 

Should You Visit Vung Tau, Vietnam?

Hey guys, today I’m coming at you from Vung Tau, Vietnam. I’m staying here on a short overnight trip from Ho Chi Minh City, and what I want to talk to you about in today’s blog post is whether you should visit Vung Tau.

Now for some background information if you don’t know much about Vung Tau… Vung Tau is a beach town with a population just over 300,000. Because this city is just two hours or so by bus from Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a popular weekend getaway for those living in Saigon. Let’s face it, living in a huge metropolis can get tiring after a while.

Sometimes it’s good to lounge on the beach and get away from all the chaos for a day or two. It’s a refreshing contrast if you’ve been living in the big city. For that reason, I recommend visiting Vung Tau if you’ve been living in Saigon.

There’s enough to do here for a solid weekend getaway. There’s a beach, excellent seafood, and even dog races. Plus, it’s easy for you to get here. Visiting Vung Tau doesn’t require you to purchase a plane ticket or take a long overnight bus ride to a faraway city.

On the other hand, Vung Tau needn’t be a priority for you to visit if you’re just a tourist passing through Asia. There’s many superior beach locations in this region of the world. Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Mui Ne are all better options for some beach time without even having to leave Vietnam. Thailand and the Philippines are also options if you’d like even better beaches.

In short, definitely try to make it to Vung Tau if you’ve been living in Saigon. If you’re just a tourist though, I probably wouldn’t bother making the trip. The beach is decent, but it’ll feel underwhelming if you traveled halfway across the world to see it.

USA VS Saigon (Things I DON’T Miss About Living In the USA)

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out yesterday’s post where I discuss the things I miss about the living in the USA. As I said in the last post, the intent of this two post series wasn’t to bash on the USA or toot Vietnam’s horn.

There’s a lot of cool stuff about both countries. Both also have a lot of problems. Also remember that I’m doing this series as a 20 year old white guy.

This series probably would’ve been a lot more favorable to the US if I was a woman. It also probably would’ve been a lot more critical of Vietnam if I was a Vietnamese guy making a normal local salary.

With that being said, I’d like to get into why I LOVE living in Vietnam.

Cost of Living

This is one of, if not THE biggest reason I love living in Vietnam. The value you can get for your money here is amazing.

It’s easy to get an hour long massage for under $10. Lunch on the street may cost you $1.50. A central studio apartment in the top areas of the city may cost $300-400.

Last year, I was renting a pretty big studio apartment for $270/month plus another 5-10$/month for electricity. That gave me a nice room in the middle of the city, and a maid to clean and do laundry for me.

The only problem was I lived with a crazy Grandma that would cockblock me every time I tried to bring a girl home… It even happened one time when my aunt from the USA wanted to come and use the bathroom. Oh memories 😉

The craziest thing was that she would try to cockblock me even though long-term residents there said she’d pushed 10 or 11 little ones out. Oh the irony of it all.

Of course, with that kind of treatment I couldn’t stay at that apartment for long. These days I’m spending a bit more on my apartment, but it includes everything listed before plus a place for my girlfriend to park.

There’s also a nice cafe downstairs that I could work from if I ever wanted to. More importantly, I don’t have to deal with that crazy old hag.

The point is, this city is cheap. Other places in Vietnam can be even cheaper. If you can make $1,000 month after taxes you’ll be living well. If you had to bootstrap like me, even $500/month is enough to live here.

It wasn’t always fun for me when I was living on $500/month. You can totally do it though. Just forget about drinking, taxis, and Western food.

You wouldn’t even need to cook though, you could still eat on the street every meal if you wanted.

Plus, Before you know it your income will increase and you’ll be balling too. Try living in the US for $500 or even $1000/month. You probably won’t be having a lot of fun.

Menial Tasks Outsourced

As I just mentioned, there’s a lot of stuff you can pay people to do here for very little money. It’s easy to pay people to do your cooking, cleaning, laundry, and driving.

These days, I pay others to do all of these tasks for me. The end result is that I have a lot more time each week to do more important things. It also saves a lot of energy and mental resources.

Theoretically I could do this in the US, but it’d probably be 10x more expensive. Unless you’re making some serious dough, it probably doesn’t make financial sense for you to outsource a lot of these tasks.

Food

This could just be personal preference, but I think food in Vietnam tastes a lot better than food in the US. It’s certainly a lot healthier. Many people consider Vietnamese food to be among the healthiest in the world.

You can choose any local restaurant (meaning restaurants that don’t cater to foreigners), choose something random, and there’s a good chance it’ll be at least fairly healthy.

Unfortunately, things will probably continue to change for the worse here. They already are with the number of shitty Western chain restaurants continuing to be built here.

No reason not to enjoy paradise while it lasts though.

Obesity

This isn’t something I find overly annoying. In the US the people obviously weigh a TON more than here in Vietnam. When others make unhealthy lifestyle choices, however, it usually doesn’t bother me much.

I have no problem with someone else ruining their life. I wish they wouldn’t be unhealthy, but you can’t change someone unless they’re ready to change.

The thing I love about Vietnam is that I see a lot more people out exercising than in the US.

Whether it’s walking from one place to another (though the Vietnamese do rely on their motorbikes too much), kids playing soccer in the street, or old couples playing badminton in the park; there’s a lot more people being active.

I absolutely LOVE this. There’s something natural about seeing human beings moving. Seeing people being active and getting in touch with their bodies. It’s just the coolest thing.

Women

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning the women. It’s not a secret anymore that American women are possibly the worst in the world when it comes to dating.

Before the bashing let’s give American women credit for what they do well. They tend to make decent money for themselves.

If you’re in a relationship and living with an American women she’s probably more likely to help you pay rent than a Vietnamese women.

American women also speak English and have a solid knowledge of sports. You can go outside with an American girl and throw a football or shoot a basketball for fun with her.

It may take a lot more training to get a Vietnamese girl to that point. You’ll also have a lot more miscommunications with Vietnamese women because you’re Vietnamese skills are probably nonexistent, and thus you’re relying on her English.

The result is that you may have to dumb your English down a bit, use simpler words, and speak without using many interesting expressions.

Aside from that, however, the average Vietnamese women whips an American women in virtually every other category. Vietnamese women tend to be much thinner and more well dressed than American women.

Vietnamese women are generally proud to cook for their man. Plus they can do a pretty decent job. Most American women think it’s hip not to learn how to cook.

Vietnamese women are more feminine than American women. Luckily for us living here, feminism hasn’t spread too strongly in the East yet. Women here still understand that it’s attractive to be girly.

Vietnamese women are also much more sexually conservative. I get that there’s some hushing going on around sex here. Lots of Vietnamese girls have had sex, but won’t admit it to their friends.

But, I’ve also kissed cute 20 year old girls that were left speechless after because they’d never kissed a boy before.

I’ve met girls that would crush on me, even to the point where they’d post pictures of me on their Instagram accounts. Yet, they were firm in that they wouldn’t have sex before they were married.

Look, there’s obviously American girls that will refuse to have sex before marriage too. Haha maybe. Seriously though, in a country as big as the US I’m sure they’re out there.

It’s impossible to deny, however, that American women are generally super loose with their bodies in comparison to Vietnamese women (and women of most other countries in the world).

While casual sex can be fun, dating women who engage in the casual sex culture usually aren’t the best choices for relationships.

The more men a woman has had sex with, the more difficult it is for her to pair bond and experience a deep emotional connection with her man.

In other words, relationships are a lot better here because Vietnam is still a patriarchal society where the man is the leader of the home and casual sex is frowned upon.

Of course, all of this is assuming you’re dating an American 7 vs a Vietnamese 7. For the record, I don’t like using numbers to talk about women.

However, it’s just a way to state that we’re talking about women that are pretty attractive in comparison with the average girl in their surroundings.

Anyway, the issue is that while hypergamy effects Vietnamese women, it’s not completely out of control here yet like it is in the US.

Because there’s so many overweight women in the US, any girl with a respectable appearance thinks she’s incredibly hot stuff.

Decent American women have an overinflated perception of themselves due to so few girls in the US being physically attractive.

Take half the female population, make them obese and undateable, and it’s no wonder guys are desperate and thirsty in the US.

Simply put, American guys score higher abroad than in the US. They’ll also get better treatment from their woman abroad because she’ll know he’s not so easily replaceable.

American guys at home generally have to date down. Plus, they usually won’t get treated as well as if they’d dated a feminine woman from a more traditional society.

The dating marketplace in the US is broken. There’s a reason American guys go abroad and can easily round up a harem of girls. American girls on the other hand go abroad and can’t stop themselves from complaining about how lonely it is.

END OF RANT

Proximity to Other Countries

When I lived in the US I didn’t have many opportunities to go to other countries. The only two affordable choices were Canada and Mexico.

However, Vietnam is much less geographically isolated than the US. Budget airlines are also super prominent in Asia.

The result is that it’s much more practical to take a long weekend trip to another country while living in Vietnam than while living in the US.

Besides being cheaper, you also have a lot more nearby countries to explore.

Conclusion

There’s a reason I’m living in Saigon, Vietnam and loving it. Its excellent cost of living and feminine women allow me to have a work/life balance that anyone would be envious of.

Plus, as my income continues to increase, I’ll be able to save large chunks of money rather than having it tied up in rent for an expensive apartment, car insurance, or other costly obligations like I would stateside.

Saigon is an awesome place to live. I’m likely to move on to another place by the end of the year, but I’ve loved my time here and will continue to love every moment until the very end.

I’d highly encourage you to get your ass out here and check Asia out sometime. You won’t regret it!

USA VS Saigon (Things I Miss About Living In the USA)

I first came to Asia two years ago in February of 2015. I stayed for a couple of months before running out of money and being forced to go back and live with my parents again.

However, I’ve successfully been on my own in Asia now since July 2015. That’s about 1.5 years. Almost all of that time has been spent in Ho Chi Minh City (often referred to the locals as Saigon), Vietnam.

I’m much happier living here in Vietnam than I ever was in Wisconsin. For that reason, I can sometimes rip on the USA. While the USA has lots of problems, so does Vietnam.

So does every country for that matter. The most important thing is whether the place you live meets your standards in the areas most important to you.

For me, Vietnam meets most of my standards for a place to live as a 20 year old guy. It’s cheap, the women are thin and feminine, the food is delicious, and the lifestyle is exciting.

With that being said, I do occasionally miss living in the USA. I used to be suuuper anti-USA a couple years ago, but now my perspective has mellowed out. I recognize that even if the USA isn’t currently the best place for me to live, others may find genuine happiness living there.

For some people, living in the USA may be best choice for them. That’s great for them. Others are simply in denial, or haven’t experienced what the rest of the world has to offer.

But for those that wouldn’t choose to call any other place home, I’d like to give you guys some props. You’re not better or worse for finding genuine happiness in the place you were born.

You’re just different than those that choose to expatriate or live nomadically abroad. With that being said, today’s post is to give you some credit. This post is to say, cheers to you if you’re happily living in the US.

There’s some great things about the US that most of the places I’ve been to Asia simply can’t touch. If you’re a relative or friend that’s been jealous of my travels before, this post should help you appreciate the things you have at home.

Clean Air

I never realized it, but growing up in Wisconsin I always had access to fresh air. The same can’t be said of living in Asia, especially Saigon.

I miss being able to inhale the fresh smell of summer or spring. I miss being able to cross the street without having to cover my nose or wear a mask (because of the vehicle exhaust here).

A lot of people suffer from the bad air here. I’ve had horrible coughs here before. Several times a year now my lungs get congested. Of course, that would happen at home too. Here that congestion is just a bit more frequent and severe.

Sometimes, however, the air can get really really bad here. Once or twice a year I’ll cough so badly at night that I’ll begin to cough blood. Yuck. That never happened in Wisconsin.

Smoking

In the US, smoking isn’t really cool anymore. Not that many people do it either. More importantly, there’s lots of restrictions about where you can and can’t smoke. You’re not going to have people blowing smoke into your face at Chipotle.

The same can’t be said of Vietnam. The people here, especially the men here are the most legendary chain smokers I’ve ever seen. Even worse, they seem to be a combination of both ignorant and inconsiderate when it comes to smoking.

Lots of us have family members that smoke. In the US, this means when they have the urge they’ll walk outside to indulge in their addiction. If you were already outside at say a picnic, the family member would at least take a few steps away and blow their smoke the other direction.

Not here. I’m sure there’s exceptions, but generally speaking, Vietnamese guys are CLUELESS. They’ll smoke when you’re eating indoors. They’ll smoke when they’re sitting next to you at the park, and they’ll make no effort not to blow the smoke in your face.

Worst of all, they’ll smoke while carrying a baby and think nothing of it. Oi, Oi, Oi. I could rant about this for another 2,000 words, but you get the point.

Living in the USA you’re blessed. It’s incredibly easy to avoid smoke as an American. Here, not so much.

Consumer Reliability

You’ve got to be careful when you buy stuff in Vietnam. We’ve got fake iPhones, fake North Face bags, you name it. That’s all fine and dandy.

That means shopping here may get me some stuff that’s not authentic, but at least I’ll probably spending a lot less than you guys in the US.

That seems like a pretty fair deal. It is, assuming you get something that doesn’t break a week after you leave the shop.

Things can get a lot more insidious here though. Add poor consumer protection laws and a corrupt police force and you’ve got trouble. Let’s say you want to have your iPhone fixed here.

Cool. Seems like something that’s simple enough to deal with at the hundreds, possibly thousands of phone repair stores in this city. Wrong. You thought US car salesmen were sleazy, wait until you hear this.

When you get your electronics repaired in Saigon you gotta have your #1 hawk eyes honed in on those repair mofos like it’s a competitive staring contest and you’re trying to win through intimidation.

I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about people losing all the valuable parts of their phone in this scheme.

You go to repair your phone. You give it to the guy at the counter. He gives it to another guy. The 2nd guy supposedly has to go to another room to get tools to examine and ‘diagnose’ your phone’s problem.

Little did you know that sleazy mofo was removing all the authentic Apple parts from your phone and replacing them with cheap China knockoff parts. It doesn’t even matter if they repair your phone now. They already made a huge profit off you.

Fucking scumbags deserve to eat shit, but that’s just how things can work in this part of the world.

Amazon Shipping

You can have basically anything ordered from Amazon, and delivered to your house in a few days max in the US. While it’s technically possible to order Amazon to ship to Vietnam, it’s quite limited.

You’ll worry about customs agents stealing anything valuable. And the deliveryman is far more likely to lose your package than in the US. This convenient shipping is one of the top things many expatriates miss about living in the US.

Language

It’s a joke that most people in the US think Spanish is too difficult to learn. I can understand if you think it wouldn’t be worth investing hundreds of hours of your time to learn Spanish. That’s reasonable enough, especially if you’re based out of the US and not planning to travel enough.

Calling Spanish difficult though pssssh. Try Vietnamese. This language is unspeakably hard. Notice I said unspeakably. Vietnamese is actually fairly simply to write. It’s actually probably far easier to learn to write Vietnamese than English.

Speaking Vietnamese is another story though. I’m not a language noob either. I speak conversational Spanish, and basic Esperanto. In Spanish I can hear a word a couple times, begin using it and people will always understand what I’m saying.

They might correct my accent if it’s a language teacher, but it’s clear enough that locals will understand what I’m trying to say. That’s not true at all with Vietnamese.

I’ve known for two years how to say tasty in Vietnamese (ngon). At lunch last weekend my girlfriend’s family asked me if the food was good (ngon không?). I said tasty thanks (ngon cảm ơn). They didn’t understand.

How can you live somewhere for two years, and still be unable to speak even the simplest phrases of the language? Don’t ask me.

Props to you Americans. You probably hear bad English everyday if you’re living in a big city. Maybe that’s why we’re so forgiving and able to understand foreigners with poor English skills. The same cannot be said of Vietnam.

Part of it must be that it’s uncommon for foreigners to learn Vietnamese. Therefore, most people here have never heard Vietnamese words pronounced incorrectly.

I’d really like to go with this answer rather than mental laziness to try to piece together what the other person said.

While some people will just brush you off when you attempt to speak Vietnamese, a lot of Vietnamese people, especially those that speak foreign languages will try to understand you. And due to their effort, often they will! If only more of them would make this effort…

Regardless, USA… you win. English wins. Maybe I wouldn’t be saying that if I was living in a country that spoke Spanish, but for now… English over Vietnamese everyday.

Career

I was reluctant to put this on the list. It’s possible to create a solid career for yourself abroad. In 2017 I’m finally doing well online as one of the main writers at a cool tech startup.

In another year or so I’ll likely make the switch from freelance writer to web developer and be making even more money. With that being said, the amount of money you can make in the US is pretty ridiculous.

Sitting in a cosy cubicle with little risk, and lots of stability is comfortable. A lot of people say it gnaws at your soul, but you’re lucky to even have the opportunity for some soul gnawing in exchange for material comfort.

Having stability, and not having to worry about finding the next client is a pretty sweeeet deal. 2017 is the first year I’ll make a respectable amount of money online (this is great, but I’m not looking forward to finally having to do self-employed taxes hahaha).

If I was still living in the US, I’d probably be making around double per month what I’m making now with a lot more stability. Sometimes that eats at me. If you’re living in the US, be grateful at the abundant opportunities you have available to you.

I know people say the US economy has gone to shit, but there’s still sooooo much fucking opportunity in America if you choose to be exceptional.

Conclusion

Look, there’s a lot of cool stuff about living in the US. You’ve got great jobs, reliable stores, fast shipping, clean air and manners. We can often lack a lot of those things in Vietnam.

That’s why I’m going to take today and say congrats America. I know people like to bash on you a lot these days. I’ve certainly done my fair share, but you got a lot of things right. And I’m confident you’re only going to get better under Trump 😉

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Part two is up now. Things I don’t miss about living in the USA.

Should You Visit Vietnam During Tet (Vietnamese New Year)?

Hey guys, thought I’d write a new post here. 2016 was a pretty pitiful year as far as the blog here was concerned. We’re going to make it a priority to make things more active here again. I don’t know if we’ll get back to the glory days of 2013 when I was posting 3-5 times weekly, but we’ll see.

Anyway, let’s get to today’s question.  Should you visit Vietnam during the Tet Holidays? However, before we can answer that question we need some background information.

What is the Tet Holiday?

Tet is the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year. This celebration is HUGE. After living here for three years of Tet, I can confidently tell you that Tet is waaaaay bigger to the Vietnamese than Christmas is to Westerners.

For Tet, many of the families living in the big cities like Ho Chi Minh (and presumably Hanoi, though I haven’t been there) leave. It’s important to understand that a large percentage of the people living in these tier 1 cities weren’t born there.

They were born in villages or smaller towns and only came to HMC or Hanoi for economic opportunities. The reason Tet is so important in Vietnam is that it’s the only 1-2 week period many families will get to be together all year. It’s also the only time most Vietnamese will stop working and rest for an extended period of time.

Park during Tet
The beautifully decorated Tao Đàn park during Tet 2016.

Should You Visit Vietnam During Tet?

The quick answer is probably not. The reason I generally advise people from visiting Vietnam during Tet is that there’s a lot of disadvantages in planning your visit around this time. The first is that a large portion of the city closes down. I’m talking large streets that normally have 15+ restaurants may only have 1 restaurant open. Maybe 2 if you’re lucky.

Entertainment options will also be significantly limited. Families could easily get bored as tours and such are mostly, if not completely unavailable.

Single guys coming here to be playboys will also struggle. It’s suuuuper difficult to get a decent girl out on a date around this time. Virtually all of the young and attractive girls will be back in their hometowns or completely occupied with their families during this week.

Unless you plan to dumpster dive for other foreign girls at your hostel, you’d be much better coming at another time.

Another problem is that transportation to other parts of Vietnam can also be limited. If you’re in a big city like HCMC or Hanoi you’ll have no problems getting around the city.

However, try getting one of the buses that connects to other cities in Vietnam and you’re virtually guaranteed to be out of luck. The tickets you want, were probably booked by someone going to their hometown weeks or even months ago.

To top all this off Vietnamese aren’t like Westerners. They don’t run holiday specials for Tet like we may for Christmas. In fact, prices actually INCREASE during the holiday. Of the restaurants that are still open, probably half of them increase their prices by 10%.

Of course, there are a few benefits you may realize by visiting Vietnam. The first is that the traffic is significantly lighter in the tier 1 cities such as HCMC and Hanoi during Tet. This makes walking around the city much more pleasant. The air is also cleaner as there’s a significant reduction in pollution from motorbikes.

Some of the parks and walking areas are also decorated with beautiful flowers and lights. My mom came at the end of Tet last year and couldn’t stop talking about the beautiful lights that lined the walking street.

Overall, however, I’d say the disadvantages weigh the advantages for visiting Vietnam, and especially Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi during Tet. It can be fun for expats to stay in Ho Chi Minh City during Tet as it’s such a contrast to the normal chaos we deal here.

You’ll probably be disappointed and a bit bored if you come here during Tet as a tourist, however.

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My camcorder is currently broken and the Canon store has been closed all week . I’ll start adding videos to the blog again once I repair it. In the meantime, enjoy!