I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to travel the world and experience many different cultures. On several occasions, I have actually been able to live in different countries rather than just visit them. You get an entirely different experience living in a country than you do as a tourist. That has been the case with Vietnam.
After living in Vietnam for four years, I would describe it, in a word, as different. It is unlike anything I have experienced so far, South Korea included. I was always told to make a sandwich out of good and bad, so I’ll start with the good.
My favorite thing about Vietnam is the people. My landlord and her family are amazing; I consider them an extended part of my family now. They adore my 2-year old daughter and spend time with her regularly. Soon after my arrival, I befriended a café owner and one of his regulars; now, they are both very good friends. I have been invited to weddings and high school reunions. Whenever I am out on the town, I meet new and interesting people who want to chat and get to know me.
Vietnam is teeming with ex-pats, so there are plenty of businesses catering to westerners here. From McDonald’s to KFC, you can find a taste of home, but I would be happy to see a Taco Bell open in the area. Unfortunately, many of the ex-pats have returned home after the onset of the Coronavirus; only a handful of us remain.
The weather isn’t great in that it is always hot and there is little variation with the seasons. That’s not the case all across Vietnam, but it is in Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). Rain is another issue. Vietnam doesn’t believe in light showers, it demands torrential downpours that come out of nowhere, leave you soaked, and create rivers in the streets.
Although the local cuisine is extensive with many flavorful dishes, I don’t particularly care for it. The main staples here are fish and rice, neither of which appeal to me. They also eat some pretty weird stuff – snake, snails, larvae, chicken feet, fish heads, and a veritable cornucopia of the odd and eccentric. The only dish I like here is pho, a noodle-based soup. Thankfully, I have the option of cooking at home or eating at western-style restaurants.
Traffic is an absolute nightmare! While there aren’t many cars here, there are an inordinate number of motorbikes. Traffic lights are few and far between; most often, roads converge at circles or unmarked intersections. During the busier hours of the day, motorbikes will tool down the streets six or eight abreast, weaving in and out of traffic. Accidents do happen, but somehow they seem to make it work.
To be fair to the country, I’ll refrain from commenting on their politics, but I will talk about their healthcare system. Their technology and equipment are antiquated (that’s putting it nicely) and the cost of care for foreigners, though cheaper than in America, is pretty expensive. Someday, I’ll write about my 2-week stay with COVID-19. Although it was a very weird and uncomfortable experience, my caregivers were awesome.
To finish my good/bad sandwich on a positive note, I’ll say this: If you’re looking for a beautiful place to visit with a rich culture and friendly people, then Vietnam is a good choice.
As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon. Don’t forget to subscribe to the monthly newsletter and post alerts.