First Impressions of Vietnam
Science has proposed that it takes the mind three days to properly adjust to a new situation. On the road, I’ve been testing the theory out and in most instances, its proved true. But I really think Vietnam is the exception.
It’s been three days since I first touched down in Ho Chi Minh City and I’m floored at how different the atmosphere is here compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has been the most raved about country in our encounters with fellow backpackers and now I can see why. This is what every traveler dreams of! I’ve arrived in a destination where the locals are welcoming, the drinks are free flowing, the meals are satisfying, the culture is unpretentious, and best of all, everything is dirt cheap! A bowl of pho on average has cost us $1-2. You can get an hour-long massage for $5 and that’s in the touristy districts. Even a draft of fancy craft beer at a higher-end establishment will only set you back a mere $3. Since I’ve been traveling for the past six months, nothing is more tiresome than counting pennies. Here, I feel like I can actually afford to have fun, which is a huugeeeeee relief on my part. It also has left a great first impression on me. If I’ve gained anything in three days time, its the absolute confidence that moving to Vietnam was the right choice. Moving to a new country is never easy but I have faith that things are going to pan out really well for me here. Here’s what I’ve learned about Vietnam in the past few days:
1. IT’S THE MOTORBIKE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Ho Chi Minh City is a city of eight million people and it seems as if each and every single one of them is on a motorbike. Motorbikes are the transportation of choice here because they’re affordable to upkeep and inner-city public transportation is known to be unreliable. Despite being a devoted pedestrian, nothing gives me more anxiety than crossing the street in big cities. Ho Chi Minh City has upped the challenge to the extreme making the simple act of walking across the street a death-defying stunt. In streets flooded with millions of motorbikes and seemingly invisible traffic lights, it seems like a mission impossible to get from one side of the street to the next. Its a real-life game of Frogger except there are no replays — get hit and its GAME OVER. Womp wompppp.
2. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT PHO
Pho is my favorite food in the entire world. I crave it all the damn time and I cannot get enough of how cheap it is here and how filling it is! But pho is not the only noodle dish on the menu. You can get Hủ tiếu, cambodian-style noodle soup served with beef broth, Mì Quảng, which are thick cuts of noodles served with meat and fresh vegetables, and Bún bò Huế, rice vermicelli noodles served with beef and lemongrass (definitely not the best one out there). All soups can also be ordered ‘dry’,without the broth. I’ve heard that noodle soups are traditionally eaten for breakfast but these canteens we’ve seen serve them up all day long. Also fun fact: the bowls of lime they give you are not only to squeeze into the soup — they’re also meant to clean your chopsticks before you use them to ensure cleanliness!
3. THE COFFEE IS SENSATIONAL
I have never been a fan of coffee. Even living in Italy where coffee is a way of life, I remained a die hard tea loyalist. But I find my hard-pressed attitude on coffee softening as I tried my first taste of Vietnamese style iced coffee. In Vietnamese, cà phê sữa đá (ca phe sua da) translates to ‘coffee with milk’. But the milk they add is actually condensed milk so when paired with the rich, roasted flavor of their filtered coffee, you get a concoction that is so creamy and refreshing. Each glass tastes like a pool of melted coffee gelato. It’s really, really strong too so do not go on coffee dates in the evening unless you want to be up all night! You can get coffee to-go at the convenience stores for 9,000 VND (roughly 50 cents), chill at an open-air cafe like the one below and get a glass for 20,000 VND (less than $1), or go to the franchise of choice here, Phúc Long, and grab a cup for 40,000 (less than $2). It’s insanely good and so far, I have yet to come across a sub-par glass.
4. TET IS A BIG DEAL HERE
It seems like Tim and I just can’t catch a break! In every country we’ve traveled to, we’ve had issues with trip logistics because of arriving at the wrong time. Getting around Nepal with a fuel crisis during their biggest holiday, Doshain was a headache-and-a-half. In India, we had train troubles due to Diwali. In the States, we were overfed and burnt out as a result of the holiday trifecta of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s Eve. Now here in Vietnam, we have arrived at the most inopportune time: Tet. Tet is the Vietnamese take on Lunar New Year and its really important. So important that businesses are closed for the entire week celebrating! It starts tomorrow on the 7th and runs until the 13th. During this time, there are next-to-no teaching positions being advertised and no house listings available which is awesome when your job/apartment hunting. But all the festivities put me in high spirits and everyone has comforted us by saying there’s going to be a huge surge of opportunities available right after Tet. So maybe I’ll embrace the fortuitous nature of our arrival that I get to have two weeks to recuperate from being on the road for six months prior to starting work again.
It’s so exciting to hear your experiences so far – welcome to Vietnam! This post has made me miss Vietnam so much, especially those cheap foot massages! Yes, you were unlucky to arrive during TET but we had friends arrive in Hanoi about this time last year and they found work, so I’m sure you will too after the holiday (especially with your experience) in the meantime, enjoy the celebrations!
I haven’t gotten a foot massage here yet for fear I might get addicted to them but once the cash flow starts coming in, hello weekly pampering treatment! Thanks for the word of encouragement, its definitely things I need to hear during these days… feels like a huge waiting game. But I’m so excited for Tet! Fireworks tomorrow woooo 🙂
I love this! I had some of the same first impressions! It’s good to know, a bit late, that the lime is meant for cleaning the chopsticks haha! We were in Hanoi first and we tried this coffee called ‘Egg Coffee’ and it was quite delicious but very sweet! Give it a shot if you can find some! I love hearing about your adventures so keep ’em coming!
But you (might) be coming back right? So the lime information will be put to use again I’m sure 😉 I’m on the hunt for Egg Coffee right now. I think it might be a Hanoi thing though 😛 Did you like Saigon or Hanoi more honestly?
WOW!!! Red banners of good luck everywhere? These are positive signs that you and Tim will find your own place and job anytime soon. Happy Chinese New Year or Happy TET or Happy Year of the Monkey!!
Love and miss you <3
Awww, thanks for the optimism mom. You’re my mom so everything you say is right. On our way to see some midnight fireworks near the river! Happy Year of the Monkey!
This is awesome. I was recently in Thailand and I found that it was way too expenisve. I’ve been looking for a beautiful country that’s cheap and I’ve been debating Vietnam and the Phillippines. I’m really excited to see more of your adventures!
P.s. As a devoted tea loyalist myself, it seems like I need to try Vietnamese coffee!
Seriously Gina, if ever you need a place to stay in Vietnam, my door is always opened to new friends! I’ll take you out on a coffee date 😉 And I’m ethnically Filipino so if ever you need help, just ask! Both countries are beautiful and wonderfully inexpensive so you’ll have a lot of fun with the same scenery as Thailand minus the crazy costs!
Izzy, that sounds amazing! Yay to new friends! Please give me your advice! I’d also love to read some posts about the Phillippines if you have them!
Just let me know what you’d be planning for the Philippines! Its a huge beach destination but I’m more into culture-related travel so there are some off-the-beaten-path experiences I could suggest. I’m in the midst of catching up on writing about my backpacking trip so an onslaught of Philippines-related posts are in the works but here’s one for Manila to get you started:
Lovely post Izzy! We spent about 2 months in Vietnam with the intentions of living there for a year teaching. After backpacking 8 months in SE Asia we were most disappointed with Vietnam. We think it mostly has to do with how much it was hyped up to us and probably because we were just tired of bargaining and avoiding getting ripped off everyday. We were ready for a place to call home and Vietnam was getting so frustrating. I think we would have had a different opinion had we traveled there first before the rest of SE Asia. Even though we thought it was a bit over hyped we did end up falling in love with some of the places. I dream about the day we can go back to Sapa. We also were in LOVE with the food, so light and fresh. Now that we have been gone for 6 months we really are having the itch to go back and give it another try with a fresh mindset and a little bit more of a realistic expectation of what to expect. We’re glad you’re having a great time! It’s making us want to go back and give it another try even more! Also, my mouth waters thinking about all that delicious food! Thanks for sharing!
Hey Megan! I totally get it! In actuality, Vietnam was never on my radar for teaching but while I was backpacking, every person I met couldn’t stop highlighting how amazing it was and I’m a bit jaded from Korea after having suffered hagwon trauma so I decided to give Vietnam a chance. When we first got here, we felt like were were in waaaay over our heads. My boyfriend Tim was starting to doubt if Vietnam was indeed this incredible place people were making it out to be and we started to get discouraged real fast after finding out its harder to get a job her if you are of Asian descent. But it seemed liked in one day, everything turned from full-blown doubt to full-blown awesome! We just got a job offer yesterday at a top ranking school and leased out a beautiful apartment! I think no matter how many great things you hear about a place, you have to try it out yourself. The food here though really is its saving grace. Good food, for cheap, and its not fattening! I was getting pork belly fatigue in Korea and now I just gorge on veggies all day long 🙂 If you ever find yourself in Vietnam again, you have a place in Ho Chi Minh anytime!
Sounds like a great time! I agree that the first few days in a new place can be very strange, but I’m sure you’ll adjust just fine. I’m hoping to travel through southeast Asia after my teaching contract ends next February. I’m excited about the prospect about how cheap it will be.
Good luck with finding work!
My boyfriend and I just went on a six-month backpacking trip around Asia after our contracts both ended in August. We loved every moment of it! You will save soooo much money in Korea! And we just got a job today so thanks for the good luck!
I visited Vietnam in summer 2014 for a short period of time (9 days.) I’ll be returning there in the next few months as I’m heading off to SE Asia in a month! Your post made me feel really excited and giddy as I really loved the country and the people. It was such a hectic yet beautiful atmosphere and I can’t wait to be back. Good luck with everything! I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures.
Are you finally done with your contract in Korea after this February? I’m so happy to hear you’ll be in Vietnam again! If you ever want to meet or need a place to stay, you are always welcomed to my place. I would really love to talk about your time in Korea and what you’re planning to do after this year! Also, I nominated you for a Liebster Award on this blog post (http://thenextsomewhere.com/2016/02/14/liebster-award-nomination/). I don’t know if you got the email I sent you but I searched your site to see if you had previously been nominated for it and nothing came up in the search so yea! You’re one of my favorite bloggers out there. Keep on writing Laura 🙂
Izzy!! Thanks SO MUCH for sharing this post! It’s not very often that I read a blog that is written in the exact style I like to read–my version of conversational and relatable! I absolutely loved my brief visit to HCM and am very glad you are settling in so nicely. Gorgeous pictures and great descriptions of the food and coffee…. Can’t wait to read more ^^
What a compliment Lindsay! Dang, wish we had time to have met in Korea! I think we would’ve gotten along quite nicely 🙂 It’s greatly encouraging to hear about my writing because I’m still trying to find my style as an amateur blogger. But if you say it works, well then, I guess I’ll continue onwards! And I’m excited to work with you on the Bloggers Korea group!
Congratulations on getting a job and an apartment. Your coffee is awesomely inexpensive. Hubby brought home a Vietnamese coffee cup (the manual coffee maker) and Vietnamese coffee. We do it from time to time minus the condensed milk coz it’s too sweet hahahaha but yeah, it isn’t authentic Vietnamese coffee. We’re looking at traveling there this summer because of all the good reads I’ve found. Vietnam and Cambodia! So, this post and your future posts will be my additional great source! Thanks!
Thanks Wendy for the congrats! It feels really good when things work out the way you want them 😀 I would invest in a coffee maker myself but there are so many cafes here so getting a cup of coffee turns into an adventure every now and again. If you find yourself in Ho Chi Minh, please let me know. I would be happy to take you around or grab a bite to eat! I’ll be posting some more guides on the city in the future so I’ll send them your way when they’re completed!
I am excited to have found your blog and follow along with your adventures in Vietnam. We visited northern Vietnam on vacation last July. The 10 days we spend in the country were amazing – I loved everything about it. Especially the food, like you said! Vietnam is on my radar for a possible place to teach after Korea. Looking forward to finding out more about it through your stories!
Awww thanks Katie! I’ll be posting a lot o “how tos” in regards to Vietnams like how to get started teaching 😛 so hopefully its helpful to you!
Great post, Izzy! Those foods look absolutely delicious! I really enjoyed the food in Vietnam, particularly the street sandwiches. Good stuff!
What’s your plan for Vietnam? I’ve been kicking around the idea of moving there, and would be curious to hear your take on the process of moving there and getting a job. Looking forward to future posts!
Omg the street sandwiches are the best!!! I was a fan of banh mi even before I got here so I know its the real deal but I’m gluten-sensitive so I can’t overdo it D: Makes me so sad…
I’m gonna put together that guide soon for how to teach in Vietnam so once that link is up, I’ll send it your way!
It’s beautiful! I haven’t been to Vietnam yet but it’s definitely on my list. I wanted to go last year but it didn’t work out! The pictures are so beautiful!
Thanks so much Linda! If you ever make it to Vietnam, you always have a friend in the area 🙂
Vietnam has been on my list forever and your post is making me want to pack my bags and head there… As in NOW!!! I mean, who doesn’t love a delicious meal for cheap.
I had never heard of Tet before but it’s crazy to think that businesses close for an entire week. I guess I’ve been in Korea too long because I can’t think of them closing their business for that long.
I hope you guys are able to find a fantastic job and housing.
Best of luck
Haha do you remember the MERS outbreak in Korea? OH BOY! Daejeon was in shut-down mode for a week but people still didn’t obey the quarantine. My hagwon refused to shutdown! But here, they really respect the holiday season like if its celebrating time, that better be all your doing. Fantastic job and housing has happened (all in the span of the two weeks!) Thanks for the luck and dude, Chuseok travel plans in Vietnam! You gotta friend here 😉
Wonderful post! And I have to agree with your points! My first time in Vietnam was quite a shocker as well—I thought we were going to die by motorbike! Not only did they go so fast but you’re walking across the street not and sometimes just not notice them until they’re almost next to you! I also absolutely agree about the coffee, and until today Vietnamese coffee is my favorite. My friend took us to Highland Coffee though, saying that that was one of the more popular places there. Hope to try the ones you went to next time. Thanks for sharing this post! Brings back good memories 🙂