Why I Chose to Move to Vietnam
Why I chose to move to Vietnam, and specifically Ho Chi Minh City.
Fun fact: I took two semesters of Vietnamese in college during a time when I believed I would be teaching in Vietnam for a Fulbright.
(Note – I did not end up getting a Fulbright, learned I sucked at Vietnamese, and thus, diverted my attentions to South Korea.)
After a year of butchering Vietnamese with my dreadful accent, I gave up on the language with its impossible pronunciation. What I never abandoned was my sense of appreciation towards my Vietnamese classmates who always gave me their homework to copy, tutored me before every single test, and clapped super loudly all together whenever I got something right. As the only non-Vietnamese person in the class — well, there was this wannabe Asian, super white guy who mastered the language in a hot second much to my embarrassment— it came as a huge surprise to see how much my classmates came to my rescue. Even the teacher commiserated with the students on my lack of ability and gave me a helping hand.
That experience was my first introduction to Vietnam and its people. It sparked my curiosity for a culture so misunderstood and still very mysterious in some ways. Flash forward two and a half years later from my that first fateful day in Phuong Nguyen’s Beginners Vietnamese class to me sitting outdoors in a Saigonese food stall slurping down a bowl of bún thịt nướng with sweat dribbling down my forehead. It’s been three weeks since I first touched down and my thoughts about Vietnamese people being the nicest people in the world is confirmed on the daily. Besides the wonderful and kindhearted people of the country, here are other reasons why I chose to move to Vietnam:
1. Living in a big city
When coming to Vietnam, you either have the choice of living in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. It’s a tale of two cities, both alike in dignity (thanks Shakespeare for that one), and yet at opposite ends of the spectrum. The southern sister, Ho Chi Minh, is noted for her high-energy and modernism while her sister to the north, Hanoi, is cherished for her charm and tranquility. In the end, I chose Ho Chi Minh City since I’ve never really had the chance to be a “true” urbanite before. My past stomping grounds of Boston, Florence, and Daejeon were in reality, small towns masquerading as cities. To me, Saigon is the epitome of a big city with its 24 districts crammed with people living inside high-rises and low-rises and outside on the streets, hiding in alleyways. There are new corners to get lost in each and every day. As the fastest growing city in Southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh (still known as Saigon) is in a constant state of flux with new trends coming and going faster than you can say “one more bowl of pho please.”
2. A warm tropical climate
One consequence of living in a land where you experience all four seasons of the year (think: gentle springs, humid summers, brisk falls, and bitter winters) means having a closet full of clothes to cope! By the end of my stint in Korea, I was hoarding eight full suitcases of God-only-knows-what!!! After my seven months of backpacking, I needed to de-clutter my life of all these material possessions. One way to do so was to move to a place with no requirements of a seasonal wardrobe change so somewhere either really cold or either really warm. Ho Chi Minh City has two climates: hot and humid. I can deal with sticky and sweaty. What I can’t deal with is lying down, face planted to a heated floor with a skyrocketing gas bill on my mind as I’m trying to regain feeling in my body. I’m boycotting cold weather until further notice.
3. An imaginative food scene
If you want to add more fuel to the debate between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, just bring up food. People get riled up talking about which food is better. I’ve heard that while Hanoi is the birthplace of the most beloved Vietnamese dishes, the Saigonese have the leg up on flavor, serving up bolder and more intricate cuisine. I have yet to sink my teeth into the food culture of the north (pun-intended) but the spread in the south is more than I can take. Beyond the classics, I’ve had to consult food blogs and make an inventory of all that I’ve learned, just to decipher the items on menus where no English translations are offered. Apparently, anything goes on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. If you like things tame, go for the most recognizable dishes. If you’re a little more spontaneous than that, walk down an alleyway and eat something you can’t pronounce while sitting on a little blue plastic stool with the locals. If you want to impress a local, how about taking them to Snail Street and ordering a plate of saltwater snails either curried, fried, or grilled? And if you’re that unorthodox person on the quest for the most eccentric dish on the streets? You can take your pick of multi-course cobra, duck tongue, grilled porcupine, sauteed field rat, and raw blood soup. If that listing made you sick, there’s always great imported French cheese and freshly baked baguettes around the corner. Bon appetit!
4. A lower cost of living
What do you mean my gourmet bánh mì sandwich was only $1? What do you mean my cellphone bill with 2.5 GBs of internet is only $13 per month? What do you mean a month-long gym membership at a pimped-out gym is only $25? What do you mean my reasonably-priced rent comes with maid service three times per week and lighting-fast, high-speed wifi? Oh wait, and the apartment is fully-furnished too down to the plush couch and plasma TVs? I am suspended in disbelief at how cheap the cost of living is in a big city like this one. Saigon is a smaller, cleaner version of Bangkok with half its price tag, meaning you can live like a king (or queen) in and still have money to save for a rainy day.
5. More job opportunities for Teaching English
Because Vietnam’s rising economy has been attracting more foreign investors, there is a real pressure to raise the standards of English instruction in the nation. The Ministry of Education and Training has issued a National Foreign Languages Project that by 2020, most Vietnamese youth should be able to use English confidently in all aspects of their daily lives. Since the decree, Vietnam is being touted as the next frontier for teaching abroad. The job market is not as saturated and strict in comparison to neighboring counterparts like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan meaning less competition and there’s the bonus of year-round hiring practices. While the salary might not seem that impressive at first, when put into perspective, you’re making as much in a month as the average Vietnamese household makes in a year which is humbling enough! In Vietnam, Native English Teachers have a great quality of life. You work about 20 to 25 hours per week as a full-time employee and depending on your employer, you may get a housing allowance, a generous number of vacation days, and a sponsored visa and work permit. This is also one of the few countries that will hire without prior teaching experience and bias of your country of origin (so long as you look white) but to work at more reputable companies, you do need the right qualifications. Need I say more?
Looking for a complete destination guide to Vietnam? Click here.
Here’s a highlight reel of my time in Vietnam
You’re making me rethink our decision to leave Vietnam! We were actually there through all of June and July in Hanoi looking to teach english for the year there instead of South Korea again. We had just got done backpacking 8 months and were getting a little fed up with the dumb little things like having to bargain for everything… really it was all small stuff. We kept getting jerked around with interviews that would do the good old fashioned bait and switch with us after we did a free mock class… we ended up needing a letter of recommendation for a job so Scott emailed his old boss in S.K….long story short Scott’s old boss gave us an offer that seemed too good to be true, so 2 weeks later after rushing around seeing as much as Vietnam as we could we ended up back in Seoul for the year. In hindsight, we both wonder what it would have been like if we just stayed in Vietnam. We definitely loved traveling there, but started questioning if we would like living and working there. We both LOVED the food, and I hate winter (like you I wanted to protest winter as long as possible), and we were so intrigued to explore the entire country. I’m jealous and happy for you! 🙂 Now that we are month 6 in Korea I’m really dying for something different! Thanks for sharing and can’t wait to read more about life in HCMC!
I really stand by the truth that you have to go with your gut feeling so don’t play around with the “what ifs” because if you truly have faith in yourself, then the choices you make are the right ones at the right time. My boyfriend Tim is really struggling with the move here. He doesn’t see it as dewy-eyed as I do but he had a great life in Korea so comparison is the root of his heartache. I’ve heard some mixed reviews about Hanoi… in HCMC, I feel like the people are a bit warmer probably because their general demeanor matches the climate itself. I think you could find some great and legit work here. I am getting a teaching guide started and maybe after the next six months is up, you might have a change of heart! 🙂
Great article Izzy!
Do you know if there are many opportunities in Vietnam to do a 6 month teaching contract?
I’m kicking around the idea of leaving New Zealand in May and heading to SEA, though I’m mostly looking at Thailand at this point. Still, Vietnam would be awesome, and I’ve been wanting to go back. Will be looking forward to more posts about your time there!
Hey Nathan! 6 month teaching contracts are really popular here although if you want the full benefits package, then you have to opt for the full year contract. But to give you a heads up on Thailand versus Vietnam: Thailand is just getting pricier and pricier with the influx of tourists and since there’s so many people looking for jobs, the pay is crap. But in Vietnam, you’d be getting a competitive salary plus a chance to explore. I think it depends on your ideas of sustainability 😉
Gareth and I are thinking of stopping and teaching English in Vietnam during our RTW trip. We’d only want to do 2-3 months though, which from research sounds possible. Did you encounter any jobs like that while you were looking? Did you guys sign a year contract?
Loving the updates!
People do super short stints here like that all the time, especially in more rural areas where they have the great need for English teachers. But since most teachers who want long-term tend to hit the larger cities, the rural schools get overlooked. I heard you don’t need that many qualifications and paperwork too. Yea we have a year’s contract but its pretty lenient, not like my South Korean contract! Also is Gareth the guy you met during your study abroad that you were always gushing about!??!
Hey there! Great Blog! Just wondering where can I look for jobs in these rural areas? Is there a certain agency to contact?
This is amazing! I actually had no idea Ho Chi Minh was such a metropolitan and modern city. It’s also super awesome you’re making a good salary and you have an awesome place to live. In Korea, now that teachers are expendable, sometimes, they get really nasty living conditions. A maid that comes three times a week? Yes, please! Sometimes I don’t have time to clean with how busy I am.
I actually don’t mind the cold. It’s better for my skin. I have oily and acne prone skin so a dryer less humid climate is ideal. Okinawa had a super humid summer and I hated not being able to fight the acne I was sure to get because my pores were constantly open.
If you don’t mind me asking, how much money do you make? Do you plan your lessons or are they planned for you? Do you desk warm? (I hate that about SK.)
Ho Chi Minh is the spitting image of Bangkok MINUS all the pretty attractions, the traffic issue, and its a bit cleaner too 😛 Its a concrete jungle for sure! And yea, when I was in Korea, I lived in an apartment space the size of my bedroom here. It kinda sucked :/ This maid thing is something I’m so not used to! She even does our dishes which is weird but coming home to a super clean house ups quality of living by like, a wholeeee lot!
I’m the EXACT opposite in terms of skin. I never breakout in humid places, only when its super dry out. But Korea had great skincare products so it wasn’t too much of a concern. And I will totally divulge those things (going to touch upon my info in a future post too)! I make $1800 working only 24 hours per week (3 hours/6 day per week). But then I get a $300 living allowance and sponsored visa which is like $800 so its a pretty good deal. Paid training too. And no planning lessons ever and never ever do we have to desk warm. We get like 25 paid vacation days too. (MOUTH DROPS)
This sounds absolutely amazing if not for how bad my skin is in humid weather. I learned in Okinawa, my self-esteem can’t take it. 🙁 A maid that does your dishes too? Yes, please! I would love that. So you only have to be at school when you teach and you don’t have to worry about planning classes. That sounds awesome! Plus all that free time probably gives you time for side projects too! I didn’t even know that Vietnam has super fast internet. Also a plus! 😉 I don’t know much about the cuisine of Vietnam, but can it be spicy?
That’s so funny because my skin honestly thrives in humid weather. The minute I touchdown in a dry climate, I break out like crazy! Also I’m eating a lot healthier here so I just feel like I’m glowing. I keep learning that my lifestyle in Vietnam is about being spoiled rotten. Its so strange to participate in all this pampering from cheap everything to maid service and being paid really well. I do really appreciate having the free time to do my own things. That’s why I feel like I am so much more productive here! And Vietnamese food can be spicy but only the cuisine from the South is like that. The northerners prefer things to be milder and tamer 😉
It’s so interesting for me that you have good skin in humid weather! My skin absolutely hates me and I’m a bit jelly of your glowing skin in a tropical climate! The way you feel in Vietnam is how I feel in Korea! It’s amazing!
Thanks for sharing this post!! Are you a certified teacher by chance? I’ve also been toying with the idea of moving to Vietnam after my contract here, but would be coming uncertified. I really love the reasons you chose to move to Vietnam and that you are SO upfront about how difficult pronouncing the language is ^^ Makes me feel MUCH better about my inability to detect or pronounce the verbs.
Can’t wait to see what is in store next week ^^
I just have 125+ TEFL/TESOL certificate that I did in class in Thailand but seriously, if you look the part *white people yaaaa*, are a Native English speaker, and have teaching experience, people will hire you left and right! The larger, established EFL companies are supeeeer strict with hiring people without the right qualifications (like your TEFL certificate HAS to be in-class and not online) but there are lot of good paying learning centers that will hire uncertified teachers. And I don’t think I will ever get my pronunciations correct no matter how much of an effort I make so don’t feel intimidated by the communication aspect. I’m sure you will do fine 😛
Wow, I’ve never looked into teaching in Vietnam, let alone travelling there. This post makes me want to visit after my stint in Korea! I always move to places with 4 drastic climates (I hail from Canada), and lugging around a flexible wardrobe is the worst while travelling. I could definitely deal with hot & humid. I am now currently looking up flights to Ho Chi Minh from Korea. Thank you for sharing!
I know! Vietnam I feel is a wildcard for most travelers who tend to gravitate towards Thailand or Indonesia when doing the Southeast Asia route but it honestly has been my best move to date. Yea, its just like hot or humid here in Ho Chi Minh City. Those are legit the two seasons. If you end up in Vietnam, just let me know! I would love to catch up for a dinner 🙂
Loving this post! I am excited that you’re getting into this next step. It must feel so exciting! I have heard great things about teaching in Vietnam and it’s definitely something I’ll consider after my year in New Zealand. Let’s stay in touch – would love to possibly meet up when I’m traveling through!
I would love to meet-up as well! You are welcomed anytime here in HCMC and I wish you the best of luck in New Zealand! So many of my friends have gone the NZ route after Korea and they are so much happier because of it! 😀 I honestly think change is a healthy and glorious thing! To change that will only make us better individuals!
Vietnam? Hell yeah! This country has been on my travel bucketlist for way too long! I had planned on traveling there last year but I had to change my plans and moved to Korea earlier than expected! I wanna go there so bad, though! I am considering doing a 2-3 month HelpX teaching thingy. Do you have any experience with short-term teaching positions there?
I don’t have any experience with teaching but I know it is possible! I’ve seen tons of calls for short-term volunteer teaching stings and I know you’d be doing the country a great service to bring English education to the more rural districts. I would suggest using workaway instead of HelpX or Helpstay just because its a more established volunteering network. Try this site for more info: http://www.volunteerforeducation.org/ 🙂
Hi Izzy, Your enthusiasm and anticipation of good things in Vietnam is very evident in your post. Enjoy and keep the happiness flowing in there!
I haven’t felt this enthusiastic in a long time so it must be a sign! Thank you for your goodness! I will keep the happiness flowing for sure xox
My boyfriend and I are interested in teaching English in Vietnam. How did you get hooked up with your job? Is it through a certain company, or did you just apply online? Also, I heard about the polluted beaches in Ha Tinh, is that affecting Ho Chi Minh City at all? Sorry, got lots of questions!
I’m so happy I found your blog. I have been wanting to visit Vietnam and teach English for a while. People I know have been encouraging me to go to Hong Kong or elsewhere but I just can’t stop thinking about Vietnam. Do you have any advice on how to find a teaching job in Vietnam? I’d prefer to have something lined up before I move but I’ve read that it’s better to show up and then find a job. That sounds so intimidating to me. I have a degree, a 120 online TEFL and I have volunteer experience teaching English in the US. Would love to hear some advice from you. Love your blog so much!
Oh my goodness I was looking at my comment on here from last February! What a coincidence! At any rate, James and I are currently stalking your blog. Loved re-reading this again and wish our paths would cross once more in HCMC!
I’d love to find out if there are more English prestigious schools that hire teachers based on qualifications and not just white color skin? Any info would help. I’m Asian American and I heard so many horror stories about their hiring practices over there. Racism is global and all over the world.