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  • Elizabeth Cochran

I live in Vietnam now.. what is it like?

Prior to my move to Vietnam I was living in Thailand for almost three years. I am half- Vietnamese and finally made my journey to Vietnam. Many people in my travels had opinions about Vietnam and I am here to discuss what it has been like for me living in Vietnam.

I have been living in Vietnam now for three months. I chose to not write that much or even have much expectations when arriving here to Vietnam. I just came here with an open mind and no itinerary or idea on what coming to Vietnam would be like. I first arrived here in Vietnam in Saigon back in May, which is the city my father was born in. He has not returned to his homeland after the fall to Saigon and after many years of living in the United States is unable to speak Vietnamese anymore and has lost touch with family (if they are even alive truthfully). When I arrived from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport for a 2 hour flight to Saigon HCMC I was feeling highly emotional, overly excited, and also insecure. I was coming to HCMC all alone, and had no family I was returning to. It felt, a bit like a void of something that I wasn't sure if I was ready for. I had thoughts racing of what will it be like? I get to eat pho in Saigon, like actually eat pho in the motherland! What if no one thinks I am part Vietnamese? Why can't I speak Vietnamese, I should... What if people have ill intentions with me? How will I fit in? Does it even matter if they accept me or not? I get to try lots of new foods, I am sooo ready for that. What if it wasn't what I have imagined all these years? I am leaving my whole life behind in Thailand.. what if I never see them again... These were some of the thoughts I had when leaving behind Thailand.

It was my last night in Thailand, I remember it was nearly the full moon and the moon was bright. It was my last night in Thailand and I stayed near the airport in BKK at a hotel I have stayed at numerous times. The hotel was newly renovated after the pandemic and added a fabulous pool. I was sitting eating sa-la-pao (steamed buns) with spicy ramen tom yum flavor and eating squid flavored crisps. This was my go-to 7-11 late night snack, so I enjoyed it one last time before my early flight to Saigon. I sat under the moonlight eating my food and thinking about all of my time in Thailand and what was to come. The moon reminded me to breathe, feel the moment, and enjoy that sa-la-pao thoroughly. I had huge troubles sleeping that night because my excitement was growing stronger and stronger. I woke up feeling terribly sleep deprived, but recorded the journey the whole way to Saigon.

I had an arranged airport taxi provided by the hotel and arrived smoothly to the BKK airport. I had too many bags for my preferred travel method, but it was all of my belongings. It was a big backpacker's bag, carry-on sized backpack and it was heavy. I slept on the plane to Saigon hard, I wasn't even awake for the take off. I was sitting next to a Vietnamese couple and they woke me when we arrived as I was blocking the aisle for them to exit. I arrived to Saigon and felt overwhelmed. I was tired and a bit nervous, but also excited.

District 1, Ho Chi Minh Vietnam

I had a bit of a time checking into my hostel in Saigon, but after that all was well. The people in the hostel were very friendly and I felt at ease again. I had been practicing Vietnamese prior to this and was ready to practice. Speaking in Vietnamese was a challenge and I felt frustrated with myself, but I kept on trying. A few places I went they never questioned that I am a foreigner and we exchanged our conversation. This was only for food orders, but it was something. I wanted to speak more and be able to do it all, which left me feeling not Vietnamese enough. I had a lot to sort through when arriving to Vietnam and my mind was occupied on re-learning how I feel and what does it mean to me to be half-Vietnamese and what do I think about all of this. Later after some intense realizations and ponderings about my father's homeland and his city, I decided to leave rainy and motorbike filled Saigon for a coastal beach city called Danang. I had been in touch with a family in Dalat to do a homestay with a Vietnamese family in the mountains, but other recommendations from those in my hostel led me to Danang. I booked the flight for the next day and arrived within 2 hours to Danang. I had no clue what this city would be like, but I had heard of it before due to its beauty. When I arrived it was true, this coastal beach city is like an up and coming Miami in Vietnam. It felt like a perfect choice and as one day had passed I decided I will find an apartment for a month stay in Danang. It took a couple days to get this sorted, but I found a place near An Thoung area which is right by the beach with a lot of expats nearby and most of the fun happening.

Wandering around near the caves in Danang

When I arrived to Danang I had no plan at all. I reached out to my social media followers on Instagram about Danang and what they recommend I do while here. My intention was to get involved with the community, make friends, and try to put myself in this city and see if it's worth staying here. So I gave it a shot. I went to a popular expat place where many digital nomad work and did writing there all day. After, I moved my things to this central area and decided its time to check out the night scene. I met many people that night and now months later they are some of my favorite people still. I had no expectation of all of this coming together so smoothly, but it has been everything I was hoping for. I have been searching for a community, a relaxed place, work and life balance, and also scenery such as a beach. It has exactly what I have been dreaming of.

How about making friends? My first month in Vietnam consisted of so many things happening. I found a city that I wanted to live in, made real close connections with a few people, and was getting invited to birthday's. In the month of June I believe I went to about 2 birthday's each week. The birthday's were both Vietnamese and other expats such as (Americans, British, Australians, South Africans). I felt so thankful and was really feeling the community here in Danang, which inspired me to stay and decide that I should try to make that happen. I had no expectation of what to expect in Vietnam and was surprised when I arrived to Danang that I enjoyed it so much. Most of my time in the first month was spent socializing, going to birthday parties, and live music. Transitioning into this city was easy as the community is strong here.

Typical Vietnamese Style Birthday- lots of beer and lots of food, night will end with more food, more beer, and karaoke

The businesses often run events together, there are open mics, BBQ events, live music markets, and board game nights. I found myself easily able to connect and make my way into this city. I haven't celebrated many US holidays since living in Thailand and in this city they have events happening all the time. It is a city with a mixture of locals and a huge expat community here, so in July there was a 4th of July BBQ with hamburgers, hot dogs, backed beans, chips, pickles, ice cream, live music, and backyard games it felt like my childhood.

How is the cost of living? Despite Danang being a big city and near the beach, it is surprisingly still very affordable. I am working online and working on my writing as well as new creative projects while here. My main focus has not been to travel while being in Vietnam, so my expenses have reflected that. My main cost is of course an apartment.

In Danang, the average cost at the moment for an average condo studio will be 5- 6 million dong (approximately $250 USD). Most expats, teachers, and foreigners opt for this studio style, but you can get cheaper rent in a shared house. My next big cost would be food, and I spent under $100 for most of my months here so far. I often eat light in the morning such as fruit or noodle soup, then a big lunch with rice, vegetables, soup, or maybe fish or meat and then a lighter dinner with a noodle soup dish eating out. The cost of food and the cost of living will vary greatly in Danang, but the great thing is it can be very budget and there are many luxurious condos and endless restaurants here to try too.

As someone who travels frequently, often I get asked how I do it. I am an English teacher online at Italki. This application can be used on mobile and web, and is a platform for teachers globally to teach languages. Start teaching today or book an English lesson with me!

Recently, I moved to a cheaper place to rent which is in a shared house with many floors, a business on bottom, a rooftop, balcony with a sea view, and a shared kitchen. I decided to change my lifestyle a bit and had a bit of a story with my previous landlord at my studio apartment. The place I stay currently was recommended by a friend, so coming to this new place is more predictable and stable. Apartments scams are generally common, and with inflation it is becoming harder to find a landlord that will abide by the contract agreement length and rent amount. To avoid a lot of problems with this, make sure everything is agreed upon and you have record of all of what was discussed. With this situation it was better to find a new place rather than argue over the agreed rent. Inflation is happening here as it is everywhere in the world and in my three months in Danang there even is a difference. A banh mi shop I went to often doubled the price on their banh mi. The cost of petrol went up 50% as well and some restaurants have changed their price. Due to the inflation happening globally the cost of living has also increased since I arrived. That is why I changed my living arrangements to accommodate for the change in costs.

Danang, Vietnam sunset

How is the food? To my surprise I felt unsatisfied with the food here at first and got bored of it quickly. I truly was just missing Thai food and the convenience of Thailand with the endless street food carts, 7-11 snack runs, and food sellers everywhere, and food night markets. The food in Vietnam is great and tastes fresh! Now, I do not feel the same. Now, I love all of the food and have realized that there is a lot to Vietnamese cuisine. Before, I just didn't know what to try, which left me ordering the same thing most times. Most blogs will tell you to eat pho while in Vietnam and banh mi, but I recommend that you try banh canh, banh cuon, com tan, my quang, or bun rieu.

Something I enjoy a lot is going to the local markets for fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits. While Thailand might be close, the fruit and vegetables grown here in Vietnam are different. I have gotten to try lots of new things here and learn how to prepare them. A common vegetable here is bitter melon, along with many soups made from the leaves of vegetables and gourds. I have gotten to try new fruits such as ambarella (coc), starfruits, sapota (hiang xiem), huge avocados (bo) served as desserts, and enjoy the abundance of fruits. Vietnam has a lot of fruits that I ate in Thailand too, such as rambutan, mango, lychee, jackfruit, longan, dragon fruit, mangosteen, papaya, pineapple, and durian. I enjoy that I can eat all of these healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Adjusting to Vietnam has been just what I needed. Ending a chapter of living in Thailand has been heartbreaking, but moving to Vietnam has been worth it. It is pushing me out of my comfort zone and bringing a great sense of comfort and community in return. Cheers to new beginnings and going after it!

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