Albeit, wanting to turn around immediately when I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (the traffic in particular was a real shock), a city of nightlife and generous people, after 8 months I’ve surprised myself and am still here. I’d describe myself as a typical Canadian: educated and adventurous with a fondness for art, culture and nature in an urban setting.
So, what is keeping me here? Here are the top 5 things I can’t part with:
1. Social Atmosphere and Nightlife
It’s unparalleled to anything I’ve known. I’ve lived in both the largest city in Canada (Toronto) and metropolis London, England, both which didn’t offer the frequency, diversity and accessibility of the scene here in Ho Chi Minh. Whatever your pleasure (from pub movie nights to craft beer and ganja festivals) there’s something to do every night of the week. Your trusted resource? Facebook expat groups. And if you’re a solo woman traveling here, have no fear. My experience of going out to the club dancing has been refreshingly comfortable: the men are more reserved and hands-off.
2. Generous People
When I first got here, I was hired to work at a popular (and overcrowded) learning centre. But I quickly remembered one of the main reasons I came here in the first place: to make meaningful relationships. So, I set out on my own path and now work with an amazing local Vietnamese woman. She's been like a sister to me. I've traveled to her hometown, staying with her family. I've been invited by others' to join in volunteering, traveling to local destinations undiscovered by expats and special family events. The students that I’ve worked with have taught me as much as I’ve taught them and the opportunity to build personal connections with them has been invaluable. They’ve been very gracious, showing gratitude by bringing me coffee, treats, fruit, flowers and even homemade cards. It's truly been a welcoming experience.
3. Abundant Fruits and Veggies
The fruit is better here. I cannot stress this enough! You’re taste buds don’t even know what fruits like bananas, pineapple and kiwi REALLY taste like until you live here. These, among endless other fruits I guaranteed you’ve never heard of (and at first glace may be scared to try), will become your most treasured cheap-thrill.
The variety of veggies here is equally as incredible. If you’ve got basic skills in home cooking, you can eat healthy AND inexpensively (it’s actually possible). There are market stalls everywhere, and many vendors waste no time in giving you a free sample of something they know you’ve never had before. And for those who prefer organic, don’t worry: it's available, they deliver and it won’t break the bank!
4. New Networks and Friendships
Networking and friend-making opportunities are abound here. If you want to grab a drink or join a sports team, just message on an expat group and you’ll have others reaching out in no time. The people I’ve met here have come from all parts of the world: Russia, Taiwan, New Zealand, U.S., France, the Philippians. If you’re into touring around the area with a local or meeting up with other expat families, you can find it all here. Learning how others have experienced the world is something you can never put a price to.
5. An Endless Tropical Climate
It’s sunny – always. And when it’s not sunny, it only rains for a short time. Want that golden glowing skin? No problem. Spend a year here and you’ll never worry about looking pale and washed out again. Though do protect yourself! The Vietnamese people are forever worrying about the expats being harmed from the sun here.
6. Vietnamese Language
While a lot of expats complain about the inconveniences of not knowing Vietnamese, for the most part I’ve found it to be a happy break for my ears. How many times have you been in your native-speaking country and you wished you could just tune-out the others around you? While the sound level is elevated here, the fact that you can’t always understand what people are saying (advertisements included) can come as …a relief.
The language difference also gives expats a chance to experience how truly difficult it is to learn something non-native. It’s eye opening and can help you gain new respect and understanding for those investing their time and money to learn English here in Vietnam. It makes me laugh when I puff up my cheeks to try and pronounce new words - plus it gives my Vietnamese friends a good laugh.
If it's an eclectic social scene, healthy lifestyle and life-long friends your after, your time in Vietnam will be truly unforgettable.