Guide to living and working in Vietnam

Okey Dokey. It seems that after a few years of living in Vietnam and writing about it and talking about it to all my friends, pretty much everyone I know wants to brave the wonders of the Orient and come and see for themselves, and it seems I have many people all wanting to come visit over the next couple of years, so at the risk of repeating myself over and over again, here is my complete newbies guide to Vietnam. But I should point out that this is a guide for brave people who want to put in the effort and get the most out of their time there. It’s not for your typical Phuket or Bali tourist, and it’s not for the sort of people who take out travel insurance and get all their shots before they leave home, nor is it for the sort of people who visit museums and art galleries and choose to take guided bus tours. This is the raw Vietnam. This is how to turn up with $500 in your pocket and live for a year… or ten. I will only be telling you my particular way of doing Vietnam, (and I’m going to be focussing specifically on Saigon since that’s where I live) and I am going to generalise in many ways. So please, if I tell you “This is what you can expect. This will happen. This won’t happen”, don’t email me and say “Oh you’re not really accurate because when my friend went there he had a different experience and the things you warn won’t happen did happen”. It’s a guide, and it’s an accurate one as far as I’m concerned. Your experience may vary. But this is what you can reasonably expect if you go there with the same mindset as I did.

Why Vietnam ?

Why indeed. I certainly had no intention of going to Vietnam. I always had my heart set on Japan or Korea as the part of Asia where I wanted to live and work. It was the blind luck of sharing a house with a Vietnamese guy in my home country who all but dragged me along to Vietnam reluctantly by the scruff of my neck that saw me ending up there for ten days, which turned into six weeks, which turned into six months, which turned into me living there and finding a wife and loving the country like I was born there. I’m no stranger to travel, having been dragged around half the world by my parents at a young age and doing my own travels when I got bored of Australia where I was originally born, but Vietnam was the last place I expected to end up, having all the preconceptions and doubts of most people. But what I found was a warm, welcoming country with a populace who opened their arms to me and let me into their lives, their houses and their hearts, a standard of living that I could not hope for in my home country without being wealthy, and better internet and other services than most developed countries. A country that did not laugh behind your back because you couldn’t speak the language but smiled with joy when you made a fumbling effort to learn a few words. A country of mystery and history that was safe and inexpensive and treated foreigners with respect rather than scorn.

Isn’t Vietnam a filthy, poverty-stricken, third world country full of starving children and war ?

No. Firstly, it’s not “third world” because it was a Soviet ally and that terminology is used to describe whether a country was allied with NATO, the Soviets or neither. So stop using that term right now because it has nothing to do with standards of education and quality of life like you think it does. Vietnam is officially “second world” because during those days when the term was invented, it was a Soviet ally. It still is. But it’s also an American ally now. And it’s not filthy at all. It’s old, sure. It’s not all made out of glass and concrete. But that’s the point. That’s why you want to go there, right ? To see another world, full of street vendors and smiling Asians playing Chinese Chess and sitting on little plastic stools on the pavement drinking rice wine and eating dumplings and noodles. Not to go shopping at shiny mega-malls. Oh, it does have shiny mega-malls though. And world-class hospitals. And a better literacy rate than America. And a lot of other things. No, there’s no war, but some people are starving. Then again, have you looked around your country ? I bet you have a few starving people in those areas of your town that you advise your out-of-town friends not to go through, right ? Well you’re unlikely to see any more homeless people on the streets of Saigon than you would in Sydney, New York or London.. possibly far less in fact.

Isn’t it a communist dictatorship with no freedoms and oppressive police and government ?

No. Do you even know what “communism” or “socialism” mean ? You probably think that it means noone has “free enterprise” and all the wealth is shared and everyone gets all their services for free don’t you ? Well, you’re wrong. Businesses are not state-owned in Vietnam. Some important infrastructure such as railways, telecommunications and banks are (though not all), but that’s the same as in a “capitalist” society. No, communism in Vietnam’s sense means “government for the people”. It means that no individual or corporation’s rights should trump that of the individual. While free enterprise exists, tight controls are placed on the price that businesses can charge for things and what markets they can operate in. A company doesn’t have the right to charge less than a product is worth to undercut their competitors but use their profits in one industry to bolster their profits in another and thereby create a monopoly by forcing out competitors. It’s designed for fairness and to limit the ability of corporations to dictate to the government and people how things should work. You know, like everyone in the developing world is wishing for right now ? And as to the other matter, no. Average police do not carry guns or capsicum spray. Noone busts peoples doors down over Google searches.

What about censorship. Information is censored and controlled, right ?

No. The internet is not, as you may think, filtered behind a great firewall. Facebook has traditionally had a bit of an on-again off-again relationship with Vietnam and the government has at times discouraged its use or even taken half-hearted measures to block it, but I can assure you, every 13 year old kid in Vietnam with a mobile phone or a computer is on Facebook. And Twitter. And YouTube. And Skype. And Instagram. And every other thing you could name. The government gives citizens a lot of privacy in Vietnam, while simultaneously promoting family values and moral standards. There is one, and one important exception to note about this. You do not speak badly about or protest against the government. Newspapers are quite free to write what they want, and stories of corruption are not redacted or hidden, but there is a certain moral agenda, and things that paint the country in a negative light are very much frowned upon. Vietnam actually has quite good human rights. And the government does not like you to say otherwise. Read the papers and talk to your friends all you want. But don’t post anti-government messages online or get involved in propaganda groups or you will not be treated favourably. Provided you follow this simple rule, you have as much religious and personal freedom as you want. Far more, some would say than you would have in a “Western” society.

What’s this about “moral values” that you mention ?

What I mean is that Vietnam has certain moral values that they hold dear. Most of these will go unnoticed to you, as a foreigner, and you may not even believe them because it’s quite easy to see the opposite in effect, but they do exist and they affect people who wish to live there for more than a short stay. What am I talking about ? Well, you may think that Vietnam is a country of loose women offering “Sucky sucky, fai dorrah. Love you long time”, but that’s not really how it is. I mean, there’s definitely prostitution, don’t get me wrong. And you will absolutely see it, because as a foreigner you will be visiting the “tourist areas”, and that is where people go to make money. But don’t be under any illusions. It IS illegal. This is NOT Thailand and there are not streets lined with perverted sex shows and all that sort of thing. Any place that overtly advertises sex is shutdown very quickly. Businesses cannot even have the word “Sexy” in their name. Vietnam is a country of conservative moral values. Until recently it was illegal for a man and a woman to cohabit a house unless they were married and it’s a rule that is still very much enforced among traditional families. Vietnam has an average age of “first sexual experience” of around 19.5 years old, far higher than the western world. Vietnam women are far from “loose” and it’s common for them to wait until marriage. Most hotels strictly and clearly forbid the bringing of prostitutes home, and even excessive public displays of affection are deemed a moral offence. When Vietnamese lovers want to get together to snog, they go to the park at night, where it is considered acceptable, under the cover of darkness for them to make out. If they want to “get a room”, there are many hotels that rent by the hour. Dress codes exist. A Vietnamese woman does not show off her breasts. Women are expected to wear sleeves, and in fact, even in a beauty pageant, showing too much breast is a punishable offence. None of this matters too much to foreigners because the locals understand that we have different values and they tolerate that. You will not get fined or locked up for breaking many of the social norms that Vietnamese people are expected to abide by like you might in some countries. But if you plan on staying long-term and getting married, you need to pay attention and put a little effort into learning how to act and dress. A professional man should have long sleeves and pants if he is to be taken seriously and respected. A women should not be showing off too much cleavage or her bra. However, skin-tight clothing and short shorts are perfectly acceptable. A man should never give a Vietnamese woman money in public as it is considered totally out of order. Vietnam is changing, and many of these things will be overlooked, but don’t think they don’t matter. Morals do matter in Vietnam. They’re subtle, but they’re there. If you stay for the long-term, learn them. Otherwise people will talk behind your back.

Isn’t Vietnam full of corruption and bribery ?

That depends how you define corruption. Can a police officer get away with murder and shoot an innocent person and walk away scot-free like they would in America or Australia or England ? Absolutely not. Police abuse of power is taken very seriously and it is not uncommon for the populace to actually rise up and fight back when they see a police officer attempting to hurt someone. There are not many countries in the world you could say this about, but Vietnam is one of them. People’s rights matter, and no individual police officer is going to have “the establishment” support him and let him get away with grievous crimes when there are witnesses around to document it. Government officials are likewise expected to be held accountable, and embezzling money is taken very seriously. I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t happen, but when it’s caught, the perpetrators do not simply walk away because they are rich or powerful. It is true that “money talks” in Vietnam in many ways though. When taking a relative to the hospital for example, it is a quite common practice to give a gift of money to the treating doctor to make sure they get preferential care. If you want to talk about the visible face of corruption (I’d rather not, so I’ll be brief), it is most widely reported that customs officers and traffic police are known to take bribes. Police are not very highly paid, especially in country areas, and it is well known that when they ticket people for traffic offences, the usual practice is for people to offer them some money and be allowed to go on their way. Many lesser crimes can be “overlooked” for a price. This is illegal. Both for you, and the officer, but it happens. But don’t even think that you can bribe your way out of a serious crime of moral disobedience.

What are the penalties for crimes ?

Penalties for crimes in Vietnam are somewhat more logical than you might think, especially compared to other South East Asian nations. They are based more on the harm that you are doing society than you might be used to back home, but there is also no concept of “first offence leniency”. If you do something bad and screw up, don’t expect to get out of it lightly. The penalty for minor infractions is a small fine (in Western terms), so if you are caught with a prostitute, just pay the fine and learn your lesson. Likewise, the fine for being caught with a small amount of (soft) drugs for personal use is also quite minor. Unlike other nearby nations, this is not a country that will take your freedom away for smoking a little bit of marijuana, and in fact, less than 300 grams is not a criminal offence (it does attract a fine though) so realistically, you do not have to fear being thrown in prison for buying marijuana on the street (and you will be offered it constantly). Hard drugs such as heroin and amphetamines are taken much more seriously though, and the possession or trafficking of large quantities WILL get you the death penalty. A little marijuana might not be an issue, but a large bag of cocaine is going to ruin your life. Crimes such as theft are taken very seriously due to it being considered a serious moral infraction. Do not, under any circumstances think you can shoplift so much as a chocolate bar in Vietnam. You will be quite heavily fined and your passport will be seized if you cannot pay. And robbery ? Don’t even think about it. If you’ve fallen on hard times, you either get a job, you beg, or go ask your embassy to get you home. Snatch and grabs might be a pretty common occurrence in the tourist area, but if you think you, as a foreigner can get away with it, you’re in for a nasty surprise. The most serious crime though, is violence. Violence is absolutely and unequivocably not tolerated in Vietnam. In Australia, if you get drunk and “glass” someone in the face, you might well get away with a small amount of jail time or even none at all if it’s your first offence and you have a good lawyer. But if you do that in Vietnam and you get caught, expect to spend 7 years of your life in prison. The carrying of weapons is absolutely forbidden and will likewise get you imprisoned for a long time, which is why you have no fear of being mugged. Any really serious act such as violent rape or attempted murder will see you face the death penalty. Leave your aggro at home in Vietnam, do not start fights and absolutely do not think you can be a “hard-ass” and pull a knife on someone. If you get caught, you can reasonably expect to not see the sun again for many years. This is a country with very sensible laws. Things that hurt noone are treated as minor and attract a small fine. But crimes against property and people are taken very seriously. As long as you remember that, you have no fear of seeing the inside of a Vietnamese prison. They don’t lock you up for petty things, but don’t be under the illusion that theft or violence is considered petty crime in Vietnam, because it’s not.

Can I work in Vietnam ? Do I need a permit or a special visa ?

Yes, you can work. Quite easily, although it is getting tougher. You do not necessarily need a work permit, although this is due to change in the near future. There are very well paid jobs in engineering and finance that will see you live like a king. But the most common job that you will be likely to do as a foreigner is teach English. The demand for English teachers is high. Vietnam wants to become part of the global economy and they are very curious people who love to adopt foreign culture. Vietnamese are also one of the most widely spread races of people, with millions of them migrating to foreign countries to live. It is every Vietnamese parents’ dream to have their child work in a foreign country. Not for the money so much as the esteem it brings. And that means learning English. English is taught in most major schools, both in the countryside and the city, but it is not a mandatory subject, although there are very few students who do not study it. The problem is that the Vietnamese language is incredibly tonal and incredibly different to English and many of the sounds that are used in English are quite foreign to a Vietnamese person, so even with a well qualified teacher to teach them grammar, they do not adequately learn the pronunciation of words, nor do they learn colloquialisms or idioms sufficiently since they vary so much from place to place. This is why foreign English teachers are highly sought after in Vietnam. Most parents who can afford it will send their children to a special English school in the evening after their regular school day ends. At this school they will have contact mostly with Vietnamese teachers, but for at least a couple of hours a week, they will have a foreign teacher. Native English speakers are preferred, but there is also an acceptance that English is a global language and for this reason it is quite common to find heavily-accented German, Dutch or French people teaching English as well. While there are large “international schools” that have high standards such as teaching degrees and high experience requirements, the vast majority of students learn English in small private schools with no more than a few dozen up to a hundred students. At these schools you do not need a degree in teaching (a degree in anything is highly regarded, but it’s certainly not essential), nor do you necessarily need any experience. You just have to have enthusiasm, a friendly nature, a good rapport with the students, and the willingness to turn up every day (often seven days a week) and spend 2-3 hours teaching English. Young, vibrant men and women are especially preferred. I will go into that further later. But at the majority of these schools, the only paperwork you need is a valid visa to be in the country. There IS a strong push by the government to pass new laws in 2014 which will require all people intending to work in Vietnam to possess a work permit before entering the country, but this has not passed yet and is mainly intended to stop illegals from China and South East Asia who have overstayed their visa by working without permission to be in the country.

How do I get a visa ?

Vietnam does not grant free visas to other nations at this point, with limited exceptions (Notably, some Russian nationals I think can get a free visa) although the forthcoming unification of ASEAN nations will likely see free, reciprocal visas for citizens of other South East Asian nations. There is actually a new promotion to push tourism to Phu Quoc island off the southern coast of Vietnam which suggests that as of March 10th 2014, free 30 day visas will be granted to people who are visiting Phu Quoc island. This is something you should investigate thoroughly as I am not aware of how you prove your intention to travel there or what limitations are placed on this visa. There are two ways for you to obtain a visa to Vietnam. You can visit or apply to the Vietnamese embassy in your country and have your visa granted there in person or mailed to you by submitting your passport, or you can apply for a “Visa on Arrival”. Visa on Arrival methods only apply when you arrive by air. As far as I am aware, you cannot get such a visa if you arrive at the land border of the country. Despite its name, this does not mean you can simply arrive in Vietnam and get a visa at the airport. You need pre-approval from a third party visa company. I recommend this method because it is simple and relatively inexpensive and can be done online. You simply choose one of the companies who offer pre-approval for visas, and you pay them a fee, and they send your application for a visa to the Vietnamese government in a batch along with other visa applications and they return approval letters to the company who pass them on to you via email. This process is typically a 48 hour turnaround, although more rapid approval can be obtained for a cost. I’m going to mention a particular company simply because I know there are some companies which are dodgy and which Vietnam issues warnings against using. I have always used who are an American company who have some of the cheapest rates, helpful staff and have never failed to meet their promised deadlines. You simply enter your passport details on their website and pay an application fee of around $35 for a three month, single entry visa (multiple entry visas are much more costly), and within 2 days they will email you an approval letter. Because these requests are batched for more easy processing, don’t be alarmed if there are other people listed on your approval letter. This is normal practice. Also, regardless of what the purpose of your visit is, all visas through this company at least, are approved as business or working visas (note, this is not the same as a work permit, but it does indicate that you have permission to conduct business in the country). When you arrive at the airport in Saigon or Hanoi, you do not proceed directly to the immigration checkpoint, but at Tan Son Nhat in Saigon you take a left just before this area to a small office in the wall for visa processing. For the speediest processing you should have printed out the Entry Application letter that the company provides on their website, and you should have two passport sized photographs ready, and you should have the stamping fee (currently this is $45 USD for a 3 month single entry) ready, in cash in US Dollars. Cash only is accepted, and US dollars are preferred. You can pay in other currencies, but it is not advisable as they are equipped mainly to handle US dollars only and if you choose to pay in Canadian or Australian dollars or Euros you can expect a very poor currency conversion. Other currencies may or may not be accepted at their discretion so it is extremely advisable to find out the correct stamping fee and have that money ready in crisp US dollar bills. If you do this and present your approval letter, your entry application and your two photographs, processing will be very swift and your name will be called over a loudspeaker in as little as 5 to 10 minutes depending on the queues, at which point you pay the fee and receive your passport back with the visa stamp inside and proceed to the immigration checkpoint. The law allows for a maximum of two visa renewals per visit before you have to leave the country, meaning that you can stay up to nine months at a time before you have to leave or go to nearby Cambodia (an under $10 bus trip) and apply for a new visa. There is no limit to how often you can visit Vietnam or how long you have to leave for, and as such there are frequent “Visa runs” to Cambodia organised for people living longer term who will organise everything for you and have you staying in a hotel in Phnom Penh overnight while you are processed for a new visa. New laws as of late 2013 state that visa renewals are a little more complex than before and now require proof that you are working there or else a copy of your hotel or apartment’s accommodation log to show your previous visits. I recommend that you approach a travel agent well before your visa runs out to establish what you need to obtain to get a renewal. Letting your visa expire by a couple of days before renewal has in the past attracted a small fine, but attempting to leave the country on an expired visa or being caught working without a visa is a serious offence and attracts a hefty fine so don’t let that happen to you.

Do I need to learn Vietnamese ?

Nope. Absolutely not. In fact, you have no idea how difficult it is. The spoken Vietnamese language is.. well, I won’t give my usual humorous analogies here because I think it would be inappropriate, but let’s just say it’s probably the most tonal language in the world and hugely difficult. That being said, it’s actually not that hard to learn enough to make yourself satisfied that you’re trying, and the most common phrases are fairly easy and will be understood by the context, even if you screw up the intonation totally. It’s true that you could, for example, mispronounce the common men’s name “Vu” as another “Vu” which means breasts and cause people to twitter with amusement, but the people are very forgiving because they know their language is difficult for outsiders and they are very impressed when you bother to learn even a bit of it. Obviously, learning simple things such as “hello”, “thank you”, “excuse me” will get you a lot of respect. And knowing phrases such as “too expensive” and how to say numbers and prices in Vietnamese will instantly make people think you have “been around” a bit and they will cut to the chase when it comes to bargaining and give you a much better deal. It’s important to remember that when you are dealing with someone who genuinely doesn’t know any English that you shouldn’t TRY and use English. You’ll only confuse them and make them want to be rid of you. If you need to get across to someone a phrase such as “can you carry this upstairs for me ?” or “I want to take this food home”, don’t speak. Just use simple sign language. Point at the thing in question, yourself, the place you want it to go, and nod your head and meet their eyes. A lot of people will say “Ya. Ya” to you repeatedly, but it doesn’t mean they understand. To confirm they understand, say “Ok ?” which is a phrase they do understand. If you do speak to someone with limited English, don’t try and sound out an entire sentence and assume that just speaking slowly will make them understand. Just saying the key words. “I … go.. home.. eat” along with suitable actions is a lot better than trying to say something like “I .. want .. to take.. this .. food .. back .. to .. my .. hotel”. Likewise, if you ever find yourself trying to translate something long (such as if you find yourself on a date with a girl for instance and conduct the entire thing using Google Translate… don’t laugh, it happens ALL the time), remember to avoid idioms and phrases or words with double meaning etc. Think about your language and review it before your try and translate it. Use several small sentences, not one big long one, as the chance of Google messing it up becomes far higher. Don’t translate “I want to catch the train”. Translate “I want to go on train”. The first one will end up sounding crazy, because if you think about what “catch a train” will most likely to translate to, it’s going to be like catching a ball, not taking a train journey. The fact is, most people have a passable understanding of English and many are fully fluent. There are going to be some who don’t. Your smartphone is your friend. Sometimes not just Google Translate, but Google Images. I remember during my first week, trying to translate that I wanted to buy a tea set to a motorbike taxi driver who spoke barely a few words. First he took me to a tea leaf shop, and then to tea house before I finally realised my translation was failing me and I just pulled up a picture of a china teapot on Google Images and he instantly understood and took me to an antiques store. You will live and learn when it comes to communicating, but if you’ve done it before in other foreign countries, you stand a much better chance of doing it in Vietnam. Just be patient, and think carefully about what you say before you say it. Also, locals LOVE to teach you Vietnamese and if you meet someone, they will be absolutely THRILLED to teach you Vietnamese in exchange for you helping them with their English (in fact, English students regularly wander the parks looking for foreigners and will throng to them in small groups and plead with you to chat to them for half an hour or more) , so if someone offers, take them up on it. Not only will you learn some valuable Vietnamese phrases which will stand you in good stead and make you look much more local, but you will gain a good friend with local knowledge who can help you with all sorts of things such as finding a cheap apartment, buying a motorbike and other tasks that you might find daunting.

How do I get around ? Do I need a licence ?

Vietnam currently does not recognise international drivers licences. Sorry, but your precious international licence is worthless here. This is something the government is looking at in the near future, but for now, your foreign licence means nothing. And getting a Vietnamese one is not particularly easy without the help of a local. However… probably less than a tiny fraction of all foreigners living in Vietnam have a licence. It’s not really a requirement. Yes, it’s illegal to not have one. But the penalty is very minor. However, in addition to the small fine, you normally face losing your motorbike for a period of 10 days. But this is a penalty meant for Vietnamese people. No police officer wants to have to deal with you either now or later at the station just for the simple infraction of not having a licence. Police officers in fact are some of the most English illiterate people in Vietnam. They do understand one language though. You know the one I mean. A quarter of a “Benjamin Franklin” is the maximum you should need to make a police officer nod their head and motion you back onto your motorbike to get you out of their sight. In the event that you’ve broken a serious road rule, you are stopped by a serious highway patrol (with multiple officers), or you happen to get one who really is fluent in English, you may have to consider letting him see your friend “Ulysses S. Grant”. Experience will be your guide in this matter. But unless you’ve been involved in a non-trivial accident, there’s no reason you should expect to have to do paperwork or get your bike carted away. Having said that, you need to learn the road rules. And by learning them, I mean “copying what everyone else is doing”. Vietnamese road rules are very flexible things. Riding on the wrong side of the road isn’t just acceptable, it’s commonplace. Intersections do not have turning lights. Turning traffic flows like two schools of fish intersecting. Some go through until the others move into place to block any more, then they go through, and then when there’s a break, the first lot move through again. It works on a concept of simple respect and decency. You do not have “right of way” in Vietnam, so leave that concept firmly back in your home country. People break the rules all the time, not because they have flagrant disregard for the law but because it is simply more practical to do so. You shouldn’t really be going the wrong way down a one way street, but if you are doing it slowly, carefully and at the edge of the street, that’s perfectly ok. Having said all that, there is a saying that “Vietnamese bikes don’t have brakes, they only have horns”. This is especially true on intersections at night. People run red lights all the time. You need to be CAREFUL. The majority of the time, you have little to fear in terms of accidents because you are rarely doing more than 30km/hr in the city, and 20km if it’s congested. But at night, or when the roads are very empty, you need to be on the lookout for people doing things they shouldn’t. USE your horn. It’s the best way to warn people that you’re there. If someone in front of you swerves suddenly, BEEP immediately so they realise they may collide with you. Beep when you’re going through quiet intersections, as it warns people who might be tempted to run a light that you’re coming. Due to the low speeds involved, most motorbike accidents are fairly trivial unless you’re acting like a stupid hoon. If you bump into someone, they’ll probably just glare at you. If you RUN into them and actually cause some damage, or a panel falls of their bike and they start shouting at you, it might be time to reach for your wallet. $5 is considered the normal apology for damaging someone’s bike in some reasonably minor but non-trivial way. Motorbike repair is very cheap in Vietnam. But if you badly scrape some old woman’s brand new Piaggio and she starts yelling, you’d better start saying “Sorry” and offer her some money. But again, people are fairly tolerant of foreigners, so even if you knock someone to the ground, just help them up, say sorry and get back on your bike. Don’t stick around. This isn’t a country where you swap insurance details. If someone is really angry, offer them $5 or $10 and just get back on your bike and leave. Unless they’re a police officer or you’ve caused major damage, there’s no reason to just hang around looking stupid. But if you’re in a serious accident that involves injury, the police will be called. Don’t run away. You’re not in trouble. But accidents that involve hospitalisation require serious investigation. Don’t flee the scene. Ultimately, Vietnam isn’t a scary or dangerous place to ride, even though it certainly looks like it at first. Just be responsible, be careful, be apologetic and do not speed. Oh, and ALWAYS wear a helmet ! Accidents happen to stupid or careless people. Don’t be one of those, and you have nothing to worry about.

How do I get a motorbike ? Can I buy one or rent one ?

You can rent a motorbike from many hotels. You will see signs everywhere. You’d have to be a complete idiot not to figure out where to rent a motorbike. Travel agents also often rent motorbikes and the rates are often a little better. Private rental is the cheapest, but often not something you will see advertised in English. The going price is around $5-6 a day for a daily rate, and around $50-70 a month for a monthly rate. Cheaper prices can be found, but if you’re reading this you probably don’t know where to find them yet so don’t worry about that. That’s local knowledge. Ultimately though, if you’re staying more than a couple of months, you’d be stupid not to just buy a bike. Used motorbikes are quite cheap, and the resale value on them is good, and many foreigner-targetted shops have buy-back schemes so that as long as you haven’t damaged the bike, you can sell it back to them a few months (and a few thousand kilometres) later and only be out of pocket maybe a hundred dollars. Also, foreigners often sell privately by putting posters up around the tourist areas. Check the noticeboards or the walls near the entrance to any alleyways and also around the entrances to hotels in the alleys. Chances are there’s a somewhat worn-out old Honda Wave for sale for $300 and you can probably get it for $250 if you haggle well. But if you’re staying longer and you want a GOOD bike that has low kilometres (has not been ridden from Saigon to Hanoi and back 20 times), is in good condition and is a fairly new model, you want to go to a pawn shop. Vietnamese love to gamble, and when they fall on bad times, their most saleable asset is their motorbike, so you get good deals on quality motorbikes at a pawn shop. They’re called “Cam Do” in Vietnamese. You’ll see the signs, sometimes in simple paint on a white backdrop or sometimes in lights or neon. They typically sell mobile phones, digital cameras, laptop computers and motorbikes. But you either need a Vietnamese friend, or you need to know the value of the motorbike and speak passable Vietnamese. If you walk in green and start speaking English, you can expect to be taken for a ride (in a bad way). But if you know what a 2004 Yamaha Nuovo 3 with 20,000km on the clock is worth (about $5-600 in good condition incidentally) and you can say “hello”, “too expensive” and “This one, how much ?” in Vietnamese, they will drop the act and you will get given the real price, flat out. Now, my advice is, if you don’t know it’s a good price, thank them and go to the next store (often there’ll be a few in close proximity) and look at the same bike and compare the price. You’ll find that once you know the going price of the bike, the price they offer is the minimum price they will accept. They actually don’t haggle over this. You might get $25 or at maximum $50 off the asking price, but it’s quite common for them to stand firm on their price. Just don’t be rushed and look around. SYM’s are cheap bikes (they are made in China but they are the most reputable Chinese brand – “SsanYong Motors”). Yamaha Nuovos are excellent buys. Hondas tend to have the highest resale value, but do be careful because there are Chinese imitations. Also, while you don’t have to be a machine-head to buy a bike (I am about as mechanically minded as a garden gnome), you should be able to inspect a bike and tell if theres something funny about it. If the km are high but the panels are new then they’ve been replaced due to an accident. Some people wind back the clock (though it’s not as common as people tell you). Personally, I inspect the leather. If the leather is not too faded, and the panels match the age of the seat, the bike is probably genuine. If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Ideally, take a Vietnamese friend along. The dealer will realise he can’t fool them. You only have to meet some waiter at a cafe and chat to him for a while and give him some English lessons before he’ll be quite willing to come help you choose a bike. Otherwise, meet someone at a bar and do the same. Vietnamese are very friendly and they’re more than happy to help you out with “local knowledge” if they have the time. One tip is, once you have a motorbike, you must ALWAYS have the registration or “blue card” that comes with it. Registration does not need to be transferred, but you NEED this registration card or you bike may be considered stolen and confiscated. If it’s a rental, simply carry the business card of the place you rented it off and show it to police and say “I rent. I rent”

I don’t know anything about motorbikes. What happens if I break down ?

In all seriousness, there is almost nowhere in the entire country you can possibly break down that there isn’t a mechanic more than a kilometre away. I have ridden the length of the breadth of Vietnam and broken down on lonely back highways in the middle of the night and had some kind soul rescue me and either give me a place to sleep for the night or point me to a local mechanic whose door I can knock on at any hour. Fixing a tyre or a fuel blockage or one of those other engine thingamybobs (I said I was as mechanically minded as a garden gnome, remember ?) is simple and you need say nothing as they will work it out for you. A tyre tube will set you back about $5. An hour long engine repair that requires no major parts maybe $7. Banging a wobbly wheel back into place and putting some new nuts on about the same. Honestly, don’t even worry about breaking down. The sight of a sweaty white person pushing a broken down motorbike brings out the good samaratin in every Vietnamese person and they will stop and help you and direct you to a petrol station (the word for petrol sounds like “sang” by the way, but just point to your tank and wave your hand) or a mechanic. Mechanics don’t rip you off if you’ve broken down. If you leave your bike with them overnight for upgrades and they think you might have money, it could be a different story and they have been known to take good parts off your bike and swap them for dodgy ones, but if you’re sitting there forlorn and sweating while they fix your tyre or carburetor, they will charge you a fair price so don’t worry about it.

Where do I stay ? Can I rent an apartment ?

When you first get to Vietnam, you are probably going to hit a hotel in the tourist district. This costs about $12-15 dollars a night for a decent enough room with airconditioning, a cleaning service and free broadband. Go out to a bar and meet people. I cannot stress this enough for discovering how to do ANYTHING in Vietnam. Even if you don’t drink. Just go to a bar (even some cafes or restaurants which are popular drinking holes) and meet people and ask them where they stay and how much it costs. Once you have done with the typical “above the travel agent” style hotel and you want something a little more private and longer term, you get a “Room for Rent”. This is sort of like an apartment, but you pay by the month, at the end of the month, and there is no deposit. These vary in quality. Some can be run-down, while others can be absolutely palatial. It’s reasonable to expect to pay around $300 a month in downtown Saigon for a decent room in which you get the sheets changed every few days, your rubbish collected, room swept, unlimited free internet and cable TV, and your water and electricity are all included in the price. However, unlike a “hotel”, you may not get 24 hour access. People lock up the bottom storey of their townhouses at night with big metal shutters, so after a certain time of evening (between midnight and 2am typically) you will not be able to get back in. There will be a bell you can ring, but depending on the price of your “room for rent”, they may not be thrilled at letting you in at 3am in the morning, and sometimes may be sleeping so soundly they don’t hear the bell. If you’re paying even a dollar or two a day more, you can expect to have someone sleeping in the lobby at night who will jump up and let you in, but if you’re paying only $300 or less month, you may have to have their business card with you to call them on the phone to wake them up. Don’t do this too often. You really don’t want to become a nuisance tenant. Incidentally, you can get rooms for rent for as little as $200 a month if you are willing to forgo aircon. But your next step up in life, once you’ve decided to live there for a while is to sign a contract and rent an apartment proper. Depending on the type of apartment this may come with a fixed term lease but sometimes it simply requires 1 month advance notice before leaving. Deposits range from 1 months to 3 months rent, although 3 months is quite uncommon and you should seriously question any place that asks for that as it may well be a scam to find a reason to kick you out and keep your deposit. Prices range from $150 a month for a nice, modern but unfurnished single room with ensuite and airconditioning, up to $600 or more a month for a quite stunning 2 bedroom apartment with lounge, kitchen and modern European appliances, but keep in mind that while WiFi is almost always included in the price, you will normally pay for your own water and electricity (though it’s quite cheap). Obviously there are even more extravagent places available too, but if you were renting those you wouldn’t be reading this. Realistically, expect $200 a month for a cheap and minimally or non-furnished place to $400 for a small but quite nice and well decked out single-room place with flatscreen TV, fibre optic internet and other mod cons. Kitchens are NOT standard in cheaper apartments due to fire regulations, meaning that if your apartment does not have a kitchen then you are not allowed to cook in it (beyond instant noodles anyway), although sometimes your manager might let this pass for a small fee. Serviced apartments are very common (pretty much the norm) so it’s common to get a cleaning service if you’re paying $350 or more a month, and laundry service as well (which may or may not cost extra). Convenience is king and foreigners expect all these things. But if you are willing to forgo them just like the aircon, you will pay a cheaper price. Do you want to live large or do you want to live cheap ? It’s up to you. Personally, I’m all about location and I’m willing to scrimp on the conveniences. All I demand is good internet and aircon and I’ll happily supply my own mattress and furniture if need be. I certainly don’t care if my room lacks cable TV and a maid to clean it for me.

What about the cost of living ? Meals etc ?

Vietnam is a country geared for “eating out”. The fact is that most small apartments do not contain a kitchen. You might be allowed to use a small single-plate electric cooktop and a rice cooker, but that’s about it. Fire regulations mean that apartments require fire escapes and such for a kitchen to be permissible (due to the tendency to lock places up at night) so people in low-cost housing are quite used to eating out every night of the week, and quite frankly, unless you have a big family to feed, it’s actually cheaper to do so than it is to go to the supermarket and cook your own food. Even in the central tourist area, you can expect to pay no more than $1.50 for an eat-in or takeaway meal of rice and pork with a few green veges or $2 for some more tasty marinated meats with curried eggs or some stir-fried noodles with beef. A bowl of noodle soup can be as cheap as $1 in the suburbs, but normally $1.50-2.00 in the city depending on quality. Breakfast is normally a meat and salad sandwich for 75 cents or a delicious steamed pork and egg dumpling for about 50 cents. If you really cannot handle Vietnamese food at all then you shouldn’t come to Vietnam but I assure you it is at worst palatable and at best delicious beyond your dreams. However, for the times you crave something different, there are cafe’s around (I give a special shout out here to Lam Cafe on Bui Vien Street for offering the best foreign meals at the cheapest prices in Saigon) that will offer you a quite excellent hamburger, a Thai curry, extravagant Singapore seafood noodles or fried chicken and mashed potatoes for $2.50-3.00 a meal that you may well have trouble even finishing. That’s your “eating cheap” days. Because as I’ll explain later, the most interesting thing you can do in Saigon is to eat out somewhere special. If you go into the suburbs you can find the most amazing BBQ places or incredible, expansive restaurants that either span acres or comprise several levels. At these places you can find delicacies that your Western mind had not even thought of. As well as shish-kebobs and oysters and such, you will find fried boar, frogs legs, roasted sparrows, pigs brain soups, or the most incredible delicacy Vietnam has to offer in my opinion – stir fried ostrich meat… simply the most tender red meat you have ever tasted in your life. At such places, prices are low (especially for beer) but you will splurge and try new things, so expect $15 per person for a reasonably extravagant meal and drinks.

What about beer and cigarettes ?

Vietnamese people work very hard. Unless you have an office job you probably work 7 days a week without holiday all year round until the “Lunar” (aka “Chinese”) New Year known as “Tet”, at which time you probably take two or three weeks off to go and spend time with family. So you need a few vices. And the most common vice among both men and women is beer. Honestly, outside some small parts of South Africa, Vietnam has THE cheapest beer on the planet. In the tourist area you should not pay more than around 50 cents a bottle (take home beer from a supermarket is actually more expensive because bars rely on the money from recycling the bottles or cans to decrease the cost), but the locally brewed draught beer “bia hoi” can be obtained for around about 35 cents a pint. In Hanoi it’s even cheaper and more commonplace, but for reasons I won’t go into for politeness, I really don’t think it’s worth living in Hanoi for this because the culture is quite different and the cost of living is higher in general. If you have drunk more than $5 worth of beer in one night, you should be worried about your liver, because a year or two of that and you’ll be sick and a few more and you’ll be dead. Beer is so cheap in Vietnam you don’t want to know about it. Cigarettes are cheap too, but not as cheap as Cambodia or other places. Expect to pay 50 cents for an average packet of cigs or maybe $1 for some Marlboros. A 50gram pouch of Drum will set you back around $7. Suffice to say, it’s cheaper than any western country. You’re also allowed to light up in the majority of cafes and quite a number of restaurants. Shopping centres are definitely smoke free zones, but Vietnam is still a place where it’s perfectly acceptable to have a nice meal, a beer and a cigarette all at the same time. If in doubt, ask for an ashtray. If you’re told no, then it’s a no-smoking place, but since eating and drinking is predominantly an outdoor activity it’s safe to assume you can light up most places. Vietnamese women do not smoke, as a general rule and any girl who does should be considered somewhat of a rebel. In social situations with their friends it might be more ok, but most “good” Vietnamese girls do not smoke. I could say they don’t drink either, but that has changed so much in the younger generation that it’s simply not true anymore. Most young girls of legal age (18) drink beer.

Can I get a SIM card for my phone ?

This is easier than you could possibly imagine. For a country that you probably think spies on all its citizens, there are absolutely no restrictions on buying a SIM card. You can buy them from almost any small convenience store (not the big chains, they only sell recharges), camera shop, travel agent or even woman standing on the street with a cart. You require no identification and the SIM card you get will work instantly in your phone without requiring settings in many cases. Personally, I think the military-owned Viettel company is the best. Mobifone (also government owned) are known for being the cheapest, but if you wish to use data, Viettel have the best plans. However they are the one that requires the most configuration before you can use the internet. You send the text “3G ON” to the number 161, and then you send “MI50” to the number 191 to sign up for a $2.50 a month plan bundle with around 350mb of data. They also have unlimited data plans (after a similar amount of “full speed” data, you are shaped to 256kbit) and Micro or Nano-SIM cards are readily available for the latest iPhone and iPad devices. The major phone companies are Viettel, Mobifone and Vinaphone, but Viettel tend to have the most actual shops, so if you have difficulty, they are the best to use because you can take your device to a nearby store where there will be English-speaking staff who will be more than happy to help you configure your device and choose an appropriate pre-paid data plan. Data and calls are incredibly cheap in Vietnam. The country actually made an exception to its rules about not being able to sell products cheaper than the cost price just to help the mobile phone market gain traction among poorer communities, so the price is very low and you can expect signal literally anywhere in the country short of in a tunnel going through a mountain. Vietnam’s 3G network is something to be envied by developed countries. Country-wide, fast, uncongested, reliable and extremely inexpensive. You can also purchase high speed 3G sticks at a Viettel store or computer or mobile phone shop which will provide you with 12GB or more of data for about $35 with a one year expiry.

Age of consent

I mention this purely because it’s a curious thing. It’s 16 years, but Vietnamese count age in a very unusual way. You are considered 1 year old (not zero like in Western society) on the day of your birth, but you do not gain a year on your birthday… you gain it on the Lunar New Year, Tet. What this means is that a girl (or boy) born a day before Tet is legally and officially 2 years old a day after being born. For this reason, when you ask a girl’s age (sorry to frame this in purely feminine terms but I’m a guy), she is at least one and up to nearly 2 years younger than the age she says she is. My wife for example legally turns 22 in January of this year, but in any other country she would be considered 20 until October when her birthday is. As I said, I mention this purely as trivia. The age of consent is 16, and they go by the “official” Vietnamese age, which is the age they will say they are. Not the age you think they are if you work it out from their birthday. The only other country I know of that does anything similar to this is Korea, but they actually use their birthday when working out age of consent issues while still quoting their lunar age for everything else, and they also do not use the “1 year old at birth” rule like Vietnam does. Correct me if I’m wrong and this is common elsewhere but to my knowledge, this is unique to Vietnam and quite a curious little snippet of knowledge.

What about healthcare ? Hospitals ? Health Insurance ?

Vietnam is an ex-French colony and the French left behind three things. The hilarious way of answering the phone with “Allo ?” as every Vietnamese person does, baguettes, and medicine. For all their faults and oppression of the Vietnamese, they brought antibiotics and immunisations and knowledge of modern medicine and it is something that has not left Vietnam with the French. They eradicated diseases which had plagued Vietnam for centuries and breathed life back into the art of medicine. The best hospitals in Vietnam are French as are many of the doctors who work at them. “FV Hospital” in District 7 is the most well known and probably the best hospital you could go to as a foreigner. They are well known for speaking multiple languages with ease, handling all of your health insurance claim paperwork without question and giving excellent treatment as well as being quite inexpensive for what you would consider an at least partially “foreign” hospital. There are good hospitals all over Vietnam. There is an excellent Singaporean general hospital in District 1 while a hospital in District 5 is known for their brain surgery skills. There is a world class eye hospital in District 5 that left me as an Australian simply dumbstruck by the advanced equipment they possessed which had not even been heard of back in the finest hospitals and opthamology clinics in my “developed” home country, and at which I saw multiple experts within minutes of arriving for the lowly fee of $5 to cure a serious eye problem. No prescriptions are needed in Vietnam, so you have no need to see a GP. For any minor ailment you simply go and see your local pharmacist who may not be the best English speaker but will have very good training in medicine. If you know what medicine you desire, simply write it down and they will produce it for you or suggest an alternative. For more serious problems, visit one of the excellent hospitals around Saigon. You need not fear unduly for your health in Vietnam as the worst you are likely to experience is some diarrhoea from the water (Oh yeah, don’t drink the water, you need to buy bottled water, but too much ice in your drink can make you sick) which any pharmacist can cure. If in doubt, take Google Translate to a pharmacy and explain the problem. Consider your pharmacist a GP in most cases.

Security. Is it dangerous ? Will I be robbed ?

Ok, this is the big question isn’t it ? No, it’s not dangerous. Unless you go looking for trouble it is unlikely to find you. However, a little respect goes a long way. I see a lot of minor altercations with people (either local or other foreigners) because they simply do not mind their manners, but people rarely get hurt. You CAN be robbed though. Not at knife point I mean. That simply doesn’t happen due to the tough anti-violence laws. But pickpocketing is rife in the tourist area, as are snatch-and-grabs. However, simply alerting you to this fact is all you need to prevent it from happening. Don’t carry your wallet. If you do, leave all your cards and cash at home. If you are in a decent place it’s perfectly ok to leave large amounts of cash at home and many hotels even include a lockable box or cupboard of some sort, though ultimately it’s best to just stay at a family establishment where you can see that the people are trustworthy. Family hotels don’t steal from guests, so your money is as safe there as it is in the bank and much less likely to incur hefty withdrawal fees ! But out on the street it is different. You have to appreciate that in the tourist area of Saigon, you are realistically in the most crime-ridden area you can think of in your home city (except without the violence). But Vietnamese are opportunistic thieves only, because the penalties are severe. They will not steal from you in front of your face in general. But if are so stupid as to walk down the middle of the road (as people do) carrying your iPhone up to your ear, don’t be surprised when it get snatched out of your hand by a passing motorbike rider. Remember that a new iPhone or an iPad is equivalent in cost to the average yearly salary of a Vietnamese person, so if you are stupid and wave it about, it will be gone very quickly. But as long as you are prudent, you have nothing to worry about. Leave your wallet and cards at home and purchase a money clip from a street vendor. Vietnam doesn’t use coins, only notes, so it’s easy to carry all the money you need for the day in a small leather magnetic clip from which you can pull out notes easily. Flashing a wallet full of money around is not so much an invitation to be robbed but rather rude. Do not ever leave your laptop sitting on the table at anything but a high-class indoor bar while you go to the bathroom. You can trust the staff though. You can ask them to charge your phone for you any time and they will do it gladly. Even if you walk out without it, in a decent establishment they put it in the safe for you to collect when you return. No decent staff member would risk their job and their livelihood by stealing from a customer because they know you will come back. But passers-by might not feel the same way. Don’t risk it. Keep your phone in an inner pocket and not on the table. If you need to go to the bathroom, close your laptop and hand it to staff to mind for you. If something happens and you DO get robbed, don’t let it ruin your month, week or even day. Shrug your shoulders and realise you made a stupid mistake and get on with life. Don’t hold it against the whole country because one desperate, poor person saw your guard down and snatched your iPhone. Buying a new one is nothing to you, but for them, it means feeding their family for months, so don’t hold it against them. Just be more careful in the future. A fool and his iPhone are soon parted in Saigon, but a prudent person will never lose a thing. Be the latter, not the former.

Is there terrorism or banditry ?

Honestly, I do not even think there is a word in the Vietnamese dictionary which equates to terrorism. The war is over and Vietnam is at peace. They are going through a relatively prosperous new age with Vietnam seeing constant growth and improvement. There are no factions and there is no dissent in Vietnam. Not specifically because dissent or terror is not tolerated, because what country does tolerate it ? But because people are generally happy. They might poor and progress might be slow but they certainly do not think that warmongering or fighting amongst themselves will solve anything. Vietnam is an incredibly cohesive and peaceful society, and it is for this reason that they all have a picture of Ho Chi Minh or “Uncle Ho” as he is affectionately named in the most honourable place in their house. Ho Chi Minh brought peace and unity to a people that were divided and struggling for thousands of years under the oppression of various foreign countries. He brought them communism and don’t you dare tell them that’s bad because you only have to look around at the happy, peaceful society that has resulted and wonder what the hell went wrong in your country. Not only is terror a concept the average young Vietnamese person would struggle to grasp, but there is no banditry. There are no guerrilla fighters in Vietnam. There is no danger of a foreigner being captured and held for ransom as is so common in the Philippines, Cambodia or Indonesia. This sort of thing is absolutely unheard of in Vietnam. This is simply not the way Vietnamese culture works. Vietnam is a culture of taking care of your neighbour and having faith in your government, so dissent and rebellion are not things that exist in this country.

Are there any scams and pitfalls to avoid ?

Well, firstly, Ben Thanh Markets in the centre of Saigon is a tourist trap. You would not possibly buy anything from there unless you had a choice (I’m a big guy with big feet and they often have nice clothes and shoes that fit me) because they are bandits. Go and look but don’t buy. It’s quite an alarming place where people grab you buy the shoulder and demand you look at their wares. The regional markets in most suburbs are not specifically for tourists and are therefore reasonably priced and not so confrontational. The biggest scam is taxis. The taxi business in Vietnam has rather a poor reputation for overcharging people, and in some rare cases even running fake cabs which will lock the doors and demand money from you before releasing you. But the biggest scam is the airport taxis who will charge you 2-3 times what the trip is worth. When you arrive at Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon, after you clear immigration and customs, do not exit the building. Just before you exit, on your left, is a row of small shops that will do currency conversion, taxi services and other such things. The first (and most rightmost, nearest the door) shop is (as I write this in early 2014) known to give a good exchange rate and book you a flat rate taxi to anywhere in the city for around 10 dollars. Change your money there and book a taxi. Take the coupon they give you and wander outside. Ignore the throngs of people and simply look for the name of the taxi company written on the coupon. It will most likely be an orangish yellow car near the end of the taxi rank. If you can’t find it, just show it to some other drivers and they will point you towards it. But don’t be fooled into some other taxi because they will tell you lies about the costs of sitting there with the engine running and other nonsense. From the airport you can get a taxi to the city for around 10 bucks. From the tourist area of Pham Ngu Lao, you can get a similar pre-paid taxi service back to the airport for your departure for no more than 7 or 8 dollars. If you lack a motorbike and you need to get around, find a motorbike taxi (called a “xe om”, pronounced “say om”) and show them the address. They will take you anywhere far more cheaply (providing you are not carrying luggage) and it should not cost you any more then $2-3 to get anywhere within the general city limits. Car taxis are what you use when you are transporting goods or taking a girl on a date if you should happen to not own a motorbike. This is a city of bikes and taxis are an expensive luxury so avoid them at all costs.

There is no mafia ! (But what about beggars and street vendors ?)

Oh there’s totally a mafia alright. But they’re not something you have to worry about. However you should be aware that many beggars and vendors are often roped into it by mafia types who will seize most of their takings for the day because they or their family have debts to pay. They’re loan sharks. They organise the vendors and beggars and send them out on their way. Having said that though, that doesn’t mean the individuals are bad people. They’re certainly not. They’re just in a bad situation and trying to make ends meet. Most of the street vendors in Saigon are actually from North Vietnam, but they come to Saigon knowing that it is a much bigger city than the capital with a more relaxed (and cheaper) lifestyle. You are not as likely to get ripped off in Saigon as you are in Hanoi where people are more shrewd and arguably more heartless. Everything the street vendors sell can be purchased at the local markets for half the price, but the street vendors in Saigon are lovely people and I for one make a habit of supporting them and getting to know them because as well as making friends and giving you a smile it provides you with information and gives you a certain level of respect in the local community. I typically pick the nicest one (I have a dear friend named “Twe” who I have known for years and I buy something small from her almost every day) and I only buy from that person, but it’s easy to become a soft touch, so while you should never swear at them or be rude to them no matter how persistent they are, don’t be suckered into buying stuff you don’t need. If you look at their wares, expect to be pestered for 5 minutes no matter how many times you say “no”. The best way to dismiss them politely is to smile, nod and then wave your hand in a motion halfway between a “hello” wave and a “so-so” wave. This is the universal signal in Vietnam for “no thank you” or “finished”. Don’t meet their eye for more than a second unless you want to chat, and don’t look at what they carry unless you want to buy or you will end up with 500 charm bracelets, postcards, religious tokens and packs of playing cards as I often have, although frankly, the cost to me is nothing compared to the smile it puts on my face to have my regular vendor sell me some slightly overpriced razors or something and thank me profusely. The book vendors are normally marijuana peddlers, however the books they sell are absolutely priceless gems of literature. I swear there are few places you can pick up so many classic (but photocopied) works of Dickens, Huxley, Salinger, Kerouac, Hunter S and others in one small area. It is a true reader’s delight. When it comes to beggars, don’t be bothered, but don’t be rude. People wouldn’t be begging if they had a choice. My rule is that I do not give to those who are not severely handicapped. Any man missing an arm or a leg certainly deserves 25 cents from me, even if I know that part of his earnings may go to pay back mafia debts. At night you will see fire-breathing children, Michael Jackson impersonators and more things than you could have expected. Give them a few cents for their performance if you wish to take photos, but frankly, as generous as I am, I only give my charity to those who really deserve it. The shoe-shine children and the chewing gum vendors are the ones to be most cautious off. The shoe-shine boys are often drug addicts who will steal or cheat you if they can. The chewing gum girls, often as young as 5, are, as sad as it is to admit, often roped into pick-pocketing phones from drunken people at street bars by the mafia types who stake out the targets. This to me is the worst crime in Vietnam that I wish I could see eliminated, because after twice catching a young girl of no more than 7 trying to lift my phone from my pocket for a nearby creep, I would desperately love to eradicate the scum who force them to do this from the face of the earth. During the day, chewing gum is just chewing gum. But at night it can be a cover for something more sinister. Keep your wits about you and your phone in your shirt pocket, not your pants. The rose vendors however, are a whole other story and if you read my blog you will know the beautiful and ongoing history I have had with some of these wonderful orphans. Just remember this most important rule. If you want to buy something, buy it. But don’t be an asshole about it. You have a lot more money than them, and the convenience of having something brought you in the street outweighs the small price increase over having to go to a supermarket and find it. So if you feel bad, just buy some tissues or some gum or a rose. You know you’ll use it. And if you buy a rose, give it to someone random for no reason at all. You will be putting smiles on at least three people’s faces including your own.

What about food ? Will I get food poisoning from street food ?

Absolutely not. Street food consists primarily of bbq’d pork or chicken with rice. At night time, there are many bbq places that sell shish-kebobs and various meat products on a stick along with extremely spicy chilli sauce. You are perfectly safe eating this food. It’s typically 50 cents for a stick, and there’s a variety to choose from and it’s delicious. It’s also fattening. Don’t eat it every day. It’s the Vietnamese equivalent of McDonalds (incidentally McDonalds are opening in Vietnam in 2014 for the first time. Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC have all been there for years and they deliver, but you’re not seriously planning to go to Vietnam to eat Big Macs are you ?) so don’t make it your diet. Rice and noodle meals are inexpensive and good for you. Get used to them. You can also buy seafood, but unless you’re in a seaside town I don’t normally advise it. The only time I’ve ever had food poisoning was when I went to a large Vietnamese BBQ restaurant and I ate a bunch of prawns and shellfish. It was not a pleasant experience. Don’t do that unless you’re in a seaside town. But if you are, then by all means try all the seafood delicacies your heart desires. Deep fried prawn (shrimp) pancakes are specialty of Vung Tau, and it’s interesting to try unusual things like octopus or sea snake at least once. Actually, bbq’d octopus is becoming a very popular street food in Saigon and it’s quite safe to eat. I’d tend to avoid the prawns and crabs though. Vietnam has quite stringent health standards and markets are quite regularly inspected and the food tested, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been sitting around all day, though to be fair, the worst problem you’re likely to encounter is that the meat is dry and unappealing at night after they’ve begun to sell out. Lunch time and early evening nets you the freshest cooked meals. Sometimes a place has an “off day” and you will get something a little stale, but the next day it might be great. You’re not going to get sick from it though so don’t worry about that.

Don’t Vietnamese people eat dogs ? Or is that a myth ?

Nope, that’s definitely not a myth. Vietnam is the largest per-capita eater of dogs in the world. If anyone tells you that it’s old fashioned or only eaten in the countryside, they’re naive. Dog eating is alive and well in Vietnam and if you ask a Vietnamese person they’ll tell you where to go to find it. It’s not on every menu as it’s normally a specialised food that is only found at certain places. It is general a celebratory meal. If you have good luck or if it’s a special holiday, it’s common for people to say “Let’s go to a dog restaurant and eat it five different ways”. If you have a problem with this, just don’t eat it. Don’t give me your whiny attitude about how dogs are intelligent and are man’s best friend. Horses are intelligent too, but that doesn’t stop companies like Findus putting horse meat in their lasagne does it ? Australia eats kangaroo and that’s their national animal. Some countries don’t eat cows, some do. Some eat whales, most don’t. Most don’t eat dogs, some do. Leave your preconceptions behind or at least shut up about them. You’re in the Orient now and things are done differently. If you have moral objections that you’re likely to whine about, don’t even visit. It’s true that the dog that is eaten is often caught illegally and imported from other countries. Sometimes it’s abandoned animals and sometimes it’s farmed. But it’s not unsafe and it’s not unusual. In fact, in the smaller towns in North Vietnam, eating both dog and cat is very common and you will pass restaurants that have pictures of smiling cats and dogs on the sign outside indicating that’s what they sell. What, is that somehow different than having a happy chicken or a pig on the menu of a Western restaurant ? No. So if you don’t want to eat it, don’t eat it. But if you want to open your mind you will find all sorts of great dishes that you would never think to eat back home. Rats, believe it or not are one of the most interesting delicacies you can find in Vietnam. If you have concerns about the hygiene or where they come from, don’t eat them. You have to quite out of your way to find foods like this anyway, but there are restaurants where serving roasted sparrows or bull’s penis or cobra blood soup is totally the norm. The menu at these places is normally in Vietnamese language only, but if you’re feeling adventurous, then visit these out of the way restaurants and translate the items on the menu and try something crazy. You won’t regret it, if not for the sake of the taste, then simply for the stories you will tell your friends about the time you ate pigs brains and roasted dog meat in Vietnam. Live a little. You’re in a foreign culture, so consider changing your mindset.

Can I eat vegan or vegetarian ?

Vietnamese people don’t eat large quantities of meat. A typical meal consists mostly of rice or noodles and fruits and vegetables and small quantities of meat. But meat is definitely eaten with every meal. Vegetarianism is almost seen as a sign of weakness or insanity in Vietnam, so it’s not the most vego-friendly place in the world. However, it does have a rich smorgasbord of foreign restaurants. The most common vegetarian friendly food in the tourist area is Indian food. Every Indian restaurant is going to have vegetarian only or Halal meals and even some Vietnamese restaurants will have vegetable curries. You can also find fantastic side dishes of eggplant or bok choy or things which don’t even have English names. Some of the deep-fried, crumbed vegetable dishes are incredible, so if you’re vegetarian you’re certainly not going to starve, but your options are more limited and I hope you enjoy rice, because you’re likely to be eating it every meal with vegetables as a side dish. If you do have a place with cooking facilities, go to your local markets. They’re a paradise of lovely vegetables and if you’re culinary minded as I am (I absolutely love to cook, and cooking with foreign foods is fascinating and fun) the you will find countless interesting things to purchase and you can live incredibly healthy and cheaply if you wish to live on rice and vegetables alone. If you are one of those “organic only”, “local co-op markets” type people then Vietnam will not disappoint because this is not a country run by huge farming corporations. It’s true that Monsanto does supply a lot of the fertilisers and pesticides in use, so it’s hard to know what’s truly organic, but suffice to say if you’re buying it off a woman sitting on a tarpaulin at the markets then it’s as close to nature as you’re going to get. There are no super-farms here. Oh, and if you’re ok with fish, then of course there are a fair amount of sushi restaurants and hot pot places that serve only fish meals, although Japanese and Korean food is a somewhat expensive luxury as the fish is often imported to ensure that it is of the highest quality. I am a huge fan of sushi and nigiri, but it is a treat for me because it can be expensive, but when I want to feel happy there’s nothing I like more than going to my local Japanese restaurant where they welcome me and rush to seat me at my favourite spot where I order the same thing every time and nom down plates full of the most fabulously prepared (a good restaurant will always have a native foreign head chef of course) sushi, sashimi and udon, washed down with a frosty beer and afterwards it is often permissible to light up a cigar and relax over some sake.

What about religion ? Is Vietnam Christian ?

Christianity is making large inroads into Vietnam, but officially, Vietnam is still considered (according to census data) the second most atheist nation on Earth. This is because Buddhism is not considered a religion and Vietnamese are almost exclusively Buddhist. Without meaning any disrespect, it is fair to say that Buddhism is often for show more than other more pious Buddhist countries. Every house and business has at least a small shrine to Buddha (many houses have extravagant statues in their garden or on their rooftop), and Buddhist rituals are followed with great vigour, but it is not a country based heavily on scripture or meditation for most people. Some other countries deride Vietnam’s interpretation of Buddhism as being hollow or unworthy and based more on superstition than true Buddhist enlightenment, but this is merely one opinion versus another. Christianity is alive though and churches can be seen throughout the country. The Anglican and Uniting churches are probably the most common although Roman Catholicism is well represented and the people who do follow are very devout. You can find Mass in English, although it is not necessarily common and often is available only with the aid of an interpreter. Religious freedom is definitely a tenet of Vietnamese society and that is worthy of mention because it has not always been so. Suffice to say you need have no qualms about being persecuted for your religious beliefs or practices, providing they do not break Vietnamese law.

Cash or card ? Is credit accepted ? What’s the banking system like ?

Ok, be prepared for a surprise here. Foreign ATMs are plentiful. HSBC in particular is well represented in Vietnam. As are the Australian banks ANZ and Commonwealth. The majority of other banks will be local Vietnamese ones. But don’t live off your card. Why ? Because there is a very low per-transaction withdrawal limit. At some local banks’ ATM’s like Sacombank this will be as low as $100 per transaction, while at others like Techcombank it might be $150, at ANZ it might be $200, while HSBC might let you get up to $250 at once. You can perform multiple consecutive transactions but this is both undesirable because it feels creepy standing there at an ATM making three or four withdrawals in a row (and you will feel every eye in the street or in the shop on you), and because of the bank fees. Fees can be expected to range from $1.50 to $2.50 per transaction, plus your typical “Overseas or other bank ATM fee”, plus your currency conversion fee. It’s the same as you would expect to pay to use your ATM card in any foreign country so it will depend on how nice the banks are in your home country. I have known Americans who literally get every single dollar in fees refunded to them, while I as an Australian am used to losing about $15 for every thousand withdrawn on bank fees. You can slightly reduce this by getting a “foreign currency card” and pre-loading it or transferring money onto it online, but it’s barely worth the effort for the minimal savings. Just write it off as the cost of living abroad. There is a notable exception to the maximum withdrawal amount I mentioned. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ATM’s typically have a 9 million dong ($450 USD) limit per transaction and they give good exchange rates, so you can suck money out of the bank at $450 per transaction at these places, so find yourself one of these. There’s one in the Circle K convenience store on Bui Vien street in the central tourist district currently. It is your friend, so use it and use no other ATM. The exception to this is that there are some places in the city where these limits are magically higher. In Pasteur street at Saigon Plaza there is an ANZ ATM that is known to give out $500 at a time during most times of the day, and for a while there it used to be willing to spit out $1000 at a time which was very convenient. The one caveat being that it would do it in the equivalent of $5 notes. It used to be worth doing this once just so you could have the feeling of drawing a huge wad of cash two inches thick out of an ATM and going “Whoopie !”, but this is horribly impractical when it comes time to pay your rent or buy an iPhone with $5 (100,000 dong) notes as you’re going to feel pretty stupid counting them out. Some ATMs will likewise give you your money in 500,000 dong ($25) notes which is equally impractical because noone on the street wants to change a half-million dong note for you and you’re going to be left looking around one day thinking “Where the hell can I get change for this ?”. The Commonwealth ATM I mentioned lets you either choose the denomination, or by default will offer you a sensible mixture of different values from 100,000 to 500,000. You can forget about using your credit card anywhere except a large department store or franchise shop. Do not expect to pay for your dinner with one at anything except the swankiest restaurant and if you do, make you confirm first that they have the facilities. Obviously some more expensive hotels take credit, but not the sort of ones you find in the tourist area and frankly I don’t think you want to use it with them because if they do, they probably use an old mechanical swipe machine which are easily prone to fraud. Cash is king in Vietnam, but naturally don’t carry it on your person. Leave it at home in your sock drawer or something. Carry only what you need for the day. Don’t go out with more than a million dong unless you plan to buy something specific with it. Buy a money clip and keep your small money in it. Not only is it more practical and much less easy to steal, but it feels way cooler too, flipping open a money clip and thumbing out the bills you want. It makes you feel way more authoritative about your transaction too and gives you the upper hand in bargaining because the seller can see you have a little bit more money, but not much. Opening a wallet full of cash on the street ruins your ability to haggle and makes you feel insecure. Don’t do it. Also, I advise one more thing. Keep a small amount of cash stored somewhere very secure in your apartment. Just half a million or so at minimum, just in case things ever do go awry and you need that emergency money to make calls or buy food or whatever. You never know when this might come in handy. If you ever have a Vietnamese girlfriend staying with you, even if you think you trust her, try not to reveal where you keep your cash if you can avoid it. Experience will make you the wiser in this regard, but possibly not before a few mistakes. Even some seemingly nice girls will leg it with $1000 if the opportunity arises. You will learn the hard way.

What about carrying my documents. Do I need my passport on me ?

No. Don’t carry your passport on you. You do need it quite a lot actually, but you don’t want to carry it around all the time. Have you ever lost your wallet and passport in a foreign country and been unable to prove your identity to anyone with having documents sent to you from back home over a period of a couple of weeks and then dealing with your embassy and trying to replace your passport ? It’s not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy. You could be eating dog food for weeks while waiting to get your passport and bank cards replaced in some situations (Remember that half million I told you to keep squirrelled away ? You’ll be thanking me for that advice right now). If your bank has a local presence, you can probably get a new ATM card issued in 48 hours. But do not expect to make any over the counter transactions. They are your bank in name only. They will not and cannot do any sort of transaction for you over the counter, because they’re the Vietnam branch of your bank. They’re really a separate entity with the same name. But they can normally issue you a new card at short notice, so be grateful for that. Your passport is very important in Vietnam. You cannot stay at any sort of hotel or apartment, or even rent so much as a TENT overnight without providing your passport, because the government needs to know where you are living at all times. When you first check into a hotel or apartment, they will take your passport and use the details to fill in a form which they will supply to the local police before the end of the next day. Failure for them to do so can result in them getting fined up to $5,000 so they won’t risk it. But you should expect your passport to be returned to you within 48 hours at the most, and if it’s not then ask for it. Some hotels might suggest they keep it for safe-keeping, but you’re going to need it. You can’t rent a motorbike, get a job, open a bank account, collect a letter from the Post Office or many other things without your passport. However, a photocopy is often as good as the real thing. They really just need to sight your photo, your home country, and your visa validity. If I can give you a valuable piece of advice it would be to scan a copy of all your important documents (including the visa sticker you get issued or any renewal stamps) and store it in your email account online. This is the ultimate peace of mind, knowing you have at least a printable copy of your documents that you can retrieve from any internet cafe. When you go to rent a motorbike in particular, they may want to keep your passport as surety. Don’t let them. Say “No, I need this for hotels/identification/police/schools”. Because you do. Realistically, you probably just need a copy for most of those things, but don’t let anyone hold onto your passport if you can possibly help it. If they insist, just refuse and go somewhere else if that’s an option. The reason a bike rental place wants it is that while it may be cheap per month to rent a bike, if you should fail to lock your bike up one day and it gets stolen, don’t be surprised if you are hit with a thousand dollars to replace it, even if you know the bike is not worth half that. So many will want to keep your passport, but don’t let them. Even if you have to pay a deposit, it’s preferable to letting them keep your passport. This is also a good reason to buy your bike. Having your motorbike stolen is tragic. But having it stolen and having to pay a thousand dollars to the rental company is way worse.

Can I sending and receiving money from overseas ? Can I get a local bank account ?

Ok, here you’re in for an unpleasant shock. You can receive money from overseas with absolute ease. Virtually every bank and convenience store is a Western Union agent. There are thousands of them all over the country, even in remote areas, so if you ever get stuck and need money wired from family, it’s a piece of cake. It will arrive virtually instantly (sometimes up to a 1-2 hour wait though) and the fee is minimal ($10 for a Western Union, payable by the sender), but you of course need to communicate precisely with the sender your ID details (your name has to be 100% identical to the way it is written in your passport and no abbreviations or deviations are tolerated) and they need to let you know the amount, in VND that you are to receive, otherwise expect a frustrating time. Here’s some advice for sending money overseas: forget it. It’s impossible. Money does not leave Vietnam. Ever. Under any circumstances, using any method. I’m not kidding. It is illegal for any company to provide you with the method to send money overseas for anything except an online credit card transaction. You can book flights online or whatever you want using your credit card, but you can absolutely forget about sending money out of the country. I have seen people beating their head against a brick wall screaming “There must be some way to send money to my family back home” but I assure you there is not. Honestly, your best bet is to go and buy some gold jewellery such as a ring and send that home. The purchasing of gold bullion has recently been outlawed, but jewellers quickly responded by issuing large rings of heavy gold in specific denominations. People like to hoard gold in Vietnam, I kid you not. But sending that overseas is about your only chance of sending currency bank home (and I certainly do not recommend this at all) so if you have child support to pay or something, consider making some arrangement for that before you leave. Having said all that, you can certainly get a local bank account. All you need is your passport and five minutes of your time. You will also be floored to find out what interest rate you can expect on a fixed-term deposit. If you happen to have 10 or 20 thousand dollars you can put into a fixed term deposit in Vietnam, you can expect to receive as much as 12% interest or better on it, calculated and compounded daily and paid monthly (often into a more accessible account), so if you have that sort of money, you can keep it in the bank and literally live off the interest. I haven’t done this myself, but I have it on very good authority from people that I’ve met that the term deposit rates are quite staggering, while credit rates are actually very low, though don’t expect to get credit unless you’re local or a permanent resident. And no, you can’t link a Vietnamese bank account to PayPal. PayPal isn’t blocked, and it’s not illegal to use it, but you can’t fund it from a Vietnamese bank account so forget that notion.

So how do I get a teaching job ?

Ahhh, so we’ve got to that finally and you want to teach do you ? I didn’t want to teach when I first went to Vietnam. I met so many stupid, uneducated backpackers who were living off of their teaching job that I felt it was a job for idiots with no other skill, but I quickly realised that my more professional skills were simply not in demand in Vietnam, or at least very poorly paid. Teaching typically nets you $15-17 USD an hour with relative ease although some jobs pay only $12 an hour or less, and this is fair enough if the conditions are good. Considering that this is around double the American minimum wage, and the cost of living is drastically lower, you can understand why people do it. It’s very well rewarded and requires very minimal hours. You will teach for 2-3 hours maximum per day at a private school (typically in the evenings except on Sunday when it will be mornings as Sunday night is family time) and if you do the math you will quickly realise that you can easily pay for your accommodation, your living expenses and your entertainment just by teaching for a few hours a day if you choose to live reasonably modestly. This leaves you a lot of free time to learn the local language, meet people, take photographs, read books, take a siesta every day, or spend all your free time on Facebook. That is ultimately why the whole “Teaching in Vietnam” gig is so good. If you go to another South East Asian country you might get paid a fraction of this and have a higher cost of living. Vietnam truly pays one of the best teaching salaries for foreigners compared to the cost of living of any country I know of. So how do you find a job ? Ask another teacher ! If someone is living full time in Vietnam, the chances are they are a teacher. Ask them the names of a few schools and then look up the addresses and just turn up at the reception with a simple CV in hand giving your personal details, your educational background, and maybe something to make you stand out a little and smile broadly and say “I am an English teacher. Here is my CV” and bow (only a little, Vietnam isn’t a “bowing” country as a rule) politely a little bit. The reception staff will smile back and twitter amongst themselves and reply “Thank you. Where are you from ?” and some other vague pleasantries. It’s not uncommon if they have an opening to say “Wait. I will get the director. He will interview you now”. Don’t be shocked if the director even says “I have a spare class. Please come in and do a demonstration” as it’s happened to me more than once. You’re normally expected to do an unpaid demonstration class before being hired. At more formal schools it’s often with the staff pretending to be students, but at smaller schools you will be literally thrown into a class full of children and told “Just introduce yourself, chat to them and do whatever you want for 30 minutes”. Sometimes they don’t even sit in on the class. As long as you walk in confident and smiling and you engage the kids and emerge in one piece, you have a job. If there’s not a vacancy available right now, don’t worry, one soon will be, and when they say “We’ll get back to you”, they mean it. You will likely get a text message maybe a week later saying “We have a class for you tomorrow at this address. Can you come ?”. Your biggest battle will be finding the school, not the lesson itself. But you do get thrown in the deep end. The majority of ESL teaching in Vietnam is completely without books or provided lesson plans. Every school is different. Sometimes you are just there to play games with young kids. Other times you are chatting to adults with very limited English. Sometimes you have a teacher’s assistant and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have a “theme” for your lesson and sometimes it’s all up to you. The best thing to do is talk to other ESL teachers at street bars and ask them “So what do YOU do in class ?” and they will give you tips on the best games to play, the best way to deal with unruly students and all the rest. Take notes. Write ideas down and take them to class. It’s an amazing learning experience if you haven’t taught ESL before. You may fumble and you may be fired, but don’t worry, there’s hundreds more schools to choose from and being fired from one job doesn’t mean you won’t be great at the next one because all schools have different methods and expect different things from their ESL teachers. The only real requirement is that you can handle children. Some people think they can do it but then find it a nightmare and run away after a week saying “Never again”, while sometimes the most unlikely seeming people can turn out to be some of the best teachers ever. Regardless, despite the fact that you are not really “teaching” in the sense that you don’t teach grammar or punctuation or anything like that (pronunciation is the most important thing that you will be teaching), it is one of the most rewarding jobs I personally have ever done, because when the students enjoy it, YOU enjoy it, and it’s quite hard to leave at the end of your daily schedule without a smile on your face, even if you royally made a fool of yourself, which you surely will from time to time.

So what’s YOUR daily budget ?

Well, I live with my wife now in a room for rent overlooking the main tourist area because I’m a writer and I like to live among the rich, vibrant street culture of tourists and locals intermingling. I could live further out of town for more cheaply if I desired, and I could spend less if I desired. I am neither a scroogish backpacker nor a rich tourist but somewhere in the middle. But suffice to say, if you cannot live for around about $25 USD a day at minimum, then you are either not trying very hard or you are having too good a time. For $10 a day you can rent a room on the main street (by the month), for $10 a day you can easily feed yourself even on foreign food, and fuel for your bike would barely cost you 50 cents a day even if you had to drive all the way across town and back for work. Throw in $5 a day for souvenirs and beer and you have barely reached the giddy heights of $25/day. Of course this is just an average I try to maintain. I also like to go places with friends and sometimes visit more expensive, indoor bars or outdoor restaurants and buy the odd cocktail or take my wife and I for pizza or for a trip to the wildlife parks just to the north of Saigon, but none of these things are very expensive, so $25 a day is the average I try to strive for, feeding two people and living a happy and interesting life in the inner city of the Saigon. You can no doubt do it cheaper, and you certainly have to sometimes when work gets thin and you have unexpected expenses come up such as New Year holidays or new iPhones, but excluding those things, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable budget for a moderately extravagant “teacher’s salary” lifestyle in Saigon.

Sounds great !

Yes, I know right ? So what are you waiting for ? Get off your bum and get yourself to the Orient ! One way to Vietnam… don’t think about it or plan it because you have no idea what you’re doing and you’ll change your mind… just do it with the aid of my helpful advice and experience and figure it all out when you arrive ! See you at the street bar for a beer !


I am a freelance journalist and travel writer. I write this information on the basis of my own personal experience. I may sound like I am evangelising about the virtues of moral Vietnam and downplaying any bad aspects and this may be true. If you are naive, you will have bad experiences. But take them in your stride and move on. Sometimes you will get robbed and ripped off. You will most likely run home with your tail between your legs after your first stay. But you will be back, determined to give it another go. And every time you come back, you will be armed with more experience and more determination. It’s not easy for a foreigner to carve out a new life in South East Asia, but if you give it your best shot, the rewards are massive and even if you do give it up and go home, you will go home a richer person with a whole new perspective on life. But don’t go there and whinge. In Vietnam we have a saying when people talk about how things work – “TIV” or “This Is Vietnam”. It is said with a shrug, especially to or among foreigners. It means “Hey. Things operate differently here. Not everything works the way you think it should or the way it does back home. This Is Vietnam and life is different here. Accept it, don’t criticise it”. Sometimes, some of the rules may seem stupid or backward to you, but your opinion doesn’t really matter because you’re not from here. Laws change slowly and Vietnam is very resistant to changes which could drastically affect their culture. These are my opinions because I choose to embrace the way Vietnam works. There are times when it makes me sigh too, but coming here is a choice and you should try your best to embrace the way of life. Don’t you dare let me catch you talking poorly of Vietnamese culture or people around me, because you’ll get a good serve of abuse and told to go back to where you came from. I’m a white Australian but I’ve lived in various countries around the world and I quite like Vietnam. If you don’t, don’t stay there. If you don’t like my opinions, don’t listen to them. But if you want to learn from my experience and stories then I hope you enjoy them. While I believe everything I state to be correct to the best of my knowledge I make no representations as to the accuracy or up-to-date nature of this information. Any companies or businesses mentioned are purely at my discretion and represent no formal endorsement of any kind. You should not consider this information legal advice and any actions you take which could lead to prosecution, sickness or danger to your personal safety are purely at your own risk. If you wish to contact me regarding anything I’ve written or your wish to republish this information in whole or part then you may contact me at the following address:

2 Responses to Guide to living and working in Vietnam

  1. Angry Mike says:


    Just wanted to thank you for the pleasant read. Have been here for a month now, flying back to denmark tomorrow but really want to stay. Travelling with my wife and friends and their kids, so its not just my decision. We have cats at home, and work but I found your site because some crazy commonwealth atm down ho tung mau screwed my card over and made me worry about scamming, so I googled the shit out of it. No worries tho, money is easy. We took the haul from Hanoi down through the coastal side, weve been to cambodia and thailand some years ago and thought “how different can it be” and boy were we proven complete nincumpoops. This is a crazy and delightful country completely its own and so peaceful and inviting. Oh I digress. Thanks for your storytelling and the best of luck. We will be back. /michael.

  2. feelmyslim says:

    Thanks for this great encouragement, will be travelling this this month

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