Ways To Adjust To Life Abroad

Moving to another country can be tough. The environment, food, air quality, and mannerisms can be different than what you’re used to. This is especially the case when moving from a western to an eastern country and vice versa. After 10 months of living in Vietnam, I am officially adjusted and can’t imagine my life any different. Most of it has been good, but some of it has been really dang hard. I’ve compiled a list of a few things that helped me during my adjustment period while living abroad: 

Try learning the language

Although it’s pretty easy to get by in bigger cities without knowing any of the language, knowing even a little bit can completely change your experience while there. This is especially the case in Vietnam, where a handful of the Vietnamese don’t know much English besides a few simple words or phrases. Knowing the language makes it so much easier to find more local spots and friends. It also never fails to put a smile on someone’s face when I attempt to speak to them in Vietnamese (or even a belly-laugh as they ask “are you trying to speak Vietnamese to me?” when I completely botch what I am trying to say).

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Attend as many events and classes you can

Especially in bigger expat hubs like Ho Chi Minh City, there are always events and classes going on to meet other people. Even just getting out of the house can help with the initial homesickness. There are several things you can go to such as yoga classes, live music, city clean-ups, drag queen shows, and my personal favorite: taco cook-offs! Put yourself out there and make friends both local and foreign. Foreign friends are much needed, but really what’s the point of moving abroad/traveling if not to meet locals, listen to their stories, and get to know their culture? The Vietnamese friends that I have made are some of the most generous, kind-hearted, and fun people I have met. They are always more than happy to tell me about their country and show me all of the good spots to eat and shop.

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Living a balanced life

“Everything is a balance” – isn’t this what people always say? Well, they’re right. For the first few months living abroad my life was consumed with work and that’s all I really had time for. I was constantly exhausted and my depression was creeping in. I was unhealthy mentally and physically, as I didn’t make time for my physical health, social life, and most importantly – “me time”. After evaluating what I really needed, I decided to cut back my working hours and really focus on myself. I noticed such a difference in just a few days after making this adjustment.

Practice self-care

Going along with the above, making time for yourself is so so important! Make sure to fit things into your schedule that refresh you, relieve stress, and bring joy. Every morning before work, I wake up 30 minutes early to meditate, stretch, or journal. All of these things calm my mind and make me feel energized for the rest of the day. Having a healthy lifestyle such as eating well and exercising regularly has a tremendous effect on how someone feels physically and mentally. Other good self-care activities can consist of massages, facials, creating art, reading, and much more. Find what works for you and make sure to incorporate it into your schedule whether it’s daily or weekly. 

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Research research research

I did so much research before moving overseas and I can’t stress enough how much it helped me. Any free time I had I was reading blogs, watching videos, and talking to expats about their experiences and advice. Although culture shock is inevitable, I was able to understand/empathize with the differences that maybe would have caused frustration if otherwise. I understood the currency, knew how to get around, what food to try, and simple Vietnamese phrases that I would need to know.

Give it time

It sounds so simple, but it’s actually pretty difficult to practice patience when things get rough. I’ve been in love with Vietnam since day 1, but the first few months were like a rollercoaster of emotions. I was constantly sick as my body was adjusting to the environment and pollution, exhausted from long working hours, and easily irritated at the smallest of things because I was so worn out mentally and physically. I knew I would never go home that quick, but the thought occasionally popped into my head on how easy it would be back in the States. BUT MAN am I glad that I just gave it time because all of those things have past and now I’ve never been happier.

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Although adjusting to life abroad can be hard, it’s one of the most fun and exciting things! You’re constantly being challenged and exposed to new things. I’d love to hear your stories about your big move overseas!

Until next time,

Hales

Q and A: Teaching English In Vietnam

I had jokingly typed into Google “how to teach English abroad” and thought it was the most far-fetched thing ever… Until I realized it wasn’t! If you’re even slightly thinking about teaching English, just DO IT! Making the decision to uproot your life and move overseas is scary, but what’s scarier is the regret I knew I would have for the rest of my life if I hadn’t taken the jump.

Here is a list of questions I am frequently asked about teaching English in Vietnam:

What qualifications do I need?

In order to obtain a work permit, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree (in any field) and a TEFL/CELTA/TESOL certificate. Taking a course to get your teaching certificate gives hands-on experience and makes you more attractive to potential employers. Here is the link to my blog post talking about my TEFL course experience. Although you don’t necessarily need a degree to teach English in Vietnam, you will have less job options and possibly a lower pay (you would also risk working here illegally, but that is the case for many expats who live in Vietnam).

What organization did you go through?

There are numerous organizations to choose from, but I chose International TEFL Academy (ITA). They have connections around the world and are highly respected. The first step is to call and get set up with an advisor. Your advisor will help you figure out which TEFL course to enroll in, find a job, and get ready for your big move abroad. Here is the link to ITA’s website (if you call or sign up for a course through ITA, please let them know that I referred you).

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What documents do I need for a work permit?

-Degree in any field (original document)

-TEFL/CELTA/TESOL certificate (original document)

-Background check (within the last 6 months)

-Health check (this can be done in Vietnam)

-Copies of your passport and visa, along with 2 passport photos

**Please note that your degree and background check will need to be notarized and authenticated. US citizens are able to do this at the embassy in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, but some countries are not able to do this in Vietnam. Before you come research your country specific information!

Should I find a job beforehand?

Although most places prefer in-person hires, there are some that will hire you before arriving in Vietnam. That being said, I would still highly recommend waiting until you get to Vietnam before finding a job. This will not only give you more options, but will give you the opportunity to check out the school and leadership before accepting a position.

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What type of school should I work for?

There are quite a few options when it comes to choosing a school in Vietnam. Many English teachers who come to Vietnam work at language centers. Teachers at language centers typically work in the evenings during the week and all day on the weekends (around 20-25 hours a week plus lesson planning time). The hours are like this because most language center students have school or work during the day. The typical class size is around 15-25 students. Another valid option is public schools. Teachers who work at public schools usually work week days between 7 AM – 5 PM (hours vary between these times as some periods you may not have class) and Saturday mornings. The class sizes for public schools are normally about 40 students. I personally work for a private kindergarten where full-time hours are from 8 AM – 5 PM with a 2-hour lunch/nap break from 12 – 2 PM. The ages at most kindergartens range from 18 months – 6 years old.  If you have a degree in education then you are qualified to work at an international school, which has a higher pay.

What are the start-up costs?

Start-up costs include any expenses you may have the first 2-3 months before getting a paycheck. I would recommend bringing around $1,500 – $2,000 USD to be safe. Typical expenses during this time are rent, food, transportation, and toiletries. Keep in mind that many landlords in Vietnam require a 3-month deposit (my roommates and I were able to talk our landlord into a 1-month deposit and lower monthly rent – try to negotiate). Start-up costs also will depend on the area you live and lifestyle. Living closer to the city center and spending money on more Western items will be significantly more expensive than if you lived more locally. For example, a Western meal can be around $10 while a Vietnamese meal can be less than $2.

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How is the pay compared to cost of living?

The pay for an English teacher in Vietnam all depends on the teacher’s qualifications and the school they work for. Native English speakers (citizens of the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and South Africa) with a degree and teaching certificate can make roughly $1,200 – $2,000 USD per month. This money goes a long way since Vietnam’s cost of living is so low. Most people spend around $600 – $1,000 USD per month in Vietnam. This allows one to live comfortably, travel often, and even save money. Personally, I am able to finish work at noon, go to a personal trainer twice a week, travel once a month, and have multiple spa days! In America, this would literally be impossible for me to do.

Teaching English allows you to change lives, explore other cultures, and grow as a person. It has truly been an amazing experience so far and I’d love to help others who wish to do the same! If you would like more information about living / teaching abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

A Trip To The Ancient City – Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is rich in history, culture, and character. I have yet to see another city like it. I was weary to spend my 4-day weekend in yet another big city, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Although it’s the capital of Vietnam and a large city, it has an amazing vibe. There’s plenty of greenery covering the streets and buildings. You can also easily drive about 20 minutes outside of the city and be surrounded by tranquil countryside. The architecture in Hanoi has a French influence, making the Vietnamese/French style buildings aesthetically pleasing. Here are some of the things I did during my weekend trip to the ancient city of Hanoi, Vietnam:

Halong Bay

Halong Bay isn’t in Hanoi, but seeing as it’s only a few hours drive outside of the city, I don’t think anyone should take a trip to Hanoi without visiting Halong Bay. It’s emerald waters is comprised of thousands of limestone islands topped with beautiful rainforests. I’ve heard hit or miss reviews on Halong Bay, but my personal experience was very good. Halong Bay was named one of the world’s natural wonders, and for good reason – it is breath-taking. Four hours and a couple bus, boat, and ferry rides later, we finally made it on our cruise. It was very peaceful sitting on our boat while we floated through Halong Bay. We also got to experience the bay and limestone islands closer up by going kayaking. On the way to get to our accommodation for the night, we were able to watch the sunrise on a private boat. We stayed on Cat Ong island, which is a small private island just a 20-minute boat ride from Cat Ba Island. The next day was more relaxing, as we got to enjoy our morning on the beach and took a short hike to see a panoramic view of Halong Bay. The other option we were given was to go on a hike through Cat Ba National Park, which I aim to do my next time around. I will say, certain parts of Halong Bay are very touristy, but we were lucky enough to go with a company that strays away from the busier parts (we went through Camillia Cruise). My friend and I also ventured off while kayaking to an area most people don’t go, where we found a lot of trash floating in the water. It was definitely eye-opening to see how far Vietnam still has to go in becoming more environmentally conscious (and made me more aware of my waste production as well). All-in-all, it was an amazing visit to Halong Bay.

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The view of Halong Bay from our cruise

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is located in the Ba Dinh Square of Hanoi. It holds the embalmed remains of Ho Chi Minh, attracting crowds of people every day. It’s only open for a few hours each day, typically in the morning. Something also to note is that for about two months out of the year Ho Chi Minh’s body is shipped to Russia to be touched up. I would suggest getting there early, as the line gets extremely long. Typically the wait is supposed to be around 1-2 hours, but I tried to go on a holiday weekend where the line stretched to be about 3-4 hours. It’s safe to say that I decided to just view the Mausoleum from the outside this time around.

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Temple of Literature and National University

The Temple of Literature and National University was constructed in the year 1070 and was the first university in Vietnam. It honors Vietnam’s finest scholars and signifies the beginning of a uniform educational system in Vietnam. Students used to be able to come and rub one of the turtle statues’ heads in order to gain good luck on an upcoming exam, but in order to preserve the statues, touching them is now prohibitted. Many people also come here to take graduation photos, as it makes for a picturesque background (there were 3 different groups taking photos when I went). It is a very big tourist attraction, so you should come early in the morning.

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Long Bien Bridge

Long Bien Bridge was one of the four greatest bridges in the world at the time it was built. It was bombed many times by air attacks by the American army, which destroyed many spans of the bridge. The spans still remaining today remind us of an unforgettable past. The bridge has become a living historical relic. You can walk along the bridge where there are street vendors, views of banana fields, and the Red River. Tourists will also hop onto the train tracks for a picture, but you have to be careful as a train still runs through.

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Train Street

This is by far one of my favorite things I did during my trip to Hanoi. You can simply type ‘train street’ into Grab and your driver will more than likely know where to go. At first glance, it’s just a small residential area with train tracks where the street should be. As you keep walking, there are various cafés that offer tables around the tracks to watch the train pass through. The shop owners set tables and chairs on the tracks for people to sit, eat, and enjoy the atmosphere. Like clockwork, when it’s time for the train to come people pick everything off the tracks and move to the side to watch it go by. Afterwards, everyone goes back to what they were doing: putting the tables back on the tracks, eating, and taking photos. It really is amazing to watch. There are a few times the train passes through the area each day. We decided to go to the 1:15 PM time, but came an hour early to take photos and find a café to settle in at. We enjoyed the experience so much that we stayed for the next train at 2:30 PM! It’s definitely a can’t miss when visiting Hanoi and less touristy than the other places we visited.

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Hoan Kiem Lake

The legend behind Hoan Kiem Lake is that in 1428, Emperor Le Loi obtained a magical sword from the Dragon King to fight against the Chinese oppressors. After the successful battle against the Chinese invaders, Emperor Le Loi visited the lake again. He was boating through the water when a giant golden turtle appeared. The turtle explained that he was sent by his master, the Dragon King, to retrieve the sword from Le Loi. The Emperor returned the sword to the turtle, who swam back beneath the green waters.

Hoan Kiem Lake is the symbol of this elegant and charming ancient city. Being at the center of Hanoi’s historic district, Hoan Kiem has become a huge gathering spot. Amidst the lake is Turtle Tower, The Huc Bridge, and Ngoc Son Temple. Early in the morning the streets are blocked off from automobiles and the locals come to run and do Tai Chi. It is very peaceful as there aren’t many tourists about yet, so it is nice to grab some coffee and take a walk around the lake. Hoan Kiem Lake is located in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, where later in the day there will be street performers, vendors, and markets all around. A perfect place to enjoy the lake and some performances is at The Note Coffee (located at the northwest corner of Hoan Kiem Lake). This coffee shop is covered in little notes from people who have come from all over the world.

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The Note Coffee

West Lake

Located in Tay Ho District, West Lake is a nice place to go in order to get out of the hustle and bustle of Old Quarter. You can walk around the lake while stopping to get some bò bía, which consists of coconut and honeycomb wrapped into a roll by flat pancakes. Here you can also visit the Trấn Quốc Pagoda or rent a cute swan paddle boat. There are also various places to grab a drink or bite to eat around the lake.

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Trấn Quốc Pagoda

Cafe Giảng

Cafe Giảng was founded in 1946 and most famous for its cà phê trứng (egg coffee). If you haven’t had egg coffee yet (or even if you have) this is the perfect place to try it. Its chief ingredients are egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese. The founder of Cafe Giảng developed the recipe in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam, so he used egg yolks to replace it. The sweet egg yolk taste and bold coffee flavors balance each other out perfectly. It gets packed with locals and tourists, so coming early will not only be a great start to your day but save you the headache of waiting for a table.

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Egg coffee with chocolate

St. Joseph’s Cathedral

St. Joseph’s Cathedral was constructed and completed in 1886. Its beautiful architecture is magnificent to look at. Located directly outside of it is a statue of Mother Maria. A good place to eat with an incredible view of the Cathedral is La Place.

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The view of St. Joseph’s Cathedral from La Place

Places to eat:

  • The Hanoi Social Club
  • La Place
  • Nhà Hàng Ngon
  • Home Hanoi Restaurant

Places to stay:

  • Annie’s Little HaNoi
    • 9 Ngõ Hài Tượng, Hàng Buồm, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội
  • Gecko
    • 85 Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội

If you have any questions about my trip to Hanoi or life abroad, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

52 Places To Eat In Ho Chi Minh City

(*) = my top picks

Breakfast:

1. The Running Bean

  • Order. the. french. toast.
  • 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Quận 1

2. Saigon Bagel (*)

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 2
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Salmon Gravlox Bagel

3. The Hungry Pig

  • They are most known for their breakfast, but offer lunch and dinner options as well.
  • 144 Cống Quỳnh, Quận 1

4. Cork & Fork

  • A small French restaurant that offers sweet and savory crepes, paninis, and wine.
  • 3/2 Đề Thám, Quận 1

5. L’Usine

  • Multiple locations in District 1

Vietnamese:

6. Quán Út Hương (*)

  • They have a large menu filled with various Vietnamese meals such as mì xào, bột chiên, rice dishes, and much more. They have two shops across the road from each other: one for take-away orders (with some seating) and the other for sit-down meals. Warning: the service here is terrible, but the food is cheap and good!
  • TK31/7 Nguyễn Cảnh Chân, Quận 1
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Mì xào trứng

7. Vo Roof Garden 

  • A beautifully decorated restaurant with a rooftop view of Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street.
  • 7th floor, 44 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1
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Fried fish filet with green mango and basil sauce

8. Cậu Ba Quán (*)

  • Various Vietnamese seafood dishes with vegetarian options (the tofu is highly recommended). If you are in Hồ Chí Minh, you cannot leave without stopping here!
  • 85 Hoàng Sa, Quận 1
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Mì xào hải sản

9. Cơm Tấm 577

  • 577 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Quận 3

10. Bánh Canh Ghẹ Chicharito

  • Good bánh mì. Pro tip: I notice that the food is better around dinner time, rather than lunch.
  • 17 Nguyễn Cảnh Chân, Quận 1

11. Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn

  • 103 Ngô Quyền, Quận 5
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Bánh xèo

12. Bánh Tráng Nướng in Chợ Hoa Hồ Thị Kỷ

  • This is not the exact address. It is a small food stall located within Chợ Hoa Hồ Thị Kỷ (flower night market).
  • Hẻm 52 Hồ Thị Kỷ, Quận 10
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Bánh tráng nướng (aka Vietnamese pizza)

13. Quán Lẩu Cá Kèo Bà Huyện 2 (*)

  • Very good and a little less pricey than the fancier hot pot places.
  • 10 Nguyễn Thông, Quận 3
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Hot pot

14. Bún Thịt Nướng KK 

  • Hẻm 51 Cao Thắng, Quận 3

15. Bún Thịt Nướng Cây Xoài 

  • 1238 Quang Trung, Gò Vấp
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Bún thịt nướng (minus the pork)

16. Lò Bánh Mì Hà Nội Cúc Phương 

  • Good and very cheap bánh mì and bánh bao.
  • 61/5 Phạm Văn Chiêu, Gò Vấp

Vegetarian:

17. Mãn Tự Vegan 

  • Free vegan buffet, all that the owner asks is you make a donation as you are leaving (however big or small). It’s a small restaurant and does get extremely crowded, but the experience, food, and friendly staff make it worth it.
  • 14/2 Tôn Thất Đạm, Quận 1

18. Pi Vegetarian Bistro (*)

  • 19 Võ Văn Tần, Quận 3
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Pumpkin curry

19. Hum Vegetarian 

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 3

20. Prem Bistro & Café (*)

  • 204 Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Quận 3

21. Buddha Chay

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 5

22. 3LA Chay

  • 32A Cao Bá Nhạ, Quận 1

23. Rou Vegetarian 

  • 37B Cô Bắc, Quận 1

24. Chay Phương Mai

  • 86F Võ Thị Sáu, Quận 1
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Pad thai

24. El Cafe International Vegetarian Food

  • 1 Bis Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Quận 1

English:

26. Union Jack’s Fish & Chips (*)

  • 130-1 Tôn Thất Đạm, Quận 1
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Veggie bangers & mash

American:

27. Burger Joint Saigon (*)

  • 136 Nguyễn Thái Học, Quận 1

28. Journey’s Sandwich Café

  • 21 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, Quận 1
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Black bean sweet potato burger

Sushi:

29. Poké Saigon (*)

  • It’s not exactly sushi and it’s Hawaiian, but it’s basically sushi in a bowl so I’m throwing it under this category. It’s the best poké I’ve had and the staff that work here are incredible.
  • 2nd floor of The Café Apartment, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1

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30. Sakura Việt Nam

  • 505 Sư Vạn Hạnh, Quận 10

31. Sushi 79

  • 2nd floor of The Café Apartment, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1

32. Sushi M – H (*)

  • Side of the road, cheap, and delicious sushi shop.
  • 193 Đường Nguyễn Văn Cừ, Quận 5

33. TL Sushi 

  • 34 Đường số 45, Quận Gò Vấp

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34. Yen Sushi & Sake Pub 

  • Locations in Districts 1, 3, and 7

Italian:

35. Pendolasco 

  • 36 Tống Hữu Định, Quận 2
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Squid ink tortellini stuffed with shrimp

36. Pizza 4P’s (*)

  • Locations in Districts 1, 2, 3, and 7
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Half salmon miso & half margherita pizza

37. Pizza Company 

  • It’s a chain restaurant across Southeast Asia and the inside is nothing special, but the pizza is actually very good and always my go-to.
  • Multiple locations in HCMC

38. Phở Ông Tây (*)

  • Great western pasta dishes.
  • 17 Quốc Hương, Quận 2

Korean BBQ:

39. Lò Nướng Đá

  • 63 Phạm Văn Chiêu, Gò Vấp
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Vegetable skewers

Mexican:

40. La Fiesta! (*)

  • Amazing food and staff. There’s always a coupon for a free margarita online and you get a free lemon tequila shot when you get your bill. Pro tip: try the queso mac & cheese.
  • 33 Đặng Thị Nhu, Quận 1

41. A Simple Place (*)

  • 84 Quốc Hương, Quận 2

42. Sancho’s 

  • 207 Bùi Viện, Quận 1

43. Taco Leo 

  • A more healthy Mexican option.
  • 20 Cao Bá Nhạ, Quận 1

Indian:

44. Bollywood Indian Restaurant & Bar (*)

  • 207 Bùi Viện, Quận 1
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Dal tadka

Other:

45. Vintage Emporium 

  • Locations in Districts 1 and 2

46. Bến Thành Street Food Market 

  • There are various food stalls offering different types of food from around the world – Vietnamese, Indian, German, Thai, etc.
  • 26-28-30 Thủ Khoa Huân, Quận 1
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Egg biryani from an Indian food stall

47. The Maker (*)

  • 3rd floor of The Café Apartment, 42 Nguyễn Huệ, Quận 1
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Spaghetti arrabbiata

48. Chanh Bistro Rooftop 

  • Multiple locations in District 1

Dessert:

49. Ca Cao Dừa 136 (*)

  • There are various things on the menu, but the ca cao dừa is a must-try and only 17k.
  • 136/1 Nguyễn Tri Phương, Quận 5
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Ca cao dừa (coconut ice cream with cocoa powder)

50. Maison Marou (*)

  • 167-169, Calmette, Quận 1

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51. Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart 

  • This place is known for their cheese tarts, but an unusual (and somehow good) option from the menu is cheese ice cream. They also have durian and chocolate cheese flavors.
  • Multiple locations in District 1
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Cheese ice cream

52. Uncle Lu’s Cheesecake 

  • Just a heads up – it’s not your typical cheesecake, as it has the texture more of like angel food cake. Nonetheless, it is delicious (especially with milk poured over it).
  • 25 Đường Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, Quận 1

 

Until next time,

Hales

Pros Of Being An Expat In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Almost 7 months ago I made Hồ Chí Minh my home and it has been spoiling me ever since. Not every day is a bed of roses, but Việt Nam has enriched me with so many new experiences and growing opportunities that I will forever be grateful for.

Over the last few years, Hồ Chí Minh’s expat community has grown immensely, and continues to do so. Here are a few reasons why I, as well as many other expats, have chosen Hồ Chí Minh as a second home:

Lifestyle

One of the main things that bring aspiring English teachers to Việt Nam is the low working hours for good pay. A typical work week for English teachers is around 20 – 25 hours, giving plenty of free time. The pay is also high compared to the low cost of living, which allows for a comfortable lifestyle, frequent travel, and a little money left over for savings.

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Travel

With Hồ Chí Minh containing one of Việt Nam’s main airports, it is cheap and easy to travel within Việt Nam and Southeast Asia. There are many beautiful places in Việt Nam to travel to that are just a quick bus or plane ride away. International travel is also fairly cheaper here than it was in the US. It’s easy enough to book a last minute plane ticket to Malaysia without breaking the bank. Of course, this all depends on the type of traveler you are. If you’re wanting to stay in a nice resort it’s going to be pricey, but if you’re down with hostels then it can be very cheap. After moving to Southeast Asia and seeing the beauty it has to offer, my bucket list of destinations has expanded drastically (RIP to my bank account).

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Cheap Beauty Treatments

Back in the US I was hardly ever able to have a spa day, as it’s ridiculously overpriced (along with basically everything else in the States). Luckily, ‘Nam has blessed me with all things cheap – massages, facials, nails, the works. Don’t get me wrong, there are many expensive places here too, but why would I go to those when I can get a killer gel mani / pedi for 350,000 VND? Ladies, are you ready to move here yet?

There’s Always Something To Do

Hồ Chí Minh is a big city packed with millions of people, which means it’s always filled with things to do. There are night markets, DIY classes, and various shows. My favorite Friday night outing has been going to the past 2 Sofar Sounds shows. Seriously, amazing. I have a love / hate relationship with Bui Vien, but it’s definitely a must-see as it’s filled with various bars, clubs, and restaurants! If none of those do it for you, there are always the tourist hot spots like The Café Apartment, Post Office, or War Remnants Museum.

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Before my second Sofar Sounds show. They discourage having phones out during performances, so it’s a nice way to disconnect and relax.

The Unreal Coffee Scene

Việt Nam is the perfect place for coffee lovers, as it’s one of the world’s largest coffee exporters. Whether it’s the famous cà phê sữa đá, drip coffee, avocado coffee, egg coffee, coconut coffee – you name it, Việt Nam has it all. There are at least 5 coffee shops on every street and most of them are so cute and offer a unique experience.

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Shelter Coffee & Tea – one of my new favorite coffee shop finds. Avocado coffee (left) and cà phê sữa đá (right)

Food

Don’t worry, Hồ Chí Minh has most western food to satisfy your cravings (if you find Ranch though, please hmu), but the real deal is how delicious and underrated Vietnamese food is. There’s nothing like sitting on a small stool on the side of a road eating a plate of cơm tấm. If you can tell me where I can find better bún thịt nướng or bánh mì, that’s the day I will leave Việt Nam. On top of how amazing the food is, I can eat most meals for less than $1 or $2 USD. There’s no beating it, really.

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Bánh tráng nướng (Vietnamese Pizza)

If you have any questions on my life as an expat in Hồ Chí Minh, please feel free to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

The Gem Of Central Vietnam – Da Nang

One of Central Việt Nam’s many gems – Đà Nẵng. It is filled with beauty, adventure, and culture. I left Đà Nẵng with no doubt in my mind that I would be back. It has a little something for any type of person: whether you’re a city, beach, or mountain lover. Here are the things I did during my trip to Đà Nẵng, Việt Nam:

The Dragon Bridge

If you are planning a trip to Đà Nẵng, be sure to plan it around a Saturday or Sunday to ensure that you don’t miss the show at Dragon Bridge. The Dragon Bridge itself is really neat, but at 9 PM every weekend it spits fire and water. I’m. Sold. While you’re waiting for the show you can walk along the river, get dinner, and watch street performances.

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The Dragon Bridge in Đà Nẵng, Việt Nam.

Golden Bridge in Bà Nà Hills

If you’re coming to Central Việt Nam, you can’t not take a short trip to Bà Nà Hills and see the Golden Bridge. I was skeptical at first, especially since I was visiting during the cold and rainy season, but it really is amazing – sunny or not. On a sunny day, you will have a view of Bà Nà Hills from the bridge. I went on a cloudy day so I did not have a view, but it did feel like I was floating on clouds. Even though I didn’t have a view at the top of the mountain, I still had a beautiful one while riding up in a cable car. If you’re worried about transportation to Bà Nà Hills from Đà Nẵng, don’t. It was very easy to book a Grab there and my driver and I ended up swapping numbers so he just parked and waited for me to get done – easy enough.

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One of the two hands of Golden Bridge.
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My view from the cable car ride to the top of the mountain.

Mỹ Khê Beach

I can honestly say that this was the best beach experience I have ever had. Since the Vietnamese either avoid being outside midday or keep themselves covered to avoid tanning, the beach was pretty much empty. There were only a few tourists, some fishermen, and me. The beach is clean and you have a beautiful view of Sơn Trà Mountain and Lady Buddha watching over you.

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Mỹ Khê Beach – it was a cloudy day, but having the beach basically to myself made up for it.

Marble Mountain

I went through a tour group called HomeTown Free Tour for my visit to Marble Mountain. It’s a group of University students who volunteer as tour guides in order to practice their English – and it’s free! A tour guide from HomeTown picked me up from my hotel and took me to Marble Mountain. She was able to explain the elements of the mountain to me, including many facts about Buddhism. For those who don’t know, Marble Mountain is one of Đà Nẵng’s most popular attractions. I only had time to visit one of the five mountains, but I will definitely be back to visit the other four. There is a cave entrance leading into the mountain and inside contains many Buddhist shrines. There are stairs that lead to ‘hell’ with multiple displays showing punishment for each wrongdoing. There are also stairs that lead to ‘heaven.’ The stairs to ‘heaven’ are very steep and can be slick if it has rained, but they are well worth the climb as they lead to a beautiful view.

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The steep stairs leading to ‘heaven.’

Linh Ứng

I went with a guide from HomeTown Free Tour to visit Linh Ứng as well. She took me on a drive through the winding road of Sơn Trà Mountain, where you’re able to see the ocean and all of Đà Nẵng. I unfortunately didn’t see any monkeys while driving along the road, but have been told they are pretty common (it is also nicknamed ‘Monkey Mountain’). Once we got to Linh Ứng I was in awe. The pagodas are filled with mesmerizing shrines and people who have come from all over the world to worship. There is a beautiful garden, courtyard, and of course – the Lady Buddha. Lady Buddha is said to be facing the ocean as to keep the local fisherman safe from harm and is one of the three Lady Buddhas located in Đà Nẵng. This site is so full of history and culture, it would be easy to spend hours here.

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The entrance to Linh Ứng.

Spa Day

If you want to have the best spa day of your life for dirt cheap, Việt Nam is your place. I started my day off at Herbal Spa with a massage and facial. It was the most relaxing few hours and only cost $41 USD. I then headed to Beachside Nails to get a gel manicure and pedicure for only $15 stinking USD. That’s a total of $56 USD for a full day of pampering! You won’t hear any complaints from me.

Places to eat:

  • Bà Mua for some yummy mỳ quảng – I got mỳ quảng cá lóc (mỳ quảng noodles with fish and egg). Mỳ quảng is a Central Việt Nam specialty and possibly the best dish I have ever had.
  • Taco Ngon
  • Limoncello
  • If you’re wanting to eat like a local and feeling something sweet, visit the Bắc Mỹ An market and try some avocado ice cream. If avocados aren’t your thing, don’t worry. This market has many other food stalls for people to enjoy as well!
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Mỳ quảng cá lóc at Bà Mua.

My accommodation:

I had originally booked with a hostel, but cancelled it last minute and booked a hotel room at Bao Anh Hotel instead. It’s only a two-minute walk to Mỹ Khê beach (I had an ocean view from my room) and also within walking distance of numerous cute coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. It was clean, modern, and the staff was always friendly and helpful.

If you want to know more about my trip to Đà Nẵng or my life in Việt Nam, please feel free to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

A Weekend Trip To Hoi An

I am always hesitant to say that something is “perfect” but in all honesty my trip to Hội An really was perfect – to me at least. It was so amazing that I ended up driving back to Hội An from my hotel in Đà Nẵng to spend an extra day there. After living and working in Hồ Chí Minh for almost 4 months, it was nice to get a break from the big city. Hội An is a dream – it’s peaceful, beautiful, and the most charming town I have ever stepped foot in. Here are some of the things I did on my trip to Hội An:

Got clothes custom made

Other than Hội An’s beautiful lantern display, the thing I heard most about was getting clothes custom made here. I went to the Hội An Cloth Market where I was recommended to go to Sewing Bee – and I was not disappointed! The ladies who work there are so sweet and helpful. I got a jumpsuit and wrap dress for only 1.500.000 VND (~$64 USD), which is a great deal. The clothes turned out terrific and only took two days to make. Here are pictures of what I had done:

Tin Basket Boat Tour

You can do big group basket boat tours, but my friend and I decided to go through a small tour company owned by the cutest couple. Tin and her husband picked us up from our hostel and drove us to where we’d board the basket boat. We got a private tour led by Tin’s brother and he was amazing. He was so sweet and always stopped to let us take pictures. He made cool coconut palm leaf jewelry and had me get out to join a fisherman in throwing a fishing net. Afterwards, he served us fresh watermelon while Tin called us a taxi back. It was very cheap, costing only 189.000 VND per person (~$8 USD). Here is their website if you want to book a tour with them:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g298082-d13347572-Reviews-Tin_Basket_Boat_Tour-Hoi_An_Quang_Nam_Province.html

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Basket boats in Hội An’s Coconut Forest.

Free Bike Tour of Kim Bong Carpentry Village

If you are on a budget (and even if you aren’t) this is definitely a must-do! Our tour guide, My, was amazing and incredibly patient. I haven’t been on a bike in years so it took me a while to get the hang of things .. Meaning I finally learned how to ride a bike again by the end of the tour, oops. Our group was small and intimate: just My, her trainee, a guy from the Netherlands, my friend and I. Since the tour is run by volunteers looking to practice their English, it was “free.” I only put quotations around free because the tour itself doesn’t cost anything, but I still spent 80.000 VND (which is still super cheap and honestly it’s worth more). 30.000 VND goes as a donation to the people of Kim Bong Village, 20.000 VND for the ferry ride over, and 30.000 VND for bike rentals (only if you don’t have your own bike). This comes up to roughly $3.40 USD – so nothing. Throughout the morning, we biked around the island, watched the process of making a boat, and were taught how to make rice noodles and sleeping mats. We also took a visit to a local temple and handmade crafts shop. My and her trainee sat us down for a chat and snacks during the tour, then took us for coffee afterwards. Here is their website if you want to book with them:

http://www.hoianfreetour.com

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Mima and I at Kim Bong Carpentry Village.

Took a cooking class

Okay, if there is anything I’m worse at than riding a bicycle, it’s cooking. Nonetheless, I took a private Vietnamese vegan cooking class through Karma Waters. I learned how to make three Vietnamese vegan dishes: summer rolls, phở chay, and mushrooms & tofu with red rice. It was one of the more expensive things I did on my trip, costing 960.000 VND (~$40 USD). The woman instructing me throughout the cooking class did not speak English, so they hired a translator named Trang. The cooking class itself was great, but meeting a new local friend that I got to sit and chat with for over two hours was the best part.

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Here is a picture of Trang and all of the dishes we got to make!

Hội An Night Market / Old Town

The Night Market has a ton of kiosks you can buy things at for a relatively good price. I normally don’t like going to markets like this, as the shop owners are typically pushy and it gets overcrowded, but I really did love Hội An’s Night Market. It wasn’t too packed (at least the day that I went) and the shop owners were very sweet. Most of them loved chatting with me when they found out I could speak a little bit of Vietnamese and one even tried to set me up with his son (sorry to break it to y’all, but I had to turn down the offer). I thought haggling wouldn’t work since the prices were already pretty low, but the shop owners always compromised so I bought everything dirt cheap.

As for Old Town, it’s open all day. There are many shops, restaurants, and bars throughout the town. We got to go on a small boat ride along the river to release our own lanterns and enjoy the stunning lights of Hội An. The Japanese Covered Bridge is also located in the midst of Old Town, but pro tip – when we went at night, they stopped charging a fee to walk across the bridge.

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One of the many beautiful lantern-filled streets you will find in Hội An.

Where I stayed:

My friend and I stayed at Vietnam Backpacker Hostels – Hội An and really enjoyed our time there. It has very clean and modern facilities, a great view, and friendly staff.

Pro Tip #2:

The only downside I could think of from my entire trip to Hoi An was the fact that it was hard to book a Grab if you weren’t going far. I mainly walked, got a taxi, or waited a good chunk of time for a Grab. I highly suggest renting a bicycle or motorbike if you come! Nonetheless, it was only a minor inconvenience and I didn’t mind another excuse to explore this magnificent town by walking a bit.

If you have any questions about my trip to Hội An or life in Vietnam, please feel free to contact me!

Until next time,

Hales

A Day (Or Two) In The Life Of An English Teacher In Vietnam

Since moving to Vietnam, I get a lot of questions on what my days typically look like. In reality, the daily activities here are not that much different than in America, but it’s more of that my lifestyle is different. I ashamedly admit that I spent most of my free time in America watching Netflix, with occasional outings. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that Ho Chi Minh is a busy city or that I want to make the most out of living in a foreign country or maybe both, but my lifestyle has completely changed. I hardly ever just sit in bed and binge watch Netflix now. I always at least try to just get out of the house, whether it’s going on an aimless walk, to a coffee shop, or to a museum. I work 8:00 – 5:00 PM every Monday – Friday, which is pretty rare for expats in Vietnam. Expats working as English teachers typically work evenings on the week days and all day on the weekends. My week days and weekends differ quite a bit so I will do a rundown of both.

Week Days

6:00 AM

This is when I wake up and get ready for work. Since I don’t work until 8, I normally go to The Coffee House by my work in District 3 every morning to get a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese milk coffee with ice). Yes, all of the workers know my order and have it put in before I even reach the counter with their hand waiting to scan my rewards. Yes, they also help me with Vietnamese pronunciation and yes, my pronunciation is still the worst, xin lỗi.

8:00 AM

I work from 8 – 5 PM, with a two-hour break from 12 – 2 PM for the kids’ naptime. This is normally when I eat lunch, grab another coffee, lesson plan, and then steal a kid’s pillow to take a nap too. After work I will book a Grab Bike home, but if it’s Monday or Wednesday I will head straight to Vietnamese lessons until 8:00.

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Another foreign teacher’s and my class doing yoga.

6:00 PM

I normally get dinner in my neighborhood around this time, either solo or with my roommates. My go-to places are Út Hương and Bánh Canh Ghẹ (both off of Nguyễn Cảnh Chân street in District 1). Vietnam isn’t necessarily known for its great customer service, but the customer service at Út Hương is probably the worst I’ve experienced. every. time. The only thing that keeps me coming back for more is the terrific food.

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Mì xào trứng at Út Hương.

7:00 PM

If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll head to either The Running Bean or Cộng Cà Phê (both are coffee shops) to get some work done for a few hours. If not, I’ll probably just run some errands and then work on stuff at home.

10:00 PM

After working with little kids all day, I’m normally exhausted so catch me going to bed early every night, not sorry about it. People in Vietnam normally wake up early anyway, so I like to as well … just not as early as they do. I can hear my neighbors out and about by 5:30 AM. Some breakfast places in my neighborhood are normally closing up shop by the time I leave for work at 7:15 AM if this tells you anything.

The Weekend

9:00 AM

The sunlight normally wakes me up pretty early in the mornings, but I tend to not leave the house until around 9 in the morning. The first thing I do on weekend mornings is take my laundry to get cleaned (exciting, I know).

9:30 AM

In the mornings I’ll go for a long walk, stopping at Phúc Long to get a smoothie and chocolate croissant then head to the park to get a little nature fix in this concrete-filled city. Every time I go to the park, I end up meeting a local or two wanting to practice their English, which gives me the chance to practice my Vietnamese.

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A Buddhist temple in Tao Đàn Park.

12:00 PM

Lunch time! My favorite lunch spot so far is Hum Vegetarian in District 1, where I got green curry and rice noodles.

1:00 PM

Around this time, I’ll try to do something more intriguing. A few things that I’ve spent my days doing is going to the War Remnants Museum, visiting temples in District 5, and going to a spa with an infinity pool in District 7.

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Thiên Hậu temple in District 5.

3:00 PM

With no shame at all, there is always a part of my day that will be dedicated to some coffee shop time. Vietnam’s coffee culture is out-of-this-world so you can’t not go to a coffee shop every day. I always go to my favorite place to get work done on the weekends, The Running Bean.

6:00 PM

My favorite time of the day – dinner time! I normally eat dirt cheap throughout the week, so I like to treat myself to nice meals on the weekend. One of my favorite finds so far is VO Rooftop Garden. The food is superb, the aesthetic is on point, there’s a nice view of Nguyễn Huệ Walking Street, and it’s decently priced for the location. A few weeks ago though, Ngân (a woman who owns a laundry shop in my neighborhood) invited my roommates and I over for a home-cooked Vietnamese meal with her, her family, and some friends.

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Having dinner at Ngân’s home.
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The dinner she prepared for us. She even made a ton of vegetarian food for Mima and I.

7:30 PM

My weekend nights are always different, but mainly consist of doing something in District 1 or 2. Right now it’s soccer season, so on game days there will be huge screens set up on the square of Nguyễn Huệ for people to sit and watch (it gets CRAZY – the Vietnamese don’t play around about their soccer). Some other things I have spent my weekend nights doing are going to rooftop bars, hitting up Bùi Viện (my feelings for Bùi Viện are bittersweet but I’ll spare you), going to a Sofar Sounds show, the movies, and more.

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After Vietnam beat Malaysia and won the AFF!

There you have it, a day (or two) in the life of an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!

Until next time,

Hales

Growth

In the past two months, I have completed my TEFL certification, signed a lease on a house with three kick-butt roommates, and have been working a full-time job teaching English at a Kindergarten. Things have settled down over the past few weeks and I am finally feeling adjusted to life in Vietnam. Living here has been amazing, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. I was sick for two weeks from the pollution, caught a stomach bug, got a nasty Saigon kiss (burn from a motorbike’s exhaust pipe), and have had a few phone problems. If I hadn’t developed a love and gratitude for this country, I probably would have packed up and flown home by now. When a motorbike driver turns my 8-minute drive home from work into 25 because he doesn’t want to look at his GPS or listen to my directions, I get frustrated. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m smiling, saying ‘this is great’ every time something negative comes my way. But at the end of the day, this country is worth all of the downs because it has so many more ups.

I have been doing what I came here to do: have new experiences and grow as a person. I am constantly being pushed outside of my comfort zone, meeting people from all over the world, and learning a new culture and language. Not every day is a huge adventure. Some days my biggest adventure is going to work or taking my laundry to get cleaned – but every day does provide me with learning experiences. You become quick to realize the people who genuinely want to get to know you versus those who just want to use you (especially being a westerner). Although there are some that fall into the latter, there are far more in the prior. The people I have met here, locals specifically, are the most kind, gentle, helpful, and playful people I have ever met. I will continue to stand by that. I have been apologized to countless times because of their English being ‘not good’ (which most of the time, isn’t true) … I’m sorry, what? I am living in their country, they are speaking my language because I cannot speak theirs, and they are apologizing to me?! There is always someone who will stop to tell me directions, help me move tables when it starts pouring down rain, or just wants to have a conversation to get to know me and/or improve their English. Back home I would just do the same things day-in-and-out, but here I am forced to try new things and meet new people. I have learned a lot about who I am, grown mentally, and developed a newfound confidence in myself.

Teaching has also been a huge factor in this. I can’t say I was thrilled when I learned I would be teaching three-year-olds, but now I wouldn’t change it for a thing. I have grown in my communication skills, creativity, and patience. I have also learned to always celebrate the little things. I get SO excited when my kids even say ‘please’ or ‘sorry.’ I’m grateful for this because I realize we would miss so many of the small, but beautiful things in life if we solely focused on the ‘big’ achievements.

Life isn’t meant to be predictable, it’s meant to be exciting, adventuresome, and full of growth. Before I moved to Vietnam, I was working 9 to 13-hours a day, 6 days a week (sometimes more). I would come home, eat dinner, then go to bed – occasionally meeting up with friends to maintain some form of social life. There wasn’t any excitement and I sure wasn’t growing, but I thought that’s how life was supposed to look. Society says that we have to go to university, get married, have kids, and work towards retirement – then you can travel and do all of the things you wanted to do at the age of 65 (or older). We are supposed to climb the ladder at our jobs and make a ton of money – that’s what ‘success’ is. But are the people who have more money than they know what to do with, truly happy? Maybe, but I think life is more than just material things and satisfying ridiculous societal standards for my life. It’s my life. There were many people who told me not to come to Vietnam or that I needed to start ‘settling down’ (honestly laughing at the phrase ‘settling down’. What does that even mean anyway?). I could have let those things stop me, and they almost did. I’m dang glad they didn’t. Moving here was the best decision I have ever made and I couldn’t imagine my life any different. I’m not saying everyone should quit their jobs and move to Vietnam, I’m just saying please don’t let society or other people tell you how you should live your life. Do you. Get to know people who are different from you, continuously push yourself out of your comfort zone, and just grow, man.

Okay, my update-turned-rant is now over.

Until next time,

Hales

Life In Vietnam: Week 1

*This is my experience living in my area (Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh).

As my first week living in Ho Chi Minh City comes to a close, I reflect on my experience so far in this beautiful and chaotic place I now call home. I have learned so much about myself and the Vietnamese culture just within this past week. A common question I am asked by friends and family is what it’s like living in Vietnam. I have written and rewrote this blog multiple times because it’s hard to put into words. So here goes nothing!

This is a quote that I look back to while living abroad:

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” -Clifton Fadiman

It’s easy to be ethnocentric and try to compare a country and its ways to your own. If you do this, you’ll more than likely find nothing but negatives and a downer attitude. You have to remember while traveling anywhere that they don’t design things for your comfort, they do it for their own comfort. When you realize this and open your mind, you’ll see the beauty around you. “Travel like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes, and an uncluttered mind.” That’s how you learn and grow as a human being. As an anthropology minor in college, I loved studying other cultures and decided to take myself out of the books and to learn first-hand. Short term travel is great, but you only get a slight peak of what’s underneath. So why not live long-term amongst a culture completely different than my own?

Vietnam is a world of its own. From the rainy days, messy sidewalks, and chaotic streets, to the wonderful people, good food, and beautiful culture; I have come to fall in love with it all in such a short time. The rain showers have become a refreshment during the hot and humid days, the messy sidewalks tell a story and make for a good laugh (and really who cares if you get a little dirt on you), the chaotic streets are full of life and energy. My friends and I joke that we always feel super powerful as we cross a street while motorbikes are zooming past us. I don’t know why, so I won’t have an answer for you if you ask. As I’m typing this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop blowing kisses to a little baby while she puts on her Hello Kitty pollution mask about to hop on a motorbike with her mom. You’ll find the craziest things watching motorbikes drive by that I’d like to declare motorbike watching is WAY better than people watching! I feel less stressed, carefree, and happier than I have been in my life. (And the food is some of the best I’ve ever had)

But the people here? That’s what takes the cake. The Vietnamese are the loveliest people I have come across in my life. They LOVE westerners. I have never felt so treasured, welcomed, and safe than I do here in Vietnam. Anytime I leave the house I receive tons of smiles, waves, and hellos. They are also not afraid to pull you in for a picture without asking and relentlessly stare at you – when I say stare, I mean STARE. Sometimes it can be a tad bothersome, but as soon as I say hello, I am greeted with a huge smile and enthusiastic wave like the rest and my heart melts every time. They call Thailand the ‘land of smiles’ and although I’ve never been and might be biased, I think Vietnam is the real ‘land of smiles’ hands-down. They are eager to have conversation with you to practice their English and help you with your Vietnamese. For instance, when my group of friends and I were exploring District 1, we were approached by a 10-year old girl named Ashley asking to practice with us, where we then had a 20-minute conversation learning about her and her family. They will also go out of their way to help you find where you’re trying to go, open doors for you, make sure you feel comfortable, and help you move tables when it starts pouring down rain on yours. The kindness I’ve been shown here I have rarely experienced in the States. So, to all of my loved ones back home who are worried sick, don’t be. I’m in good hands!

This unique country has already come to feel like home in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but look forward to the future with excitement and anticipation to see what will come.

Until next time,

Hales