Adventures in renting abroad, Asia, Vietnam

Expat Life in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)— An Update

I’m surprised how much I love this city. After I arrived mid-May, Damian and I moved to a cute serviced apartment in District 2. We loved  District 2. There were tons of cafes, restaurants, gyms, and little shops. District 2 had a decent number of expats living there, but not so many it stopped feeling like Vietnam. It was still incredibly affordable, which is great for a freelancer. Plus, the internet is cheap and fast and the time zone means no more waking up every morning at 4 am to teach classes.

Expat Life Saigon

Being monsoon season, it rained heavily every day which was beautiful. Although sometimes the streets flooded…

Expat Life Ho Chi Minh City

And sometimes we got wet…

Expat Life Ho Chi Minh City
By “we” I mean Damian, of course. Is there any better boyfriend than the boyfriend who faces the monsoon to buy you dinner?

Food

I dare say this is one of the best places I’ve traveled in terms of food. Everything is delicious and incredibly cheap. Damian and I cycled through the same places weekly. Some of our favorites included:

Expat Life Ho Chi Minh City
Bò né— Beef steak with fried egg, onion, cheese, and bread— 40,000 dong ($1.82). Also, this restaurant had the best fresh apple juice I’ve ever had— 15,000 dong ($0.68)
Expat Life Ho Chi Minh City
Bún chả— grilled fatty pork and noodles 30,000-40,000 dong ($1.36-$1.81)
Expat Life Ho Chi Minh City
Phở bo— beef soup. The pho in HCMC was so good! 30,000-35,000 dong. ($1.36-$1.59)
Expat Life Ho Chi Minh City
Ok, clearly Indian food is not Vietnamese but Damian and I indulged once a week. We ordered from Couple Star India. A meal for two was about 250,000 dong ($11.40)
Expat Life Saigon.
chuối chiên— fried banana and sweet potato fries. A large banana (or two small) is 10 dong ($0.45).

Vietnamese

Damian and I signed up for Vietnamese language classes. Most of the schools are in District 1 but, fortunately, a school called “Learn Vietnamese with Annie,” opened an “office” in District 2, only about a 15-minute walk from our apartment. The office was very small, just big enough for a little desk, table, and whiteboard. Our instructor’s name was Linh, and we had a great time working with her (and asking questions about Vietnamese literature, music, and places to travel).

Vietnamese Classes Ho Chi Minh
Linh teaching us about Vietnamese singers

After 24 hours of classes, Damian and I are far from fluent. The language definitely isn’t as easy as Spanish, and I don’t foresee myself using it much in the future. The grammar is surprisingly easy— nothing like Arabic. The pronunciation was the biggest challenge. I’ll write more in my next post. We learned how to order food, give directions, and give basic information about ourselves.

Work

We spent a lot of time in cafes (especially a cafe called Arobi) working and drinking cà phê đá (iced Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk— 22,000 dong ($1)). Mornings working in Arobi were some of my favorite moments. No one spoke much English but the staff was super nice and even made us free hamburgers once.

Expat Life Saigon
Damian enjoying a chuối chiên in our favorite cafe.

While working independently gives me wonderful flexibility to be anywhere, I work every weekend and long days. I swing back and forth rapidly between loving this and wondering if I would benefit from working in a more stable company where I can build more skills (and have a bigger paycheck). I’ve applied for a number of interesting consulting positions in China and had great interviews with a few companies. Once again I find myself caught between the daily drudge of “following my dreams” and the allure of new opportunities, experiences, and expertise. Often I feel lazy and delusional for enjoying my work so much and teaching on the side to make ends meet. Other times, I wonder how I expect to achieve my goals if I’m trying to simultaneously hold down a 60-hour-per-week job. I guess having too many options is better than not having any!

Sites Around the City

The zoo was a bit depressing as the areas/cages for the animals were quite small. However, the botanical gardens were really nice.

Saigon Zoo
Saigon Zoo
Saigon Zoo
Damian looking at an extremely ugly bird

We also went to the Vietnam War museum (called “the American War” here in Vietnam). Honestly, I left feeling pretty depressed and completely exhausted mentally. Even knowing a lot about the war, it’s still incredibly difficult to see photographs of atrocities. I’ve started watching the Ken Burn’s documentary on Netflix about the Vietnam War and have two books to read — The Sorrow of War and Last Night I Dreamed of Peace— both about the war.

What’s Next?

Last week, Damian and I flew to Hanoi in order to check out a new part of Vietnam. The north has a lot of natural beauty I’m eager to see. I’ll admit, I haven’t bonded with Hanoi quite like Ho Chi Minh yet but I have another three weeks to explore. Stay tuned for more Vietnam (and life) updates!

Expat Life Vietnam
Damian briefly convinced me to root for Argentina in the world cup which I did happily once we invested in Argentina whiskey glasses.

2 Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *