This Expat Life (Month 41) + I Moved to Ho Chi Minh City!

After moving abroad in July 2014, I started compiling monthly roundup posts about life as an expat in Asia and all the nitty gritty that goes on behind the scenes here at Travel Lush. You can check out my previous monthly roundup posts:  AugustSeptember/October and November.


This expat life of mine is a weird one. One minute I’m living and working in Beijing and the next I’m schlepping all of my worldly possessions into my new apartment in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon).

And just like that, I’m living in Vietnam.

This Expat Life (Ho Chi Minh City): Month 41

It’s a big transition, moving from China to Vietnam. Or at least it feels like it should be. But the odd thing is this move feels pretty natural to me. I realize it’s only been a week, but I think I can get used to living in Ho Chi Minh City.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so much of the last four years living and traveling in Southeast Asia. Or maybe it’s because this time last year I was just kicking off a 3-month stint living and working in Vietnam’s beachside city of Nha Trang. I guess all of this plays a role in the fact that this move doesn’t feel super shocking. I’m sure the weight of it will hit me at some point. But right now, at this moment, I’m feeling really good about this move.

But this is a monthly roundup post… so let me rewind a little bit. Here’s what I got up to during the month of December:

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Prepping to move to Vietnam…

If you read last month’s roundup post you’ll know that I found out that I was for sure moving to Ho Chi Minh City on November 30. So basically the first couple weeks of December were spent wrapping my mind around the fact that I was actually leaving Beijing and getting ready for my big move.

Aside from googling all sorts of things about what it’s like to live in Ho Chi Minh City, most of the month was spent like any other: I worked… a lot. Actually, I was so busy working and commuting to work that I hardly had any time to explore the areas of Beijing I’d neglected to visit during the two years I lived there. I suppose when you’re only given a little over three weeks’ notice that you’re moving, time just kind of goes a little too quickly.

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I was also busy thinking about all the soup I was going to eat in Vietnam…

Oh well, I did get to go to a few really cool bars and restaurants before I left, and I had some really good times. I’ll take it!

Saying goodbye to my Beijing life…

My final week in Beijing was a bittersweet one. On the one hand I was absurdly excited to finally get to Ho Chi Minh City, a place I hadn’t visited in basically a decade and one that I really don’t know all that much about. On the other hand, I was really sad to say goodbye to my exceptionally rad coworkers and the small group of friends I’ve made during my time in Beijing.

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Aaron and I hanging out (and freezing!) in the hutongs one last time.

Beijing is the first place I’ve lived abroad where I’ve actually made good friends. I had an actual crew there and we’d hang out every Thursday night at our (only) local bar. We had so many good times at our weekly hangouts. We had one final session before Aaron and I took off… and that was that.

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Yes, we even had a uniform…

Part of me knows that I might not see some of these people again. But I do hope that our paths will cross in the future. I do have grand plans to convince each and every one of them to visit us in Vietnam. And hey, one of our friends will be visiting in just two weeks! So that’s pretty cool.

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One last hurrah, just before Christmas.

I’m realizing just how amazing it was to have friends in Beijing and how important having a community is when you live so far from home. So saying goodbye to these people was exponentially more difficult than I thought it would be.

Moving to Ho Chi Minh City…

So yeah, my final week was full of goodbyes and see you laters. And on Christmas Eve, Aaron and I stuffed all our of possessions into 10 suitcases, lugged them to the airport and hopped on a red eye to Ho Chi Minh City, where we arrived bleary-eyed and exhausted at 5am on Christmas Day.

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Oh, hello Saigon.

We beelined it to an outdoor airport café and ordered our first (and much-needed) Vietnamese iced coffee (basically the best thing ever). We sat there watching the sun come up and the world come alive in our new city. We had officially arrived.

Living in Ho Chi Minh City…

We’ve now been in Ho Chi Minh city for a little over a week. In that time we’ve moved into our month-long rental. We love our neighborhood and cozy little apartment. We don’t love the massive construction site that sits 15 feet away and goes 24 hours (sad face). Nor do we love our insanely loud neighbors out back. Sleep has been a bit tough to come by since we moved here. But hey, this is Vietnam. We knew what we were getting in to. After all, this is one of the loudest cities on earth.

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Plus, we will be moving into a more permanent place in the next few weeks, so this is only temporary. Fingers crossed that we can find a great apartment. After living in hellish apartments in Jakarta, Phnom Penh and Beijing, Aaron and I could really use a lucky break.

Living situation aside, we spent our first few days in Ho Chi Minh City walking around, checking out tourist attractions and different neighborhoods, and stuffing our faces with vegetarian noodle soups, mock meat dishes, veggie banh mi and so much more. Have I mentioned I love the food in Vietnam? Because I do!

Travel

Because we have a couple weeks before Aaron starts his new job we decided to book a last-minute flight to the Con Dao Islands. The islands are located in Southern Vietnam, about an hour-long flight from Ho Chi Minh City. I really knew next to nothing about them except they are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and that they are wild, remote and relatively untouristed. We had read that December isn’t the most optimal time to visit because of the vicious winds that batter the island, but we decided to go for it anyway.

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It turns out the winds are no joke. The 30 mph gusts did lash us, but man that place is stunning. The town itself is tiny, so tiny there were only three restaurants we could eat at. (Being a vegetarian in Vietnam is challenging at times.) We stayed in a local guesthouse that had beautiful mountain views and only cost $17 a night. We spent our time motorbiking along the windswept cliffs, marveling at the turquoise sea and the rugged islets that surround the main island of Con Son, and exploring the old colonial structures that the island is (infamously) known for.

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The infamous ‘Tiger Cages’ of Con Son.

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The dreary whether didn’t really bother us, since we’d anticipated it. But we were thrilled when the sun came out one day, so we could actually have a beach day. We shared a beautiful stretch of beach with a handful of other people, we floated in the calm ocean, and we got some much-needed sun on our bodies.

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We also rang in the New Year on Con Son. Given that the island closes down at about 10pm, our night was calm and relaxed. It was great, actually.

It’s true that December wasn’t the best time to visit the islands, but I am definitely going back there this spring. I swear that place is paradise on earth and I’ll be writing a couple posts about it very soon. Not only did I love my time there but the whole experience got me so jazzed about being able to live in Vietnam and explore more of this absurdly beautiful country. Seriously, I’m just so happy to be here. It feels really good to feel so excited about a place!

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My most popular posts from December were taken in Beijing and Ho Chi Minh City… Man, it’s so weird I don’t live in Beijing anymore.

How did your December shape up? Where in the world did you spend New Year’s?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

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