This Expat Life (Month 42): My First Month in Vietnam

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


Man, January was one hell of a month. I feel like I’ve been all over the place during the past 31 days. Actually, I kind of have been all over the place.

(First of all, I moved to Vietnam in December…in case you haven’t heard the news!)

living-in-saigon-vietnam

Here’s my month in a nutshell…

I traveled to Vietnam’s Islands

Part of my goal during my first month in Vietnam was to fit in a little traveling. So a few days after moving to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) on Christmas Day, I packed my bags and took a 60-minute flight to the Con Dao Islands in Southeastern Vietnam.

con-son-island-3

I spent five blissful days motorbiking around the island, relaxing on the beach and taking in the archipelago’s seriously natural beauty. I rang in the New Year in the tiny beachside town of Con Son. It was a quiet and early night, but I couldn’t imagine a better way to kick off 2018.

A couple weeks later Aaron and I booked another short flight to Phu Quoc, which I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Phu Quoc is home to some of the country’s most beautiful beaches. But there’s a catch: Phu Quoc is definitely not a well-kept secret. I was kind of astonished by the development on the island. Once wild and pristine beaches have now been taken over by massive private golf courses, sprawling resorts and gaudy theme parks. It’s really intense to see, actually.

rach-vem-phu-quoc

I really enjoyed my time there, and there are near-deserted beaches and hidden gems all over the island, but it was also slightly disturbing. Give this place another year or two, and I guarantee it’s going to look a lot different. And not in a good way… Phu Quoc was eye opening and wonderful, all at the same time. And I’m sure I’ll be back in the very near future. (I’ll be writing a post all about my time in Phu Quoc soon.)

I ate all the vegetarian Vietnamese food

Obviously one of the reasons I was super excited to move to Vietnam was because of the food. I love food, and I really love Vietnamese food. Plus, being a vegetarian in a city like Saigon is pretty amazing.

vegetarian-pho

Thanks to the prevalence of Buddhism in Saigon, there are hundreds of pure-vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants sprinkled around the city. Literally, what I’ve dubbed “vegetarian alley” is located three blocks away from my new apartment. And it literally has a dozen veg eateries. I’ve eaten so many vegetarian noodle soups, mock meat dishes and banh mi sandwiches since I’ve gotten here. And I’ve enjoyed every bite!

vegetarian-pho-saigon
It never gets old.

I walked… a lot

Walking is by far my favorite way to explore any city. And while it’s a bit treacherous walking the streets of Saigon (more on that below). I’ve seriously enjoyed wandering around this city.

saigon-streets

The little alleyways are my favorite parts on this place. I’ve come across incense-filled temples, smiling families, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and so much more. It’s just been great to explore this city. Plus, all this walking has me feeling less guilty about all the food I’ve been eating!

I got increasingly comfortable crossing the street

For anyone who’s ever been to Saigon before you know what I mean. For those of you who haven’t been here, crossing the street is terrifying. There are so many motorbikes in this city and there is no rhyme or reason to driving here.

To cross the streets you literally have to walk into a sea of oncoming traffic and hope the cars and motorbikes don’t hit you. Oddly enough, as long as you move slowly and don’t make any sudden movements, the vehicles just kind of careen around you. I’ve had one close encounter where I really thought I was going to get plowed over. But so far, there have been no incidents. Fingers crossed guys.

I started working for my old company in Beijing

For those of you who don’t know, I worked as a writer and social media manager for an expat-oriented website and magazine in Beijing. Because my job is virtually all done online, my company has always been flexible about allowing me to work remotely in places like Bali and Nha Trang. I hadn’t planned on keeping my job, given that I’m now no longer based out of Beijing, but plans change.

villa-canggu-bali
That time I spent the summer living in this villa in Bali!

One of the biggest challenges, for me personally, of moving to a new city is being jobless. So I’m actually really happy to be working right now. I’m basically working at my old job until my replacement arrives in China, which not only means I still have an income while I figure out what’s next, but it allows me to stay busy and start the job hunt in Vietnam without feeling super rushed and stressed. I’m still not sure if I want to get a job on the ground here (or if that’s even possible) or delve back into the world of freelance writing, so I’m actually grateful to have a month or two to mull it over.

I endured the world’s worst Airbnb rental

I blame myself. I’ve been living and traveling around Southeast Asia for over four years. I know better than to book an apartment for a month sight unseen. But because we had such little notice about our move and we were traveling with a ton of luggage, we knew that hopping from hotel to hotel would be a logistical nightmare. So we took a chance on renting a cute studio apartment through Airbnb for our first month in Saigon. Worst. Mistake. Ever.

saigon-streets-1
The lovely view from my balcony.

The place was basic, but cute and perfect for us. It was centrally located, had a kitchen and even had a great balcony overlooking a bustling little alleyway (I love balconies!). But, as we found out when our taxi dropped us off in front of our complex, there was a giant construction site directly across the alley from our apartment.

We soon learned that work would start at 7am and go until around 10pm, sometimes even later. And this is Vietnam, so work went on seven days a week. Aside from that, there was an ice-making factory outside of our bedroom window. Deliveries went from 4:30am until 12:45am (!!). (If you want to read a detailed and kind of funny account of my experience, check out my last post.) Suffice it to say it was pretty bad, and after 30 days of it, I was exhausted.

I saw Vietnam go crazy during the Under-23 football championship

This was by far my favorite experience so far. I’m a sports fan, but I’m not a soccer (ahem, football) fan. But if there’s one thing I love it’s experiencing sports in other countries and cultures. So when we heard that Vietnam had made it to the semi-finals of the Under-23 Football Championship, we made a note to watch it.

At the time I was living on the 14th floor of a building and when Vietnam won that game I stood on my balcony and listened as the whole city erupted in cheers. It was unreal. Aaron and I immediately went outside and watched as elated people zipped down the streets on their motorbikes, waved Vietnamese flags and chanted, “Vietnam! Vietnam!” I can’t even capture the mood without writing a whole essay on it, but it was magical.

vietnam-under-23-football

I gathered with thousands of people in one of the main squares to watch the finals. And even though Vietnam lost (at the very last minute!), the whole city celebrated as if they’d won. It was a beautiful glimpse into the spirit of this country and its people.

I apartment hunted

Ugh, I told myself that I would do so much research about apartment hunting and look at so many places when I got to Saigon…and I totally failed. We did spend about a week scrambling to look at places, working with really shady “agents” and being totally let down by the whole experience. Everything we looked at was either still under construction, next to a construction site or felt far too shady for me to feel safe living there.

I moved to a (temporary) apartment

Last week, we finally got the hell out of that Airbnb and moved to a new 2-bedroom apartment. It cost $10 more a night than our hellish Airbnb, but had two bedrooms, a full living room and kitchen and a balcony with this view.

rooftop-view-saigon
If only we could have lived there the whole time…or just stayed forever!

And we moved again…

WE FOUND AN APARTMENT! It’s nothing fancy but it’s super centrally located, has two bedrooms, a spacious living area and a balcony with a view of the river!

saigon-river
Taken from my balcony.

We’re only staying here for four months, at which point we’ll be relocating to another part of town. But in the meantime, I do think we’ll be comfortable here…even if the mattress is awful. Really though, I’m just so excited that we’re able to spend a few months based right downtown. I’ve got a lot of exploring to do before we move to the ‘burbs in June!

Instagram

Vietnam is an incredibly photogenic country so I’ve been taking lots and lots of photos. I’m kind of in heaven here!

Did you know that Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) is home to the world’s largest Chinatown? I sure didn’t. But after moving from Beijing to Saigon last month I was super excited when I found out about it. I spent an entire day wandering around Cholon the other day. And I must say, being in Chinatown gave me all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings. Red lanterns, incense-filled temples, dim sum… it felt so familiar! This place is huge and there’s no way to take it all in during one visit. But luckily I live here now, so I’ll definitely be taking the time to explore the nooks and crannies of Cholon and eating some Chinese food! 🥟🥟🥟 . . . #travel #vietnam #saigon #hochiminhcity #cholon #chinatown #southeastasia #visitvietnam #explorevietnam #igvietnam #TLasia #expatlife #livingabroad #vscovietnam #beautifuldestinations #worldnomads #neverstopexploring #passionpassport #cntraveler #travel #lonelyplanet #natgeo #ourlonelyplanet #TLPicks #places_wow #chasingtheworld #bbctravel #exploremore #travellush

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How did your January shape up?

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.

4 thoughts on “This Expat Life (Month 42): My First Month in Vietnam

  1. Vegetarian Alley! That alone makes me want to visit Saigon, haha. I’m also amazed at the skill of the motorbikers, packed so closely together in that celebration photo! It’s always fun to observe celebrations like that. Congrats on the move and finding an apartment!

    1. Thanks Leah! Vegetarian Alley is my favorite place 🙂 I haven’t tried every single restaurant yet, but I’m getting there. Yes, celebrations like that are the best. I’m so glad I was able to witness it!

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