The suspense is finally over… I’m moving to Vietnam!!!
In exactly one week I’ll be packing my bags, saying goodbye to Beijing and moving to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). I still can’t believe that I’m moving and I definitely can’t believe I’m going back to my beloved Southeast Asia. I’m so, so excited!
The funny thing is that as a baby backpacker Vietnam and Southeast Asia didn’t really call to me. Latin America was much more my flavor. But in 2006, when Aaron and I were planning one of our first big backpacking trips, Aaron insisted that we should skip South America and instead venture to Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam. At the time I was super skeptical because I honestly knew next to nothing about Southeast Asia.
We sat for hours at our local bookstore, devouring Lonely Planet Vietnam. We watched movies about the Vietnam War, read books about Vietnamese history and googled countless photos of the country. It honestly didn’t take long before I was sold. And off we went.
It was on that trip, so many years ago, that we first touched down in Southeast Asia – a region that we would ultimately get to know so intimately and that we would eventually call home. I sure didn’t see that coming!
During that first trip, we traversed Vietnam for an entire month, from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to Hanoi.
My first impressions of HCMC were that it was crowded, chaotic and loud. But honestly, I don’t remember all that much about my first (and basically only) visit to HCMC.
I do remember being sobered by the War Remnants Museum and being petrified to cross the motorbike-riddled streets. I also remember being a big fan of bia hoi (fresh Vietnamese beer) and pho (Vietnamese noodle soup). And I remember being perplexed by the tiny plastic stools at all the food stalls and the women who wore pajamas in public. Apparently these are the things that are still stuck in my brain over a decade later.
Like most travelers, I had no real interest in seeing HCMC. I spent a few days in the backpacker area of the city, ticked off the major tourist sites and quickly got out of town to explore the more picturesque and popular cities to the north.
I’ve since returned to HCMC exactly once, during an overnight layover. I drove to a hotel near the airport, purchased a baguette and a wheel of Laughing Cow Cheese (which is everywhere in Vietnam and one of my favorite childhood foods) and slept. I saw nothing of the city on that trip.
So there you have it. I really know very little about HCMC. And per usual, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve gotten myself into. But I will say that I am incredibly excited!
I’ve done all sorts of research about the city over the past few months, because I knew there was a very good chance I’d be moving there. (Though I didn’t find out for sure until a couple weeks ago.) I know that some people love living in HCMC and others hate it. I know that the food will be incredible, that the city will be endlessly fascinating and the people friendly and warm. But I also know that the pollution, noise and heat will wear on me.
Like all my moves – Jakarta, Phnom Penh and Beijing – this one will be rewarding and it will be challenging. But truthfully, I’m thrilled to be back in Southeast Asia and to have the chance to live in Vietnam, a country that I love. Over the years I’ve had the chance to not only backpack the length of the country, but I’ve also spent two lengthy stints living in the beachside city of Nha Trang and traveled to a few areas of Central Vietnam. So while I don’t have too much experience in HCMC, I do have some familiarity with the country. I even know more words in Vietnamese than I know in Chinese… sad since I’ve now lived in China for two years.
So what takes me to Vietnam?
Well, Aaron got a job at a university there! If you’ve read along for a while, you’ll know that this is the reason for all of my moves. We’ve both been living and working in Beijing for the past two years. And while we had planned on staying here much longer, the situation here hit all sorts of roadblocks during the past few months and we’ve been looking for jobs in other countries for some time. And finally Vietnam came along. It’s an opportunity that’s intriguing and exciting and while it’s not the number one city we would choose to move to, we are so excited for the change in scenery and that it takes us back to our favorite corner of the world.
As for me, I’ve given notice at my job here in Beijing and will be looking at journalism and media jobs in HCMC once I get on the ground. But since I really have no idea what the job situation is like in the city, I very well might go back to freelancing. We’ll just see how everything pans out. As I’ve learned over the past three years I’ve lived abroad, opportunities just kind of come along. I’m really excited to see what’s next for me career wise.
In the meantime, Aaron and I have rented an apartment in District 1, the heart of the city, for our first month. We’re basically going to spend the time between Christmas and New Year’s eating all the veggie pho, bahn mi and spring rolls as humanly possible and exploring our crazy new home. We’re also planning on traveling in Southern Vietnam for a couple weeks. Right now we’re thinking of going to the island of Phu Quoc for some beach time and maybe also exploring the Mekong Delta a bit, since neither of us has ever been there. If you have any suggestions as to where to go in the south, please let me know in the comments section below!
Well, that’s all for now. Stay tuned for a lot more stories about life and travel in Vietnam. As always, thanks for coming on this wild ride with me!
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Have you been to Ho Chi Minh City? What were your impressions?