I’ve been reflecting lots upon the past few months; it’s all been a whirlwind, to say the least. I traveled a bit of Europe, started a new job and most importantly, relocated to Vietnam.
For starters, I absolutely love it here.
This isn’t to say the days have gone by without hardship, though. Living in Saigon has been a deliciously confusing combination of euphoria, loneliness, and mystification. I’m in a perpetual state of bewilderment yet totally content. I also have days in which the frustrations engulf my entire being. In sum, I’m feeling the culture shock symptoms comin’ in hot.
If you’re thinking about living and working in Vietnam but unable to find much information about the pros and cons of living in Saigon, look no further. In an effort to remain transparent, it’s only fair to share the downsides as well as the obvious positives of living in this transformative city. Please keep in mind I am writing this just over three months into my experience teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, so I’m still a bit of a newbie.
The pros of living in Saigon
There is always something to do
One of the major benefits of living in Saigon is the fact that there is always something going on. Fancy a free meal preceded by a free climbing wall session? Saigon Outcast is your spot.* Want to check out a live band on the weekend? There are plenty of cafes and pubs hosting such events. If you’re keen on movies, the Indika Cinema Room offers free movies each night of the week. Whichever tickles your fancy, there will be something to do literally every single night of the week.
*This event is Wednesdays; the free climbing session is only available to women. #GirlPower.
It’s easy to get around without owning a motorbike
Okay, maybe it’s just me, but I am not really keen on driving or owning my own motorbike. Can you blame me?
Simply put, I’m just not courageous enough to drive in this city. Luckily for wimps like me and anyone else out there in the same boat, it’s pretty easy to get around. Apps like Grab and Uber are easy to use and offer reliable services. I am partial to Grab simply because I am not too fond of Uber’s politics and Grab features amazing weekly deals. Both companies offer a motorbike taxi option (my preference) or a car option (perfect for traveling with larger groups.)
The people are awesome
I’ve found Vietnamese nationals to be extremely welcoming and friendly to foreigners. The people seem relatively chilled out amidst the city’s dizzying chaos, which completely blows my mind. The people try their hardest to speak English and will generally try to understand me in times of confusion. I’ve found them to be helpful and warm, which has made the transition into living in Saigon easier than I expected.
The food is delicious
It’s no secret that Vietnamese food is one of the world’s most delightful cuisines. While a piping hot bowl of pho (pronounced “fuh” for those of you unaware) is the most well-known of them all, there are plenty of other dishes that are equally as delicious. Although I’m vegetarian, I’ve found it pretty easy to eat meals in Saigon; a feat that proved extremely difficult during my two years in Seoul, South Korea. In addition to the incredible local dishes, it’s safe to say that Ho Chi Minh City is home to some of the tastiest foreign food I’ve ever eaten.
In addition to the incredible local dishes, it’s safe to say that Ho Chi Minh City is home to some of the tastiest foreign food I’ve ever eaten. This city’s menus have it all: New York-style pizza slices, authentic curries, homemade tortilla chips, Greek desserts – you name it, Saigon’s got it.
It’s an easy adjustment
One of the best characteristics about living in Saigon is the fact that the people seem open to change. As the economy continues to boom and the influx of foreigners flock here to find jobs, there’s a massive shift currently taking place. Although it’s worth noting that not all the locals are as keen on the foreign influence, I’d argue that more residents are welcoming the changes with open arms and doing their best to go with the flow.
The cons of living in Saigon:
The produce is full of chemicals
As an American, I want to preface this by saying I’m aware that the produce in my country is soaked in pesticides. While it is possible to buy organic in Saigon, it’s not always the easiest task. Vietnam spends nearly $800 million USD per year on Chinese-imported chemicals, which has caused a significant uptick in health concerns. This is certainly a major struggle of living in Saigon.
The pollution is intense
It’s a known fact that the air quality in many Asian countries is poor. I was exposed to this type of air in South Korea for two years straight; living and working in New Zealand for nine months was a game changer. I’ve noticed a significant change in my skin, have more allergy-related headaches and find myself getting frustrated sometimes due to the overwhelming smog. Although my body has started to acclimate slightly to the smog, I am sure to wear a face mask when I ride on the back of a motorbike. Disclaimer: I look super cool.
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is out of control
As presented in the Vimeo video posted above, I think it’s pretty evident this city’s traffic is completely bonkers. While I love the hectic atmosphere most days, it can really feel daunting on a bad day. Crossing the street in Saigon is a total adventure regardless of the time of day. As I mentioned previously, I don’t drive here because I’m completely terrified, but this would probably annoy me more if I did.
The weather isn’t ideal
After spending 27 years of my life living in places that go through all four seasons, this has been a slight difficulty of living in Saigon. There have been some nights when I’ve looked at the weather and saw that it was 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30.5 C) with 90 percent humidity. While I don’t mind the heat as much, the muggy air has proven to be a damper. Pun intended.
The haggling culture wears me down
I honestly hate having to constantly bargain with people when I’m trying to purchase something. I’ve succumbed to the fact that I will be ripped off from time to time. While some people may have an issue paying $3 USD for half a watermelon and an entire mango, I’m pretty content. Trying to convince vendors to sell things for less just really isn’t my jam.
There is always something to do
I know, I know. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I listed it as a pro! However, this city can be a breeding ground for bad decisions among expats. The party culture in Saigon is alive and well, and it’s quite easy to get swept away with the madness unless you’re careful. Although it isn’t always the case, when you find yourself stumbling down Bui Vien at 6 AM on a Saturday morning, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
What are your thoughts? Would you add anything to this list? Let me know in the comments below!