The 5 Best Parts About Expat Life in Saigon

Sure, I have a whole list of annoyances that come with living in a hectic Vietnamese metropolis, however I’m trying my best not to focus on those things. Here are a few of my favorite things about Expat Life in Saigon….

1. FOOD FOOD FOOD…

Ho Chi Minh City is an amazing place for a food lover. Not only can one find venders selling regional specialties from all over Vietnam, but the city is home to some truly excellent international restaurants. One is never far from a meal or a snack. With just pocket change, you’ll never go hungry. If you want to spend a dollar on a meal you can and you’ll leave fairly satisfied. If you want to spend $10, you will dine like a king.

Most days I wander around my neighborhood and find a meal of tasty Vietnamese food for $1-3. Sometimes I go out to dinner with friends to one of our favorite “Western” food spots. Often it’s for tender pork shoulder, ribs, corn bread, slaw and pale ale at the American BBQ place. Sometimes it’s for incredible pizza and chocolate lava cake at, of all things, a Japanese-Italian, wood-oven pizza joint. Other times it’s mountains of fresh, high quality sushi. Sometimes it’s a feast of top-notch Indian food. And frequently, we go to a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant for shrimp tacos or fish burritos or sangria. No matter, our total rarely exceeds $10 a person for a delicious and filling meal with drinks.

If you want a beer at a Vietnamese street spot, it’ll set you back around 50 cents. A beer at a nicer bar or restaurant could be anywhere from $1.50-3. And for a good cocktail, we expect to spend around $4-6. A Vietnamese Sandwich, aka “Banh Mi,” and a fresh fruit smoothie for around a dollar total. One of my favorite Vietnamese meals, Bun Thit Noung, pork noodles with rice vermacelli, fried spring roll and herbs, is around $2.50. See a sample of some typical meals for me, here.

When I grow tired of eating out, I can head to our neighborhood market (picture a sort of Vietnamese version of a “farmer’s market”) and buy a large sack of fresh produce, bread and freshly made rice noodles, for a few bucks and cook something in my own kitchen.

Street Food galore in Saigon

Street Food galore in Saigon

Mango strawberry smoothie

Smoooothie

Fresh fruit

Fresh fruit all year long

2. Affordable Spa Treatments…

I wonder if there is anywhere else in this world that has better cheap spa treatments? Stressed to be living in a crazy, hectic, polluted South East Asian City?? No problem! Pop over to your neighborhood massage parlor for a 90 minute full body massage, complete with hot stones, a little Thai massage thrown in–all for around $15! A facial will set you back about $10 (including tip) and a mani pedi with foot scrub, tea bath and nail art–less than $12! If I were to continue the spa habits I picked up in Asia after returning stateside, I’d be completely broke.

Pedicures & nail art with my visitors

Cheap pedicures & nail art with my visitors

 3. Free time…

I can’t speak for other expat professions, but as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh, we are able to work around 16-25 hours a week and still maintain a very high standard of living. This often means that I’m only working long days on the weekends, with Mondays off, and a few hours every other night of the week, and I make enough to cover all living expenses here while also sending some money home. Days off are often spent at the pool, in a coffee shop, exploring the city or just being lazy.

When we have a few consecutive days off, it’s quite reasonable to hop on a bus or on your motorbike and take a mini adventure to the Mekong, Cat Tien National Park, or to the nearby beaches of the South China Sea. For a week or more, it’s easy to book a cheap bus to Cambodia, or an inexpensive flight to Thailand or Malaysia or to Northern Vietnam for trekking, caving or cruising.

Though some people would complain about the nightlife here, I’m quite satisfied. As a teacher at a language school, I typically don’t go out on weekends, as they are my busiest work times. However nearly every night of the week, one of the city’s many bars and nightclubs have some sort of promotion to lure expats in–happy hours, free drinks for ladies, live music, comedy shows, movies, trivia nights, etc. And there’s always Bui Vien …

Cozy Mekong jungle bungalow, just two hours south of Saigon by local bus

Cozy Mekong jungle bungalow, just two hours south of Saigon by local bus

4. Coffee…

Strong, milky, sweet delicious iced coffee for less than a $1, available on every corner, should be enough said.

This city has got more coffee shops than anywhere I’ve ever been and likely will ever go. As one of the largest coffee producers in the world (second only to Brazil), the Vietnamese LOVE their coffee. You can’t walk 5 feet without finding somewhere or someone selling thick, rich Vietnamese style coffee. But best of all, due to the seemingly nonlogical and confusing layout, pretty much the coolest coffee shops in the world can be found hidden down one of the numerous maze-like alleyways, housing much of the city’s population. This means that there is always a new, cool place to accidentally find. Whenever I find myself uninspired, or bored, I’ve been known glance at Vietnam Coracle’s list of recommended hidden cafes and find an killer coffee spot I’ve yet to discover.

Ca Phe Da or iced Vietnamese coffee, from a street vender

Ca Phe Da or iced Vietnamese coffee, from a street vender

5. Motorbike madness…

The motorbike is easily my favorite aspect of living here. True, it took me nearly 4 months of living and riding in Saigon traffic to build enough courage to get my own bike. But from the first moment, I’ve never looked back. From the moment I first planted my butt on my Hondo Nouvo, I have never experienced fear or anxiety abut riding here, rather the opposite. When I’m not frustrated by traffic, I actually catch myself smiling as I zoom around town. As the breeze cools me, and I zip in and out of traffic, feeling an overwhelming sense freedom unrivaled by anything else. I can go literally wherever I want. The city (and beyond) completely opened up for me. If I hear about an interesting food vender hidden in an alleyway in some faraway district–off I go, no problem. I fear the day when I return to driving in America and must follow standard traffic rules again. I may have to retake my driving test. See my article explaining Saigon traffic.

Most amazingly, I feel joy rather than crushing sadness upon filling up my tank every week to two weeks when I hand the attendant the equivalent of $3.50 for a full tank.

Motorbike parking, Saigon

Even in a city with seemingly as many motorbikes as people, parking is rarely a problem

See Also:
The Unwritten Rules of Saigon Traffic
Traveling Through Vietnam with the Ladies
Cruising in the Bay

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5 Comments »

  1. I love your blogs. I learn more about Viet Nam than I knew ever! These would be wonderful for kids in school to read too. It would give them a real life view. So happy for you!

    Like

  2. I’m glad that you love my country. Not sure if you know that ca phe da (ice coffee) on the street is not safe as it was anymore. So try to avoid it if u can, just for your health.

    also, fruits are sprayed or put in chemical for quick-growing or better color. So be a smart-buyer…choose well-knowned store for fruits…

    i used to love streetfood in saigon but now i need to avoid as much as possible, for our own health.

    Have a great time in Saigon! 😉

    Like

    • Thanks for reading! I agree! After 18 months in Saigon, I’ve learned to be very careful and wary of my street food and only visit venders I feel comfortable with. I also found it frusterating finding food without MSG! 😦 That being said, Vietnamese food is still some of the yummiest I’ve encountered in my travels…

      Like

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