Have you ever had a dream that you wanted so bad it’s all you can think about, and then when you finally reach that dream, asked yourself why the hell did I ever think I wanted this in the first place?
Vietnam just became that for me. Let me explain.
You see, Vietnam is the first country that ever stole my heart. I went five years ago, absolutely loved it! Have dreamed about going back ever since.
Figured out I could live there as an English teacher. But, for some reason I thought I needed minimum one year experience (I now know I didn’t even need a college degree if I wanted it that badly).
So I moved South Korea for a year to save money and get the experience I thought I needed to move to Vietnam for a year.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, I freaking loved Vietnam. I could name like a trillion billion reasons.
- French Bread
- $6 guesthouses that are the size of a nice proper hotel with free breakfast
- Other delicious foods (basically all foods)
- Motorbikes weaving through traffic like a sea of fish
I could go on forever. But the point is simple I loved Vietnam and wanted to move there. Anywhere would have done, but being the choosy guy I am, my priorities were Hoi An, Hanoi, Dalat and lastly Ho Chi Minh if I absolutely struck out everywhere else.
I still would have been super excited in any of those places.
Fast forward five years and I have now just finished the year in Korea, finished a backpacking trip and was giddy as a kid in a candy shop to move to Vietnam. My dream was finally here to brutally slap me in the face and laugh at me.
When I first came to Vietnam I had no travel experience, anything to compare Vietnam to, and no way to measure how other people were actually treating me. I was blinded by puppy love.
Damn you puppy love!
I’ve been super lucky to retrace my footsteps and see these parts of the world again. But now that I have, I have fallen out of puppy love with Vietnam. I will now explain why.
Now that I have experience in other countries I can look back and realize that locals in most other countries treat their tourists a lot better. I mean just way better in almost every single way. Being a tourist in Vietnam is a god damn struggle.
HOW VIETNAM IS A STRUGGLE
We lived out of a hotel in Hanoi and were on the job hunt. We got five interviews and job offers in our first two days in town. We were pretty excited about the opportunity to live in Hanoi.
It was at these interviews where Vietnam started to show it’s true self to us. Besides teaching in Korea we have no experience, no certification, no nothing. This, along with our expected minimum hourly rate of $20 per hour, was clearly noted in all of our e-mails to all five places we applied to. Every place said the pay and lack of certification was no problem, just come to the interview.
First interview the first thing they said to us was because we don’t have that paperwork we can’t get a job. So we’d ask them why they had us come down there. To which they replied well um wait uhh ya you can still get the job it’s no problem. Already off to a frustrating start. Then they have us do a mock class and instantly offer us a job starting the following day. But say because we don’t have the certification we can only get $17 an hour and will have to drive up to 30km for our classes. Nope.
Second interview they had a contract ready for us to sign the second we got there and said can you teach today. Gave us no details about the job or what the hell we’d be doing and was just bizarre. Another big nope.
We were getting our hopes up. We had a couple days between our next interviews and that’s when we started to notice how much of a struggle everything else was becoming.
Things that should be convenient and easy to buy like water were frustrating experiences.
The hotel we lived out of for a whole month had a convenient store right outside of it. Everyday I would buy our water from the same lady at that convenient store. The water was conveniently labeled and priced at $1. One day when I went down stairs with exactly one dollar like I had done everyday prior, she said no it’s $1.25. I pointed at the label showing it’s $1 and she said new price. She said in perfect English, for you it’s $1.25.
She was not the only store owner to do shit like this. Whether it was food at a local restaurant, hotels and guesthouses, tour operators, you name it there is a different price for a foreigner. I can understand hotels, tours and activities negotiating on pay, but when it’s a convenient store, restaurant, or coffee shop it’s just frustrating as hell. Those are things that we have to buy everyday and you don’t want to feel like your being ripped off on purpose every single damn day.
Back on the hunt we had three promising offers that re-inspired our hope in Vietnam. The first of the three was by far our most favorite school. We were asked to prepare a mock class for 2-4 year olds and excitedly went out and did it. After we did the mock we were called in to sign a contract. At this school we would be getting $2,000 a month per person, teach all classes at one location, and have our apartment paid for us. We found out through friends living and working in Hanoi, as well as online this was a great deal.
But when we got there to sign the contract we were informed that we would be teaching classes all over the place, may have a daily commute up to 60km for a one hour class and may only get $1800 a month. Oh and we would be teaching adults not kids. Again why were they even bringing us in to see how we taught 2 year olds during our mock class?
Feeling defeated and ever more frustrated with our time in Vietnam we started planning activities to do as we waited for our fourth and fifth mocks. But at every turn we kept having to barter for basic things like water, food, and batteries when the prices were clearly labeled!
Things got even more frustrating when the hotel we were staying at started screwing with us. We were staying here for a month and we explained we were looking for a job. We then shelled out nearly $500 for a Halong Bay trip (in Vietnam you book tours through your guest houses) and that’s when things took a turn. The next day after we paid them we came down for our free breakfast like we did everyday before at 9:00. Then they said breakfast is closed you cannot have breakfast anymore. Breakfast is from 7:00 – 8:30 they explained. We said sorry, got breakfast elsewhere and later read a sign in the room that said breakfast was from 7:00-9:30.
Why? Just why?
So we start coming down at eight.
Finally it is time to go on our trip to Halong Bay. We organize to have the same room when we come back in three days. Everyone is happy. Our bus picks us up from the hotel at 7:30 am. So we come down to have breakfast at seven. They say breakfast is from 8:00-9:30.
Whatever, we go to Halong Bay
Come back our rooms ready and peace is restored. We go on our fourth and final mock class. Get an amazing job offer at a school that is awesome and was actually what it said it was going to be. For sure $2,000 a month and free apartment at an excellent campus in Hanoi. It was an elementary school that looked nicer than my high-school in the states. We met the entire staff and it was just awesome.
When they offered us the job that we had been trying to get for nearly three weeks by then we no longer felt a wave of relief. Instead we started to get worried thinking about if we were going to even like living in Vietnam.
Is everyday going to feel like I have to fight or constantly be aware that people are charging me more money just because they think I am a tourist, no an expat? I never had to deal with any of these things in Korea. Not once did I ever walk into a convenient store and pay more money for something than a local. Never did I have to pay extra money for a bus or train trip across the country. I never had to feel like I was getting screwed out of anything just because I am a foreigner. I’ve never been in Korea and had to pay a different price at a restaurant than what was on the menu or than what a local paid.
In Vietnam if I wasn’t on the ball 100% of the time, I’d get taken advantage of. It is exhausting and infuriating.
Somehow, we randomly got an offer to come back to Korea. When we read the news, we felt a huge wave of relief. Vietnam was one of my first countries I ever visited, I was so blinded by love for travel that I was oblivious to it the first time around. We had some thinking to do.
Since we live off of one paycheck and save the other person’s every month, we did the math and it looked something like this. Vietnam pays 2/3rds as much as Korea. So that’s less money we will save in Vietnam and our standard of life will be more frustrating. Do we want to take a 1/3rd pay cut and deal with this bullshit? No.
So now we are back in Korea. What will most likely be our last year before we can buy a home back in Huntington Beach or we can figure out how to be digital nomads.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still would recommend visiting Vietnam. I still believe it is a beautiful place and I still want to go back to travel. But I will never want to work in an environment like that because it’s not worth the struggle. Everything in Vietnam took so much more effort than it did in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Bali, even India.
It just isn’t worth that much damn effort.