Ten things I wish I’d been told before I moved to Vietnam

Guest written by Vietnam Intern Elizabeth

Moving to a country you’ve never been to before is definitely out of most peoples’ comfort zones. Personally, I spent hours on Google searching for blogs about living in Vietnam hoping to get some insight and prepare myself. I came across some glowing reviews of people who swore they’d never leave again and across criticism about never returning. Factual information about the logistics of moving to Vietnam, especially in the first few weeks, seemed hard to come by. So, to help you with your move I’ve come up with the top ten things I wish I’d found in my endless internet searching in the months leading up to my Vietnam Internship.

1. The language has six different tones

This means, if you think you’ve learnt a word, saying it with a different intonation could mean something entirely different! For example: Pho – said ‘fuuuuu’ is a delicious noodle broth with different meat, said ‘foe’ is a prostitute. Speak wisely!

2. Download Grab

Grab is an Uber equivalent for taxi’s and motorbikes. You can order them on an app which makes it really easy and the motorbikes bring you a helmet. Plus – there are set prices so no roadside haggling! It’s best to reduce stress where you can.

3. The food can be misleading

One Vietnamese delicacy is a bowl of broth and noodles, along with heart, liver and intestines. It’s not always evident from appearance what a dish is – don’t point to someone else’s meal and say “I want that” unless you’re sure. This one is from personal experience unfortunately.

4. Wildlife is plentiful

Including in your new accommodation – get some cockroach spray straight away!

5. Towels are hard to find

Especially a towel big enough to cover your whole body that doesn’t disintegrate after one use. Bring an emergency back up to use until you find your biggest homeware store. Pro-tip: in Ho Chi Minh City, CityMart seems to be best for towels!

6. Splitting a bill is not a common concept.

It can be done with lots of miming and patience but expect it to take longer and be aware this will be a strange request for them (if paying on card, or wanting individual change – otherwise it’s obviously simpler).

7. Crossing the roads will seem like a death mission every time

Don’t fall for the ‘just walk and you’ll be okay’. Walk with purpose but also look carefully. Bikes will swerve to avoid you if they have enough time, cars more often will not. I’ve been told it’ll get better – I’m waiting hopefully for that day!

8. Accommodation is basic

If you’re doing a programme that provides accommodation such as an internship, you’ll probably be told to expect basic accommodation. Basic in your mind may not mean basic here so it can take some getting used too. Important things to check your accommodation includes: air conditioning in your bedroom, cooking facilities and furniture.

9. Vietnamese people are friendly (huge generalisation as I’ve only met a small proportion)

They will smile and appreciate your attempts at thank you (pronounced cam-on). They’ll also want you try certain dishes, often want to take your photo and love to practice their English on you. If you end up staying somewhere less touristy, it might take a while to get used to people looking at you.

10. Moving away from everything and everyone you know is scary

Even if it’s something you’ve always wanted, or always planned to do. The people you meet will be the ones who get you through – I never expected to meet so many people from different places that I could relate to so quickly. There’s something about knowing you’ve all made the choice to move here connects you and makes you feel at home the second you’ve arrived.

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