“I was first attracted to Nha Trang by the ease of living and the many opportunities to keep busy,” says Steven Elam, 61. “Living in Vietnam on a retirement budget is really good. I don’t make a lot of money, but I am able to sock away nearly half my income and still have a really good lifestyle.”
Nha Trang is one of the prettiest resort towns in Southeast Asia, set on a bay that some call the most beautiful in the world and Steven makes the most of it on his regular diving trips.
“The water is really clear and the waves aren’t intimidating. There’s a slew of dive shops in the tourist area. The Sailing Club is the one that I like the best, though there are five or six operators and they’re all pretty good. It’s about a 25-minute ride to the islands. They look for clear water, drop anchor and away you go. You get two dives during the day with lunch in between. The water is really warm and inviting. It’s a nice day out, good exercise and it keeps me fit,” he says.
Best of all, according to Steven, a day of scuba diving doesn’t cost much, so he can dive whenever the urge strikes. “I have my own gear, other than a weight belt and a scuba tank,” he says, “so a day out costs a bit under $129. The diving staff load your tanks and the weight belt for you and they fix a good lunch. The water is warm enough that you could dive in shorts and a t-shirt, but I use a thin wetsuit just for protection.
“The dive masters are great. They want to make sure that you have a good time. The ones I’ve had have been local and they speak good English. The boats are nice and I’ve never had any worries about safety. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”
When he’s not underwater, Steven and his wife, Rosalie, enjoy spending time outdoors, either playing golf at one of Nha Trang’s two courses or swimming and relaxing along the golden-sand beach.
“The beach is really clean compared to any other country that I’ve been to; I think that it’s the cleanest beach in Southeast Asia,” he says.
Eating is a delight in this popular tourist town “We always make breakfast at home but have our other meals out at any one of the many excellent restaurants here,” says Steven. “Little Italy City Pizza makes an amazing cognac steak—boy, is that good! Lanterns has beautifully plated local dishes. There’s the Taj Grill Indian Restaurant; that’s one of my favourites for Indian food, which I love. Back home, we’d be paying $65 or $100 for the kind of food that we can eat here for just $19. It’s a pleasant surprise to get your tab in a restaurant here!”
Occasionally, he’ll splurge and visit the Lunar Rooftop Bar, where a romantic dinner for two with drinks costs around $26. “It overlooks the beach and it’s beautiful. We like to sit outside, where there’s a huge balcony with umbrellas,” he says. Other times, they might go to one of the sports bars in town to watch a boxing match or a sporting event.
Renting is a bargain for expats in Nha Trang too. Apartments a short walk from the beach start at just $450 per month. Steven pays $579 a month for his ocean-view apartment 183 metres from the beach. He says, “We found this place on a Facebook group. It’s a furnished, one-bedroom place with a full ocean view from the balcony. It’s in a brand-new building with a lift and it’s lovely. The rent includes a nice Western kitchen, Pay TV, WiFi and tap water. All we have to pay for is electricity and cooking gas.”
Steven and Rosalie have an active social life. “There’s a lot of guys living here on Social Security,” says Steven. “We see them once in a while for dinner, but most of the time we prefer to be with our English-speaking local friends.”
He’s heard good things about the city’s new International Hospital but hasn’t had the need to go there. He’s had very positive experiences with dental care, however.
“There are so many dental clinics here,” Steven says. “The last time I went, I paid about $10 for a check-up and teeth cleaning. I just popped in and they did it, no appointment needed. The dentist spoke English and he did a nice job. It was fabulous.”
Steven’s budget allows him to live comfortably. “We probably spend around $3,200 to $3,860 per month, depending on what we do. That includes diving, golfing, eating out every day, sending my kids presents, health insurance…everything. We live a very nice lifestyle and I’m socking money away.”
Like most expats in Nha Trang, Steven gets around by motorbike. “I’ve never had any trouble. I just stick to the middle of the pack and avoid doing anything stupid.”
Steven encourages other foreigners to make the move as he’s done. He says, “It’s just a lot of fun living here. If you’re trying to live on an average pension back home, forget it. If you have a few dollars here, your lifestyle will increase exponentially—you’re going to live like a king.”