Filet Mignon, Riverside Bistros and 111 Schooners of Beer

Arriving into Brisbane to speak at the International Living Australia conference, I had quite a few expectations…

I expected the gathered group of expat hopefuls to be friendly and curious. They were. I expected the weather to be similar to that of my home in Da Nang, Vietnam. It was. I expected to see a clean, interesting and thoroughly modern city…and that’s exactly what I saw in Brisbane. But what I didn’t expect were the high prices.

Take the evening my husband David and I went to a nearby bistro for dinner, for example. We had two basic hamburgers, a small portion of chips and two soft drinks. The moment we received the bill, sticker-shock took hold—$49.75. It was a good enough burger and the service was acceptable, but the price!

Back home in Da Nang, a filet mignon dinner for two at the Red Sky Restaurant, one of the city’s finest steakhouses—including two glasses of wine and a tip—costs less than the price of those two simple burgers in Brisbane. At a local steakhouse, we could order Australian or American imported steaks or plates heaping with ribs and all the trimmings for three nights in a row and it would still cost us less than $49.75. We could eat at a Vietnamese restaurant and order everyday meals with a beer or two for an entire week for that same money.

If I preferred to nurture my vices, that same $49.75 would get me 111 schooners of draught beer or 50 packets of cigarettes. It would easily cover a month of utilities, including air conditioning and fibre-optic internet for my large, three-bedroom house. Or I could buy a full year of unlimited data for my mobile phone and still have money left over. I could pay my housekeeper to come once a week for an entire month…

When I mentioned my surprise at the high costs in Brisbane to some of the conference attendees, they laughed and said that it was the price they pay for living in Australia. “It’s even more expensive in Sydney,” one lady told me. “There, you can pay $80 for four hours of parking.”

Here in Da Nang, we don’t even think about how much we spend on necessities. We buy what we want, go to restaurants almost every day and never does our budget exceed $2,000 in a month. Most months, we spend less than $1,500. Our 225-square-metre house is less than a 10-minute drive from one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia. In that same driving time, we could be at a riverside bistro in the heart of Da Nang’s vibrant city centre.

Our conference was held just steps away from the river and it was lovely to watch the ferries make their way from one side to the other, the city lights forming a beautiful backdrop to the postcard-perfect scene. The parklike grounds invited us to take a stroll along the tranquil riverbank and that’s what we did on our last night in Brisbane.

Here in Da Nang, we also have a stately river running right through the centre of town. Pretty promenades line both banks of the Han River and boats decorated in colourful twinkling lights make their way up and down the waterway so passengers can enjoy perfect views of Da Nang’s glittering skyline and four impressive bridges. At night, the bridges are lit in a rainbow of colour and on weekends, the Dragon Bridge spouts fire and water from its massive dragon’s head.

We enjoy a high standard of life in Da Nang; in many ways, it’s probably much like life in Brisbane. The main difference is how much we pay for it.

Thousands of foreigners have discovered Da Nang and the expat community here has grown markedly in the past few years. The nearly empty, clean beaches and warm waters of the South China Sea (the East Sea, as it’s called in Vietnam), the modern downtown, numerous parks, tree-lined streets and an infrastructure that is second to none in Vietnam, all mesh together to make Da Nang the country’s most liveable city. Add to that the overall value and it makes for a perfect choice to call home.

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