When I talk to friends who’ve never visited Southeast Asia about my life in Vietnam, they’re often surprised by some of the things I take for granted. Reliable WiFi in every cafe and restaurant, modern shopping centres, cinemas that show English language movies, even an ice rink. But that’s Vietnam for you…full of surprises.
I make my home in Da Nang, Vietnam’s centrally located, up-and-coming, modern coastal jewel. Ringed by mountains on one side and overlooking the South China Sea on the other, Da Nang is known as Vietnam’s “most liveable city”. Home to around 1 million souls, yet still retaining an easy, laidback feel, the city is divided by the Han River and joined by four bridges lit by a colourful display of rainbow lights come nightfall.
West of the river, the city is a cosmopolitan place, full of glittering skyscrapers, leafy neighbourhoods and upmarket eateries. To the east of the river, Da Nang feels more like a beach town. Here’s where you can sink your toes into the white-sand, 29-kilometre long stretch of My Khe Beach, savour a chilled cocktail in a beachside bar or stroll the parks and promenades in the afternoon sun.
Da Nang is a walkable place but if you’re going farther afield, getting about is a breeze. Traffic lights have large digital countdowns, letting drivers know how long they will have to wait at a red light. Grab, the region’s Uber competitor, is simple to book and you can check and confirm the fare for your journey in advance so you don’t have to worry about bartering. There’s also a good bus service that will take you the 30 kilometres to the winding lanes, historic temples and timber-framed shophouses of Hoi An for around a dollar.
Da Nang’s expat community is thriving and one of the best ways it’s reflected is in the variety of options come meals times… Expats from Japan to France, Australia to South America and Italy to New Zealand have opened restaurants offering a taste of their diverse homes—and for a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere. My favourites include Oasis Tapas Bar, a Spanish-run spot that sells authentic tortillas for $3 and L’Italiano, where you can enjoy a delicious—and enormous—Margherita pizza for less than $5.
The one thing that doesn’t surprise me about Vietnam is why so many expats are flocking here. There’s so much on offer, you can live well on a low budget and the locals are friendly and welcoming. I rent a large, comfortable, studio apartment, a 10-minute walk from the beach for $450 a month. With rent, dining out and travel costs so low, I can afford little luxuries here that would otherwise be out of reach.
One of my favourite indulgences is savouring a luxurious Sunday brunch buffet at one of the local five-star resorts. A spread with just about every food imaginable, in addition to free flow beer over the course of three hours, will run you around $35. Free flow champagne is only a bit more. Plus, most resorts allow use of their pools during or after brunch service. A nap in the shade with an ocean breeze washing over you and a full, happy stomach—it doesn’t get much better than that…
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