Vietnam can feel foreign, chaotic and confusing…at least when you first arrive. Bewilderment is quickly replaced with enchantment, though, as you discover myriad layers and complexities of the culture and country. Outside of the rural areas, there are few places in Vietnam that could be described as laidback; instead, you’ll find a young, enthusiastic population, a vibrant, yet largely traditional culture, cities humming with energy and a burgeoning economy. Living here feels exotic and stimulating. Best of all, there are wonderful escapes—rugged mountains, lonely country roads and isolated villages—that are never more than an hour or two away.
Three of the Best Things about Living in Vietnam
1. Whether you choose to live in the city or in a smaller town, you’ll love the low cost of living. Vietnam offers something for every budget, from modest apartments and cosy houses to luxurious high-rise condominiums and grand colonial-era French mansions. Regardless of your lifestyle, you’ll find that your dollar stretches much farther here. Life’s little luxuries—a day at the spa, a night on the town or a housekeeper to free up your time—are affordable indulgences in Vietnam.
2. Explore more than 3,000 kilometres of coastline. Vietnam is full of plush, developed resorts in Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Vung Tau and Phu Quoc, but you’ll also discover quiet beaches and plenty of hidden gems far removed from civilisation. Unsurpassed scenery abounds in the popular UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay (below), but there are postcard-perfect islets and rarely-visited islands from one end of Vietnam to the other. It’s a beach-lover’s paradise.
If beaches aren’t your thing, head to the hills. Remote ethnic minority villages, hidden waterfalls, navigable white-water rivers and newly-discovered caves await intrepid explorers. Ride a cable-car or climb to the summit of Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Mt. Fansipan, or cool down in the eternal spring climate of Dalat, high in the Central Highlands.
3. The Vietnamese are some of the most curious, optimistic, generous and sincerely friendly people on the planet. You’ll soon find yourself immersed in new Vietnamese friendships, eating lovingly prepared foods and being welcomed by extended family. Long-term expats in Vietnam cherish their Vietnamese friendships. Of course, you’ll find active and growing expat communities in the major cities and many smaller towns, too. Making deep and enduring friendships is one of the unique benefits of living in Vietnam.
Three Drawbacks to Consider about Living in Vietnam
1. Vietnam has a tropical climate in the south and subtropical weather in the north, so high humidity and frequent rains are common. A few areas along the south-central coast are a bit drier and less humid than the rest, but it can still get quite hot and sticky during the summer months and torrential seasonal rains are common.
Elsewhere in Vietnam, climate is strongly influenced by latitude. Ho Chi Minh City, in the south, is warm and steamy year-round, while in the north, Hanoi experiences four distinct seasons, with hot summers, cool or cold and wet winters and nearly perfect spring and autumn weather. Some of the towns in the high mountains, including Dalat and Sapa, can be chilly or even cold during the winter months.
Nha Trang, on the south-central coast, is a bit less humid and receives less rain than the cities to the north; the drier climate is one of the reasons that many expats choose to live there.
2. The Vietnamese have different standards of privacy and personal space than westerners. Urban areas generally have high population densities and if you leave your door open, it’s not unusual to have curious locals poke their heads inside to check out how you’re living or say hello. Visitors might even open your cabinets and drawers to see what sorts of things are inside. It’s harmless curiosity, but it does take some getting used to. It’s also common for locals to walk arm-in-arm, sit hip to hip or hold hands with someone of the same gender—an innocent gesture of friendship. Two people of opposite genders holding hands, though, is generally frowned upon. People will stand closer to you when they talk than you may be used to and queuing can sometimes resemble a rugby scrum as people jostle for the best position. You’ll discover many subtle cultural differences as you stay in Vietnam; it’s part of the adventure of living here.
3. Driving in Vietnam is not for the faint-hearted. Traffic rules are loosely enforced, if at all, and in many areas, existing roads can become extremely congested. Vietnamese drive on the right—more or less—but it’s not the same as in western countries.
Motorbikes and bicycles will generally take the right lane, while cars, trucks and buses drive one lane to the left; when they need to park or make a turn, they must navigate across several active lanes of traffic. On the far left and right of the roadway it is quite common to see vehicles travelling the wrong way against traffic. Drivers will cross far into the oncoming lanes to overtake others, sometimes three and four abreast, even on busy, congested roads, or will stop for no apparent reason in the middle of a lane or intersection while the traffic flows around them… unperturbed.
In heavy traffic, motorbikes sometimes take to the less-congested pavements—a practice that isn’t legal but is generally tolerated.
As you may imagine, it’s sometimes challenging to be a pedestrian in Vietnam’s urban areas, too. In addition to the chaotic traffic, pavements are often blocked with parked motorbikes, informal cafes that set up during the day and disappear at night and other obstacles. It’s often easier to walk in the street. It isn’t nearly as dangerous as it sounds, and after you live in Vietnam for a while, you do get used to it, but it can take a bit of adjustment at first.