Cosmopolitan City Life for Half the Cost of Home

After years working as a purchasing agent in New York, John Powell retired to Mexico, but eventually found himself feeling restless. In 2013, he set off on a two-and-a-half-month exploration of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. “That trip opened up a whole new world for me,” he says. “I looked at it from the perspective of viewing each place as potentially a good place to live. I liked Vietnam. I found it fascinating then and I still do.”

Almost exactly a year later, he sold most of his belongings and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam’s historic French-influenced capital city. He says, “I liked Hanoi for a number of reasons. I like that it’s a city. There’s lots of things to see and do; it has all the services I need, like good healthcare, and it’s a good base for travel. My sister was living in Hanoi at the time, too, and she was helpful in getting me settled and learning the ropes.”

A street vendor transporting goods with a traditional carrying pole in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

John says that a major factor in moving to Hanoi was the weather. “The seasons change here and there’s a definite cold season, even though it never snows. The summers can be a little toasty but not too hot, and spring and autumn are wonderful.”

John likes waking up early and going to the gym first thing in the morning. He says, “I’ll do a workout for two or three hours at the gym. My membership costs about $19 a month. Later, I’ll often go shopping at the Aeon shopping center, where I’ll catch a newly released movie before stocking up on groceries. I might go out with Vietnamese or expat friends for dinner, followed by an evening drinking a few beers at the local bia hoi.” A bia hoi is a popular eating and drinking establishment found throughout Vietnam, where you can buy a cheap meal and beer.

“Every Wednesday, I play pool and have lunch with a retired expat friend. There are often get-togethers posted on Facebook. I made friends when I was taking language classes at Let’s Speak Vietnamese a couple of years ago, and I’ve met a few people through events hosted at the embassy.”

John also enjoys exploring the city. “I like visiting the botanical gardens. It’s well-maintained, pretty, and everybody smiles when I pass them. It’s my favorite getaway in Hanoi for peace and quiet,” he says.

Hanoi’s restaurant scene has been improving rapidly, and John enjoys checking out the new establishments. “When I first came in 2013, it was pretty much all Vietnamese food. Now, I find more restaurants than I have time to visit. There are new places popping up every week—it’s great. I love the pizza at Da Paolo, and Tracy’s Pub makes as good a hamburger as you’ll find anywhere,” he says. “For a high-end lunch buffet, my go-to place is Jaspas, where $23 pays for two meals and drinks.”

Altogether, John says that he budgets about $2,700 a month, but he says that the figure includes taking frequent trips abroad and living quite comfortably. “It would cost at least twice that to live the lifestyle I have now, back home,” he says. His utilities average about $120 a month, and he spends about $270 per month on groceries.

“I like living here,” John says. “It’s fun, it’s fascinating, the weather is decent, and there’s lots of things to do. I don’t see myself ever moving away.”

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