Exploring the World from This Beach City in Vietnam

It’s impossible to keep Jo Thomson, 62, and her husband Marc Brand, 63, in one place for long. For them, living the “good life” means bouncing around the globe to hidden corners of the world that some of us only dream of visiting. For many years, they’ve had a particular interest in the delights and mysteries of Southeast Asia, and they’ve found a remarkable home base from which to explore the region: Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Nha Trang lies on southeastern Vietnam’s Nha Trang Bay, about 275 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a popular Vietnamese vacation destination, with more than four miles of beaches. And it’s home to 400,000 people, including hundreds of expats. The city has a tropical climate, with high temperatures ranging from 82 F to 91 F and lows in the high 60s F. Best of all, Nha Trang has a long dry season, which runs from January to August. It experiences its heaviest rainfall in October and November. Mountains surround three sides of the city, and a large island just off the coast shelters Nha Trang during heavy storms.

Life abroad brought Jo and Marc together, and their passion for travel has never abated. They met in 1982 in Saudi Arabia, where they were both working, married in Cyprus, and spent their honeymoon backpacking through Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and Greece. Even after having two sons, they continued to visit Mexico and Central America, and they spent a few years living in Japan when the kids were young. Before retiring three years ago, Marc worked as a high-school world-history teacher and Jo as a school nurse. They’d spent the better part of 30 years living in Madison, Wisconsin. But the thought of watching the world pass them by wasn’t their idea of getting the most out of retirement. Instead, they returned to the adventures of their youth.

A Lifestyle Many Retirees Long For

Marc and Jo spend about four months each year visiting friends and family in the United States. They dedicate the remainder of their time to living in Southeast Asia and discovering new places throughout the world. For the past two years, they’ve used Nha Trang as a jumping-off point for exploring the Southeast-Asian countries they love most—Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. Their Nha Trang way of life practically defines the lifestyle many retirees long for.

“Being by the ocean during the great-weather months has been the major appeal,” Marc says. “We go on long walks in the morning. In the afternoon, we relax, go on adventures in town, read at the beach, or go to a beach club, where we can swim in the pool and rent a chaise longue for about $2. After our late-afternoon walk, we relax at home and then go out to one of our favorite restaurants—Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, you name it. Some nights, we go to local American- or Canadian-run bars for live music—rock, blues, or jazz—played by both expats and locals.”

A Lower Cost of Living in Nha Trang

Overall, Nha Trang’s cost of living is much lower than Madison’s, enabling Jo and Marc to live a full life without worrying about expenses. “You can rent a house in Nha Trang for as little as $200 per month,” Marc says. “We rented a modern studio apartment—a five-minute walk from the ocean—that was fully furnished and included cable, Wi-Fi, a small kitchen, maid service, laundry six days a week, a security guard, a weight room, and utilities for $300 a month.”

Long-term hotel stays are available for as little as $200 a month, and you can find plenty of short-term and long-term apartment rentals, most of them furnished.

Grocery prices don’t put much of a dent in Jo and Marc’s pocketbook, either. The French colonial legacy left residents with a taste for fresh baguettes, which these days cost about 10 cents, and the couple can buy 10 eggs for under $1. Two pounds of potatoes cost less than $1, milk runs about $1.30 per liter, and a two-pound bag of tomatoes comes in at about 65 cents. Two liters of Vietnamese beer costs around 70 cents.

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