Planning a trip and getting a visa for Vietnam isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do with the current world events, but I believe in following your dreams no matter the opposition. I’ve been dreaming of going back to Vietnam since my first visit there last year. Even though there’s travel uncertainty at the moment, I’m still looking at what it will take to move there, at least for a couple months.
In the past five years, I’ve gone to live in Thailand three times. Each time, I’ve chosen the northern city of Chiang Mai as my home base. The most usual reasons why people choose to live in Thailand are the low cost of living, the great food, and the beautiful scenery. One of the main reasons I selected Chiang Mai as my home base was the large number of digital nomads living there, and how the city wasn’t that big – especially compared to Bangkok.
Unfortunately, Chiang Mai is not what it once was. My first time living there was in 2015. A lot has changed since then. The city has grown significantly, and with it, the prices. The city is still relatively cheap, but not like it was five years ago. Sadly, another thing that has increased is the pollution. When I lived there in 2019, the city topped the charts for three weeks with the worst air quality. Safe ranges are under 100, and 300 is considered hazardous. Several times during the month of March, Chiang Mai peaked above 800.
Vietnam, on the other hand, has a much better climate, situated as it is along the Pacific Ocean. There are certainly some months to visit Vietnam that are better than others when it comes to the weather. I don’t think I’d want to go during monsoon season.
Another change is that many of my digital nomad friends that I followed there in 2015 have long-since left, and a different crew of expats has moved in, going to show that the city just isn’t the same. The 24-hour co-working cafes are still there, but the vibe is lost.
In asking around, I found that many of the nomads that left Chiang Mai migrated to Vietnam, specifically the city of Da Nang. Population-wise, Da Dang is four times bigger than Chiang Mai, and from the photos I’ve seen, the city is far more modern. Although I prefer smaller cities with more history, a better infrastructure has its advantages.
Another reason I’m considering Vietnam is the Vietnamese cuisine. On my last visit, I took a street food tour in Hanoi. Before my visit, I wasn’t too fond of their food. Now that I know the good dishes and where to get them, I can’t get enough.
Applying to Get a Visa for Vietnam
The requirements for getting a visa for Vietnam have fluctuated over the years. In 2017, a simple 30-day e-visa was introduced. There are also quite a few countries (currently 80) which can visit visa-free for a certain length of time. Most of the European countries with this benefit (including the UK) get 15 days, the Asian countries get 30 days (except Thailand which gets 14) and Chile gets 90 days. Unfortunately, the USA isn’t one of the 80 countries and has to apply for a 30-day visa.
When I visited for New Year’s in 2019, I used my British passport with the 15-day visa-less entry, except I was only there for a week. The next time I go, I want to stay for 2-3 months and probably teach English while I’m there. This will require that I apply for a Vietnam visa, specifically the work visa if I’m going to teach English. If I was only planning to stay for 30 days, I could get the e-visa as long as I meet the requirements for the Vietnam visa. Unfortunately, the work visa is only a visa-on-arrival, so I’ll have to sort that out when I arrive.
Teaching English Abroad
When I started traveling in 2015, one of the first things I did was to get certified as a TEFL instructor, expanding on my skills as a teacher which had been my primary job in Hollywood. Since then, I have taught English around the world, and currently have several private on-line students I teach each week.
In Thailand, the average English teacher makes about $1000 a month. That allows you to live rather comfortably there, but it’s hard to build up any savings. On the other hand, teachers in Vietnam usually earn between $800 and $1800, while the cost of living remains comparable. Of course, if I were teaching for the money, I would consider South Korea, which is really tempting…
If you want to follow in my footsteps and teach English abroad, I’d highly recommend checking out the TEFL Factbook. It lists dozens of countries to teach English in with simple summations of what the requirements are, how much you can make, who you will teach, cost of living, etc.
Dreaming of Vietnamese Food
As mentioned above, I’ve now grown quite fond of Vietnamese food. As with many street food carts in SE Asia, the quality is sometimes questionable, but the flavor is always fantastic (especially if you love black pepper).
Some of the meals I grew to love are bánh rán mặn, bún riêu cua, bánh cuốn and, of course, phở bò and bánh mi. Bánh rán mặn are “savory donuts” – deep-fried battered minced pork logs. Bún riêu cua is a delicious crab soup you can get from street food carts for about $1. Bánh cuốn are the steamed rice rolls – not to be confused with spring rolls, and honestly like nothing else I’ve tried. I’m sure everyone knows phở (pronounced fah) is noodle soup and bò is beef. Bánh mi are Vietnam’s take on French baguette sandwiches, which were introduced into the culture when Vietnam was Indochina under French rule. Oh, and don’t let me forget the delicious egg coffee! You’ll have to read my article about the restaurants in Hanoi to find out what that’s like.
Just don’t ask me whether I prefer Thai or Vietnamese cuisine – that question is just too hard to answer.
Where to Stay in Vietnam?
The final decision I’ll have to make is what city to stay in. I really enjoyed Hanoi, but that’s a massive city with 8 million people – comparable to Los Angeles or London. I’ve been told that Da Nang is a digital nomad hub, which makes me consider moving there. Then there’s Hoi An, another cultural hub where I’ve been told I can find the best food in Vietnam. I think Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) is more for tourists and party animals), but I can’t say for sure as I haven’t been yet myself. Maybe I’ll just have to get out there and travel for a couple weeks to see where I want to settle down.
The plan is to make it out to Vietnam by the end of the year with my brother and teach English for a couple months. Those plans will obviously be contingent on the current world events and whether international travel has gone back to some semblance of normality. If not, I might just stay in Europe and visit those last eight countries I’ve had on my itinerary for the past couple of years.
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Headed to Vietnam? Here are my other articles for things to do in Hanoi, what to eat…and why you shouldn’t visit for New Year’s.
- Finding My Favorite Meals and Restaurants in Hanoi, Vietnam
- Celebrating New Year’s in Vietnam Wasn’t What I Expected
- Exploring Halong Bay: One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature
- Visiting the Water Puppet Show and Other Unique Attractions in Hanoi
- Pho and Egg Coffee on the Old Quarter Street Food Tour in Hanoi with Lan
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
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