Submit your own Great Escape


Jack

Q1. Where did you move to and when?

I moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in October 2019

Q2. How long did you work in Thailand?

I was there for four years between 2013 to 2017 and took a few trips back before moving to Vietnam in 2019.

Q3. What was your main reason for moving?

My primary reason was the visa hassle. It seemed like every time I had to go to the immigration office or do some 90-day rubbish, they became more and more spiteful. Every other week there would be some harebrained new rule implemented at a moment's notice with harsh zeal and I just felt more and more unwelcome as time went on. It had become a place I couldn't see myself settling as much as I would have liked to.

Another reason is money. Teacher salaries in Thailand are frankly insulting when you factor in the work we do, the strict requirement for degrees (that we spent thousands of £, € or $ getting) being notorised etc and the hassle of dealing with immigration we go through. With tourism as a major industry in the country, they should be begging for English teachers, not pushing them away.

I had a similar story to many I know in the 35-45k bracket, running on fumes by the end of the month and tormenting myself having to eat rice again when I knew there was an amazing pizza place a few BTS stops down that I could only afford as a very rare treat and a night out being an even rarer treat.

Just trying to live even a slightly comfortable life, I couldn't save anything and after I hit my 30s and was still counting pennies every month, I realised I needed change. Also, their attitudes towards farangs just seemed to get worse and worse. I didn't want to work, pay taxes and contribute to a society that frankly didn't want me to be there.

Q4. What are the advantages of working where you are now compared to Thailand?

Visas are far easier in Vietnam. While officially you need a degree here, it's less stringent than in Thailand. With my documents, my school got me a 2-year residence card so I could throw my passport in the safe and can worry about it in two years time. No 90-day check ins and no need for re-entry visas if I go abroad (I just take my residence card and come straight back in).

Also, the money situation is a lot better here. I get paid twice as much for significantly less work than I did in Thailand. On top of that, Vietnam is dirt cheap so your money goes far. I have a lifestyle in Saigon I could only dream about in Bangkok with a nice condo in a popular area, eat good food every day and still have money to travel.

You don't need to sell your soul by moving to the Middle East or putting up with freezing winters in Korea. In Vietnam, you can have a healthy slice of the Southeast Asian lifestyle in the sun, have fun and still save money every month.

Vietnamese language uses the Roman script so while it's still a pain to learn, at least you can read signs etc without needing to learn strange characters.

Finally, I've actually found the locals to be better here than in Thailand. There seems to be less of the "us vs them" attitude and I've dealt with far less incidents of xenophobia or racism here. Like many Asians, they are sensitive to criticism but they don't have the same nationalistic "centre of the universe" attitude that many Thais have. Maybe because there are fewer tourists, creeps and lager louts here, the Viets haven't had chance to develop the resentment that mass tourism brought to Thailand.

While the locals' English ability is low in Vietnam too, they're more likely to try and help out rather than scowl or ignore you like Thais. While not all Thais are rude or Vietnamese are polite, you're far more likely to run into a rude Thai.

Q5. What do you miss about life in Thailand?

Thailand is definitely more fun. I miss the nightlife of Bangkok and Pattaya. Whether you like a British pub, raving nightclub, quiet beer bar or watching gogo dancers, there's something for everyone there. Even in District 1 of Saigon, the nightlife is much more tame. Bui Vien pales in comparison to Khao San road etc.
Now that I'm in my mid 30s and no longer a party animal, I'm ok with that but my nostalgic self still misses the nightlife of Thailand.

Thailand has a very high return rate among tourists while Vietnam's is very low.
While I won't say that Vietnam is boring, I can kind of understand why anyone who spent time in Bangkok would think it is so.

The dating scene was quite a lot better in Thailand and also the expat scene. I had some really good friends in Thailand who I still keep in contact with now. While I have some good friends here too, as a smaller expat community overall, the Vietnam expats can be quite cliquey and gossip travels through the coconut telegraph with ease, especially in the smaller areas but maybe I'm biased as I used to live in Bangkok. Thailand seemed to have much more of a "live and let live" attitude from locals and expats alike.

The food scene is much better in Thailand. Thai food reigns far superior over Vietnamese in flavour, variety and quality and I honestly don't like Vietnamese food at all. Apart from the bread, it's inferior in almost every aspect and mostly dishes consist of some kind of noodle soup with mystery meat.

Not to mention, as a more touristy place, international food is far more abundant in Thailand too. I'm lucky I live in big city Saigon where international food is available. Out in the provinces of Vietnam, I might very well starve to death.

Q6. Would you advise a new teacher to seek work in Thailand or where you are now?

It depends on you. For all it's excitement and adventure, Vietnam is a lot more "raw" than Thailand and very much "real Asia". The traffic is even more chaotic, the noise even more irritating and weird/rude/unusual behaviour from locals such is spitting, yell-talking, urinating in public etc is more commonplace. It's a lot more traditional here too.

Many former Thailand heads will say that Vietnam is the adventure they've been looking for. Many others will yell expletives the moment they step out the airport and board the first flight back to Bangkok. Its a real culture shock, for good and for bad. Even for me as a seasoned traveller and teacher, stepping into the Saigon traffic, noise and chaos for the first time had me questioning my life choices. And this depends on where you are in the country too. Saigon is more modern and typically Southeast Asian while Hanoi is more traditional and similar to China.

I know dating is a big motivation for many guys moving to SEA. Being a very conservative country, Vietnam is harder in that regard. Many Vietnamese women are married by their early 20s and have no interest in dating foreigners. The good news is it's still a very good country for single dudes and Vietnamese women are real sweethearts.

Personally, for new teachers and those less travelled, I'd recommend Thailand. It is far more geared to tourists and expats, making life more comfortable and simple. Theres plenty of fun to be had there and for a young buck keen to party, a new teacher earning their stripes or a first time Asia explorer, I don't think there's a much better place.

But for seasoned travellers and more established teachers who still want to enjoy the laid back, Southeast Asia lifestyle but without living in poverty or dealing with endless visa hassle, Vietnam is a very good alternative.

Q7. Any plans to return to Thailand one day?

Definitely. I still have friends and people I want to visit. But I'm doubtful I'll move back unless visas and salaries drastically improve.

Q8. Anything else you'd like to add?

No.

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