A chapter I won't forget

When I first came to Vietnam I only planned to stay for a month or two on a backpacking trip. It’s been 4 years now, and I have absolutely fallen in love with the place. The hustle and bustle of Hanoi, the warm and cheeky smiles of the Vietnamese people, all the new dishes, even the traffic is amazing (and sometimes a little scary). I’ve met a lot of lifelong friends here, and the expat community is one of the most welcoming communities I’ve ever encountered.

Everybody is having the same adventure, and everybody is eager to share stories and advice, and everybody is always ready to have a bia hoi (a type of local home brewed beer) and a laugh with a stranger. The Vietnamese people are amazing, curious, hospitable, and eager to share their culture and learn about mine. To be honest, when I first thought about settling down and living and working here, I wasn’t sure I could do it. It seemed like such an intensely different place that I didn’t know where to begin. However, in hindsight, deciding to live and teach in Vietnam is one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

Learning to live here

In the beginning I was a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of working and living here. Where should I start?

But with a few suggestions from friends I found some work through Facebook, and soon I was catching buses and motorbike taxis all over Hanoi to teach (I wasn’t quite ready to brave the traffic on my own yet). Within a few months, I was feeling more confident, had a variety of different schools I worked at and was looking for my own apartment. Today, I feel completely settled in Vietnam, I have steady employment, my own apartment, and a great circle of friends, both expats and locals. It was intimidating at first, but the process of becoming comfortable and confident living here was extremely satisfying, and I know feel like I’d be well equipped to figure out how to live and work in almost any location.

On top of all that, I really feel like I have the best work-life balance I’ve ever had. The pay is very generous, especially given how cheap everything is, and because I am a freelance English teacher, I can always choose to pick up more classes if I want to, to fatten up my bank account, or drop a few if I want some more “me” time.

The holidays

One of my favourite things about living here is the holidays, and more specifically the motorbike trips you can take.

I try to do at least one major motorbike trip around Vietnam per year, and usually a couple of smaller ones. My favorite route is riding North west from Hanoi up through the mountains of the Lao Cai area to a famously beautiful city Called Sapa. The mountains in this area are so gorgeous they almost don’t look real, and have this interesting “staggered” look because they have been cultivated (basically cut into huge steps) for rice farming. If you go in September, the mountains are even more beautiful because the rice paddies are ready to be harvested, meaning the whole place is the most perfect shade of green.

It may sound cheesy, but doing these trips with a group of good friends is one of the most life-affirming things I can imagine. That being said, they don’t always go smoothly. Mechanical breakdowns are common, but the locals are extremely helpful with this, and we’ve had curious and welcoming locals help us with our bikes more times than I can count.

One time, in a small town in the north, my friend had a breakdown, and a local man in a truck stopped to help us. Two hours later we were eating and drinking rice wine (not my favorite, but it would be rude to say no!) with him and his family. I am still learning Vietnamese, and I’ll be honest it’s not the easiest language, but it’s amazing how much you can communicate with a little English, a little Vietnamese, and some very creative gesturing.

The people

I think one of the biggest benefits of living here is the people. I’ve travelled a lot, and I’ve been in many countries that I would consider friendly and welcoming, but it’s hard to beat the hospitality of the Vietnamese.

They’re not just friendly. They will actually go out of their way to welcome you into their homes and help you out at every turn. For example, when I first arrived I started working at a small school owned by a friendly woman named Chi. After only a month of working there Chi invited me to spend a week long holiday with her and her family in her hometown on the coast. She drove me and a friend there, we stayed for free, and they fed us some of the most amazing Vietnamese food I have ever eaten. I thought I knew good Vietnamese food before that, but this was on another level. Every one of her family was welcoming and generous.

Things like this are completely commonplace here, and that’s just one example of many. The people were also super helpful when I was finding my feet in Vietnam, and I actually found my apartment through just talking to a guy at a café who was curious about who I was and where I came from. When I told him I was looking for an apartment he immediately called his uncle, who sent an email, and 2 weeks later I had a lovely apartment in the centre of town. But it’s not just these acts of kindness that shine for me. It’s the genuine curiosity.

Vietnamese people are endlessly curious about other cultures, and very eager to share their own culture, language, and cuisine with foreigners.

I honestly think Vietnam is one of the top teaching destinations in the world where you will be made to feel immediately welcome, while having a great work/life balance and go on some incredible adventures.

Tobin Ayres

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English Teacher's Life in Vietnam

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