To open this post on a positive note, I want to make one thing clear: there are so, so many great things about living in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s fun, vibrant and almost impossible to get bored. What you might find yourself feeling, though, is exasperation. Saigon is a frustrating place to live for a lot of reasons – especially if you have a rather limited amount of patience like myself. I don’t want to be overly negative but I do always try to be honest about my life and experiences here. Pretty much every expat I know gets to a point every few months where they need a break from this city – and here’s why.
Customer service – or lack thereof
Almost every time you visit a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, they’ll be out of something that you wanted to order. Your bill will probably have at least one mistake on it. Your starter will arrive fifteen minutes after your main. Okay, I know that none of these are end-of-the-world-type situations, but it does start to get on your nerves after a while. Also, the attitude is that if the place screws up, it’s your issue, not theirs. There are no conciliatory discounts or freebies, which makes things even worse.
Vietnam’s roads inspire decidedly mixed feelings inside me. On the one hand, I love whizzing around on my motorbike and the freedom of no real rules. On the other, the constant beeping of horns does my head in sometimes. Sometimes it serves a purpose, sometimes it’s just buses and trucks reminding everybody that they’re the biggest vehicle on the road and will run you over if necessary. I could definitely live without it. Buses can suck my gearstick.
Vietnam is a cash-based society. Wages are often paid in cash and many places won’t even have a card machine. Even if they do have one, there’s a strong chance it won’t work or the server just doesn’t want to use it. When you go to the ATMs, they’ll often spit your card back out for no real reason. It’s always a game of roulette as to whether you’ll be able to withdraw money or not. It’s not the end of the world but it can get annoying, especially when you’re in a rush.
This time last year, rainy season was the bane of my life. It’s the reason I’d recommend getting a job close to where you live. It never rains here – it pours. Admittedly, it usually only lasts for about an hour each day, but there’s nothing worse than getting caught in a torrential downfall with only a measly plastic poncho for protection. It always seems to happen at the most inconvenient times – like when you’re trying to leave work after a long day of teaching, or about to head out with a full face of fresh makeup.
Constant construction is part and parcel of living in a developing country, but it can become irritating when said construction is going on right next door to your apartment. It’s also a bit of an eyesore – oftentimes you’ll find a beautiful building on your left and a huge pile of rubble on your right.
Finding clothes and shoes in your size is difficult and can require trekking here there and everywhere. I don’t shop much anymore, save for H&M, because I don’t really see the point – finding something to fit me is the exception rather than the rule. On the plus side, it’s cheap and (relatively) easy to get clothes made – for more on that, check out this guide.
Everything is Grey
Well, not quite everything, but Ho Chi Minh City is a concrete jungle. From the rubbly roads to the corrugated iron everywhere, Saigon is a little harsh on the eye. There are, of course, nicer buildings and prettier areas, but there’s very little greenery in the city. This is a common complaint amongst expats but I thought I was one of the lucky few that didn’t feel the absence of nature – until I went home. On the way home from the airport it was all I could do to stop myself from hanging my head out of the window like a dog. After so much time in Saigon, I had forgotten what nature looked like. I kept declaring my amazement at just how beautiful the field-flanked roads were (I’m pretty sure everyone thought I’d gone a bit mad.) Now that I’m back, I’m definitely more conscious of my need for nature. There’s something about unrelenting concrete landscapes that gets a little stifling after a while.
Ho Chi Minh City is polluted, big time. The sheer volumes of vehicles, combined with lax environmental laws, means the air here is far from clean. Lots of expats complain that the metals in the water cause their hair to fall out, too. Happily, there are solutions: shower filters are available on Lazada, which is essentially the Vietnamese version of Amazon. AQ Blue Masks provide protection from exhaust fumes. They have a charcoal filter that makes them far superior to the usual strips of cloth. I was skeptical at first, but once I started wearing them the annoying cough I’d had for months finally disappeared.