1. REALLY MAKE SURE THE PERSON KNOWS WHAT YOU’RE ASKING
So one slightly annoying thing I discovered is that Vietnamese people will say, “Yeah, yeah, okay” when they don’t know what you’re saying or they don’t know the answer. This will happen a lot in cafes and restaurants. They’re not actually confirming anything! I try to use my card as much as possible, so I’ll ask if card is okay, and without fail they’ll say “Yeah, yeah, it’s okay,” when it’s definitely not. So if you’re not sure, double and triple check, pull out Google Translate, or, in a credit card case, your actual card and make sure they’re actually saying yes. I remember one time I asked twice and then it was when I physically pulled out my card, they finally said “Oh no, cash only.”
2. THERE’S A BIT OF A CULTURE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE NORTH AND SOUTH
I don’t know that I really noticed this on my first trip, but I do distinctly remember liking southern Vietnam way more than northern Vietnam. Most people I’ve talked to prefer the south as it has nicer weather year round and it’s a lot less conservative. For example, I just found out Hanoi still has a curfew left over from the wartime!
3. IS IT SAIGON OR HCMC?
You know how a lot of places have changed names over the years? “So if you’ve a date in Constantinople, she’ll be waiting in Istanbul”? Well, Ho Chi Minh City is the same! Until 1976 when the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established, HCMC was known as Saigon. Actually if you really want to get into it, there’s a whole article on this regions’ naming history.
So, what’s the “right” thing to call this city? Well, it depends ultimately who you’re talking to, but from my experience and asking local friends here, both are used interchangeably. Saigon obviously rolls off the tongue a lot easier than Ho Chi Minh City and it’s easier to call someone Saigonese, like you’d call someone Hanoian, than it is to say “Ho Chi Minhian” or “Ho chi Minhese” (don’t even think those are things).
On this blog, I use HCMC in my titles, etc but in my actual text I might go back and forth!
4. YOU’LL MEET MORE THAN TEACHERS!
I think it’s because I didn’t live in Seoul or Busan while in Korea, but I feel like all the expats I knew were there because they were on an E-2 teaching visa or married. However, in Saigon, I’ve met people doing all sorts of things. The entrepreneurial spirit is really alive here (both expat and Vietnamese) which I think gives the city a really fun energy. Seriously besides teachers I’ve met people who work in furniture manufacturing, alternative energy, ecotourism, fitness, fashion, export/import… the list goes on really! If you’ve got the same spirit, then I think Vietnam is a really cool place to be.
5. ANIMAL WELFARE HAS A LONG WAY TO GO.
If you’re a sensitive animal lover, I’m going to warn you that Vietnam is going to be a hard country to enjoy. Animal welfare is improving, but it’s still not at a level you’d probably hope for. And it’s not unusual for dogs to get stolen, so you have to be REALLY diligent if you intend to adopt.
If you do want to get involved in helping out, there are animal volunteer groups! ARC Vietnam Animal Rescue & Care is a good place to start and, of course, fostering is always an option! Another great place doing a lot for animals is R House.
6. HOW COMMUNIST IS VIETNAM?
Yes, Vietnam is communist and has been since the end of the war. It’s not something that I find affects day to day life too much, but I also don’t recommend going around with anti-communist books or questioning the government. And I really, really do not recommend shouting out anything inflammatory against Bac Ho unless you want to get make your embassy’s life a living nightmare!
7. FACEBOOK GROUP ARE KEY FOR FINDING FRIENDS AND ADVICE!
I’ve found Facebook groups to be incredible sources of information and just for finding a bit of community. When I first came, I joined Fexpats in HCMC, and it’s remained a great source. The Hanoi equivalent is, I believe, Hanoi is Beautiful, but I couldn’t find it last I checked. If you want to make friends or are confused about anything just search there or ask. Lots of women in there have been here for a few years at least and it’s very chill.