I’ve lived in Saigon for two months now and, – although switching jobs means I’m neither properly settled nor rolling in cash yet – I am SO happy. Last night before bed I started thinking about all the things that make me happy here, so I made a list (obviously). I’ll probably keep adding to this, but for now here are a few of my favorite parts of life in this city.
1. The Expat Community
If you’re looking for a huge (South African) expat community, then look no further. Initially I was apprehensive about moving to a place with so many Saffas because it almost seemed too easy to slip into a friend group here. However, maybe ‘easy’ doesn’t necessarily always signify a bad thing?
It’s been really interesting to see how the normal barriers to friendship (like different cliques or judgements) don’t hold the same clout when you’re living abroad. I’ve become friends with so many marvellous people whom I probably wouldn’t noticed had we all still been living at home.
Teaching also exposes you to many expats and locals (especially if you’re prone to switching jobs, as I apparently I am), so even if you don’t know many people when you arrive, you’re bound to find your people.
2. The Sports and Hobbies
There is almost too much to do in Saigon and I’m currently the queen of free trials because I want to try EVERYTHING. From Muay Thai to pole dancing, salsa to netball, this city has it all. The tricky bit is choosing one thing and sticking to it.
3. The Workshops
If you manage to find any free time between between all the sporting activities, there are dozens of workshops happening every week around the city. Currently on my to-do list are pottery, leatherwork, silk handcrafts and making my own shampoo. These will have to wait until I’m a little more cash fluid, but in the meantime here are some links if any of you are interested.
4. The Greenery
I’m a little obsessed with plants, so the lushness of this city delights me. We’re particularly lucky in Thao Dien – with the trees everywhere – but even in the centre of town the crumbling old apartment blocks are covered in creepers and the balconies are overflowing with hanging orchids and pot plants.
(The fact that it’s constantly raining probably helps keep things green too).
5. The Architecture
Reminders of French colonialism are still very much in evidence in Saigon, especially in the architecture. This constant reminder of colonial oppression may be controversial, but the crumbling elegance of Saigon’s buildings is quite unlike any other city I’ve ever visited. Even in the dodgiest parts of town you can look up and see intricately designed wrought iron balcony railings or sumptuous wrap-around verandas. In Thao Dien I’ve stumbled across decadent mansions that wouldn’t look out of place in the wealthier suburbs of Paris.
6. The Contrasts
This takes me onto my next point: the contrasts. In District 1 you can stroll past hotels like the Reverie (with suites costing thousands of dollars per night), enormous Gucci and Louis Vuitton stores and endless Range Rovers; only to turn a corner and find yourself hit by the smell of fish sauce, navigating between tiny plastic chairs filled with Pho-eating locals and dodging the endless motorbikes that zip along the pavement.
This contrast is something that makes me uncomfortable and yet I love it because it forces me to think.
A Vietnamese friend of mine told me how living in Australia for many years almost allowed her to forget just how unequal the world is. There’s no forgetting this in Saigon.
7. The Food
I didn’t expect to love Vietnamese food but (unfortunately for my body) I completely understand the hype now. Can’t say I was ever much of a pork eater, but apparently I now crave it on a daily basis? I managed to cut down my meat consumption significantly during my last few months in South America, but I’m right back up there now. Somebody take me in hand, please.
There numerous Facebook groups for expats and locals in Saigon, but the queen of them is undoubtedly the female expat group. I don’t know what it is about men and trolling, but posting a question in one of the co-ed groups is something to do at your own peril – and don’t be surprised if you find yourself being spammed by friend requests or suddenly embroiled in an online brawl.
However, the Fexpats group is this fabulously supportive, safe space where you can post about anything from where to buy a couch to how to get sex toys into the country. I love this group and recommend it for any woman living in Saigon.
There are undoubtedly more than 8 reasons why I love living in Saigon, but for now this will suffice. If anyone has any thoughts on why they love life here, let me know!