What it’s like to work and live abroad in Vietnam

A lot of people ask me what it’s like to work and live in Vietnam.  The truth is, it depends on the day. Some days are amazing, incredible actually, while other days can be rather frustrating and inefficient.

For some background, my husband and I relocated to Saigon, Vietnam for 6 months for our business (www.timroon.com).  We help US companies with manufacturing here in Vietnam.  Business is going really well and we are very busy.  Half my time is spent on business development in the US, while the other is spent bringing on new suppliers and monitoring current manufacturing programs here in Vietnam.

Most days I get up at about 6:30, workout (either play tennis, do yoga, go for a run or work out with my trainer – costs $12 per session), shower, help with breakfast and then I leave the house around 830/9.  I ride my bike about 5 minutes to “town” and rotate between about 10 different coffee shops.  For me, this is exciting; I constantly get to work in different places.  For my husband, he’d prefer a set place.  Besides consuming lots of coffee, juice and of course coconuts, I love the change of scenery.

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One of my favorite office views

I can honestly say that I am so happy here in Saigon. Because of all of the help, I’m really able to focus on work.  The nice weather (sometimes too hot), means that we are always active and there are so many activities around us. The proximity to other places means that we can easily travel on the weekends – whether it’s exploring Vietnam, or going to Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, etc.  Most of the expats here are so friendly and I’ve really enjoyed making friends from all over the world. Life seems pretty easy here in Saigon and I am so thankful for this opportunity.

Here are my favorite and least favorite aspects of working abroad in Vietnam:

Best:

  • Always changing landscape – we can work from anywhere. Whether it’s a coffee shop, a restaurant, our living room or from a boat. As long as there’s wifi and power, we can make it our office.
  • Opportunity to Network – we are always meeting people who either work in manufacturing, do what we do or need things manufactured. Every day is a new opportunity to network.
  • Inexpensive Labor – it’s true that labor is very inexpensive. We have a cook ($4/hour), a housekeeper and a nanny.  When needed, we hire a driver (about $40/day).  We also have an assistant that costs about $3/hour.  We have employees here are on the ground in Vietnam whose salary is around 1/6 of what we pay at home. Labor is cheap and this allows us to focus on work, which is great!

 

Worst:

  • Time difference – being on a 12 hour time difference is very difficult to move things along. We often have to wait to get a response and vice versa. There are many nights where we stay up long into the night in order to be on East Coast time.  This is one of the negatives about working abroad. The positive is that during the day our time, I have lots of time to respond to our clients in the US, since they are sleeping.
  • Wifi – the wifi in South East Asia can be VERY frustrating. Some days it’s fine, but most days it is slow. Some times we even have power issues. In fact, right now I am using the hotspot from my phone because there is a power outage.
  • Culture Clashes – The people of Vietnam are wonderful, but sometimes we have some culture issues when it comes to working. People will always say “yes we can do this”, but often times details are overlooked and turnaround time can be slow.  We learned that we need to be very clear in our deliverables and constantly monitor the work to make sure it is getting done.  Face to face meetings are best.
  • Communication – Like any country, sometimes it’s hard to understand each other. Whenever we work with a new factory or a new person, I always make sure to start a Whatsaap group so we can text to make sure what we say is understood.
  • Air Quality – This doesn’t affect my work per se, but a huge negative is the air quality. Some days the AQI will reach over 150, similar to Beijing!  We can seldom see a blue sky and this makes us worried for our children.  If the air was clean, I would strongly urge everyone to pack up and move to Vietnam!

Do you work abroad? What are your likes and dislikes?

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We went on a 2 week trip in SE Asia with 14-month old twins and packed in one bag

While on a vacation from our base in Saigon, we went on a two week trip with our twin, 14 month old toddlers, and packed in only one bag.  True story.  How’d we do it? Two ways: 1). We packed in Gobi Gear’s stuff sacks and 2). we didn’t bring much stuff. That said, we did laundry about 2 times per week.

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Each one of us got one Hoboroll or SegSac and we put all three (twins had to share) in one large backpack.   We swear by Gobi Gear’s stuff sacks – they make packing WAY easier, allowing us to stay organize and pack more into less space!

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Here’s what was in the twins bag:

  • 6 long sleeve shirts
  • 6 t-shirts
  • 4 pairs of leggings
  • 2 north face jackets
  • 2 jean jackets
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 4 headbands + hair elastics (cute little pony tails)
  • 2 dresses
  • 4 jumpers (long pants)
  • 4 rompers (shorts)
  • 2 sleep sacks

In addition to the stuff sack, we brought the following:

  • 1 City Mini GT Stroller
  • 2 Lobster Chairs (couldn’t use them)
  • 1 Baby Bjourn Travel Crib (we put the chairs in the bag for the crib)
  • 2 baby carriers
  • 1 box of Nosh crackers
  • 10 food pouches – we’re running out 😦
  • One bag of basic medicine
  • One small bag of toys, 2 books
  • One small bag of diapers and wipes – we bought more as we went

Discovering the secret gems of Hoi An (with toddlers)

After one week in Laos, we flew back to Vietnam and spent nearly a week in our favorite place, Hoi An.  Originally we were supposed to go the previous week, but there was severe flooding, so we postponed.  We stayed at the homestay’s (guesthouse), Pham Gia, which we found on Tripadvsior.  Unfortunately, because they are so popular and only have 9 rooms, they only had one room left for us — not another one for our nanny, Sara.  Thankfully, the owner arranged for Sara to stay at a guest house right next door.

We arrived after midnight after two quick planes from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. The layover was longer than anticipated due to flight delays. I had brought some food with us from Laos, to make sure the twins had dinner. They’ve been very picky eaters lately and it’s been frustrating.  We got pizza and a salad to go and took it on the plane with us.  Flying with the girls has become very easy — well, each flight is only an hour. We have a good system down; feed them, nap them, play with them, land!

The weather was chillier than we expected, but at some points it got warm.  With only one bag between the four of us, we did laundry several times at the homestay since the girls didn’t have many clothes (thank goodness we bought them multiple pairs of monkey pants at the night market in Laos).

We had breakfast every morning at the homestay — the girls loved their scrambled eggs and banana pancakes.  The staff at the homestay was incredible and fell in love with our girls. Every chance they had, they would take the girls and play with them. It was great until we realized that one day they had fed them 10 donuts, we were not happy and neither were their belly’s.  The Vietnamese women tried to explain that the cream in the middle was good for the babies…ya, okay.  We arranged with the homestay for one crib, as we brought our one Baby Bjourn travel crib. In hindsight, I wish we had just brought two, as it was difficult to ensure that the places we traveled to had cribs.  We also brought our lobster chairs but all of the tables had a lip and therefore we couldn’t clip them on.

We went out for dinner every night. Hoi An has amazing food and it’s much cheaper than in Saigon.  The kids only lost it one night, otherwise they were very well behaved at night.

Hoi An highlights include the following:

Walking around Ancient Town, especially at night under all of the lights

dsc08895dsc08865We can actually say that the girls learned to walk under the famous lanterns of Ancient Town, Hoi An.  One would think that they were celebrities – at any given moment there were swarms of tourists taking their pictures. We caused quite the spectacle!

Biking to the beach


Funny story here.  On our last day, I had told Adam that it looked like a beach day.  We got bicycles from our homestay and started to venture to the beach. We wore the girls, unfortunately they didn’t have any bicycles. Instead of taking the boring, 10 minute ride to the beach, Adam decided that we should see some rice paddies.  20 minutes into our ride, it started to downpour, so hard that we couldn’t go further. We stopped at someone’s home (a bunch of men were drinking beer and playing cards outside). They gave us ponchos and we waited for the rain to calm down.  Finally, we set out, started to pour again, wind picked up, and we biked this way for about 45 minutes to the beach.  We got to the beach and the we were the only ones there. We waited out the storm in a nice beach bar, which we had to ourselves, and got the girls to take a nap (while we drank beer).

Going to the beach

Our favorite beach was An Bang beach.  We brought the girls there and let them put their feet in the water and play in the sand.  We also got them to nap on our lounge chairs (win!)

Celebrating Christmas with Sara 


For the first time, we got to celebrate a real Christmas — well, a Vietnamese Christmas. Our homestay treated us to a beautiful Christmas Eve dinner with the other guests. They cooked so many different Vietnamese specialties, it was delicious! After dinner we went to the Church, where thousands of people gathered to celebrate.  We had the babies there until about 1030PM.  All of the other babies were dressed in down jackets, hats and gloves – let me remind you that it was probably 60 degrees – and our girls were in sleeveless jumpers!  On Christmas Day we went to a nice brunch with Sara and walked around the town.  We happened to meet many Israelis and others celebrating Hanukkah.

Celebrating Hanukkah in Hoi An


Not only did we get to Celebrate Christmas, but we also got to celebrate Hanukkah, which happened to fall on Christmas.  We met an Israeli family in Saigon (amazing family – they are travelling with their three kids around Asia for 10 months!) that happened to be in Hoi An at the same time. They invited us over and cooked sufganiyot donuts, latkes and had a homemade menorah.  It was so awesome.

One Week in Laos with Infant Twins

We had a wonderful week in Laos with our 13 month old twins!  We traveled from Ho Chi Minh to Luang Prabang (via Bangkok).  We were originally supposed to travel to Laos the following week, but with all of the flooding in Central Vietnam, we switched it last minute (like the day before).

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Twin B is not wearing pants because she had a little accident. Note to self: bring extra pants!

The flights with the babies were very easy, as each leg was only around 1 hour.  However, we had a 2 hour layover so the entire travel felt a bit long, but manageable.  Upon landing in Luang Prabang, we could see the gorgeous mountains and greenery.  We booked our guest house literally as we landed at the airport (we saw some great reviews on Travelfish), and chose to stay at Villa Saynam, a stone throw away from the main street with the night market.  At the airport, we got our visas on arrival ($30/person) and packed into a van taxi.

Our guest house was nice – clean, basic, with a wonderful staff. We chose a room on the second floor, as we heard they were nicer.  The only problem was that they didn’t have any baby cribs; we brought one Baby Bjourn travel crib but figured wherever we stayed would have at least one… we were wrong!  We got creative and ended up putting a mattress on the floor, next to the bed and moving the bed over so that the floor mattress was protected on three sides. Then, we put the second crib in front of the mattress so essentially we made a crib (or a baby jail).

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Our makeshift crib. I think one twin was jealous that the other got all the space!

The staff at our guest house was amazing with our kids — in fact, everyone was amazing with our kids!  Each morning they had omelets and fruit waiting for the girls and would take them out of our arms and play with them while we ate.

Some highlights included:

FULL DAY HIKE / KUANG SI WATERFALLS

Yes, we took the twins on a FULL DAY hike! We wore them in their carriers and they actually got a 2 hour nap on us.  We had to drive one hour in the back of a tuk tuk on a very bumpy road. The girls enjoyed the ride so much that they fell fast asleep.  In addition to trekking to the waterfall (which at times I was in tears because I was so scared that I was going to fall), we loved having lunch at a remote butterfly garden.

We got to jump into the falls – not with the kids of course.

WALKING THROUGH THE NIGHT MARKET

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Twins eating at Utopia Cafe – a must visit.

EATING EATING EATING… AND MORE EATING

Favorite restaurants included: Secret Pizza (10 minutes outside town, only open Tuesday and Friday – AMAZING), Dyen Sabai Restaurant (across from Bamboo bridge – amazing Lao food, our favorite!), Coconut Garden, and Blue Lagoon (fine dining – everyone’s favorite).

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Twins A & B enjoying a front row seat on the bike

BIKING AROUND TOWN & OUTSKIRTS

The thing to do in Luang Prabang is to rent bicycles and explore.  We got two bikes with baby seats and put the kiddos in the seats. The only set back was that there were no helmets (and this made me very nervous).  After a few hours, we decided to put on our carriers and wore them in front of us. It felt safer and the girls liked it more because they had a front row seat!  Seeing the town via bicycle is super fun and a great way to see everything.

BOTANICAL GARDENS

We spent half a day at the beautiful Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens. To get there, we took a 15 minute boat ride from town, across the river. The kids loved it!  We had the stroller (not recommended) and we had to carry it down about 200 steps to the river, then 200 steps up to the gardens.  The gardens themselves were very interested and we really enjoyed walking around.  Our highlight was probably sitting at the cafe and experiencing a tea tasting, as well as their delicious food.  The kids liked their smoothies. Admission is $25/person.

CROSSING THE BAMBOO BRIDGE

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    VISITING VILLAGES

     

    we did this on our own by paying someone on a boat to take us across, then we walked around.

    MONKS & TEMPLES

    So. Many. Temples (well, not as many as in Bagan, Myanmar).

We loved travelling to Luang Prabang with our kids!  We can’t wait to go back. Now, back to Vietnam…

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