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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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.

Exploring the Mekong Delta – with 13 month olds

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Today we had a pretty epic day. Not only was it daddy’s 32nd birthday, but the twins got to explore the Mekong Delta, via speedboat.  Old Adam and Marissa would have taken a 5 hour bus ride deep into the Delta, followed by a home stay. But now that we have children, we decided we needed to be slightly less adventurous, just slightly though.  We opted instead for a one day trip with a well-reviewed boat operator, Les Rives.

The day started early — we also realized upon waking up that we only had two diapers left and twin B had diarrhea (yikes). I texted a mom that we met in our compound and she gave me a few diapers to take on the trip (note to self – don’t let the diapers run low).  We packed a bunch of snacks, hats, sunscreen, change of clothes, and alas, diapers.

The boat had 11 people total on it and was a nice speedboat.  They had lifejackets, but for adults only, so we held the twins in our arms and hoped that the propeller didn’t hit any of the crazy debris that was in the water.

The Mekong Delta, called the “rice bowl” of Vietnam, is the region in Southwestern Vietnam that flows all the way to Cambodia. In fact, our apartment is right on the river  (In Ho Chi Minh) and we see all of the boats pass by, transferring transferring goods from deep south in the Mekong. The idyllic scenery is filled with fruit orchards, rice paddies, canals, streams, boats, houses and floating markets. It’s also filled with sewage and tons of debris, sadly.

Our boat made a brief stop at the Tuong Van Pagoda, where we learned more about the importance of Buddhism to the people of the Delta.

After the Pagoda, we went to a local market, where we spoke with an 80 year old woman that has been selling eggs in the same spot for the past 40 years.

From there, we turned off the river into small, winding canals of the Thu Thua area, where we visited a traditional riverside house.  Here we met two sisters who served us fresh coconuts.  The twins really enjoyed the refreshing coconuts.

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No trip to the Mekong could be complete with out some local whiskey.  The group sang happy birthday to Adam over some whisky shots.

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Lunch was incredible; served at a local pagoda and included multiple courses – spring rolls, soup, rice, chicken, and a fried elephant fish.

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The best part of lunch was when our tour operator took our children so we could eat. They brought them into a local house where the locals played with our girls – we heard laughter and singing, so we were okay with it. It’s becoming a theme in Vietnam, nice people watching our children so we can eat!

We returned back home around 5PM. Our girls were allstars. They had smiles on their faces the entire time. They got some quick shut-eye while we were on the boat, in our arms, but other than that, they were troopers.  We were so proud of them!

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