How Safe is Vietnam?

 
How Safe is Vietnam? Advice from a solo female teacher abroad
 

How safe is Vietnam? I get this question all of the time, especially from family back home. It amuses me that my family and friends in South Africa are concerned about Asia's safety, when they literally live in one of the most dangerous (but beautiful!) places in the world. It only occurred to me how not-normal my concern for safety was once I left my own country. Like with any question or experience, everything is relative. Based on my previous life experience and growing up in Africa, I definitely feel at ease and safe living in Vietnam as a solo female.

Let's put it this way, I don't wake up in the middle of the night wondering if someone is trying to get into the house like I used to back home. I don't walk around my house checking every lock, key and bolt before going to sleep. Heck, I often forget to lock the door at all without a worry. To me, the worst thing that's going to happen here in Vietnam is someone could steal my stuff. And that in South Africa, is considered getting away lucky! Like I said, it's all about perspective. Here's what you need to know about safety in Vietnam: 

1. The Roads and Driving

The driving and traffic situation is probably going to be your biggest concern, but you get used to it pretty quickly. I personally don't drive a scooter and manage fine on a bicycle because I don't live in a major city. I'm not sure if this would work in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh because there is just so many people, and a lot more vehicles on the road. The rule I tend to follow is: look in front of you and worry about that. I think this is what everyone else tends to do as well, so just focus on whatever's happening directly in front of you. If someone seems to be driving on the wrong side of the road, go around them. Simple.

Acting confident also seems to help and I feel like most of the accidents happen because people are hesitant and are not keeping within the flow of everything else. So if you decide to turn, turn. 

Be sensible. Wear a helmet and if you've never gotten onto a motorcycle, learn how to drive before attempting driving in Vietnam. 

2. Disease 

The water in Vietnam is not safe to drink and you'll have to purchase big bottles of the purified version. I brush my teeth with the tap water and wash my fruit and vegetables with it, and I've survived. I'll also drink at restaurants and who knows what the condition of the water used for the ice is like, but 9 months on and I'm still alive. When eating out rarely get sick but you can expect to have the odd stomach problem. 

You'll need to watch out for things like malaria and dengue fever in certain areas too, but I don't think taking drugs or vaccinations are necessary. I've lived in high-risk areas over the last few years and I've been fine. Seek medical attention when you're concerned and be sure to have travel insurance to cover any unwanted expenses if something were to happen.

3. Petty Crime 

This is what you can expect. I'll usually lock up my bicycle when at a restaurant I'm not all that familiar with, and I'll be sensible with my belongings. I live in a small town so there is less to worry about, and theft will naturally be higher in the bigger cities. Remember, that in most parts of the world foreigners are seen as having a lot of money so we easily become targets for petty crime. Practice the usual: Not flashing money or expensive items. 

4. Travelling as a Solo Female

I'll admit I get a lot of unwanted attention. I like to think it comes from a good place and that I just stand out so much in my area because I'm a foreigner. I've learned to keep a balance between interacting with locals and keeping my distance, because at times my friendliness can be mistaken for permission to take a pass at me. I'll generally say hello if passing by someone who chooses to greet me but tend to avoid interacting with large groups of me. Also, if I feel uneasy about a situation then I choose to ignore and quickly move on from the group. 

I haven't had any bad experiences living and traveling in Vietnam solo beside the occasional cat-calling and constant attempts to interact even when I am clearly not interested. 

48 Hours in Hue while Teaching in Vietnam

 
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Surprisingly, while teaching in Vietnam most of my life centres around well, teaching. So even 48 hours in Hue seemed like a dream to me. I have one day off each week and I usually spend my time recuperating from a week spent with highly energetic kids. So when I learned that we would be having two days off due to national holidays, I was excited to get some exploring in - and I’ll admit, a little apprehensive about what it would mean for my energy levels for the rest of the week when I was expected to teach #teacherlife. 

The time limit meant my colleague and I had to cram as much as we could into 48 hours, and I was satisfied with the result at the end of the trip. We got our fair share of sightseeing done, loaded up on western food unobtainable in our rural area and even got some rest in (you’ll see why we needed it). Here’s my guide to Hue in 48 hours: 

How to Get There

We live a few hours south of Da Nang which meant our trip was expected to take an average of 6 hours by train. I use this website when booking trains throughout Vietnam or an alternative route is to go directly to a train station or tour agency. We had to book the train quite a while in advance because obviously the national holidays meant that everyone was travelling during this time. It is also common for trains to be late as ours was. We left straight after class on Sunday evening and got to Hue at 2:30am (not the most ideal time, but we were on a limited time schedule). 

The highway between Hoi An and Hue is popular due to the scenic route and I recommend travelling it by motorbike if you have the time. Flights to Hue are also a quick and cheap option via Hanoi, Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City, but I personally love travelling by train. 

What went wrong

I have travelled extensively throughout Asia and beyond, even in the most rural areas and never came out of any of it with a “what went wrong” story to tell. I guess this will be my first! Two factors led to problems in the early hours of the morning upon arriving in Hue: firstly, our arrival time meant everything was closed and everyone was asleep and secondly, so many local and foreign tourists had flocked to Hue because of the national holidays. Hue was jam-packed with tourists. 

We exited the station and it was pouring with rain. Because rainy season is long gone (apparently) we weren’t carrying any raincoats or umbrellas, and none of the taxis were willing to take us to our guest house because it was too close. We opted for a motorbike who agreed to take the both of us and so our journey of three began. I’ll admit becoming closely acquainted with the driver having to be pressed up against him in order for all of us to fit on the bike was not my idea of fun. Add the pouring rain and the fact that he dropped us off at the wrong location, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. We had to backtrack and use Google Maps to find the location of our guest house. Time slowly ticked away and we just COULDN’T FIND the street. Google took us to one location but our guest house was at another. It was all very frustrating and we were soaked after an hour and a half of searching. 

We knocked on the door of our guest house and woke the sleeping receptionist. I was so exhausted at that point and seriously needed to crash if I was going to do any exploring the next day. Not to mention my bladder was seriously full after trying to stay hydrated on the train. He proceeded to tell us that he had given our room away and that we wouldn't have a bed for the remaining hours of the morning, even though we had booked this way in advance. To be fair, we hadn't secured our booking with any payments but had clearly stated the previous day that we would be arriving early hours of the morning. We were told to sit on the floor of reception while he slept until check in time the next day. Lots of arguing was done but because of the rain and inconvenient time we really had no other option. At 5am we left and never returned to the guest house again. 

Finding a Hotel 

I’ve used booking.com before when booking hotels and I’ve never had a problem but because of the national holidays hotels were giving away rooms left, right and centre. I would recommend paying a deposit to secure bookings on popular travel dates or risking finding a hotel when you arrive. We were left no other choice and had to go with the latter, which was surprisingly easy and a pleasant experience after the one we had just encountered. We ended up staying at Golden Star Hotel and I was so impressed with their rapport with customers, the cleanliness of their rooms and the breakfast which featured pancakes, fruits, noodle bowls and your usual egg and bread combo. I am not affiliated with them in any way, I’m just recommending them based on a good experience. They are also budget friendly and the location is amazing. We were so happy that our previous experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise because of the location of our new hotel, which is right in the centre of where everything is happening! 

All the Food

You’ll find a fair share of western food options in this list simply because we live in rural Vietnam and get a tad tired of eating Vietnamese cuisine 24/7. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but I also love pizza. 

  1. Nook Cafe and Bar is a vegan friendly restaurant a little ways away from the centre of town. We stopped here for breakfast and were happy with their homemade granola and vegetarian breakfast plate. 
  2. Risotto Restaurant is walking distance from our hotel and is in the centre of town. I highly recommend this restaurant if you are looking for tasty Italian pizza or pasta. We might have eaten here two nights in a row. They provide free bruschetta and passion fruit for dessert, and our pizza came with a free beer or glass of wine. I mean, who doesn't like free food??
  3. Madame Thu Restaurant provides vegetarian and vegan friendly traditional Vietnamese cuisine with local Hue recipes. My options as a non-meat eaten can sometimes be limited in Vietnam so I was grateful that I still got to experience some Hue food. 
  4. DMZ Bar was a fun place to be in the evenings for a drink and we even ate here before our train left on our second day. They have a well stocked bar and restaurants on the second and third floor. They are also connected to a backpackers hostel. 
 

There are also tons of little street food stalls and local restaurants. I always look at which ones are packed with locals and know they are bound to be good. We eat our fair share of Vietnamese food so our goals for food for this trip were a little different. If you’re a teacher abroad living in a rural area, you’ll get what I’m saying. 

Sights to See 

Imperial City (The Citadel) 

We walked from our hotel for about 4km to reach the Imperial City. Hoards of local and foreign tourists flocked here from every direction and I supposed the sheer size of the place is beneficial for this reason, to accommodate everyone. We didn't hire a guide or take the motorised carts but rather made our own way around. I’m not sure if it was my exhaustion from the ordeals the day before, but I was rather unimpressed with the palace. It’s difficult to get around or know where you’re going or where you’ve been because the grounds are so big. I suppose it could be more interesting if you had a guide, but I heard some of them speaking and they were really giving out information that was common sense. When we got to the theatre room the one guide said, “This is where the royals would watch plays and at these tables they would have a party”. Obviously. Cost: 180,000 Vietnamese Dong. *You can also purchase a ticket for around 300,000 Dong for access to see all of the historical sites in Hue. 

Tu Doc Tomb 

We accidentally visited this when trying to get to another tomb. We hired bicycles for the day for $2 and cycled for about 9km. The route on Google maps took us through small streets and past monastery’s (what is up with Google maps lately?). Anyway, after a lot a side tracking and basically getting lost we found lots of tour busses and people outside this tomb on the way and thought it might be what we were looking for. I enjoyed this far better than the Imperial City as there were less people, less walking around and the buildings were more interesting. I would recommend seeing it. Cost: 100,000 Vietnamese Dong.

Hue-Vietnam-by-bicycle

Thien Mu Pagoda 

I realised halfway through our cycle trip that I was wearing shorts which is a big no-no when entering pagoda’s in Asia. Although there were tons of tourists walking in wearing shorts, despite the signs outside cautioning you not to, I didn't feel comfortable disrespecting the culture in such a way. I waited outside while my colleague explored around. Since this is the tallest pagoda in Vietnam I was able to admire its beauty from the outside. It is positioned along the river and a great lookout point as well with a peaceful atmosphere despite being a tourist attraction. I highly recommend seeing this, in respectable clothing of course. Boats also drop you off at the pagoda directly. Cost: free. 

Parfume River 

Hard to miss as it is the centre of Hue. There are people along the river forever trying to get you to take a boat trip to a “fishing village” which we didn't do because we’ve seen enough of the real Vietnam and live near a local fishing village. It was nice to take an evening stroll along the river as many others do. 

Overall Impression

Hue is a wonderful city with a rich history and culture, whilst still providing access to western amenities and food. It is definitely worth a visit and spending a short amount of time here is all that is needed. I felt I was able to see everything I needed to in less than 48 hours. 

Have you travelled to Hue? Or is it on your travel bucket list?

 

Disclaimer: This post contains NO affiliate links but rather just states recommendations based on first hand, real experience. I am not responsible for any advice you choose to take.

How Much Can I Really Save Teaching in Vietnam?

 
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So you're exploring some options about teaching in South East Asia, and Vietnam is on your list. Let’s be real, money and saving potential definitely play a big part in the decision making process. So I’m going to share everything with regards to money and the saving potential while teaching and living in a small town in Vietnam. Pay special attention to the words, small town - far away from major hubs like Hanoi, Saigon and Danang where you can earn roughly the same as I do but the cost of living and your expenses increase. There really isn't much to it, its simple: you can earn and save a lot teaching in Vietnam. And if you need to do some serious saving, then small town Vietnam is just the place for you. The figures and savings in this post is going to be based solely off of my first hand experience. You might have different needs so that will influence your expenses.

Before I get into what I earn, I thought I’d give you some perspective. It might look like you can earn a higher salary in China or South Korea but please consider that Vietnam is one of the cheapest countries in the world. Food is so cheap it often doesn't make sense to cook for yourself because it is literally cheaper to eat out for every meal (unless you're vegetarian or vegan and need more variety in your diet). Where I live, I never spend more than US$2 on a meal and glasses of tea are provided everywhere for free so I never spend money on drinks - not being a coffee drinker has its perks! To be honest, I cook most of my own food because I have special dietary needs but everyone else gets away with eating out everyday. I buy 19 litre bottles of water for less than a dollar and my town is small enough that I only use a bicycle to get around. Rent is free as I live in an apartment connected to the school itself. So in short, I spend money on food and water (and toiletries when needed). Nothing. Else. 

I’ll be honest and let you know that I tend to “splurge” on imported and expensive goods like peanut butter, strawberries and organic oatmeal but even so my groceries never amount to more than $200 a month. If you had to work out expenses based on eating out every day, for every meal, it would be closer to US$175 a month. While you let that sink in…

Some of the other teachers do have motorbikes and will need to pay for that, others go to the gym regularly and they have those expenses. But lets say your sole purpose for coming here was to save, you could get away with losing a lot of those extras like I have. 

Okay, now that thats out of the way - what do I earn? I earn roughly the same as what I would in the major cities: $1,300 a month teaching 30 hours a week. You could probably get a better deal in terms of teaching less hours but keep in mind I don't have to pay rent, or buy a motorbike because the streets aren't as crazy or far away and I’m used to 40 hour teaching weeks so this is a breeze. Since I teach 6 days a week and live in the middle of no where its also really difficult for me to travel to other parts of Vietnam (or abroad) while I’m teaching, so theres literally nothing else besides food to spend my money on. 

So how much can you expect to save by teaching in a small town in Vietnam? The answer is roughly $1000 a month, living extra comfortably with a motorbike, gym membership and short trips when you can whilst still eating out everyday. It still stumps me how more teachers aren't doing this!  

If you are looking for a job in Vietnam and are considering living in a smaller town, my language centre is always looking for teachers year round! Get in touch and I’ll put you in contact with the director (this is not sponsored).  

 

 

The Paperwork Process for South Africans

 
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I recently went through the process of getting all of my paperwork done to move to Vietnam as a teacher. Initially, I knew of a fellow Saffa teaching here and he guided me through the steps but I soon came to realise his information was outdated as many of the processes have changed. This is my experience and the process I went through personally:

*Please note: This process was done from Cape Town and a lot of couriering (and a lot of money for courier services) was needed as many of the consulates/authorisation centres are based in Pretoria. If you live in Pretoria, you can simply collect and take your documents there yourself. 

1. Apply for your police clearance

Out of all the paperwork, this takes the longest time so I'd begin it before anything else. Even if you're thinking of going overseas, start here. Go to your nearest police station to fill in the form and get your fingerprints taken. The fee is R96.00 and they only accept cash. You'll then need to send this form to the SA Criminal Records Centre in Pretoria. You will be messaged once your police clearance is ready for collection (up to 8 weeks later) and then you can return to the courier to collect it for you. They will need the collection number to collect it. Warning: Do not send your police clearance through the post office, but rather through a courier service as it is much safer. Police clearances are only valid for 6 months. 

2. Secure a job and book your flight

Once you have secured a job in Vietnam your school should provide you with a letter to apply for your work visa. I personally could only apply for a business visa (which was transferred over to the work visa once I was here as some of my paper work wasn't ready). If you come to Vietnam on a tourist visa you won't be able to transfer it over to a work visa, this is illegal. 

You'll then need to book your flight as you need it for your visa application. I personally love flying with Emirates or Qatar, as the long journeys to and from South Africa are more comfortable with these airlines. 

3. Apply for your visa

You need to fill in an online visa application form here:  http://vietnam.co.za/index.php/consular-services and then courier it with your original passport, 1 ID photo, flight booking and proof of payment for the visa fee (and a letter from your school if you have one) to the Embassy which located at 87 Brooks Street, Brooklyn, Pretoria. They will contact you when it is ready for collection. You can then return to the courier and fill in an "authorisation letter" for them to collect your passport in Pretoria. Your courier service should have these available for you to simply fill out. 

4. Authenticate your degree

You then have to prove that your degree is from a reputable university. Basically, that your degree is real. You do this by couriering your original degree, a copy of the degree and a copy of your ID to the Department of Higher Education in Pretoria. You should email before sending as they are super helpful and it ensures getting this done on time: twala.w@dhet.gov.za 

5. Apostille documents

Once you have your police clearance and the letter stating your degree is valid, you then need to send these documents to Pretoria (again!!) to have them apostilled. Email here: legalisation@dirco.gov.za and they will send you the address as well as the cover letter you need to attach before sending. 

I know it might sound like a big burden or a daunting task, but really it wasn't that bad. What did take a lot of time was finding out all of this information when all I wanted to do was get it done! So, hopefully this will prove helpful to others going through the same process. 

 

 

Move to Vietnam within a Month

 
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I think its pretty clear where my heart lies: in rural, off the beaten path teaching placements. I think that's why I hadn't considered moving to Vietnam sooner, because it was something that was so common - and I wanted a unique experience. 

But after having a bit of a "I have no idea what I'm going to do next" moment once I left Costa Rica and I decided I wouldn't be joining Dylan on his cycle down South America, I thought moving back home to South Africa would give me the time and space to reflect. It didn't take too long before I was on Dave's ESL Cafe searching for a new job. This kind of living gets addictive, so if you're considering moving abroad don't say I didn't warn you! 

Here's how I moved to Vietnam in under a month - and you can too! 

Obviously I have been living abroad for several years now, so I didn't have anything tying me down. This was a key factor in making this process so quick and effortless. If you are considering moving abroad the first thing you are going to need to do is get rid of all of your stuff - cars, furniture, home, anything that doesn't fit into your suitcase. And I know this can be a daunting thought, but it really is such a freeing experience. And I bet you'll soon realise how you don't miss any of the stuff.

I decided to secure a job before leaving South Africa. At this point I didn't really have a destination in mind so I just scrolled through all of the jobs on Dave's ESL Cafe until I came across a job in Vietnam which looked appealing. It had extensive information about how "rural" it was - it even mentioned how one shouldn't apply unless you were serious about living without western luxuries, so I contacted the centre right away (I think the word "rural" might be the way to my heart??). It's important to read the requirements and information in the job ad, and then match your resume and cover letter accordingly. If you're new to teaching or are looking to boost your resume to get noticed, you can find a free CV template here:

I want to add that securing a job for Vietnam before leaving isn't all that necessary. There are plenty of teachers who come to Vietnam and find a school or language centre once they're here. I think this could be even better (and take less time) because you get to test out the country to see if its a good fit for you. You can also see first hand what you're getting yourself into by going directly to schools to check them out, and you'll be an easier applicant to hire because you're so accessible - you're literally already right in front of them! This option also means you'll need to pay for flights and sort out visas on your own, whereas mine was included in my contract. 

After my interview process was complete I received my job offer and I began my documentation process. The following is required by law to obtain a work visa in Vietnam: a Bachelor's degree (in any field) and a police clearance from your country. If you are looking to teach anywhere in the world I would get the police clearance process started as this takes time. I waited two weeks for mine which is record time for South Africa. Some jobs will require a TEFL certificate but there are so many who will hire without - yes, really! These documents will then need to be apostilled. Every country has a different process for how this can be obtained, but it usually takes time. 

You'll also have to apply for a visa. I came to Vietnam on a business visa and then moved over to a work visa after I was here for a few months. Some teachers are able to get a work visa straight away, and there are others who work on a tourist visa and do visa runs every three months. I think you should decide what you feel comfortable with. The document/visa process was the only reason it took me three weeks until I could fly out. Teachers are in high demand in Vietnam, especially out of the big cities, so you could easily acquire a teaching job here. 

And thats it! If this seems like a lot of work to you, it really was such an effortless process and honestly quite similar to things you have to do when you're doing any kind of travelling anyways. I'm sure if you're looking into teaching in Vietnam you would have heard stories of the demo lessons you'll need to be ready for as well. I personally didn't have to do one, but new teachers at my centre do constantly "observe" me teaching so you'll need to come prepared for that - this is why although a CELTA or TEFL course isn't necessary, it sure will help you acquire a job more effortlessly.