Moving to South East Asia has been one of the biggest decisions i’ve made in recent years.
It seems like a long time ago now that I sold most of my material possessions, packed my bag with some essential travel items, left the safe but sterile land of the UK that I used to call home and headed off to Hong Kong in pursuit of something a little different..
My ‘plan’ if you could call it that, was to travel around for a few months and eventually find somewhere I liked and settle down for the foreseeable future.
Income wise I had a small amount of savings that would tide me over until I found some work either teaching English or anything that a newly expatriated Westerner could get his hands on.
It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride from start to present day.
Work wise I’ve taught English online and in the classroom, DJ’d at numerous bars and clubs throughout Thailand and Vietnam and modelled for a very famous international hotel chain, even if it was only for one day… 🙂
I’ve met hundreds of people over the last year, some good, some bad but most a little ‘off centre,’ a tad eccentric and many searching for ‘something better’ in their lives.
Could you live in South East Asia?
So let’s get down to business. Moving to South East Asia isn’t easy.
It’s a hustle to make money. The weather is harsh-extremely hot and humid. Traffic is a nightmare. The people generally see you as a walking dollar sign. I still believe that the positives outweigh the negatives, although some days I do question my choice of lifestyle while longing for the comfort of decent cheese, a proper English breakfast or Sunday roast.
Working in South East Asia
In countries such as Thailand and Vietnam you are competing against locals who often speak three or four languages and are reasonably well educated.
They will also work 50+ hours a week for $250 a month. So that’s what you’re up against firstly when looking for work other than English teaching.
Why would a company hire you when they can hire 10 locals for the same salary?
The key here is to get transferred from abroad on an expat package. I’ve met a few guys here who make bank this way, and it’s a good way to live. You will be largely location dependent though.
Safety in South East Asia
Food safety is almost non-existent in SEA and even the bottled drinking water is of questionable origin. It’s a lottery every time you eat out, and I sometimes dread to think where the meat comes from. That being said I haven’t been sick too many times here.
Common sense should prevail when choosing your eatery however.
Dengue fever, hepatitis, HIV and a whole plethora of other nasty diseases await the unsuspecting traveler who isn’t prepared.
Sex education is non-existent here in Vietnam. People don’t like to use condoms and the women generally have no clue about STIs. In fact the local hospital wouldn’t even test my ex girlfriend when I sent her in there to get checked. They said that she had to be married in order to be ‘tested,’ how ridiculous is that?! Fortunately a little ‘coffee money’ goes a long way here…which brings me to…
Corruption is endemic throughout SEA and you’re going to have to deal with it at some point if you live here long enough. My first taste came after a recent motorbike accident. Paying off police is normal here for road traffic ‘violations.’ Most of the time you can be on your way with a simple ‘donation’ however bigger problems may need bigger ‘donations’ and this is where it could get complicated. You will always be a foreigner here, have little rights and will generally always be ‘wrong,’ even if you are ‘right’-go figure.
Hospitals in South East Asia
There are many different types of hospitals in Vietnam.
Some very cheap aimed at locals only and a few international places of reasonable standard. I’ve visited a few over the years here for various ailments but I’ve never experienced a very high standard of treatment. Although most expats don’t bother with health insurance, it’s definitely worth thinking about if you’re going to be here for a long time. Getting flown back to your home country for treatment for anything very serious would cost a lot.
Pollution in South East Asia
Air quality is generally poor throughout SEA due to the incredible number of motorbikes and cars that flood the cities roads each day. It’s funny seeing almost everyone wearing surgical type ‘masks’ thinking it will protect them from the soot and smog, even though they do jack shit.
Although generally friendly on the surface, I’ve found that lying is a way of life here for many locals. It’s just part of a society that likes to ‘save face’ as much as possible. You have to realise that much of what you hear will be lies and fabrication. Take everything with a pinch of salt.
Driving in South East Asia
After nearly getting killed in a recent accident that wasn’t even my fault; I’d say think very carefully about hitting the roads here in anything other than a taxi or bus. Imagine 4 or 5 people on a small motorbike, hurtling through densely packed traffic whilst updating their facebook status at the same time. Yes, this is normal for Saigon which unfortunately has a very high vehicle accident rate.
Getting a visa in Vietnam is becoming trickier and the rules change almost weekly. It used to be the case that you could renew a tourist visa in Vietnam almost indefinitely without leaving the country. Now you have to make a visa run every 3 months or go for the more expensive business visa that lasts 6 or 12 months.
I still believe the sunshine, close proximity to other cool destinations and the low cost of living make countries like Vietnam and Thailand a decent place to be, however Asia is changing with prices starting to rise rapidly as people have higher disposable incomes and become more materialistic. Maybe they should try some minimalism.
Let me know your thoughts. Do you still think South East Asia rocks as a place to live?