Having recently completed a one-year stint in living in Vietnam I wanted to share a few pearls of wisdom I wish I’d known before coming here.
There are good and bad people everywhere, sure. The rich poor divide in countries like Vietnam however is great, which does make you a target as a Westerner to the many scams and dishonest people you will encounter along the way here. I’m talking expats here too not just the locals.
Don’t believe anything they tell you
This was the one piece of advice that was uttered to me by a local Vietnamese friend when I arrived in Saigon. I laughed it off at first, but over the course of the last year in business and personal relationships I’ve found this to be sound advice.
Lying is a grey area in many Asian cultures.
The concept of ‘saving face’ is ingrained and quite often you will be left scratching your head wondering why you were promised many things to your face but nothing was actually delivered. People often rationalise lies and wrong doing to make themselves feel better about their actions. ‘He did this a month ago so it’s ok for me to do that, etc.’ Where an outright lie in the West is usual met with instant disapproval and often no further dealings with the person, in Asia this to some degree has to be expected so be prepared for things turning out differently than you expected a lot of the time.
Don’t get a girlfriend straight away
Tempting though it may be, always be careful of women who are a little too ‘keen’ if you catch my drift. You may find yourself after a few weeks dating a local girl who you’ve met at one of the bars in town. Before you know it she’s declaring her undying love for you and moving her stuff into your studio apartment and you’re wondering what the hell is going on…hmmm.
I call these girls ‘the welcoming committee.’
What you’ll notice when you stay in one place for a few months is that the same girls frequent the same bars all the time-and quite often they will have a different Western man each week or month. Many guys when first arriving to places like Vietnam are blown away by the girls-and rightly so, they are beautiful and a lot different from what you will get back home in the West however tread with caution. Bar girls should generally be avoided and rejected as LTR material in my opinion, especially in conservative cultures like Vietnam. These girls almost always have considerable baggage in the form of debts, children, or family problems and generally don’t make good long term partners. Give yourself sometime to cool off and get to know the area and it’s people first. You have been warned.
Stop converting prices to dollars, pounds euros etc
Many expats, myself included initially always convert back to our home currency when living abroad and find that most things seem pretty cheap compared to home.
Unless you are earning a salary similar to home or are on an expat package then you will burn through your money quickly by doing this. That burger at the hotel that was just a little less than back home will soon add up if you’re not earning a similar wage to back home. One of the reasons we choose to live in parts of the world such as South East Asia is due to the lower cost of living. Take advantage of this; i’m not saying be a total cheapskate and forgo all home comforts, just be careful with your spending as Asia has a sneaky way of extracting your cash..
‘How do you make a small fortune in Asia? Start with a large one…’
Avoid the expat bubble
I’d recommend trying to befriend honest locals over expats if you have the chance to. You will always be an outsider or more politely a guest in countries like Vietnam, and the more decent local people you befriend the better, you never know when you may need their help. You’ll also see a side of the country you wouldn’t normally get to see and many doors will open for you in terms of job opportunities and access to decent women who don’t spend every night at the local bar hedging their bets.
A recent vehicle accident left me at the mercy of the local police, and after spending a number of very unpleasant hours at the local cop shop where no English was spoken my local contacts really came in handy. A few telephone calls and the matter got sorted, albeit after i’d paid off the local constabulary. This made me appreciate the value of having local friends, especially those with contacts in high places.
Don’t jump into jobs and business deals too quickly
..and research the people and job on offer as much as possible first. Many people will take any job when abroad just to make ends meet and then wonder why it goes tits up a few months down the line. Use the same due diligence you would back home. If it looks too good to be true then it probably is. There are many unscrupulous expats hiding in Asia due to lax laws and cheap living. Keep your wits about you and trust your gut. If it looks too good to be true then it probably is.
Don’t stay in hotels/hostels too long
I stayed in a hotel for nearly two months when i first arrived in Vietnam and quickly came to regret that decision.
Rent an apartment quickly if funds enable it and you are planning on staying for more than a month. The main benefit of this is that you will have a kitchen and can cook your own food and therefore live a little healthier. It’s also better to bring girls back to your apartment as opposed to a hotel as they will take you a little more seriously. It will be cheaper long term staying in your own apartment as opposed to living in a hotel, plus you’ll have more privacy.