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  1. A Rant About Living in Vietnam: The Driving

    September 16, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Of course, I have to preface this article by saying that I love Vietnam. I am enjoying living here and I am excited about what’s to come. Everyday I see something new, and everyday I feel a stronger connection to the country. That being said, it’s sometimes an extremely frustrating place to live. It’s difficult to stay positive when something goes wrong. In Vietnam, when it rains it pours — both literally and metaphorically. So here goes a bit of a rant. Let this be a warning to someone who is considering a move to Vietnam, but mostly let this be a therapeutic exercise for me — cause there’s a history of people losing their shit in ‘nam.

    Motorcycles driving in Vietnam
    It’s been called organized chaos, but I call it a lack of sense and patience. The drivers in Vietnam don’t like to stop. They’ll literally risk their lives so they don’t have to. I still don’t know if it’s safer for me to stop when I’m making a left hand turn (and risk being rear-ended or attacked for making someone have to stop), or to just plow into the stream of motorcycles without hesitation like I was playing GTA or something.

    In the one month I’ve been here, I’ve spoken to three people that have seen a dead accident victim on the road (one of the people had actually seen two on separate incidents). In my 30 years in Canada, I don’t know anyone that has had to witness that. In fact, traffic related deaths are 4 times higher in Vietnam than Canada. When I talk to people who have been in Vietnam for a while, they tell me it’s because of stupidity. One story I heard involved a woman who decided she’d try and drive underneath a transport truck as it turned past the motorcycle lane — like she was in The Fast and The Furious or something. I see the stupidity everyday. I was waiting by an intersection for five minutes and I witnessed three separate people turn the total opposite direction that their signals were indicating.

    When I first arrived, I asked someone for advice on how to safely drive. They gave me two great tips:

    1. It’s best to just keep right and go at your own pace. They also noted that if someone is coming at me, going the opposite direction that they should be, I should let them be closest to the curb. Driving the opposite direction on a road? That sounds like an awfully stupid thing to do — I see it everyday.
    2. You are responsible for everything in front of you. This means if someone pulls out in front of you from an alleyway and you don’t have time to stop and you crash into them, it’s your fault. When I’m about to turn onto a road my head is on a swivel. I’m looking left, I’m looking right, I’m looking over my shoulder, I want to know everything that is around me. Apparently, I’m just wasting my energy. I should, like the rest of Vietnam, just drive out into the road and not even look to see if anything is coming. The good drivers in Vietnam will blast their horns as they approach a road — they still don’t actually look to see if it’s safe, but the equivalent of yelling, “Lookout, here I come!” is better than nothing.

     
    A large roundabout in Vietnam.
    Another example of backward-ass thinking — when approaching a roundabout in Vietnam you should drive into it without hesitation. Then, when you’re in it, you give up the right of way to the other vehicles that are entering it. I don’t have too much experience with roundabouts, but that seems paint-chip-eating-stupid to me. It results in vehicles having to yield at every entrance as they go around the circle trying to get to their exit.

    I have an extreme hatred for four-way stops. They’re pointless, they’re bad for your vehicle and the environment. I was glad to leave them behind in Canada (especially after I received a ticket from Officer Oink-oink for going through one on a freaking BICYCLE!). In Vietnam, they don’t put up with that nonsense. In fact, 80% of the intersections have nothing at all. I like to call them commonsense intersections. When I arrive at one, I simply use my commonsense. I can’t let lights or signs tell me what the best approach is — that’s the first step in the robot revolution. The problem is, the sense that is common in Vietnam is a diluted version of the sense that’s common in Canada. It would be like adding 20 cups of water to make Kool-Aid instead of the normal 8 cups. The Kool-Aid guy would break through the wall and be like, “Nooo!”. So, the result is an intersection that is a traffic accident waiting to happen.

    I guess in order for me to stay safe here, I’m going to have to look like a nerd — slowing down, looking both ways, signalling properly. All the other drivers are going to laugh at me, but I’ll have the last laugh when I signal to drive around the corpse that just got run over by a truck… I think I just went too far. I feel better though. Rant over.


  2. Finding a House to Rent in Vietnam

    September 7, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    On our first trip to Vietnam, Sara and I loved it so much that we decided to move there. It’s been 3 weeks and we have finally found a place to live. We move into our first Vietnamese home tomorrow. It was a difficult task to find a place, but we did it. Here’s how.

    If you are in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City there are a few services for expats that will help you find a place to live. They’re usually nice houses or apartments that are furnished and have western amenities. However, if you know where to look it’s possible to find a rental for much cheaper, and the adventure in finding it will make it that much more special.

    Websites

    You’ll probably start your search for a home by doing Google searches. There are some Vietnamese websites that list housing for rent. Avoid the English websites as they are filled with people looking to make a buck off of you.
    Here are some good ones:

    • Vatgia – You can buy almost anything from this site. Check their real estate section for rentals. You’ll need a translator like Google Translate to get you through it.
    • Cho Tot – The Craigslist of Vietnam. Used goods and a real estate section with rentals from individuals and companies.
    • Facebook Groups – These groups are filled with foreigners, so some prices might be a bit high for Vietnam, but every once in a while you can find a deal and you can also save by not having to hire a person to take you around.

    The Drive Around and Look for Signs Strategy

    House for rent sign Vietnam

    Some signs will be in English and Vietnamese.

    This was the best strategy we found. A lot of great places don’t advertise online. They just put a sign out on their gate and wait for phone calls. It’s the best way to find gems. You also get a better sense of the neighbourhood when you are on the street, rather than on the computer.
    The magic words are: Cho Thuê. It means ‘for rent’. A sign might also say nha cho thuê (house for rent), followed by a phone number. We enabled GPS on our phones and took a photo of all the signs we found. That way we could put them on a map and keep track of them all. Of course, it helps to have a scooter. Walking around in Vietnam is not ideal. The heat and the poor quality, or lack of, sidewalks make renting a scooter well worth it. When you get a few numbers you’ll need to find a Vietnamese person to make calls for you. If you don’t know anyone, ask the hotel clerk. Ours was happy to do it. In fact, she even went with us to see a place after she was done work that evening. What a totally unselfish act! Or was it..?

    Word of Mouth Strategy

    Tell everyone who will listen that you are looking for a place to rent. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to help – mainly because they can make some money off of your dilemma. In Vietnam, the homeowners will often give the first month’s rent to someone who helps find them a tenant. It’ll cost you nothing extra – only the homeowner. Besides the potential gain in profit, people are mostly friendly in Vietnam and if they speak English they often want to show-off or practice their skills. I had random people that I met on the streets calling me about a house that their friend’s sister’s landlord had available.

    Visiting a house

    Small house in Vietnam

    This is the whole house. Kitchen in the back left, bathroom beside it, loft is the bedroom.

    It’s very rare to take the first house you see. There is a lot of crap out there. You need to be patient, and don’t feel pressured to say ‘yes’.
    Be sure to check the water pressure. Usually the water tank is on the roof, if not the pressure might be very low. Don’t expect to have hot water coming out of the taps in the kitchen. If the shower is Vietnamese style then it will probably just be a hose and shower head attached to the wall. This isn’t a bad thing, but be sure to check and see if they have a water heater attached to it. If not, then you’ll either have to buy one or take cold showers. Having an air conditioning unit in the bedroom is crucial, unless you like sleeping in a bath of sweat. It is possible to buy one and get it installed, but they are fairly expensive. A lot of houses won’t have windows in the bedrooms. It may take a bit of looking around to find one that does. Not all places will come with a fridge or washer. Most likely, none will come with a stove or dryer – that’s just not how they roll in ‘nam.

    To Furnish or not to Furnish

    A furnished apartment will cost you a lot more per month. Depending on how long you are planning on staying, the 2 million or more you save a month could make up more than enough to buy all your furniture. Here’s a rough breakdown of furniture costs:

    Item Cost (Dong) Cost (USD)
    Couch 6 million $300
    32" TV 7 million $350
    Dining room chair 600,000 $30
    Dining room table 1.5 million $75
    Fridge 6 million $300
    Stovetop 800,000 $40
    Coffee table 1 million $50
    Desk 1 million $50
    Microwave 1 million $50
    Toaster Oven 1 million $50
    Washing machine 6 million $300
    Air con 6 million $300
    Shower heater 2 million $100
    Queen bed 3 million $150
    Queen coil spring mattress 5 million $250
    Bedside table 1 million $50
    Wardrobe 4 million $200

     

    Dog bedspread comforter

    What a beautiful blanket.

    If you have the available cash you might want to pick out your own furniture and avoid the mostly gaudy and uncomfortable Vietnamese style stuff. Here are a couple of stores that have reasonable prices and will deliver:

      • Uma – place that sells Ikea type furniture.
      • Gia Re Vietnam – Have a couple locations in HCMC.
      • Expat Blog – Used furniture from fellow expats.

      Your best bet might just be driving around with your head on a swivel. A store that doesn’t have a website will probably have lower prices than a large corporate store. You can also have furniture made custom for a reasonable price in Vietnam.

      I Found a Place, Now What?

      According to Vietnamese law, a foreigner can legally rent a property in their own name if they have been granted permission to stay in the country for a minimum of three months. The duration of the lease has no limitations. So if you have a three month visa, you should be alright.

      You will need to sign a lease that should state:

          • The name and address of you and your landlord
          • A description of the property including the furniture provided
          • The rent amount and method of payment
          • When you can move in
          • When you are allowed to move out
          • The responsibilities of both you and your landlord

      It’s a good idea to have it written in the contract that your landlord will be registering you with the foreign police. This needs to be done, but it is left up to the landlord to do it. If they don’t do it, and it’s not stated in the contract that they would, you could get in trouble.
      At the bottom there will be a space to provide the date, and both you and your landlord’s signature.
      You’ll also probably need a photocopy of your passport and the Vietnam visa page that’s in it.
      Many landlords will want to you to stay for 2 years, but this can be negotiated and I recommend you do your best to get it down to a year. You don’t know what unforeseen problems may arise (for example, roosters living next door).
      In Vietnam, they often ask for three months rent for a deposit. Again, try and negotiate that down to a month or two. If you can’t, make sure it’s in the contract. Some landlords will even want 6 months deposit. I think that’s way too much and I would probably walk away, but use your own discretion.

      When the contract is signed the landlord will have 30 days to register you with the foreign police. He may need to borrow your passport for that, and might need proof of employment.

      It’s unlikely that you will have electricity included, but sometimes the landlord will work a deal out with you to pay it and then bring you a photocopy of the bill. Rent is usually paid at the beginning of every month. Probably in the form of cash. Bills that you have to pay (most likely all of them) are brought to your house. If you are home you simply give them the cash and they go away for a month. This even includes internet and TV. If you aren’t home, they leave a bill and you have to go in to pay it. Make sure to keep track of your bills and what you have and have-not paid.

      Finding a place to live can be overwhelming and stressful at times, but try and look at it as an adventure. Guesthouses are inexpensive, so take your time and don’t rush into anything. You may see some terrible places and feel like you’ll never find anything to your liking, but keep searching. That gem could be right around the corner.


  3. Travel Photo of the Week: Our New Home

    August 10, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Thu Dau Mot's Market

    Thủ Dầu Một, Vietnam

    This area is the heart of the city. The building contains a Vinatex supermarket, just west of it is Chợ Bình Dương (Binh Duong Market), and further west of that is the Saigon river. Sara and I sweated buckets walking around. In the market, the crowd was as dense as the air. It’s an unusual and exciting place, but a bit overwhelming. I’m hoping that by the end of our two years here I’ll be able to tackle even the bloodiest corners of the market (literally bloody).


  4. Travel Photo of the Week: It’s good to be back in Vietnam

    August 5, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Thu Dau Mot, Vietnam from the Becamex Hotel

    Thu Dau Mot, Vietnam

    Yesterday at 4:30AM Sara and I landed in Ho Chi Minh City’s ariport after 31 hours of transit. We were very tired, but even more excited. Our new home for the next 2 years will be Thu Dau Mot, a city just north of Ho Chi Minh City. We are staying at the Becamex Hotel. The photo shows the view from our balcony. The large buildings sticking out into the horizon are located in Binh Duong New City. It’s a brand new city that will be the political and administrative city for the country. Sara will be teaching there while I drink beer and hangout by the pool. It’s good to be back in Vietnam.


  5. Travel Photo of the Week: Countdown to ‘Nam

    July 28, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Chine Beach, Vietnam

    Da Nang, Vietnam

    A week from now and we’ll be back in Vietnam. When Sara and I first arrived we were so overwhelmed by the chaos of it all. After travelling around for almost a month (from Hue to the Mekong Delta) we left not realizing how much we had fallen in love with the country. A quote from Apocalypse Now comes to mind: “When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle.”

    This photo shows China Beach, also known as My Khe Beach. You may know China Beach from the television show of the same name. In 1975 American soldiers occupied the beach and used it as kind of a vacation spot from the war.


  6. Travel Photo of the Week: Let’s all scream bloody murder for ice cream

    July 20, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Street food vendor in Vietntiane, Laos

    Vientiane, Laos

    This woman is selling ice cream from her tricycle during Songkran, Laos’ New Years celebration. I was avoiding the chaos and trying to stay dry when I took this photo from the second floor balcony at the hotel we were staying at. Usually the locals drench any passersby, but the ice cream lady got a free pass.

    For a sample of Songkran have a look at our three part video about the Laos New Year


  7. Travel Photo of the Week: Pinball Cafe

    July 13, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Girl playing pinball.

    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    The Pinball Cafe was located on Queen Street West, close to Roncesvalles. Sara and I enjoyed an hour there playing some real classics and some 90s classics (like X-men!), while humming Pinball Wizard and sipping coffee. Places like this are too rare.

    For more Toronto on the cheap.


  8. Travel Photo of the Week: Vietnam Here We Come

    July 7, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    Tran Nguyen Han Statue

    Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

    This week’s travel photo of the week is late because we are getting ready to move to Vietnam, so I thought it’d be appropriate to post a photo from Saigon. This was taken by Ben Thanh market. The statue is of Tran Nguyen Han. The photo has a tilt-shift blur on it. We are very excited to be moving to Vietnam. We leave on the 3rd of August, so stay tuned for more blog posts on the country. If you can’t wait, check out the past posts we’ve done on Vietnam.


  9. Find Your Medicine Overseas

    June 30, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    pharmacyPacking light is an art form that’s been studied by many a travel guru. You don’t want something like, say, raging diarhea to ruin your trip, but loading up your bathroom travel kit with everything behind the mirror seems a little much. Instead, while you’re abroad you could head to a local pharmacy to get what you need, and a little adventure while you’re there. I’ve been to pharmacies in four different continents and I’ve never had a problem communicating what I want. In fact, the pharmacist usually speaks enough English to provide me with more customer service than I expected or needed. If you’re worried about matching up your medication with the same dosage as your original, try this site out igenericdrugs.com.
    It allows you to search for your brand of drug and see what the alternatives are for various countries. For example, if on my trip to India I wanted to leave my jumbo pack of Viagra at home, I can do a quick search for Viagara on the site and see that in India the equivalent to it is called WAVEGRA… and it’s only $0.13 a pill?! I might as well stock up while I’m there. Anything to claim, sir? (Insert boner joke here)

    This can be really useful if you are traveling for a long time and your pharmacy has a limit on how much medication you can get. In some countries, the meds you usually need a prescription for, can be bought over-the-counter (does anyone else think that the term ‘over-the-counter’ should refer to meds you get from the pharmacist who’s working on the OTHER SIDE OF A COUNTER?!). Birth control is a great example of this. The majority of countries in the world allow you to buy birth control over-the-counter. After a quick Google search you can confirm that the place you are traveling to does. Then head to igenericdrugs.com and type in your brand — that way you can get a product with a similar dose and not risk conceiving a baby in Middelfart, Denmark (in which case you’d be obliged to name your baby Middelfart).


  10. Travel Photo of the Week: The Sun is your Enemy in SEA

    June 29, 2014 by Itchy Feet on the Cheap

    washed out by the intense sun in Malaysia

    Melaka, Malaysia

    In Southeast Asia, the sun is your enemy. The first time we tried to walk around in the middle of a cloudless day, we lasted about 15 minutes before the sweat and the scorching were too much. We quickly learned to go out first thing in the morning, come inside midday, and go back out in the early evening.
    This photo shows how intense the sunlight can be… and shows how effective sunglasses can be.