10 Lessons We Should All Learn From The Vietnamese

1. An Emphasis On Learning A Second Language

I am eternally embarrassed of us Brits waltzing around the world using our mother tongue, expecting everyone to bow to us. I am as guilty of this, with barely passable French and absolutely no retention ability of a second language (one day though!)
It amazed me how vigilant Vietnamese parents are at ensuring their children excel at learning a second language. In fact, in remote parts of Vietnam local dialects are still found, so children learn Vietnamese as their second language!
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Two of my favorite students – aged 2!

2. Strong Family Values & Ties

While I’m not sure if I’d want to live under the same roof as my grandparents and parents, there’s something really lovely about being so connected to your extended family. When I was working as a private tutor in people’s homes I really got to see what family life is like in Vietnam: the responsibilities of each family member, where they sleep, what they cook… the list goes on. But family doesn’t just stop when you leave a home, there is such a strong sense of community in little neighborhoods which I guess is kind of what Britain and American used to be like back in the 1950’s. Everyone knows everyone, everyone helps everyone, it’s safe for kids to play out on the street, you buy your food from the ladies selling on your street, there’s no need to travel far for anything and people just seem content. There’s definitely something to be learnt from that.
Children of Vietnam

3. Willingness to say hello or to greet strangers (especially foreigners)

I’m working in London, and not once as anyone I’ve passed said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to me. I know that in Vietnam Westerns are somewhat of a novelty, but I loved how bold children were shouting ‘hello!’ from the back of their parent’s motorbike. The same goes for adults. It’s something I really miss.

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4. That life is much easier when there’s less emphasis on health and safety

Everyone comments on how chaotic Hanoi seems: the traffic, the beeping, the motorbikes swarming around pedestrians… But returning to a society where health and safety has gone bonkers (where your aunt who cooks for the homeless is accused of contamination for tasting her food with the spoon shes stirring it with)  it was refreshing to be in a place where there was less red tape and things were a little more lax. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are preventable fatalities and accidents all the time, but you never feel like you’re in a dangerous place.

5. You don’t need to drink alcohol to have a good time

In the Old Quarter at night you’ll see predominantly white faces guzzling the 5p Bia Hoi on yellow plastic chairs (like me, see below). Walk a few streets away and you’ll see the coffee shops full of Vietnamese teens drinking their bubble tea/coffee, taking selfies and catching up. While you do see Vietnamese people drinking, it’s no where near to the same extent us Brits binge.
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Us pesky white faces drinking cheap beer

6.  Buying you food from a market is the way forward

The journey from field to plate is far less in Vietnam. Turn down a side alley and the street will be teaming with market sellers, offering their fresh produce (sometimes a little too fresh, with fish in buckets half hacked up). Supermarkets are slowly being introduced to Vietnam as it slowly becomes more westernized, but having the option to shop from road-side sellers was always a plus.

 7. Bum Guns

Enough said.

8.  Respect for the elderly

I wouldn’t say our culture is disrespectful towards the elderly, but there is great pride in the elders in Vietnam. Perhaps because they lived through, or maybe even fought in the American war, or because there are visibly stronger family ties, but the elders definitely get looked after well. The pronoun structure in Vietnam reflects this – instead of I/He/She/We/They, the Vietnamese use a pronoun structure to reflects gender and age. Essentially as you get older your pronoun changes – but always ensure you’re not under estimating someone’s age as this denies them of the status they deserve!

9. The sentiment of giving spontaneous gifts

The Vietnamese are so forthright in offering gifts. Regardless of the occasion, you’ll always find a bunch of lychees thrust in your hand, or something like a little bracelet, a handmade card, flowers, the list goes on. It’s something us westerns only think to give to those closest to us, but it the sentiment really does touch.

 

10. Napping: without a care in the world where

God damn capitalism forcing us to work all day with no time to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. How my mood would be better if I could have a kip like the Vietnamese do!

 

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Ba Vi National Park, Vietnam

Ba Vi national park is situated approximately 60km west of Hanoi. Best explored by motorbike, the park takes roughly 2 hours to drive to (with plenty of opportunities to stop for refreshments), and will cost around 50,000 VND ($2.50) to enter. Ba Vi offers visitors stunning views across the province, an abundance of nature and golden silence, which makes for a brilliant day trip away from Hanoi.

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Upon entering the park, you ascend the mountains for 30 minutes which will eventually bring you out on a level, make-shift car park. You have the option of climbing two peaks which have pagodas at each summit: With your back to the road where you’ll have just come from, the pagoda to the left of you is said to be the easier incline to hike. Being used the chaos of Hanoi, it was treat to visit the jungle, take deep lung-fulls of fresh air and be surrounded by beautiful nature and traditional architecture.

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Ailu Cat Cafe, Hanoi

Yes. There is a cat cafe in Hanoi (hallelujah!) For those who have had your heads in the sand, pet cafes are a trend taking Asia (unsurprisingly) by storm.

Not ideal if you suffer from allergies, but phenomenal if you’re an animal and/ or coffee lover: If you’re visiting or living in Hanoi, the Ailu Cat House Club is a lovely treat and in a peaceful part of town (Truc Bach). The cafe rescues cats, so for a small entrance fee you’re helping a small-scale charity care for otherwise abandoned kitties. Put it on your travel itinerary NOW!

Address: 114 Trấn Vũ, Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Phone:+84 90 488 41 21

Hours: 8.00 – 22.30 (Monday-Sunday)

Tết holiday, Vietnam

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới, or in other words Happy New Year! Tết holiday is the Vietnamese celebration of the new lunar year, which runs from from late January through to mid-February.

Tết is a time of luck, celebration and family fun, much like the Christmas period in the West. The build up to the season is manic: people darting everywhere with mandarin and cherry blossom trees on the back of their motorbikes, large red and gold decorations being carted around, and of course a surge of gift shopping. During the actual Tết period schools close and people have time off work, so many Vietnamese families retreat to the countryside to spend time with their extended family.  From a travellers perspective, Tết can be a little life-less to travel in Vietnam, as many small businesses (including bus companies) close, so travelling either side is much more preferable.

Like most global festivities, a popular element of Tết  the food. Cooking traditional Vietnamese meals for friends and family gives Vietnamese women pride and joy. I was lucky enough to be invited to spend Tết with my employer Huyen and some of my colleagues. Here are some snaps from the day…

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Pigs Ears – not my favourite dish of the day but not as bad as I’d anticipated

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The Vietnamese custom to eating is to have many dishes on the table for you to take food from into your little bowl

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Chung cake – only eaten during Tết – it is a savoury filling surrounded by sticky rice and a banana leaf

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Salad and Chung cake at the ready…

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Dig in!

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Pho Ga (chicken stew, a Hanoian classic)

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Pho Ga

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Green Tea

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Cookies!

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Our group

Undiscovered Guide: The street food navigation tool

At last. A reliable, knowledgeable tool advising us on authentic Vietnamese street food and where to eat it around Hanoi. Undiscovered Guide is what expats and tourists have been waiting for: a coherent summary of classic Vietnamese dishes and a convenient map of where to locate them around the city.

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The foodies amongst us are going to be in your element with this tool at your fingertips, as eating street food in Vietnam can be a search and find mission.  Specific streets will specialise in specific dishes, and on those streets you might find up to 20 vendors offering the same dish. The team behind Undiscovered Guide have certainly done their homework to eliminate this problem, by putting the most delicious eateries on the map… literally.

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Undiscovered Guide is fresher than Pho Cuon and will become an essential part of your dining experience in Hanoi. We have been promised that Hanoi street food is the first complete series of content to be used on the site, as there are more countries and more features coming in the near future.  So go bookmark the site and stay tuned for more cities being added to the guide!

Undiscovered Guide: www.undiscovered.guide/Hanoi-street-food

I’d love to hear what you think of Vietnamese food or if you have any top dining spots in Vietnam. Pop a comment in the box below!

Physiotherapy in Hanoi, Vietnam

In August 2015 I was involved in a minor motorbike accident in Hanoi, which left me with a fairly badly broken leg. The injury meant that I had to return to the U.K. for the majority of my recovery, but once I was back on two feet I was able to complete my treatment back in Hanoi.

I was recommended getting in touch with Hugues Tierney: a Hanoi-based, French and English speaking physiotherapist. Hugues works from home in Tay Ho (To Ngoc Van street), and has a fully-equipped therapy room. Each hour long session costs $50 and can be paid in installments of either VND or USD. I had an excellent experience of working with Hugues to get my leg back to normal and would highly recommend his services.

Hugues’ contact details:

Email – physio.hugues@gmail.com

Telephone – 090 748 11 29

A Guide To Finding Teaching Work In Vietnam

One of the major pulls to Vietnam (as opposed to other Asian countries such as Japan and China) is that there’s an abundance of on-the-side, private classes which English teachers can fill up or top up their schedule with.

Searching for these positions couldn’t be easier as social media does all the work for you. In Hanoi, the two major Facebook groups teachers can join to search for employment are Hanoi English Teaching Jobs and Hanoi Massive Jobs. While new vacancies are posted every 10 minutes, quite a few of these positions turn out to be a waste of your time. Here are a few tips of finding the gold amongst the dirt, and tips on what sort of questions you should ask before committing to an interview…

Take this advert for example:

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This seems pretty ideal at first glance. Plenty of teaching hours condensed into four working days as well as a few perks. However, the key word which should set off a mini alarm bell is “free transport”. In the neighbouring cities or countryside to Hanoi there is a high demand for English teachers. While the free transport is a definite pro, you could find yourself commuting up to 2 hours each way if you choose to live in Hanoi (which let’s face it, you probably will). Suddenly not quite such a sweet deal.

Now this one:

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Working from home sounds like a great deal, and for many it is preferable to not have to deal with the craziness that is the classroom. However online teaching positions pay significantly lower wages ($10 per hour), which is conveniently left out of the advert. That’s not to say this should be disregarded as Topica are a reputable company, but by not including the salary in the advert you may be wasting your time enquiring.

So how can you tell if  a job advert is worth pursuing? Essentially look for anything with clear objectives, and interest from other teachers is a great sign. As soon as you find a great add you can sell yourself as a happy and positive person – competition between teachers can be a good thing! Here’s an example where a clear advert has attracted the attention of 7 people (and lots of comments which I left out for confidentiality):

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Now you’ve found a role you’re interested in, here are some tips of things you should expect as an employee, or things you should know in general:

  • A “competitive salary” ranges from $18-$25 per hour, less than this needs to have something seriously good about it. This estimate can rise in the summer to anywhere up to $35 per hour. But these positions are hard to come across.
  • Negotiate how often you get paid. Don’t settle for being paid monthly if it’s an inconvenience for you.
  • Establish which course book they are following – this is often an indication of how well established/organised the school is
  • Find out what classroom materials you will have access to: magnets, sticky balls, FLASHCARDS, a laptop (with internet) are all really important if not essential
  • If you’re working whilst on a tourist visa, try and avoid signing contracts unless you feel it’s appropriate. Ultimately they don’t protect you, and are not legally binding. So agree your T’s and C’s verbally.
  • Work out how long it will take you to drive to the school. If you’re working for 1 hour at $22, but it takes you 30 minutes to get there and back, you’re essentially “working” for 2 hours. This means that you’re earning $11 per hour in essence. Try and find work in the same parts of town, or ask for classes to be grouped together to make the commute worth your time.
  • You should have a teaching assistant (TA) present for young classes. Any students under 10, or below pre-intermediate level require this.
  • If the start date is a month away – then expect it to potentially fall through! Many verbal agreements are based on the hope that a teacher will be needed, with no guarantee that they actually will. Don’t turn down other opportunities until you feel it’s set in stone!

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of posting an advert about yourself here’s what you should include:

  • HOW GOD DAMN ENTHUSIASTIC YOU ARE (enthusiasm, humour, friendliness are what they’re after so make it really clear that you tick these boxes!)
  • Where you are from
  • Whether you’re a native speaker or not
  • Your qualifications: TEFL/TESOL/CELTA and University Degree
  • Your teaching experience
  • Your preferred contact method
  • A photo of you, preferably teaching or with a class of students
  • Other interesting facts about you (hobbies that the school might be interested in utilising, whether you can speak the local language, etc.)

 

If you’re still weighing up whether you should be a private tutor or work in a language centre check out my other post ‘Teaching in Vietnam: The pro’s and con’s of different teaching establishments‘. Please feel free to share your job hunting experiences in Vietnam in the comments box below!

 

West Lake/ Hồ Tây, Hanoi

The translation of ‘Hanoi’ is a city between two bodies of water. The first body is the Song Hong river which casts down the eastern side of the city, placing the city centre between neighbouring town Long Bein and Ho Tay lake. Ho Tay (also known as West Lake) brings serenity and calm to the thriving and bustling city, and is enjoyed by locals in myriad ways. It’s not uncommon to see men fishing, people drinking coffee, young couples canoodling atop a motorbike, families indulging in ice-cream (or Kem), men swinging their arms around stretching, women doing some sort of peculiar Zumba cross twerking routine, and so on. Regardless of the activity the lake acts as a focal point for the city’s daily routine, and for me epitomises everything I love about Hanoi.

Today we decided to walk around the entire lake which took us about 3 hours. The entire way is paved and landscaped, so it makes for a relaxing walk or even cycle (which is especially enjoyable in the mild January climate) Here are some photos of the views and people from Hanoi to give you a window into day-to-day life in Vietnam…

 

Living in Hanoi: The low down on which district to live in

Moving to a new city, let alone a new country can leave you in a bit of a head spin. The hunt begins with finding the right to suit your needs with access to amenities, then searching for an apartment within your budget and on top of that an acceptable commute to your work all in all is a pretty tough challenge.

Moving to Hanoi naturally presented my boyfriend and I with this very dilemma. After hours of researching, frustrating house viewings and a lack of comprehensive real estate websites, I thought it only fair to part with some of the knowledge I gained from the experience. Starting with which district to live in in Hanoi.

Hanoi's Distrcits

 

Tu Liem

Tu Liem lies outside of the main motorway which encompasses Hanoi city. There appears to be plenty of residential areas to choose from, but you are a considerable drive away from the city centre. While there are some ‘wealthier’ areas (by Vietnamese standards) I would say that Tu Liem is mainly occupied by Vietnamese people who work in the agriculture and labouring industries rather than retail, business etc. There’s a large complex of modern apartments in a sort of village called ‘Splendora’ which can be found to the South West of Hanoi (still in the Tu Liem district) which may appeal to families or those officially emigrating to Vietnam.

Cau Giay

Cau Giay offers its residents plenty of choices when it comes to dining out, shopping and access to the city centre. There are plenty of modern high-rises springing out of nowhere as the district becomes increasingly recognised as a desirable area to live in. You will find that this is a predominantly Vietnamese area, so mugging up on your Vietnamese prior to moving here is advised. There are a few of large supermarkets to the South West of the city (Big C, Coop, Metro) which are easily accessible via the major motorway which runs through Cau Giay. In addition, plenty of English centres and schools can be found here, which means less of a commute to work.

Dong Da & Hai Ba Trung

Both Dong Da and Hai Ba Trung are very similar in what they offer their residents. These two distracts are densely populated by modern, glass skyscrapers, wide roads and a myriad of shops, restaurants and bars. On the border between Hoan Kiem and Hai Ba Trung you’ll find the likes of the Hanoi Stocks and Shares offices as well as Chanel, Dior and Prada. I would go as far as to say that these are the highly desirable locations for those in the finance or business industries.  However, like all districts there are really authentic Vietnamese streets alongside glamorous, metropolitan architectural masterpieces – it’s these juxtapositions you come to really appreciate, as they’re reminders you’re not residing in Singapore or Vietnam’s other chic, Asian cousins. Eating out around here is a little more expensive, and you’ll spot a few rare Western chains like Starbucks, Popeys and Dunkin’ Donuts. Dong Da is the home to the brand new Royal City shopping mall which has an ice rink, water theme park and floors of shops to peruse.  To the south of Da Dong is Me Tri which is an especially affluent area and in terms of design is incredibly reminiscent of parts of America.

Hoan Kiem

Hoan Kiem, or otherwise known as ‘The Old Quarter’ is very much the tourist area. You certainly won’t be bored living in Hoan Kiem as there is an abundance of places to eat out, night clubs the famous 5K (15p/25 cent) ‘Bia Hoi’ stands and the weekend night markets. One thing you will probably become addicted to is paracetamol in order to soothe the headaches caused by the incessant honking – the streets here are incredibly busy and disorganised which personally I find a nightmare to visit let alone living there, so probably worth noting. I would advise not living in Hoan Kiem, but you may find it a good idea if you are looking to live alone. While it’s regarded as the city centre, the charm of the Old Quarter is best to enjoy in small doses, which is made possible by its decent transport connections. Apartments in Hoan Kiem are usually quite expensive and quite small, so you’re better off in a neighbouring district.

Ba Dinh

Ba Dinh is a very desirable place to live for both Westerners and the Vietnamese, although is incredibly exclusive. Large, golden, colonial buildings home the aristocracy of Vietnam, diplomats, embassies, government officials and anyone else whose important. The beautiful tree-lined boulevards make easy transport links to almost any part of the city, while also being in close proximity to Lenin Park, Hoan Kiem and West Lake.  Ba Dinh really is the Chelsea or Greenwich Village of Hanoi, therefore house prices here are naturally higher. If you can afford it I would certainly recommend living here, although I think you would find yourself going to Cau Giay, Tay Ho or Hoan Kiem for restaurants and bars.

Tay Ho

Tay Ho has the reputation of being the expat area of Hanoi. Hugging the spectacular West Lake, Tay Ho offers some peace and quiet from the hectic south of the city. You certainly have a more of a neighbourhood feel in Tay Ho, and much grander properties. This comes with a price as eating out and rent is comparatively more expensive, drinking is pretty pricey and local mini-marts aren’t cheap. There is quite a large community of mid-twenty year old English teachers which makes for a lively social scene, but this is at the cost that you are quite far away from most teaching premises which are usually located in Cau Giay, Dong Da and sometimes Ha Dong (even further south!) I would highly recommend living in Tay Ho, as while you may spend a bit more on living you certainly meet a lot of like-minded individuals – I know people who’ve lived further out to be closer to work, but found themselves commuting to Tay Ho to meet friends most evenings.

So there we have it, an official low down of all of Hanoi’s residential districts! If you are currently in the process of moving to Hanoi then feel free to contact me for further advice. Here are two useful websites which advertise decent properties around Hanoi:

hanoiapartment.com

vietlonghousing.com

…or alternatively, if you’re looking for a room to rent in a house share then try the Hanoi Massive Facebook page.