Roughly, 1 year ago today, I made a decision to buy a one-way ticket to Thailand to travel, teach English, and live abroad. Today, I am on another one-way flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for more adventures abroad.
This past year has flown by and has been an amazing experience. I have been able to explore much of Thailand, learn how to surf in Bali, Indonesia, and spend a few short days getting a new Non-B Thai visa in Vientiane, Laos.
My teaching contract in Chiang Mai, Thailand was for 12 months and it ended today, March 20th 2015. These past few months, as the end of my teaching contract was nearing, I was trying to weigh my options of what to do next.
I ruled out moving back to the United States as I am not done traveling and seeing the world. I have enjoyed this past year and want to continue to learn about new cultures and languages. I have thoroughly enjoyed Southeast Asia and I want to see more of it before going somewhere else.
Teaching English is not a profession that I want to pursue for the rest of my life but it has enabled me to live and work abroad, legally. Living in a foreign country as an expatriate can become challenging as you have to become intimately familiar with their visa policies. If you fail to do this, then you may be forced to go back to your home country.
What To Do Next?
Anyways, after talking to other teachers that have taught in other countries and doing research I have been intrigued in learning more about Vietnam.
Other countries that I considered have been South Korea, Taiwan, and China. Vietnam and Taiwan are attractive countries for teaching English because they offer a relatively high wage, low working hours, and low cost of living; the ideal work to life ratio.
I have never been to Vietnam and I am going to travel around the country and see if I like it. If I do not like it, then I will revaluate and go from there (Not sure where “there” would be). My girlfriend and I are arriving in Ho Chi Minh City and will explore the city for a few days.
Following, we will be visiting: Vung Tau, Danang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne, Phan Thiet, Dalat, Hanoi, Hue, and Halong Bay. We will stay in each place for 2-4 days, depending on how much we like it. If we like it A LOT then we may approach local language schools for any potential work opportunities (if they exist).
This week, prior to leaving has been hectic as I have been tying up loose ends and getting ready to move all my possessions (I don’t have a lot). One large hurdle was selling my motorbike, which was relatively painless, and easy to do, once I found a buyer.
I had to bring everything that I had in my on-campus room to my off-campus apartment and pack. After selling some things, giving stuff away, and finally packing; I have 1 duffle bag and a backpack. Traveling is much more enjoyable when you travel with less. Since, I am moving with everything I own… it is a little more cumbersome.
The night before departing, I went out to socialize with friends and finish packing. I woke up in the morning with a knot in my stomach, as I am nervous and excited for the next adventure. I got to school and socialized with my fellow teachers and saw some students as they were picking up their grades. The teachers could pick-up the last paycheck at 10am.
There was a list of things that had to be completed before we could depart such as, closing our bank account, canceling our visa and work permit, etc. I was very motivated to get everything done and got queue number #1 as boarding for my flight was at 11:30am!
Getting To The Chiang Mai Airport
I left campus on foot and flagged a tuk tuk (local taxi) to take me back to my apartment and pick-up my bags and my girlfriend. We got to the airport in a timely fashion and checked-in our baggage.
We were flying with Air Asia from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City (CNX to BKK to SGN). We had to check-in our bag in the international departure area, even though the 1st flight was a domestic flight.
We made it to Bangkok and then had lunch and debated about exchanging money into Vietnamese Dong, the local currency of Vietnam. Beware as the exchange ratio is horrible! I was worried whether Banks in Vietnam would exchange my Thai Baht.
I took my chances as the rate was a rip-off in Don Muang airport. We boarded our 2nd flight and made it to Ho Chi Minh city at about 6pm.
Vietnam Tourist Visa
The next step after arriving is getting your visa approved. This will be a blog post in itself because it can be a complicated process. But, in short, we applied for our Vietnam Visa online HERE. It was a very simple and straight forward process.
The cost was $23 US dollars for a 3 month, single entry tourist visa as I had a coupon code. Alternatively, you can pay $14 US dollars for a one month single entry tourist visa.
You will receive an email with a verification letter that you need to print out and present at the immigration desk. Additionally, you will have to pay an additional $45 US dollars. All other currencies, ARE NOT ACCEPTED, NOR IS CREDIT CARD.
If you find yourself in this predicament then you can get an immigration officer to take you to an ATM machine. You can avoid this by bringing $45 US dollars. Since I was prepared and knowledgable about this requirement prior to arriving, it made getting processed by immigration very smooth.
Comparing Ho Chi Minh Currency Exchange Services
The next objective was to get my bag and exchange some Thai Baht for Vietnamese Dong. There are many currency exchange services to choose from but what one do you choose? The answer is the one that has the best rate! I was interested in exchanging Thai Baht and went to all 7 exchange services to compare rates.
The differences in rates were astounding and ranged from 600 Dong to 1 Baht to 640 Dong to 1 Baht, that is a 1.066% increase! Although, that does not sound significant I will give you a quick analysis of its potential significance.
Lets say exchange shop #1 is offering 600 Dong to 1 Baht and exchange shop #2 is offering 640 Dong to 1 baht. If you exchange 20,000 Baht equivalent to $613 US dollars with exchange #1, you will get 12,000,000 Dong, whereas if you exchange with shop #2 you will get 12,800,000 Dong a difference of 800,000 Dong or 1,250 Baht which is $38 US dollars!
Also note that rates inside the city at local banks will normally exceed what is available at the airport. So, in conclusion, shop around and exchange enough money at the airport to pay for your taxi and 1st day/night expenses.
Finding A Taxi
We met some fellow travelers that wanted to share a taxi and their hotel was on the way to our so we decided that it could be cost effective to share one. We are exiting the airport trying to decided where to go to get a taxi and get approached by a guy that wants 400,000 dong or $20 US.
We talked him down to 300,000 and he wanted to get paid on the spot. I was confused as this did not make any sense. We refused to pay him until we got to our destination. He ended up flagging a taxi for us in exchange for a cut. Therefore, the taxi should have only cost 200,000 dong. We loaded our bags and made it to our hotel. After splitting the cost of the taxi, we paid 150,000 dong each.
We checked-in, got some Pho (traditional Thai food), $0.70 cent beers, and walked around. We will be spending the next few days exploring the city including, The War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels, Notre Dame, and other notable spots. Here we go!