Thoughts About Living in Ho Chi Minh City.
Long service recognition at the 20th Anniversary Celebrations
If you are considering Ho Chi Minh City, and indeed Vietnam, as a place to live then we suggest you linger no more and come. We have been teaching at ISHCMC for 11 years now and we have seen and experienced many changes as the city and the country finds its new self.
In our early days here we often needed to set off on mini-expeditions to find what we thought were reasonably basic items. When we returned to New Zealand in the holidays we often took a suitcase within a suitcase so that we could bring back the things we could not buy in Ho Chi Minh City. But now most things are easily sourced.
Over the last decade there has been a surge in growth. The immediate area around the school is witnessing a lot of development. There used to be only several accommodation options, but now there are quite a number of apartment and villa type places which people can choose from. The staff at the school this year seemed to quickly find a place that suited them.
The area where the school is situated is in a low rise area on the fringe of the main city. There are restaurants, cafes, several bars, a large number of shops, and supermarkets (including a Metro) all selling most of what you need. If you are looking forward to a bit of pampering then there are a number of options close by. All these are easy to get to and most people walk, pushbike or motorbike. This is repeated in the inner city which is easily accessed over the Saigon River Bridge and takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to get to by taxi. The city is very manageable with the central area not being as frenetic as some other large Asian cities. People visiting the center just need to take the same precautions as they would anywhere else. Sure there are a large number of motorbikes and certainly an increasing number of vehicles which seem to all have a rather different view as to what constitute traffic rules, but it isn’t enough to cause too much anguish. It is all part of it!
New restaurants, cafes, shops, malls and bars are springing up (sometimes replacing similar existing places). The Vietnamese are very entrepreneurial so they are very quick at recognising an opportunity. A building you pass on your wanders one day will suddenly be demolished the next. Something not too permanent will quickly take its place before a more substantial building goes up. There are many options for eating, Vietnamese and International, and you will surely find something that suits you.
Beyond the city center there are many places to explore in the outer districts. A day wandering with your camera can be quite exciting as you explore the sometimes jammed streets, markets and cafes.
Vietnam is a very interesting place and there are many places to travel to. Most people will naturally visit the main internal destinations. These places are easily accessible by plane. It must be said that many people find it difficult to go beyond these popular places. But with a sense of adventure and getting information from those who have been here a while it is easy enough to visit more remote spots. Those who do, usually have interesting tales to tell. And of course there is also the rest of Asia to explore!
It can be quite hot and humid. The rainy season usually kicks in about the end of May and will start to taper off again about the end of November. There is nothing like a good deluge of rain and being trapped in a small cafe drinking cafe sua da!
One thing about International School teaching is the friends you make. At ISHCMC we have met so many people who we will always keep in touch with.
We are sure that any of you who are thinking about coming to Ho Chi Minh City and who want to teach at our school will not be disappointed.
- Graham Stichbury, Grade 3 Teacher and Sue Stichbury, Early Childhood Teacher -
“We Might Just Belong Here!”
Shopping in down town Ho Chi Minh City
“We are (in reverse order) my son Louis (3), my daughters Zahra and Ruby (5 and 6), my husband Sam and me, Kelli Sherratt. We have lived in China, Bangladesh, and Thailand, and while Viet Nam has elements of all three, it seems to have them all in balance. It has edge and energy, but in a somehow comfortable way. It's always hard to pin down one's impressions of a new country, or to express them, so I won't try to generalize. I'll just say that we're loving the wide, leafy boulevards of Ho Chi Minh City after the closeness – and highrise-ness – of Bangkok. The people are really friendly and polite, and their smiles– dare I say it – more genuine than in the famous 'Land of Smiles'. After living in a high-rise condo for four years, here we feel more grounded – we have a garden where the kids can get their toes dirty. I watch my son proudly carrying stalks and leaves to the compost heap and think, “he couldn't do that in Bangkok”. My daughters, meanwhile, have been beside themselves with excitement after spotting actual fairies flying around the Bougainvillea in the garden. They're dragonflies, but please don't tell the girls!
It's also nice to be in a somewhat smaller school, where you see all your colleagues every day and people don't get lost on you the way they can in a big institution. ISHCMC has its challenges, for sure, but (keeping my fingers crossed) it seems, so far, to have a soul, and as a teacher that's what we look for above all. And as a parent, too! I felt this strongly recently, when all five of us spent a very happy evening at school at the Family Night. We all came home feeling that we might just belong here. Thanks to everyone who has gone out of their way to make us feel so welcome – it's working!
PS I've been told never to cross my fingers here – apparently it means something rather rude! Oops!”
- Kelli Sherratt, Early Explorer 4 Teacher and Sam Sherratt PYP Coordinator
"On the Whole Life in Vietnam is Great for the Family."
On the streets of Ho Chi Minh City!
This is my second year at ISHCMC teaching English to a fantastic group of students from over forty different countries. Vietnam is an interesting and welcoming country and Ho Chi Minh City an easy city to get around with a small city centre and a wide range of good restaurants. The school located in District 2 is a short twenty-minute taxi ride from the city centre located in District 1.
This year the school is much more settled with a new administration team with an excellent reputation and proven track record, and despite the turbulent past twelve months and exit of many great staff; the new teaching team appears willing to work together and accepting of the current challenges of developing a school for the 21st century. The one down side of the school is the tight space that it is crammed into, but a lot happens in that space during the day, after school and on weekends.
Financially Vietnam is a great place for a family. For less than $US 400 a month it is possible to employ a good full time maid who will cook, clean and do laundry and ironing. She will also do the shopping for you buying fresh food for the day or the week as the need arises. Many families live in district 2 with kids of all ages. Our daughter has made many friends and often has play dates and sleep over’s with friends she has made through school.
One difficulty as a teacher earning a single income with a family is that the Housing Allowance is tight. Apartments are affordable and many single teachers have found accommodation in The Vista, which is close to the school and proving the most popular choice, but it is not really an option for a family. It is possible to find good homes for rent but it pays to start early, preferably before the school year, as there is more choice and better quality homes available. The choices quickly evaporate once the school year begins.
The other issue of living outside of an apartment block or compound is security. Petty theft is rife in district 2 and you really do need to consider the issue of security.
On the whole life in Vietnam is great for the family, with a large number of activities available both organized by the school and local community.
- Wayne Harwood, Secondary English Teacher
"Living in Vietnam is Wonderful !”
This is what greeted me when I booked a cheap hotel in Hoi An for me and my visiting family.
I began working at ISHCMC three years ago. I had worked in International schools previously, but in very westernized countries. I was a little apprehensive about working so far from home in a culture so different to my own.
Upon arrival my fellow newbies and I were looked after very well. We were placed in the same accommodation and left to explore for a few days. Things like bank accounts and vaccinations were included in our induction schedule and we very quickly felt settled. The ‘safety in numbers’ feeling was strong, and we quickly formed friendships that have lasted until now.
The school itself was more established than my previous schools, and there were many new programs and policies I had to get my head around. They are now of course second nature.
Living in Vietnam is wonderful. This is the best standard of living I have ever had, and I am quite sure I will never experience this level anywhere else in the world. No amount of travel seems to burden my wallet, and I have seen more countries in the last few years than in the rest of my life put together. A hundred dollars and one or two hours in an aeroplane can land you in many countries, each with their own charm, culture and way of life. Ho Chi Minh City itself is not jam-packed with ‘must see’ sights, but Vietnam on the whole can keep you busy for a long while. Whether you want a beach, mountains, diving, quad-biking or temples, you will find yourself happy here.
The food is Vietnam is wonderful and its people are very hospitable. Suffice to say, I am more than happy here in the Ho. When I eventually come to leave this place it will be with an extremely heavy heart.
- Paul Harris, Secondary Mathematics Teacher.
“The Right Side of Crazy”
Biking through the Mekong Delta
“The right side of crazy,’’ is how I describe where I live to my family and friends. I have a very modern apartment with a sensational view of the river and a flash fifty metre swimming pool. Each work day starts with a few minutes cycle to ISHCMC on the Martin 207, complete with basket and bell, against oncoming traffic , never knowing what I am going to encounter, even in that short distance! Ho Chi Minh is that perfect mix of adventure and comfort.
I love living in District 2, where ISHCMC is located, and often have to be coerced to go further afield. There is a good choice of restaurants, cafes, local food shops and roadside dining, as well as enough ‘”watering holes’” so you don’t run into the same people (or parents) all the time, but are well enough known to be warmly welcomed by name in a number of establishments. Decent supermarkets, bakeries, butcher, local produce markets and wine shops leave me with little to put on the ‘I must bring back from home’ food items list. There are also a number of decent (and affordable) local spas and gyms.
If you are up for a little more, District 1 is only a 20 minute taxi/motor bike ride away. Here you will find plenty of restaurants, bars, shops, spas, street life and a growing music and arts scene. In comparison to other major Asian cities, it is Adelaide! (Yes, which as a comparison only helps if you are Australian). The Ho is definitely is one of those cities that each time you turn around there is something new opening or happening.
I have lived in Asia for ten years (previously in Malaysia & Hong Kong), and Ho Chi Minh certainly ticks the boxes for me. It is a city still in the throes of development. Designer stores and fast food franchises are here but have yet to take over as in other parts of Asia. The expat community is very diverse and inclusive and you may find yourself getting involved in networking and interests that you may never have considered before. Despite being slugged with a heavy tax rate, living in Ho Chi Minh is affordable. How much you can save depends on lifestyle choices. I travel frequently, have flowers in my house, decent wines in my fridge and plenty of friends to share them with!
- Jane Clarke, Secondary Learning Support