Archive | October, 2013

What’s Next? An Ongoing Question.

31 Oct
Palm trees of Hanoi

Palm trees of Hanoi

I am the kind of person who finds it very difficult to just ‘be’. Just exist and be happy. It is a frustrating truth that I am always thinking, ‘what’s next’. In some ways, I suppose this kind of attitude can be attributed to successful people, always striving to achieve more. In other ways, it is the attitude of a perpetually unfulfilled person, always striving to feel content. Needing more than they have.

I am not sure which category I fall into.

If I’m honest, I have been planning my next move since I first arrived here. Not satisfied with achieving my long-standing goal of living and working in Vietnam, I have been guilty of trying to put time limits on everything from the start. “How long will I stay here for?” “When should I think about booking a flight to X, Y or Z”, and so on. This is something I have longed to do for years and now that I was actually here, living it, doing it, I couldn’t help but always be looking forward to the next thing.

The way my brain works, I always feel like I have to be planning my next move. Working towards something else.

I did consider leaving Hanoi earlier and going to Australia to pursue my current career in TV. But as I had finally come to a decision to book my flight to leave in August, I started to doubt myself and all of a sudden I was overcome with love for this city. The air seemed clearer, the traffic less dangerous, the people more friendly and the beer suddenly colder.

It’s a bad habit I have, and a common one I’m sure, to always wonder if the grass will be greener.

I wonder... Is the grass greener over there?

I wonder… Is the grass greener over there?

After lots of thinking and planning, I decided that I would stay in Hanoi to work as a teacher, rather than applying for an Australian working visa. I’m glad that I made this decision as I think that leaving earlier would have been a mistake.

Working here as a teacher, it is more than feasible to work very part time hours and still make enough to money to survive on comfortably. In fact, 20 hours per week is considered to be a ‘full time’ role. I work about 10, and that is enough to survive on.

Being here has given me the time and freedom to do things that I always wanted to but never seemed to get round to doing at home. I was always too tired to go to the gym and could never find the time to do any writing. Since arriving in Hanoi, I have taken up dance classes, pilates and started writing on a daily basis.

Yet, rather than fully immerse myself in this lifestyle for the duration of my stay, I have spent a lot of my time thinking about ‘what’s next?’ I have never had so much freedom and, just as I prepare to leave, I have come to realise that I will probably never have it this easy again. So, my time in Hanoi is now coming to an end and while part of me wishes that I had been more decisive in the start and spent less time planning my next move, I am mainly just very excited about the travel plans that await me.

So, what is next?!

Well, the timing has worked out perfectly and next week I will fly from Hanoi to Hong Kong where I will meet one of my very best friends, at Hong Kong airport. Our flights land about 30 minutes apart and it’s going to be an emotional reunion. I’m talking movie montage style: slow motion, arms spread, running through the airport towards one another and throwing ourselves dramatically into a long-overdue embrace. At least that’s what I’m hoping for. Something along the lines of this:

No pressure.

Anyway, after spending a few days in Hong Kong, we have three and a half weeks to travel China. From there, Laura is going to Australia to work for six months and I will go to visit for four weeks and do some traveling. After this part of the journey is over, I return to Vietnam to say my final goodbyes before heading back to Scotland.

As much as I will be sad to close the page on this chapter, I am incredibly excited to start the next. I have always dreamed of visiting Hong Kong and I can’t wait to cuddle some pandas in Chengdu! To visit the Great Wall of China will be incredible and driving the Great Ocean Road in Australia is one to tick off my bucket list. The fact that I get to do it with one of my favourite people in the world is equally amazing.

It will be strange to be on the road with a new travel buddy. John, my boyfriend, is staying here to finish up working in Hanoi. We have spent practically every single day together this year and it will be interesting to travel with someone else. I just hope Laura can put up with my sleep talking, ridiculously bad sense of direction and embarrassingly low tolerance of local spirits.

What not so long ago, seemed like an endless year stretching out in front of me, is fast coming to an end. But before then there will be lots more to come on the China and Australia leg of the adventure. Watch this space.

If anyone has any recommendations or suggestions for traveling in China and/or Australia, I would love to hear them! Are there any places I shouldn’t miss?


Making the Most of Rainy Season in Hanoi

10 Oct

“It was as if they turned on a faucet. One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”

Quote from Forrest Gump, describing the rain in Vietnam during the war.

Quote from Forrest Gump, describing the rain in Vietnam during the war.

Thankfully, rainy season hasn’t hit us that hard. (And we’re not fighting in the war like Forrest was, so actually there’s a lot to be thankful for). That said, the wet season is well and truly upon us in Hanoi.

It's times like this you need a submarine...

It’s times like this you need a submarine…

Considering that Vietnam is a country with a tropical monsoon climate and the rainy season officially runs from May to October, up until now, we had gotten off very lightly. The rain fall over the past few months (except from one particularly wild storm) has seemed to be almost considerate in nature; falling mainly during the night, leaving the air fresh and cool(er) for waking up in the morning. Showers have been intermittent and broken up nicely by sunny spells and even consecutively sunny days, with no rain to be seen.

When the rain has fallen, it hasn’t proved to be too much of an inconvenience for me. Usually miraculously stopping just before I leave to cycle for work and often falling lightly enough that it has still been pleasurable to walk to the nearest café or go for a swim outdoors. There is something enjoyably refreshing about swimming in the rain when the air is warm and tropical.

Yes, it’s fair to say that rainy season hasn’t been as awful as I expected. In fact, the first heavy rain storm that I experienced in Vietnam was nothing short of joyous. We were out on the motorbike when some particularly menacing thunder and lightning began to crash and roar above us, before the heavens proceeded to open up on to the streets of Hanoi. It was coming down in sheets; so heavy that we had to stop the bike but instead of seeking shelter, I laughed like a maniac and stood under the torrents of falling rain, mouth wide open, arms stretched out, looking up at the angry sky above us. It was magical.

John watching the storm outside

John watching the storm outside

The novelty has now worn off, although there is still something nice about walking about in the rain wearing shorts, T-Shirt and flip flops as opposed to the wellies and waterproofs of Scotland (flip flops are the only shoes that withstand the constant soaking, my gladiator sandals that I had custom-made in Hoi An have, sadly, been destroyed).

While there have been wet days from the beginning of June onward, August and September are officially the wettest months. August saw tropical storm ‘Jebi’ flood Hoan Kiem Lake and the neighboring Old Quarter. September has now arrived and the rain is here in full force. It is only six days in to the month but this week seems to have lasted forever. It has rained constantly and while the significantly colder air provides welcome respite from the usual humidity levels, I am starting to feel like it may never stop.

I can’t help but be impressed by how unfazed the Vietnamese seem by the rainy season. They are nothing short of resilient and continue about their day to day life as normal. Bearing in mind that over 90% of the population use motorbikes as their primary source of transport, there really isn’t any shelter available for their commute to work. But they wear their ponchos with pride and carry on regardless.

Going about daily life

Going about daily life

The Vietnamese way of life is very much an outdoors one. Everything takes place on the street, from food shopping, to socializing, to eating to rearing livestock. (Unfortunately, at times, this even includes going to the toilet. Something I dread to think about while traipsing through the flooded streets, blind to what may be floating about).  While the rain falls punishingly, day to day life generally goes unaffected. Aside from assembling some make shift shelters in the form of a tarpaulin on stilts to cover any seated areas, outdoor life carries on.

While this week has been particularly grim weather wise, rainy season isn’t all bad. In fact, there are some positive aspects of the wet weather; mainly revolving around the fact that it gives you an excuse to spend time doing things you would normally feel slightly guilty about.

Things to do during Rainy Season:

1. Eat cake. And lots of it.








In Hanoi, the colonial French influence on the food has left its mark and it is impossibly hard to avoid the numerous bakeries and pastry shops. Particularly when it’s raining. My body seems programmed to crave cake when it rains (well, not just when it rains but it kind of seems justified in the bad weather?). Chocolate tartes, cream donuts, waffles, baked cheesecake and perfect croissants are available all over the city and when the rain falls, I head instinctively towards one of the many delicious bakeries to eat cake. Lots of cake.

2. Drink beer.









Alternatively to eating cake (or indeed, before, during and after) drinking beer is an inevitable choice when it is too wet to do much else. Bia Hoi (locally brewed fresh beer) is literally cheaper than water here. It would be rude not to.

3. Read lots of books.

Photocopy, of course...

Photocopy, of course…








I love reading but somehow always manage to make myself feel guilty for spending time during the day just reading. For some reason, the rain makes it feel justified. I am currently reading ‘The Subtle Knife’, book number two in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman. I can’t get enough and have got the third installment waiting to go when I finish this. Other books that have seen me through the rainy season include ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘The Quiet American’ by Graham Greene (standard Vietnam reading), ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn (highly recommended – what a twist!) and ‘The Universe versus Alex Woods’ by Gavin Extence (brilliant, I cried and laughed the whole way through).

4. Kiss a stranger*

The Notebook (worst film EVER)

The Notebook (worst film EVER)








If you’ve always wanted to re-enact a dramatic kissing scene in the rain, now is your chance. Chances are, it will be dramatic. Possibly not in the way you dreamed of.

*Disclaimer: this may, or may not, get you arrested.

5. Watch Breaking Bad.








This was my ‘go to’ activity but I am now up to date with Series 5 and have to wait a week for each episode to air. Alternative box set recommendations for a rainy day include: Game of Thrones (obviously), Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire and Dexter.

6. Go swimming. Outdoors.

See above. It feels amazing.

7. Listen to music.

One thing I really miss about Scotland is the music. While the Vietnamese government does its best to ban social networking sights and BBC News, You Tube seems safe enough. For now. Thank the lord.

Here’s a song from one of my favourite new Scottish acts.

8. Take up a new hobby, or rediscover an old one…

While in Vietnam, I have rediscovered my love of writing, something I never seemed to find the time for at home. Rainy season comes complete with stints indoors and this is the perfect time to learn that language you’re always talking about, hone your guitar playing skills, start practising yoga  or take up candle making (probably not this one…although it is a handy skill for power cuts).

(Reminder to self: online shopping doesn’t count as a hobby).

9. Go to an indoor water park.








Vincom Royal City shopping mall has just opened up in Hanoi and it comes complete with cinema, ice skating rink and indoor water park. There are also lots of cafes providing plenty of opportunities to fulfill number one on this list. Mmmm cake…

10. Go surfing. Yes, you heard me.

Making the most of the rain!

Making the most of the rain!








11. Go fishing in the street. That’s right.

Fishing - just be careful, you never know what might be floating in the streets of Hanoi....

Fishing – just be careful, you never know what might be floating in the streets of Hanoi….










12. Take a leaf out of Gene Kelly’s book.

Embrace the rain!

Singing in the Rain!

Singing in the Rain!










12. Rain? What rain?

Learn a lesson from the locals’, suit up in your finest poncho, tie stools to your feet (bear with me…) and continue with your life as normal. A little flooding never hurt anyone.

It can be very difficult to locate wellington boots in Hanoi... never fear! This man has the answer!

It can be very difficult to locate wellington boots in Hanoi… never fear! This man has the answer!

Don't let a little rain stop you from playing local game, 'Co' tu'o'ng'... with a few beers of course!

Don’t let a little rain stop you from playing local game, ‘Co’ tu’o’ng’… with a few beers of course!

Pretend it isn't happening and carry on regardless!

Pretend it isn’t happening and carry on regardless!

Now that is dedication!

Now that is dedication!

Teaching English in Vietnam: A Guide

2 Oct
Students in Vietnam

Students in Vietnam

Teaching English in Vietnam is fantastic and I would recommend it without hesitation. There are an abundance of jobs and the standard hourly rate is $20 per hour, often higher. In a country with such low living costs, this sort of wage can provide you with an excellent standard of living.

Despite this, when first arriving in Vietnam, I was worried that it wasn’t for me. Being honest, it can be a bit of a culture shock initially and despite loving the country, I was skeptical about actually setting up a life here. It seemed unthinkable that I would be able to find a job, flat and new friends, all in a culture so very different from home.

I can now honestly say that I have fallen in love with the place, warts and all. There are so many different opportunities that I truly believe there is something to suit everyone. Whether you are looking for short term work to extend your travel in South East Asia, or want to set up a long term career in teaching, you should definitely consider Vietnam as a location.

Practising for the school show!

Practising for the school show!

Interested, but still not sure if it’s for you? Have a read of this guide I wrote, for TEFL Jobs World.

If you have any questions, please do leave a comment.

Has anyone reading taught English in Vietnam? Have you had a similar experience? Would you recommend it to others contemplating taking the plunge in to South East Asia life?

Me with one of my cute students

Me with one of my cute students