I have literally been counting down for this adventure for months. It was seriously a monumental few months, because so much of my life was in that awkward stage where everything was happening at once…so many beginnings and endings were compiled into one period. I finished my university degree, I quit my job, we moved out of our first apartment, we said goodbye to our friends for three months. And then we said our teary goodbyes to our families, and we got on our first plane of this trip.
We boarded four flights to get to Da Nang, starting with leaving our home base of Brisbane, Australia. I know — four flights sounds excessive. Believe me, it is just as exhausting as it sounds. Particularly when you have layovers that are longer than your connecting flights. You can literally get to Da Nang with one connecting flight — giving you two flights total one way. ‘Are you insane?’, you ask? Completely. But there was also a logical reason behind the decision — we wanted to save money.
I was in the final semester of my degree, studying full time, and also working pretty much full-time hours to try to save as much money as I possibly could for this grand adventure. I successfully finished university, we paid all of our bills, I had savings…just not very much in savings. Ideally, I wanted to have $5,000 at least before we left, just for extra security and so as not to be constantly worried about money. Luckily for my partner, he already has a job that is specifically remote, so he did not have to be concerned about money. For myself, however, I ended up saving just over a few thousand dollars…not as much as I would have liked, but definitely not little enough to be overly worried.
I am currently applying for remote positions on the daily, and am sure that I will find one soon enough (fingers crossed!). So it worked out that it was actually a lot cheaper to organise and pay for two sets of return flights — Brisbane to Chiang Mai, and Chaing Mai to Da Nang. We sat down and we figured out that if we sat through four flights (a few of them with sizeable layovers…the longest being 11 hours) on our journey from Australia to Vietnam, we could then take one path from Da Nang to Chiang Mai — with one connecting flight — between Vietnam and Thailand, and then one flight path at the end of May (also with one connecting flight) that would take us from Chiang Mai back home to Brisbane. The price difference in going with return fares verses direct flights to and from each destination ended up being substantially cheaper, which was a massive tick for us.
Once we finally arrived in Vietnam, we had the classic “holy ****, we are actually in a different country!” moments. This is the first time that we have gone somewhere together that neither of us has been before, much less overseas for an extended period of time. Josh is a lot more travelled than myself, having lived in New Jersey, USA for six months when he was studying, and having been to China and Canada.
I have only ever been overseas once in my life — New Zealand…which is about as damn close to home as you can get when you leave Australia. The airport is smaller than that of Hong Kong and Chiang Mai, but it is easy enough to navigate without much trouble. We literally walked through visa check, picked up our check-in, and then went to one of the stores along the exit of the airport to organise sim cards.
We ended up paying $7 US each for a sim card that had unlimited data (score!) and lasted 15 days (we are still in the process of figuring out if, after the 15 days runs out, we can recharge, or if we have to purchase another sim. We are here for 6 weeks, and then we fly over to Chiang Mai for six weeks (I have planned some seriously epic stuff to do in Chiang Mai, so watch out for that post once it comes up!).
There was literally a line of cabs at the entrance to the airport that took us straight to our hotel. We flew in early in the morning, and honestly, we were shattered. Nearly two whole days of continuous waiting on layovers and flying and all we wanted to do was sleep. Upon arrival at the hotel, we found out that check in is 2pm, and we could not check in any earlier (we did vaguely have a feeling that this would happen, but hoped they might have an earlier check-in option if the room was ready — oh well). They were incredibly helpful and took our bags and said they would hold them until check-in time.
By this time, the adrenaline of being in a different country had well and truly hit us, and our exhaustion quickly evaporated into sheer excitement. The first thing that we did when we walked out of the hotel is buy some bahn mi (Vietnamese rolls) — you. must. try. these. Absolutely incredible! We took a walk along the beach — pictured — and got a drink…I video called my family…we went and saw Marble Mountain (I will write a separate post on this phenomenal place later on). We got another bahn mi from the same street food stall for dinner, and went back to the hotel to check in and have a “quick nap”. We woke up briefly and then crashed until yesterday morning.
Yesterday was another adventure in and of itself. We woke up, went down to the buffet breakfast — Vietnamese food is insanely delicious — and then we went to check out a workspace downtown that Josh thought would be a good fit. Walking down the streets here is equally sobering and mesmerizing. As is the standard these days, we were taking photos to share with our friends and families on social media of all of the wonderful, colourful parts of the area.
But the thing about Da Nang (and, from what we have heard, most if not all of Vietnam) is that you can be standing on the corner of a road, looking at a beautiful view, and if you turn even slightly the visual change is staggering…in front of you might be a four star hotel, and next to it, a poor families street food stall and their house. Little dogs and cats will wander around the streets, some with collars and some with no identification as to if they are pets or strays. It is quite sad, and something that everyone that comes to Vietnam should be prepared for.
With that being said, the people are honestly the kindest that I have ever come across, always smiling and willing to bridge the language barrier with kindness and willingness to help. Once we arrived at the workspace, we were given a tour, and we really loved it. We only saw one workspace but I honestly feel like that is all we needed to see — it was in an interesting area, it was nicely spaced out, and relatively cheap — $100 US a month for a designated desk…something that, in Brisbane, would easily cost you $500 AUD a month…easily five times the cost that it is here.
The work space had excellent wifi connection, and was well planned out. There were a few westerners working in there as we went through the tour of the space, which was a good sign that the space is user friendly/worth the money spent. The work space is called Enouvo. The woman that gave us the tour kindly took our email and later emailed us more details. After going through the workspace, we went in search of a shopping centre that had essentials and tech products.
We found a supermarket that had a lot of the same essentials that we used in Australia. We bought shampoo, conditioner, and aloe vera gel — if you are pale like me and you easily burn, please do invest in sunscreen and use it diligently. I did have sunscreen at the ready, but I left it in my bag and that was at the hotel (this is not an excuse, but a friendly reminder to not only fellow travellers, but myself, to use bloody sunscreen or curse yourself the day after when you are red as a beetroot and simply walking down the street in the sunlight feels like the devil is scratching your skin repeatedly. The essentials were at least half price than we paid in Australia, which was phenomenal. It feels like it is expensive when you compare it to the price you pay for street food, but it is still insanely cheaper by comparison.
After we went to the supermarket, we browsed online and found a tech store that sold GoPros. We were actually going to buy one before we left Australia, but felt like we were not sure if we would even use it that much. Upon arriving though, we immediately found that having a GoPro would make things insurmountably easier in terms of being able to readily film or snap pictures as we are walking down the street. We got one for a little over what we would pay in Australia ($440 AUD instead of the normal $390), but with it being a luxury we paid it anyway. We also had to buy an SD card (we ended up going with the 62GB) and a stick to more easily use the GoPro. All up we paid $580 AUD for all three items, and we walked out of the store happy.
We were wondering how long it would take us to meet another expat, and we met a middle-aged bloke who is actually from home, too, while we were looking at the GoPro. He introduced himself, we did the same, and then we found out that he too is from Brisbane, Australia! We chatted to him for literally about half an hour, he gave us some wonderful tips, and then we exchanged details so that we could catch up later down the line. Paul said something pretty brilliant, actually — he mentioned that no matter where you are in the world, there is a ying and a yang to every place.
In Vietnam, it happens to be the traffic verses (so far as we can tell) pretty much everything else. The people here are incredibly kind, but the traffic is straight up chaos. Pedestrian crossings do not mean anything, they drive on the opposite side of the road than we do in Australia, and the streets are a continuous (very out of tune) harmony of beeping to let the person in front of you know you are coming, and you are not stopping. We were going to hire a scooter initially, but honestly after seeing the traffic we will sit on that a little bit more.
Having said that, the scooter hire is well priced — particularly if you opt to hire for a longer period rather than a day or two. We have walked most places so far, taking cabs when we either get tired of walking or know we will be travelling a far distance. When we have gotten them, it has cost us roughly 60.000–80.000 Vietnamese Dong ($4 AUD) for a 10–15 minute cab ride.
As the heat of midday mellowed into the less abrasive afternoon, we ended up walking through some of the street markets — we found lovely stall owners, amazing products and foods, and I picked myself up a pair of harem pants for literally $5 AUD…to put that into perspective, the exact pants that I had just bought for so little are sold back home for $50-$70 AUD, depending on where you buy them from. This is also where Josh lost his Raybans…we do not know if he simply dropped them, or someone took them as they fell, or what. But we were warned previous to this experience to keep all personal items close to us and safely tucked away — our bad. Better the sunglasses than our passports or our entire bags…
We came back to the hotel in the late afternoon, spent a bit of time working on our laptops, and then went down to the beach to have a drink before we hunted down a cool place for dinner. When the sun starts to go down, this place has a way of slowing down while simultaneously coming alive — the atmosphere becomes more electric as the streets leading up to the beach light up with lanterns.
After drinks on the beach, we found a cool little spot and ordered a feast — two dishes, spring rolls, rice, and two drinks which cost us 320.00 Vietnamese Dong ($17 AUD)…insanity. The food was delicious, and I definitely think we will go back before we leave for Thailand. After we finished eating, we took ourselves and our slight buzz back to the hotel, stopping at a street fruit stall to get some fruit — we literally paid under 80.000 Vietnamese Dong ($4 AUD) for a pineapple, a small tray of lychees, a small tray of mango, and another fruit that I honestly still do not recognise.
Today we are taking it relatively easy…we have hunted for apartments and scoped out which areas we are keen to consider to live in for the next five weeks (once we find one and settle in, I will write a post about that too), and we pondered over scooter vs push bike vs walking as a means of getting around — still not anywhere close to being clear on that one.
Even three days in, three things are clear: the cost of a place like this are second to none, the area and the people are kind and welcoming, and it is definitely true when people say that “you have to be careful about Vietnam…you will fall in love too easily”.
Note: This post first appeared in March, 2017.