7 tips for recovering expats

If you have ever moved home after an extended period living or travelling overseas, it is possible you may be suffering from ex-expat syndrome. Symptoms: constant comparisons, grass-is-always-greener reflections, a case of the ‘what-ifs’ and the feeling you’re torn between two worlds. Let me reassure you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As anyone who’s been following my online ramblings for a while might know, I used to live in Vietnam, and before that, Cambodia. I’ve been back in Sydney now for two and half years now (what? where has the time gone?!) but the settling in period was like a rocky road paved with nostalgia and a feeling of loss. If you can identify, here are some tips to help you make the transition from the frivolous fun of expat-land back to ‘reality’ (which doesn’t have to be boring):

1. Retain your expat friends
It’s not just the place you miss when you return home, it’s the people you met while living there. Friendships formed in expat-land can be some of the strongest you’ll make. You’re sharing a unique experience together, bonding over all the highs and lows that life in a new place can bring. It can be an intense ride, and after a short time it can feel like some people have been in your life for a lot longer than they have. If you’ve been an expat or long-term traveller it’s inevitable you’ll keep wandering the globe long after you move home, so short holidays can be a great opportunity to catch up with fellow globetrotters on their home turf, or you could meet up on neutral ground in a new location. And with social media it’s much easier to keep in touch with people these days, plus there’s also Skype to feel like they’re right there with you in your loungeroom, reminiscing about the maid who stole your jeans, or ‘that night’ that could rival The Hangover.

2. Incorporate small reminders
Sometimes it’s the most superficial things we miss about a place, and the smallest of things that can transport you back there. Smell has a powerful association with memory, so if there’s a particular scent that triggers happy thoughts of times gone by, seek it out. For me, the smell of lemongrass instantly transports me back to Cambodia. Jasmine reminds of various places in Asia, and one whiff of tiger balm and I’m having Thai massage-on-tap flashbacks. You could frame and hang art or prints you picked up in your former home for an ongoing reminder, listen to music that evokes a certain time and place, and it goes without saying that you should seek out the cuisine of your former homeland once home, whether whipped up in your own kitchen or on an exploration of your city’s eateries.

3. Know that the grass isn’t always greener
One of the most important ways of getting over your time as an expat, no matter how amazing the experience was overall, is to recall not only the good but the bad. You need to remind yourself of the not so glossy aspects so you don’t idealise your old home so much to the point that nowhere else can ever stack up. Case in point – when I moved from Phnom Penh to Saigon I was constantly comparing, and didn’t really embrace my new life in Vietnam until I had a bit of a reality check. A trip back to Phnom Penh painted a slightly different picture to the one I’d painted in my mind of a glittering, tropical paradise that Saigon could never hold a candle to (even though they’re neighbours, they felt worlds apart). I came to a more balanced realisation that both have their highlights as well as their shortfalls, but I was never going to accept my new home until I stopped glorifying the old. The same thing happened when I went back to Asia post-return to Sydney (see point 7).

4. Armchair travel
Escape to your country-crush/es of choice via some great reads. Whether it’s a non-fiction memoir or a piece of evocative travel fiction, use the power of the written word to project yourself to exotic far-off lands. Travel-related books are a great way to immerse yourself back into a place you once called home, loved visiting or wish to travel to in the future. One of my favourite reads is Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers, a fictional book set in Hanoi’s expat scene, which does an amazing job of capturing the relationships between expats, locals, and those caught somewhere in the middle. Currently I’m delving into Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser, which examines travel from different points of view (expat vs. refugee). For more ideas, you could check out the travel book section on goodreads, or scour this list on World Hum.

5. Make new friends
Nothing cements your newfound life back at home like making new friends. It’s a given that you have changed somewhat since living overseas, whether it’s your values, interests or outlook on life, and sometimes it can be challenging reconnecting with long-term friends who have you pigeonholed as the old you (though it goes without saying that the best old friends should always be held onto). The friends you make after moving back home are likely to be on the same page as you are, right now. What has brought you together is your current situation, passions and life stage. They help bring your focus into the present, and keep you looking forward, not backward.

6. Get busy
Once you move home and settle in, throw yourself into new activities. Pursue newfound interests or reignite long forgotten passions. Embrace the things you want to do, and focus on things you were unable to do in expat-land, like something fitness or wellness-related that just wasn’t on offer there, or a study course you didn’t have access to. If you were living in a developing country, chances are the facilities needed to pursue your passions weren’t available to you, or of the standard you desired. Now that you’re living back home again, there is a world of opportunity to explore. Climate is another factor – you may have a newfound appreciation for beach culture if returning from Europe, or revel in access to ski fields and cool mountain air if back from somewhere perennially tropical.

7. Go back (yes, really!)
One of the most effective ways to get location-lust out of your system is to head back there for a huge dose of all that’s fun about the place, and a massive reality hit of what’s not so great about it. This method worked wonders for me a year into life back in Sydney, when I returned to Phnom Penh and a few other favourite Asian haunts for a short holiday. I got to re-connect with people and places close to my heart, but also realised that if I was live back there right at this moment, life would be fraught with complications I’d glossed over or forgotten about. Having a one year old and three year old with me on that trip exacerbated things like the unrelenting heat of the sun, the difficulty in going out and about in the middle of the day, the burden of strollers in crowded places, the logistical difficulties in schlepping said kids and stroller in and out of tuk-tuks all day, the food poisoning, the dehydration, the hospital visits (don’t ask)… it all made me realise that the Asia I’d been pining for was the Asia I experienced as a kid-free late 20-something, and that the latter part of my time there (once I had a baby on board) wasn’t quite the same. I felt markedly different about my new identity at home once we returned from that trip. It helped me appreciate more about what I have here in Sydney and how much more stable and sane a life it is, for us, at this moment.

So how long does it take to ‘get over’ a time and a place and move on? Everyone is different, but for me it seemed to take ages. The first year was definitely the worst in terms of how conflicted I felt, but after that first foray back to Asia 12 months in, things became exponentially more settled, especially after some major milestones and lifestyle changes. While I will never forget my time as an expat, I now feel I’m over the worst of my ex-expat syndrome (which is not to say I don’t still have wanderlust issues!). If you’re returning home, or have been home a while but just can’t shake the constant comparisons and ‘if only’ daydreams, I hope some of my tips have struck a chord!

Have you found it hard to adjust to a new life somewhere? And what about returning ‘home’ – any thoughts or tips on making the transition easier?

Expat life: the aftermath

The colour and chaos of the markets (photo taken in Kratie, Cambodia)

Moving back to Australia was never going to be easy or without its issues after almost half a decade living in southeast Asia. The weird thing is, it’s actually taken about 6 months of settling back into our ‘old’ life before I’ve had the headspace to reflect and remember (and over-analyse) our time in Asia.

The grass is always greener….

When we first moved home we barely had time to look backwards with all the setting up home and re-establishing life kind of stuff going on. We even joked that our time in Asia seemed like some kind of dream – did it really happen? But slowly, little reminders crept up on us and before too long life became a full-blown comparison fest of Saigon vs Sydney, Asia vs Australia. The winner has yet to be determined. It’s the age old grass is always greener dilemma where we look back and remember the best bits of expat life in Asia and pine for it all, while conveniently forgetting the random power cuts, the incessant noise, the neverending battles with dodgy tuk tuk and taxi drivers, the meltdowns, the frustrations.

The differences…

Life at home is smoother, simpler, easier, and much more private. You go about your daily business here without a staring brigade and a barrage of questions from the neighbours and random passers-by about where you’re going and how much you just paid for your bag of fruit. No-one cares. Strangers pass each other by here with barely a cursory glance. At first I liked it, now I kind of miss my inane conversations with my friend Yen about how much each and every item of clothing we were wearing that day cost us (I don’t think she could believe her luck when she learnt of my penchant for bargains. Despite the vast socio-economic difference between us we could actually be shopping buddies and buy matching 40,000 dong tops. Which we did.)

Another difference has been the customer service in Australia compared to most other places in Asia. Sometimes, back in Sydney, we’ve sat in a cafe for a while before realising we were supposed to order at the counter. Same at bars. Of course we should know better but we’ve become so used to table service the whole help yourself mentality here has been a little strange to adjust to. And if we needed a taxi it would find us. Here, we have to book ahead… the list goes on. We were definitely spoilt in Asia, in so many ways. I don’t miss the hovering at restaurants though. Or the frequent ordering mix-ups (as one friend said – order what you want, eat what you’re given!).

What I miss…

I miss the creativity and aesthetics of so many aspects of southeast Asian life, from colourful temples and gorgeously decked out cafes, to the way fruit would be stacked so beautifully at a market – order amongst the chaos. I miss the random smiles from strangers and the well-meaning questions, the overly generous hospitality of strangers, the tropical heat, the smell of incense and grilling meat in the air, the smiley kids, the colours, the food, the plants… And the holidays. An hour or two on a plane and we could be at a tropical Asian beach, a heritage listed colonial era town, another thriving Asian metropolis.

Life in Sydney seems less global, less mobile, calmer, quieter. It’s a more grounded life with family and old friends and our own place. I still can’t decide if this is preferable to transience and the new friends and new experiences that accompany it. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. I would be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve lived away from home then moved back again – what did you miss? How did you cope?

Goodbye, Vietnam!

It feels surreal to be saying goodbye but it’s my last day in Vietnam today! The bags are packed, the farewells have been said, and tomorrow morning we fly to Bangkok for one last Asian mini-break (ok, and shopping spree) before heading back to Sydney to live.

It’s been an amazing four and a half years living in Phnom Penh and then Saigon – full of the some of the biggest ups and downs I’ve ever felt but overall, a life changing experience. During that time I’ve travelled lots, had two kids and scored my dream job (Deputy Editor of a magazine!). I’ve made some amazing friends in both cities, eaten a ridiculous amount of great food and drunk copious amounts of good coffee. I’ve forgotten how to clean(!) and how to catch public transport – the adjustment to life back in the ‘real world’ may be a tough one! I’m really looking forward to fresh air, parks, empty sidewalks and comparatively empty roads, Sydney stuff like farmers markets and art galleries and concerts and events, catching up with old friends and rediscovering pretty much everything.

There are lots of things I’ll miss (mostly food and people and cheap stuff!) but lots of things I won’t (the traffic, the pollution, the noise – don’t get me started on the noise!). I think it’ll be a tumultuous time ahead re-establishing a life in Sydney, but hopefully it will feel like the right move. As for blogging – I’ve loved connecting with like-minded souls around the world and don’t want the virtual friendships to end! I’m not sure of the fate of A Girl in Asia just yet (I don’t want to say goodbye!) and I’ll definitely continue reading and commenting on all my favourite blogs. Please drop by now and then as I may post a link to a new Sydney-based blog once I’m on my feet and think up my next blogging move! Better go – there’s still a little more packing to do in our over-stuffed bags which somehow have to fit lots of Bangkok purchases too(!).

{FAQ} Having a baby in Bangkok

It’s been a bit quiet on the A Girl in Asia blogging front lately – I’ve been kind of busy having baby number 2! Sofia Camille was born just over a week ago at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok. She’s gorgeous and healthy and doing really well so far!

As I’m often getting emails from readers wanting to know the ins and outs of having a baby in Asia, now seems like a good time to do a Frequently Asked Questions post addressing some of the main things people want to know about. Most questions are relevant to people living in Phnom Penh or Saigon (my Asian homes, past and present), since that’s where most of the questions have come from:

Q: Should I have a baby while living in Phnom Penh/Saigon? What’s the medical care like? 
A: Yes! Being pregnant in either city is no different to being pregnant anywhere else, provided you’re careful with the usual hygiene issues and don’t eat anything you’re not meant to! International standard medical care is available in both cities (in Phnom Penh I went to SOS, in Saigon, Family Medical Centre) however keep in mind that in PP you will have to travel somewhere else (like Bangkok) for the two main ultrasounds. They can do basic ultrasounds at SOS and at other clinics in the city, but not the more complex ones like the down syndrome screening. For my first pregnancy I travelled to Bangkok for these and had them done at Samitivej Hospital. Another thing to consider is getting a friend or family member to bring you pre-natal vitamins from home, if you have a specific brand in mind. There is a British brand of vitamins, Pregnacare, available at U-Care in Phnom Penh, but in Saigon it’s a little harder to come across anything reputable unless you get your doctor to prescribe some.

Q: Where should I have my baby?
A: Most expats in Phnom Penh (in fact, almost all!) leave Cambodia for the birth. Reason being – there aren’t any hospitals of international standard – facilities at local hospitals are basic. However – since I left, a branch of a Bangkok hospital called Royal Ratanak opened in Phnom Penh which might be an ok option, but you may need to check it out for yourself! In Saigon, there’s a supposed international hospital, FV, where some expats choose to go, however more seem to leave the country to other Asian cities like Bangkok or Singapore, and many return to their home countries.  Some accounts of giving birth at FV paint an ”ok” picture, but most are quite negative, with particular concerns about poor communication from and between staff, inadequate aftercare with little help in establishing breastfeeding (and giving the baby formula without permission) to incompetent diagnoses of the baby’s problems resulting in airlifting to Bangkok(!). The idea of giving birth there didn’t fill me with confidence so I chose to return to Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok, where i had my first baby and was really happy with the staff and care and whole experience (except the giving birth bit I mean!).

Q: When do I have to fly to Bangkok/Singapore/wherever else I’m giving birth?
This is entirely up to the airlines, rather than your doctor. You need to find out what your particular airline accepts as the latest you can fly, however most (including Thai Airways) cite 36 weeks as the latest in your pregnancy you can fly. You also need a medical certificate or letter from your doctor stating how many weeks you are and your due date, and that you’re fit to fly which you need to present upon check-in. I also got a letter to show from when I was 6 months pregnant onwards, just in case they thought I was too pregnant to fly. I’m glad I did as after 6 months (and I was flying all the time!) I kept getting asked for a doctor’s letter before boarding.

Q: What are the hospitals like in Bangkok?
A: I can only really speak for Samitivej (where the majority of expats in Cambodia and Laos seem to go, and some from Vietnam) – but it’s great! Like a 5-star hotel turned hospital. The staff (all Thai) are so efficient and offer amazing customer service, the doctors very competent and friendly and wonderful, and the aftercare and rooms are great too (they come with a couch bed for partners to sleep on so they can stay in the room with  you, there’s internet, a flat-screen tv, and you can get delivery to your room from food outlets in the hospital like Starbucks and Au Bon Pain). Even the hospital food is good! But really, the best bit was the all the advice and support from the nurses and nursery staff in the days after the birth.

Q: Where should I stay before and after the birth?
A: I’ve found the best option considering the duration of the stay before and after is a serviced apartment. We found ours (Tropical Residence) by chance and luck, before our first Bangkok birth, simply by walking around the neighbourhood near Samitivej Hospital going in and asking to inspect any nice looking serviced apartment buildings we came across! Many only accepted stays by the year or more, but fortunately, Tropical Residence is for short term stays too, either by the week or the month. It has a pool, a small gym, mini-golf on the roof, a complimentary tuk-tuk to take you to nearby shops and skytrain stations (and the hospital) which is so convenient, and best of all is walking distance to lots of great cafes and restaurants and massage places in Thonglor (a cool Bangkok neighbourhood). For other hospitals or other cities, it’s best to do some online research, and if all else fails, go and inspect places in person on any pre-baby trips there so you can see for yourself what they’re like.

Q: What about visas? And the citizenship and passport for the baby once it’s born?
A: These things depend on where you’re going and your nationality so a little research is called for. I got a 2 month visa in advance from the Thai embassy in Saigon before I came to Bangkok, otherwise (as an Australian) I would have only been stamped in for 30 days upon arrival. I did the same in Phnom Penh at the Thai embassy there before I left for Bangkok for baby number one. As for the citizenship and passport process, it can be easy or painfully long, depending on your nationality and the whims of your country’s embassy! Unfortunately I fall in the latter camp, with the process for Australians a long one. First, Samitivej gets the Thai birth certificate translated into English and they also take the baby’s passport photo (so cute!). The translation service takes up to 7 working days, however this time we got ours back around day 5. Then – it’s paperwork aplenty before applying at the Australian embassy for citizenship (this is the stage we’re up to now). They say it could take up to 10 working days. Then once we have that, it’s passport application time (more paperwork, more red tape) and another wait of up to 10 working days. So overall – with the arrival in Bangkok at 36 weeks and all the waiting afterwards, it’s around a 2 month stay away from Saigon. Don’t be put off though – it sounds like Australians have the worst deal. Other people we know who are French and German have had their baby’s passport all done and ready much, much quicker. To find out exactly what you need to do and how long it will take, you need to contact your embassy in the country you’re giving birth.

Phew! That about covers the main things I’ve been asked. If you’re having a baby in SE Asia (or thinking about it) I hope you find this a useful starting point!!

Useful links

Tropical Residence (serviced apartments near Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok):

Samitivej Hospital (Bangkok):

My article in AsiaLIFE Guide Phnom Penh on giving birth in Asia:

{Saigon} Highs // Lows

Saigon // Highs

  • Discovering there’s now a Turkish place – Pasha – on Dong Du Street (next to Al Fresco) with Turkish breads and pizzas
  • SATC2 screening in Saigon from this weekend – the reviews are lame and my expectations are low(!) but it sounds just the ticket for some girly escapism
  • Our almost two year old deciding the local banana seller is called ‘Lady Narnies round the corner’ and the woman who runs our neighbourhood general store is ‘Dog and Cat Lady’ (hygienic, I know)
  • Free dinner when our delivery was late – Saigon customer service never fails to surprise me
  • My lovely (and hilarious) fellow mums and Saigon support network – even if I have to trek out to D7 all the time, it’s worth it!
  • The cafe at L’Usine opening – delicious coffee, simple but tasty sandwiches, communal table, inspirational surrounds and onsite retail temptation

Saigon // Lows

  • Waiting, waiting, waiting for baby no. 2 – we have 5 and a half weeks til we leave for Bangkok for an extended stay, but time seems to be standing still as any pregnant people in limbo land will identify with (though on a happy note – am glad Bangkok seems to be back to normal)
  • Food poisoning from a new Mexican place in D1 that I really, really wanted to love – shattered, as Mexican is one of my favourite cuisines and one of the rarest to find here
  • Unwelcome visitors (weevils in the rice, cockroaches in the bathroom and ants anywhere there’s food)
  • The eternal hunt for sugar free yoghurt – it does exist here, and the one we buy is actually by Vinamilk (a local brand), but everywhere runs out all the time so we can hardly ever find it. I think it’s time to finally start making our own!

{Saigon} Loving/Hating

Gorgeous L’Usine


  • Sunday dim sum at Shang Palace – no trolley ladies but great taro and chicken balls, bbq pork buns, soup dumplings, har cao, everything!
  • Imagining that new fashion/lifestyle store L’Usine is my apartment (but in New York!), with its 1930s garment factory style furnishings and fitouts, art gallery and soon-to-be cafe
  • That there’s a new organic vegetable store in An Phu with produce fresh from Dalat – planning to go there this week and am food-nerdily excited
  • Snap Cafe – sand, playground, toys and friends for little Z, lentil/feta/beetroot/bacon salad for me
  • Planning escapes to Bangkok, Hoi An and Hanoi over the next few months
  • Friends and family visiting in April
  • Making pumpkin and sweet potato soup with veges from the market
  • (…or hating?) ridiculous 80s compilations played in taxis (think Foreigner, Air Supply and Belinda Carlisle!)
  • Finding this blog post on ‘Stuff that Saigon Expat People Like’ (scroll towards the end for the actual list)
  • That a box of frozen blueberries costs over US$20…and lamely buying them anyway ”because I need them in my breakfast smoothie!”
  • Impromptu karaoke sessions outside my window
  • The rising temperatures – hello hot season
  • Random power cuts
  • Being greeted with “you look fat today!” and a big grin because it’s meant to be a compliment
  • That some of the things I like are on the above mentioned ‘Stuff that Saigon Expat People Like’ list!
Image courtesy L’Usine


I’m feeling restless at the moment. I can’t help wondering why I always want to be somewhere else. When living in Sydney all I wanted to do was move to Asia. Towards the end of my time living in Phnom Penh, I couldn’t wait to move on to bigger, brighter Saigon. Once in Saigon, memories of Phnom Penh wouldn’t stop resurfacing and everything here seemed not quite as great (at first – these thoughts eventually went away, replaced with the occasional bout of Cambodia nostalgia). Thoughts of Sydney also emerge now and then – would life be better back at ‘home’? And what about other places? My Bangkok obsession has never really subsided and I often wonder if we should live there next instead of returning to Oz. And I just know that when the day comes (which is yet to be determined) when we move back to Sydney, I’ll be pining for Asia and comparing everything and wishing I was still there. And complaining how expensive everything is! Maybe this is the eternal dilemma of all those who venture outside their comfort zones to live in new places, and fall in and out of love with places along the way. For now – I’m physically settled in Saigon, but my mind refuses to stay put.

Things I take for granted (Saigon vs. Sydney)

Living in another country means you’re constantly comparing. Living in Saigon (and in Asia in general) there are some things that are better than home, yet have quickly become a normal part of life (and totally taken for granted!). On the flipside, living here highlights all the things I miss about home. Here’s what I’ve realised I take for granted, both here (in Saigon) and at ‘home’ (in Sydney):

I take for granted in Saigon:

  • Metred taxis – yes, taxis exist in most places (except the Penh!), but in Saigon, they’re cheap enough to use as your daily mode of transport. Can you imagine catching a taxi several times a day in Sydney(!) – to work and back, to go shopping, to go out at night and back? Most mere mortals in Sydney use taxis for getting home from a late night out only. It’s a luxury, not a given. One day I’ll be living in Sydney again, schlepping to the train station to wait for my half an hour late train, wishing I could just flag down a Mai Linh or Vinasun and go somewhere for $2!
  • Hired help – without wanting to sound like a total expat w@nker, having people clean your house (or drive you around, cook your dinner, watch your kids, clean your pool and tend your garden, if you want to get really carried away as some do) is a definite perk of living in Saigon and one that quickly turns from novelty to normal (and it is a normal part of life here – most Vietnamese people have some form of domestic help too, it’s not just an expat thing). Anyway, have to remind self that one day, bathroom won’t magically clean self!
  • Things being cheap – in Saigon, most things are much cheaper than at home (except imported western things that can actually cost much more). Haircuts, pedicures and massages are all highly affordable. Eating out can be cheaper than cooking at home and DVDs can be had for less than $1. All kinds of shopping bargains can be found, and there are tailors on hand to whip up copies of whatever you like. All of this is something that makes living in Asia highly enjoyable and highly addictive – enough to make many turn their back on their home country in favour of their amazing lifestyle (tempting, but I know I’ll move home some day).
I take for granted in Sydney:
  • Drinkable tap water – I’m so used to bottled water now that it feels strange to drink out of a tap when visiting Australia. Until you travel or live in Asia you really do take for granted that you can trust what comes out of your tap.
  • Electricity – another bare basic but one that’s not always reliable in some parts of the world. I barely remember any power cuts happening in Australia but here they happen at least once a month. Most annoying is when it dawns on you that you’re totally reliant on the internet/tv/air-conditioner etc. and wish you were a simpler being that didn’t need such things.
  • Footpaths – specifically, clear footpaths you can actually walk along. Ones that aren’t covered in parked motorbikes and people sitting on stools and roosters in cages (not making this up, this was seen on the footpath round the corner a few days ago). I must admit that after living in Phnom Penh the footpath situation in Saigon is a major improvement, but it’s nothing like the sprawling oases of concrete found in Sydney.
  • Diversity and multiculturalism – sure, there are people from all over the world living in Saigon and there are restaurants of lots of ethnicities, but it’s just not the same as it is at home. In Sydney there are entire suburbs that feel like a ‘Little’ somewhere (favourites include Haberfield (Italian), Petersham (Portuguese), Auburn (Turkish), Bankstown (Lebanese & Vietnamese – hang on, I live in Vietnam…). My excursions to other worlds only a short train ride away are one of the things I miss about Sydney. Although I’m living in another world now. But it’s just one kind instead of a million different kinds, if you get what I mean.
I’m sure if I racked my brain I could come up with many more things I take for granted in both cities, but these are the ones that spring straight to mind. It’s interesting that the Saigon list contains luxuries, while the Sydney list mostly features necessities (if you call access to authentic Portuguese chicken burgers necessities, like I do!).
So…thoughts? Ideas? What do you take for granted where you live?

Why I love my neighbourhood

Noodle soup at Tan Dinh Market (the local)

I sometimes get asked by fellow Saigonites why I live where I live. Some choose to live in An Phu or Phu My Huong (expat enclaves outside the city centre), others, far-flung local districts (actually I don’t know too many people who live in Binh Tanh, Go Vap etc. but a scattering of expats do), and then there are those who choose the chaos and colour of centrally located Districts 1 and 3 (my hood!). I like living in District 1 as it’s close to the city centre (read – bars, restaurants, shops…). That’s the main reason really – it’s like preferring the inner city vs. the burbs – but here are a few more things that I love about where I live:
  • There’s a general store right next door to my place that I often refer to as ‘the world’s cheapest shop’. I’ll buy a whole heap of cleaning products and the bill will only be a few dollars. The best bit is that they sell ice-cream and chocolate bars (Mars, Snickers, M&Ms..). I actually feel embarrassed sometimes that I go in so often to buy chocolate.
  • The cheap, fresh produce for sale a short walk away at the local market, Tan Dinh. The walk is a bit of an epic – it’s not far but there’s a treacherous road crossing with an endless stream of cars, cyclos and motorbikes that never actually stops – I just have to do the Saigon road-crossing technique of walking out into the traffic and hoping it parts. The scary thing is that I’m pushing my baby in a stroller while doing this! The trek is worth the effort though when I come home laden with fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables that are so cheap they’re almost free
  • My local coffee shop – source of gossip, ad-hoc Vietnamese lessons and inside info on what anything and everything should cost. Also a source of a never-ending stream of gifts. I then feel compelled to give something in return, they keep giving me things, and the cycle continues…I think it’s gotten to a point now that it’s not going to stop as long as I live here (gift suggestions anyone?!)
  • Quirky neighbourhood characters – banana lady, pineapple lady, over-enthusiastic streetside hairdresser, tattoed-on make-up lady, friendly girl with a baby the same age as mine, sometimes bossy general store lady (‘don’t get that ice-cream, it’s for children!’) and the rest who either wave cheerily or stare like I’ve just landed in Saigon from another planet
  • Cool places to discover on Hai Ba Trung, a main thoroughfare nearby. It’s jam-packed with clothing shops mixed with Vietnamese restaurants and random places like Bud’s ice-cream, (all the way from San Fransisco to Saigon), a doughnut shop, a Chinese medicine place, underwear shops, toy shops, florists, hairdressers and a new Korean restaurant that looks intriguing
  • And finally, that you can actually walk to the centre of the city, if you can bear the heat and crazy traffic (ok, I’ve only done this once, but it’s nice to know it’s an option)
I enjoy living in a ‘local’ area that’s also close to Saigon’s centre – it’s like the best of both worlds (streetfood one night, Cepage the next!).