If you’re a fellow gypsy looking to settle down somewhere in South East Asia, I have a few tips. You can settle down pretty much anywhere in South East Asia quite smoothly from finding a place to rent, making friends and even getting a job. Seriously, you can find a job, if your heart so desires, in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia!
For a little background, I have lived in Malaysia for 3 months, Thailand for 3 months and now coming on to Vietnam for 3 months. I haven’t stepped foot into Laos or Cambodia, but I was offered a job interview and trial working for an adventure company in Laos. I have met teachers and volunteers who had a life changing time in Cambodia. I know a little bit about here and there in the SEA part of the world. In this article I am going to focus on living in Thailand vs. Vietnam.
Let’s start with FOOD, so how far does 5 dollars go in Thailand and in Vietnam? I made this handy infographic.
As you can see, it’s pretty cheap in both countries. The 5 dollars stretches a bit more OVERALL in Vietnam than in Thailand. However, it is hard to say at the markets. Thailand has very cheap fruits and vegetables, as does Vietnam. For restaurant goers, Thailand is pretty comparable to Western prices especially if you’re from the US. If you want Western food, like a burrito, you will pay the same price for it as you would back in Cali (from my experience). In Vietnam, restaurants are more affordable and I go out to eat without worrying about the prices as I did in Thailand. For coffee lovers, Vietnam is your dream come true! (+ it is standard in Vietnam to get a free iced jasmine tea with your coffee).
Next up Accommodation and Rent
Thailand: Rent can be pretty dirt cheap in Thailand if you sign on for a month. If you pay by the night, it can add up. In Northern Thailand, rent is the cheapest. Here are some flyers I saw in Pai (where I would choose to live) to show you what you’re looking at.
3000 THB is around $80 USD for the month which includes your bills, wow. 5000 THB is around $130 USD for your own clayhouse with private bathroom. And did you read that, includes cleaning and sheet change. That’s for the North. If you’re in Bangkok it may be more like $200-$300 a month for a nice place. My friend paid around$300 AUD for a place in Bangkok for a 3 month lease which came with a private gym and great views.
Vietnam is also very very cheap. I am living in the big city Saigon and you get quite good value for what you pay for. I spend $260 a month on rent (which I split with my boyfriend, so $130). We have a large master bedroom, private shower, sparkly new kitchen, fully furnished living apartment with great views of the CBD. If you like big cities and this type of skyrise living, it is great. Most expats who choose to live in Vietnam, are either living in Saigon or Hanoi. Rent should be about the same in both cities. If you live in the countryside, I have seen some really beautiful places for rent for cheaper with really nice homey vibes. And of course, many people volunteer in Vietnam and you should not have any problems finding free accommodation in return for volunteering on websites like Helpx and Workaway.
Job Markets – Can you speak English?
Thailand: You can find a job in Thailand quite easily in Bangkok or in the north like Chiang Mai, teaching English, however, the salaries don’t seem too high from what I’ve heard. I’ve also seen people passing out flyers in the popular backpacker areas for a few extra bucks. You can find a job in a bar on one of the islands (we know some German girls who did this) and I have a French friend who got an internship in a resort. If you have other skills especially in the corporate world, you should also have no problem finding a job in a bigger city. You can really do anything, I met travellers working at elephant reserves to travel agencies. Finding the job shouldn’t be too hard for you. If you’re wanting a teaching gig, search online (I’ve even seen ads on a couchsurfing job forum) or go to schools in person. If you want a fun low key bar job, make some friends!
Vietnam: I’ve met an array of expats in Vietnam, proving you can do any job you would do back home, in a country like Vietnam. So, number 1 is English Teachers. Vietnam needs English teachers and will pay quite a reasonable salary for them. If you can speak English you can get a job in Vietnam. Finding the job is easy and you don’t need to be a native speaker (they hire Russians, Serbians, Romanians…) and you actually don’t need any certification. If you’re a native speaker with certification it helps to get you a better, higher paid job. I’m posting an article soon all about how to get the job in Vietnam. Other expats I met work as accountants, sound engineers, restaurant owners and bar managers. The hourly rate is anywhere from $15 up to $50 an hour. With living costs so low, it is quite a lucrative option for expats wanting to work overseas – even more so than Korea or Japan where the cost of living is much higher.
The People – Many people say Thai people are friendly and kind. Everyone has their own unique experience, but I felt like I was constantly being yelled at in Thailand. I think this is sort of the Thai way, they are very straightforward and direct with you and have strong personalities. Still we met some lovely locals and bone chillingly gorgeous monks, however, many many many seemed to be jaded by all the tourism and I didn’t feel super welcomed all the time. I often felt like they were only nice to me when I bought something.
Cafes and Wifi – This is the important part for me. And if you’re a freelancer who needs a strong internet connection, you should be just fine in Thailand. There are many restaurants and lounges where there is free wifi for you to use. Buying a SIM card with 3G is affordable as well, we spent around $15 for a mobile phone card with some internet.
Getting Around – Tuk Tuks, Local Bus, Bicycle, Songthaew
I was so excited to ride in a tuk tuk for the first time in Thailand. But turns out they can be quite the nightmare. There is a huge Tuk Tuk Mafia, literally and in the end I was avoiding these at all costs. Local Bus is great and easy to use in most cities. In Bangkok I was able to use google maps with the bus quite effectively. In other places, like in Chiang Mai, Sonthaews (a converted pickup truck into a minbus) are used as cheap transport. If you’re living in the countryside of Thailand or in the North, I would just get a bicycle. It is really pleasant biking around in the North. In Bangkok, get used to the local bus. They are easy and really cheap around 20 cents per ride!
The People – For me, the Vietnamese people are lovely. I feel at home in Vietnam. I was shocked by how kind the people were after coming from Thailand. But everyone’s experience is different. I’ve met travellers who have told me Vietnam is the only place they felt horrible in! And they don’t mind charging non locals double. But in my experience, if you stand your ground you can earn their respect. So you just have to go see for yourself.
Cafes and Wifi – Vietnam is connected. The Internet is FAST and everywhere. You can basically get 3G on the street. The streets is Saigon at least are lined with cafe after cafe after cafe. You can sit there for hours online. It does get a bit smoky so you have to find some cafes that are pretty smoke free. The mobile plans are even better in Vietnam. $5 should get you unlimited mobile 3G network for a month. Oh yeah, and Vietnamese coffee is awesome!
Getting Around – Motorbike, Motorbike Taxi, Grabbike, Bus
Most expats in Vietnam pick up a motorbike. It can be daunting at first, but you can get used to it quick. You can buy a motorbike for around $200. I am a little too afraid of driving on my own and take motorbike taxis everywhere (which still can feel life threatening at times). I use an application called Grabbike which is super popular in big cities like Saigon, Manila and Singapore. I can travel anywhere for less than $1 per ride. There are many Vietnamese men lounging on their motorbikes. These are motorbike taxis if you ask them (they look like they’re just hanging out). They charge around $2-$3 per ride. Busses are also available but when I use google maps in Vietnam, I have had many mistakes (hopping on busses that take me the wrong way) so I’ve had a hard time taking the bus unless someone directs me to the proper one. The busses are also around 20 cents a ride in Vietnam.
Overall Thailand vs. Vietnam, who wins?
The lifestyle is very different in both countries and of course, depending on where you live. So, if we are comparing Bangkok, Thailand to Saigon, Vietnam, I’d say Saigon is the clear winner. You can live well, eat well and earn more money.
If you are comparing the North of Thailand to Saigon, this is totally different. Country versus city. I haven’t been to the North of Vietnam yet but I’ve heard lovely stories and I know it is beautiful with many of the same opportunities in Hanoi as in Saigon.
The North of Thailand like Chiang Mai would be lovely to teach English. You could have a very peaceful life there and there is a hip and hippie expat community to join.
If you’re a freelancer, Pai or Chiang Mai is wonderful. You can laze in this hippie sanctuary and work online at cafes or at your bungalow.
Saigon is great for people wanting to live in Asia, who love the craziness of the city and who want to make money while living comfortably. There’s a large international expat community in Saigon and Hanoi. Vietnam is also great for freelancers as wifi is just everywhere.
Hope that helps and good luck on your move!
P.S. Do you even tourist?