Some people are never appreciative of the good things around them.
At a bar recently, I sat quietly while two Western men complained about everything and anything they could think of related to Vietnam. For a moment, my mind drifted off to some of the frustrations I have with Vietnam, and I posed the question to myself “What do I hate about Vietnam?” to test if I can conclude that I should be here or I should go home.
There is no such thing as a perfect country, perfect city, or perfect town. Every location on this earth has pros and cons. Over the past decade, there are plenty of things I have grown to avoid, or suffer through, in Vietnam because the good have always outweighed the bad.
After pondering and thinking over a beer, I answered my question and created the following list of The Top 8 Things I Hate About Vietnam:
8. Not being able to buy what I want
After living in Vietnam for a long period, you start needing things that you can’t buy just anywhere. From large-sized shoes and clothes to hardware items and specialty sports products, buying specific and less common items in Vietnam can be a real challenge. Often, I am forced to either purchase the items from overseas or have a family member buy them in my home country and have them sent to Vietnam. Of course, with this complexity come long wait times, sometimes up to a month, for delivery.
Recently, a plastic three-way valve broke in my shower. After going to 10 local hardware stores and buying the wrong item two times, I was advised that the only way I could buy a new one was to order it online from overseas. It was very frustrating that a simple item was not available in local stores.
7. Doctors not giving you all the information you need
Don’t get me wrong, the doctors who have helped me here in Ho Chi Minh City have, for the most part, been amazing. I have had a few slightly serious issues over the years, and the doctors have always been helpful.
However, the communication of doctors in Vietnam is totally different to that of doctors in my home country. Here, it seems they only tell you the basic details and disregard any information they deem “optional.”
Recently, a suspicious lump appeared on my back. The doctor looked at it and immediately removed it with little concern. However, after removing the lump, she became worried about its structure and her whole demeanor changed. Rather than explain her worry, she sent it for testing and explained that surgery might be a necessity depending on the results of the test.
This shocked me and launched me into a week of overthinking and stress. Thankfully, the lump ended up being nothing to worry about, but the week of waiting could have been more bearable if communication was clearer. Regardless, she is a fantastic doctor and always does a good job.
6. The heat
|Commuters cover their faces and bodies while riding motorbikes on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre
If you live anywhere in southern Vietnam, you know what I mean about the heat. In Ho Chi Minh City, it is a relentless 365-day year of heat that you never really get used to. Even after a decade, I still struggle with the hot nights.
Places like Da Lat and Sa Pa are wonderful for those living in Ho Chi Minh City because they allow for a quick escape from the heat and the chance to experience weather patterns more reminiscent of Western countries. Though the heat is oppressive, not having to suffer from cold temperatures after taking a shower is a great trade-off.
5. Getting charged extra because you are a foreigner
There is nothing more frustrating than walking into a shop, like a pet store or hardware store, asking what the price of something is, and getting a ridiculous answer. There have been examples where I refused to purchase the item, then sent my Vietnamese wife back to the store, and she was given a price up to 50 percent less. It is rare but it does happen.
During the 2020 Tet (Lunar New Year), I took a ride out to Tri An Lake in Dong Nai Province. Before leaving on my bicycle, I asked my wife to call a local hotel and book a room for me. She was given the price and confirmation over the phone. I arrived a few hours later and was told the price had gone up VND100,000 (US$4.1). When I challenged them, they were quick to change the story and said it was for “lucky money” during the Lunar New Year holiday. I wound up giving in and paying, but it is frustrating when these things happen just because of being a foreigner.
4. Truck and bus drivers on country roads
Riding a bicycle on country roads can be a challenging and dangerous experience. Trucks and buses seem to make up their own rules on country roads and the accidents are horrendous.
Recently, I was almost hit by a truck. You might think that is a normal experience, but I was on a four-lane road and the truck was driving on the wrong side of the road trying to pass a bus and a car. Meanwhile, the car was also trying to overtake the bus. The truck missed me by less than 20cm and pushed me into the bush.
We have all seen social media videos of terrible accidents and it always promotes my decision to use a train and plane whenever I can to travel between cities, except when I take on the world by riding my bicycle.
3. The food
|A file photo shows foreign tourists buying 'banh mi' at a street stall in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre
People regard Vietnamese food as some of the freshest and most enjoyable in the world, and I agree. The issue with Vietnamese food is when you live in Vietnam it can often be your only option for daily calorie intake. Over time this can have a real effect on your body and weight because it is so heavy in carbohydrates that a Western person cannot process so much energy efficiently.
I love Vietnamese food, but I also love eating familiar foods that I would normally have as light meals in my home country. These can be very difficult to find at times, and sometimes you have to ride 10km across town just to have a Western meal so that you can give your body a break from rice and noodle dishes.
2.The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City
|A traffic jam on Nguyen Kiem Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thu Dung / Tuoi Tre
If you live in Ho Chi Minh City, you know it is a city that never sleeps. At any time of day or night, the groan of traffic and roar of horns can be heard across the city. Even in the still of the night, the roar of horns can wake you as they race past your apartment, 15 floors down on the roadway. There is no escaping the noise.
Once daylight hits, the bustle, jostling, smell, noise, and disarray of the city’s traffic overcome every moment spent outside your office and home. With over nine million people and six million motorbikes, Ho Chi Minh City’s traffic is an experience to behold as a tourist but an experience often barely tolerable to those who live in the city.
The longer you live in Vietnam, the more frustrating the visa situation becomes. It doesn’t matter what system you are working with, the visa processes in Vietnam are always a challenge for foreigners.
Sitting in the bar listening to the two older men talk about visas brought me to a stop as I heard complaint after complaint about everything from the length of tourist visas to issues with acquiring work permits and Temporary Resident Cards.
At its core, there is nothing wrong with the visa system. But as it filters down to agents and local offices, the processes can get very confusing for foreigners and the charges applied by the agents can sometimes become perplexing to those needing to apply for or renew a visa.
As I left the bar, I realized that there are things that frustrate many foreigners living in Vietnam, just as I am sure there are things that frustrate locals. That said, I am also sure that the good things about Vietnam far outweigh the bad.
And as I walked back home, a little 9-year-old girl walked past me with her mother. With a bit of prompting by her mum, she turned to me and said, “Hello my name is Cindy." I stopped and said hello and asked her three or four questions. This little girl, real name Linh, had a smile on her face that lit up the street and the pride on her mother’s face equally brightened my day.
I can complain about all the little frustrations of a foreigner living in Vietnam but it is the moments like my two or three minutes with Linh and her mum on a street corner that illustrate the real Vietnam: the people, the smiles, the heartwarming connections, and the love that people show to each other.
I would never say I hate Vietnam because anything I can complain about will always be outweighed by the timeless charm and beauty of this country, and that is why I know I am so lucky to be living in one of the best countries in the world.