Return to Vietnam – Our New Life in Hanoi

For me, the best and the worst part of travel is moving on. On the one hand, the promise of a fresh adventure and the possibility that I might fall in love with a new corner of the world is what keeps me travelling. On the other, saying goodbye to the places I do love, the people in them and the experiences I’ve had there can be really tough. As we boarded a plane back to Asia after our summer visit to the UK I was wracked with homesickness and nostalgia but I also felt a glimmer of excitement and possibility at the thought of our new lives in Vietnam.

Sunset in Hanoi, Vietnam

Sunset in Hanoi

Saying Goodbye and Starting Again

Our visit to the UK surpassed all my expectations. The weather was (almost) continuously beautiful and after so many months of travel, we revelled in small comforts such as home-cooked meals, familiar TV programmes and having pet dogs to cuddle. We saw family and friends and quickly became besotted with my new nephew Alfie. We house sat for the first time in London, went on walks and had picnics in the park; we sat in pub gardens and explored Scotland for the first time. Our visit was productive too because while I completed a TEFL course, Andrew earned some money working for his Dad.

Visiting Scotland with My Parents

Visiting Scotland with My Parents

Those two and a half months back home disappeared fast and before I knew it we were packing our bags again, except this time we were filling them with smart work clothes, text books and University certificates. We had jobs lined up teaching English in Hanoi, a prospect that I found more than a little bit terrifying. The task of assembling our new lives was overwhelming; from finding an apartment and our way around the city to renting a scooter and opening Vietnamese bank accounts – I knew the next few weeks were going to be tough.

Teething Troubles and Teaching Nightmares

To ease my fears about beginning our new lives in Hanoi I did what I always do – planned and researched like crazy. One thing I didn’t anticipate though was the fact that I’d get sick almost immediately upon arriving. Perhaps I picked up a bug on the airplane or maybe I just lost all the immunity I’d previously built-up in Asia, but on our second morning in Hanoi I woke up feeling like there was glass in my throat.

Eating Spring Rolls in Hanoi

My first meal in Hanoi

It took us far longer to get over our jet lag than we expected and every time we ventured out into the busy streets of the Old Quarter we were overwhelmed by the swarms of motorbikes and exhaust fumes, we got lost in the disorientating maze of identical streets and quickly became infuriated that we couldn’t walk on the pavements because they were crowded with parked bikes and people perched on stalls or selling their wares. This had all seemed so charming and exciting when we’d first visited Hanoi as travellers last year, but it didn’t feel that way now that we had an apartment to find and a million other tasks to complete.

A Busy Street in Hanoi, Vietnam

The Old Quarter in Hanoi

After just a few days we were scheduled to teach our first lessons at the Language Centre. Now, no matter how many courses you take or how well you prepare your lesson, there’s no getting around it: standing up in front of a class for the first time is terrifying. Lessons at the Language Centre take place outside of regular school hours and are ninety-minutes long; my first class was on a hot Sunday afternoon during the summer break the day before a national holiday, so most of the kids really didn’t want to be there. Due to a scheduling error I’d also been given a revision class for a topic the children had just done a whole module and test on so it was old material they knew inside-out and were thoroughly sick of.  Unsurprisingly, the class quickly lost interest and with my sore throat I struggled to make my voice heard over the din of classroom chatter and fought to control one group of naughty boys.

Vegetable Pho in Hanoi

Vegetable Pho (noodle soup)

I’m sure an experienced teacher like Andrew could have dealt with these circumstances but I fell to pieces; this was my worst nightmare come true. After 15 minutes I looked at the clock, saw that there was still over an hour of class left and silently started panicking. What on earth was I doing here; what made me think I’d ever be able to teach a class of Vietnamese kids? By the time the lesson was over I was about ready to cry, especially when one of those naught boys bid me farewell by saying, with an evil grin on his face: “Bye Teacher, see you…NEVER!”

To top it off, I had to teach another class straight afterwards and the next day I woke up to find my voice had completely disappeared.

Finding our Feet in Vietnam

Yes, these first few weeks in Hanoi have been challenging but on the bright side, we’re slowly finding our feet. After trailing around the city with an estate agent for several days and losing out on an apartment we loved, we finally found a bright, airy flat in a quiet area of the city that’s within walking distance of the Old Quarter. The apartment is fully furnished and has lots of windows and a balcony; the rent is just £270 a month including water, cable TV, internet, scooter parking and twice-weekly cleaning. We have a hob and microwave to cook basic meals with and although we’ve yet to find a toaster that costs less than £20, we have managed to locate some decent cheese.

We’re starting to feel at home.

Andrew in our Hanoi Apartment

Cooking in our new apartment

Now that we’ve established a comfy base the city seems friendlier too. We’re finding our way around and have discovered some awesome cafes, bakeries and restaurants – access to good food always makes us feel better! We’ve also rediscovered the joys of cheap massages and £3 cinema tickets and have begun adjusting to the chaotic energy that is the life-blood of Hanoi. With some degree of terror we’ve also rented a scooter from a guy who told us: “If you ever get stopped by the police just call me; I know people in high places so I will make sure you don’t get a fine!” The perks of living in Asia!

Andrew on our Motorbike in Vietnam

While I still haven’t fully recovered from my illness, I can actually talk again now and my second lesson, which Andrew sat in on, was a big improvement on the first. We have now starting teaching in the public schools which is a whole new kettle of fish. Lessons may only be 35-minutes long but they’re crammed with up to 50 children in classrooms with no air conditioning or fans; even though it’s supposed to get pretty cold here during autumn and winter, at the moment the air is still thick with summer heat and humidity. This is a steep learning curve for both of us and I have much to write about our teaching experiences in Hanoi.

Tasty Meal at Zen Cafe in Hanoi

Veggie meal at Zen

Our lives here are just getting started and although there are times when I pine for England and wonder whether we may have been happier in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’m determined to make the most of this experience. I’m also keeping in mind that the money we earn here over the next nine months will go towards funding the next stage of our travels. This is something we’ve been thinking a lot about lately and we’ve come to some surprising decisions about where we want to go, more to come about this soon.

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35 thoughts on “Return to Vietnam – Our New Life in Hanoi

  1. Oh Amy, I’m so sorry your first few days of teaching were so rough. I swear (speaking as a retired teacher) children smell fear. When you’re feeling strong again just plant your feet and stand tall and strong, they’ll get the message. The kid who said, “See you … never!” He could have been any smart ass kid in any school room in any country. 🙂 You’ll find your voice (literally) and you’ll develop a routine that will work for you and the kids will quickly come around and then they’ll love you. There will always be a few of the naughty, but fortunately, they’ll be outnumbered. You’ll be great! The two of you – and your tenacity – are awesome! Looking forward to reading more as the adventure continues – and that’s what teaching is, an adventure each and every day. Stay strong!
    Patti recently posted..It Was Meant to Be ~My Profile

    • Thanks for the advice and reassurance Patti; teaching definitely has been an adventure so far! Lessons this week in the public schools have been better and I’ve met plenty of lovely kids to balance out the few ‘challenging’ ones! I am learning so much though and I’m determined to do better everyday 🙂

  2. Getting your ‘legs’ adjusting to anything can be tough, but man…your cold really timed things poorly! It sounds like things are getting better, and so I look forward to posts down the road with all the developments you’ve made and the plans that will come down the line!
    Emily recently posted..A Layover in DubaiMy Profile

    • Things are getting better thanks Emily and I have lots to write about our experiences living and working and Hanoi. I’m also excited to share our future travel plans with everyone soon 🙂

  3. You’re a brave girl! I could never, ever, even consider teaching. Even though my careers advisor in school thought it was what I should do. It’s my idea of hell, other people’s kids + public speaking.
    But Hanoi,more than a little envious!
    Anyways, we’re still in London and I don’t know how you left so soon, totally loving it and oozing happiness. But back on the road from February, maybe see you there!
    Alyson recently posted..15 Top World Landmarks by World Travel FamilyMy Profile

    • Public speaking and kids are two of my fears also Alyson 🙂 I do feel like it’s good to push myself out of my comfort zone though and I’m learning a lot – teaching gets easier everyday. We would have loved to stay in London and worked but I don’t think we ever would have left again! Also, the start-up costs for London and the high price of living means we could never have saved the money that we can save here in nine months; working and living in Vietnam means we can afford to start the next phase of our adventure in June. Looking forward to seeing where you head out to next 🙂

    • Hi Heidi, it definitely is hard adjusting to a new place. I am jealous of you in Chiang Mai though! Andrew and I often wish we had chosen to go there instead as we love the city, the Sunday market, the veggie cafes and second-hand bookstores. We also miss the convenience of Thailand sometimes; there are no 7-11s here in Vietnam! We’re determined to enjoy our time here though – hopefully see you in December 🙂

    • I hope so Catherine! It’s going to take a couple of months to get used to our work schedules and settle in properly but then I think the time will fly and we’ll be moving onto our next adventure in no time!

  4. Oh.. what a rough start to this new life 🙁 I’m glad you got an apartment sorted out and are getting into the routine. Keep looking towards the future plans and soon you’ll be so involved in day-to-day life in that dynamic city you’ll be thoroughly enjoying yourself. The excellent food, cheap prices, and total street chaos is certainly worth the price of admission! By the way, we traveled through Hanoi over Christmas and it does get cold! Be prepared.
    Rhonda recently posted..Cinder Hill Campground – East Lake ~ A Campground ReviewMy Profile

    • Hi Rhonda, we were here last December too so we’re a bit prepared for the cold, no doubt it will come as a shock though after the intense heat we’ve had so far! Hopefully a bit of cold weather will actually make us feel at home 🙂 Thanks for the support, we’re slowly finding our groove here in Hanoi and are looking forward to our future plans too.

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  6. Hi Amy,

    Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog! My boyfriend Ben recommended I read it as we are moving to Hanoi in January to live and work. Indeed, our paths sound remarkably similar… We backpacked around SE Asia for a few months earlier in the year and made the decision to move out on a more permanent basis to teach English in Hanoi- for the saving and travel opportunities, much as you did. We recently booked our flights out (arriving January 6th) and I’ve been a real mixed bag of emotions ever since. I picked up a rather persistent case of giardiasis when I was last in Asia and I’m not sure I’m ready to part with the comforts of home just yet!

    That being said you’re blog has filled me with a renewed sense of enthusiasm- sometimes you just need someone to help you remember why it seemed like such a good idea in the first place! I would love to meet up in the new year if your still residing in the big city?

    Thanks again, Hannah.

    • Hi Hannah, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I totally understand your nerves about moving to Hanoi, I found it pretty tough coming back after visiting England but once you’re settled things will be fine; I’m glad to have renewed your enthusiasm 🙂 Do you have jobs lined up already or will you be searching for them when you arrive? We will be here in Hanoi until the end of May so we’d love to meet up! Give us a shout when you get here and if you have any more questions in the meantime let me know. We know a good estate agent if you need help searching for an apartment.

      • Hi Amy,

        Great to hear from you. We’ve read mixed reports on which is best- setting up a job before you go, verses looking once you arrive. What’s your take? At the moment we’re planning to apply once we’ve arrived. We’re not sure how long we’re going to stay could be a few months could be a couple of years! We’d love to use your estate agent as your apartment looks nice and the rent seems great! Which area is it in? We we absolutely let you know when we arrive, meeting up would be great!


        • Hi Hannah, if you’re not sure how long you’re staying then you’ll probably find it hard to organise a job before you arrive as companies normally want you to sign a nine-month or year-long contract beforehand; I think you’re best bet would be to look when you get here. Our apartment is about a 15 minute walk west of Hoam Kiem lake/the Old Quarter. Many ex-pats live in Tay Ho; we looked at some apartments there but decided on our place as it was cheaper and in a really quiet location nearer to our language centre. Remind me a few weeks before you arrive and I’ll give you the estate agent’s phone number/email address so you can line up some viewings. Unlike the UK, using an estate agent doesn’t cost you anything and they take you around to all the viewings in a taxi and arrange everything for you – it’s awesome! Looking forward to meeting you 🙂

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