Ironically, after I wrote the Why I Chose Thailand as My First Base blog post, I am now leaving Thailand to live in Vietnam. I have several reasons. I’ve visited Vietnam before on multiple trips and somehow Vietnam keeps drawing me back — traffic, annoying street peddlers, warts and all.
Five Reasons I Moved To Vietnam From Thailand
Pho and other traditional Vietnamese dishes
Thai food overwhelmingly uses pork and shrimp more than chicken or beef. I’m not a fan of pork or shrimp. If I wanted to order a nice plate of phad thai or fried rice with eggs, the menu would list four or five of these options — and all of them would contain either pork or shrimp. At many food courts, it’s almost always either pork or shrimp. Some listed beef on their menu, but they almost always did not have it.
Whenever I asked restaurants to substitute the pork or shrimp with chicken or beef, they would decline, saying mai dai. I’d scour the menu for a beef option, and settle for chicken or just plain fried rice with eggs. Granted, I’d get my fill of beef (the grilled or unprocessed kind) at a BBQ place or a nice burger joint, but I’d often pay Western prices for it.
In Vietnam, beef is in abundance for cheap and comes in many different kinds. I could have a huge bowl of bún bò with six different cuts of beef and a healthy cube of liver tossed in for good measure. The whole thing would not cost me more than two dollars or 50,000 VND. I could order a bowl of hot pho with juicy Australian beef. Cost? Two dollars. For an extra fifty cents, I could toss in extra beef and a warm egg with soft yolk to top up on protein levels after a good gym session.
Sure, there are beefy hot pots and moo kata’s in Thailand, and these are absolutely delicious. But I paid more for them. Given my preferences for beef and chicken, I could order a wider array of Vietnamese dishes at lower prices.
Diverse array of cafes and coffeeshops
Both countries have lots of cafes, but Ho Chi Minh City has a ton of cafes lining the streets and alleyways. Each cafe is unique in its own way, with its own ambiance and personality. Many are great places to get some work done and to meet like-minded people.
In Thailand, the best places to get some work done are co-working spaces where you have to pay to use. Some of these aren’t cheap and run at least 3,000-4,000 baht per month on the lower end. In Vietnam, there are co-working spaces but you only need to buy a coffee while you work there — with no limitations on WiFi usage. I ran the numbers and it works out to be cheaper than renting a co-working space in Thailand.
The nicest thing about not having to pay for a co-working space is you don’t feel tied to it. If you pay upfront by the month, you would have to commit to it every day to make it worthwhile. In Saigon, you could go to a few different places without feeling tied to any one of them. As someone who likes variety, this works well for me.
And I love the coffee with condensed milk, Vietnamese style.
I relate to Vietnamese girls better than Thais
I am an intellectually curious person and I like it when a girl has a level of curiosity that matches mine. Conversation flows better as a result. I find Thais a bit insular and with a lower level of curiosity about anything outside of Thailand, so I have a hard time sustaining an interesting and meaningful conversation with them.
I love partying in Thailand as much as the next guy, but when it comes to dating a nice girl, I prefer Vietnamese.
Another reason is the Vietnamese sense of humor better matches mine. I’ve had strange instances when I cracked a joke and Thai women got extremely offended, to the point where her reaction was way out of proportion with my joking comment.
I could crack the exact same jokes in Vietnam (or Philippines, Indonesia and most everywhere else) and not one woman got offended like Thais. Not one. Almost every time we’d both laugh and keep the back-and-forth banter going — sometimes all the way into the bedroom for a steamy nightcap.
The same holds true for Filipinas, Indonesians, Mexicans, etc…
More than anything, I think this is because of my own personality quirks. Some people are a better fit for certain groups and cultures than others — and maybe Thailand isn’t the best fit for me and my personality.
The growing craft brewery scene
Finding a decent craft brewery in Bangkok is surprisingly hard, given the large expat population in Bangkok. One of the best breweries, the Mikkeller, is tucked inside a quiet alley surrounded by a patch of forest so deep into a soi you’d need to hail a taxi to get there. And most taxi drivers have no idea where it is, so it’d fall on you to use Google Maps and help the drivers navigate.
There are other breweries closer to the BTS skytrain, but their menus are quite limited to half a dozen of beer selections that aren’t Chang, Singha or Leo.
The other problem with breweries in Thailand is that they are quite expensive, with little or no competition to contend with. At Western pricing, I could easily spend $50 in a 2-3 hour drinking session at a brewery in Bangkok. Compounding this problem, they don’t even offer small snifter glasses so you could sample as many beers as you want without getting too drunk.
In Saigon, the craft brew scene is exploding. New breweries — Biacraft, Heart of Darkness, East West, etc — are popping up everywhere, and each week I hear about a new opening. All offer small, medium or large glasses so I could either commit to one large (and favorite) brew or sample several small brews of different types and flavors. By ordering the smaller glasses, I could keep my expenses to about $20-25 per night or less and still enjoy nearly a dozen different brews.
The evolving tides of my visa situation
Before the very first time I visited Vietnam, I got an approval letter for a one-month visa (which cost me about $25). But once I got there, they wouldn’t accept the letter and told me I needed to pay extra for the one-year multiple entry visa, which cost $135.
At first I thought it was a scam. But when I saw other tourists having the same problem, I realized that I didn’t have the cash. So I had to leave my passport with immigrations, go to an ATM outside of customs and get back in line for my multiple entry visa. I wasn’t too thrilled at the time, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I liked Saigon so much on my first trip that I wanted to come back a month later.
I ended up returning three more times.
The catalyst that finally got me to make a semi-permanent move to Vietnam happened when a Thai embassy rejected my application for a new tourist visa. No explanation whatsoever. They just handed me a passport without a new visa, and said “visa mai mi” with a dismissive wave.
I tried to get them to explain, but they refused. After walking away in frustration and bewilderment, I flew back into Thailand on a 30-day exemption and moved to Vietnam just before the 30 days was up. I still have plenty of time left on my Vietnam multiple-entry visa, so it’s a stress reliever to not have to worry about visas for a while.
Caveat: Vietnam is not for everybody
It is not my intent to promote Vietnam over Thailand. In fact, I would recommend any traveler new to Asia to visit Thailand first. Most tourists return to Thailand after their first visit.
Conversely, most tourists never return to Vietnam after their first trip there.
It takes a certain person with certain personality — and tolerance level — to appreciate Vietnam at its fullest, with its flaws included.
For a more balanced article, here are five things that Thailand scores an edge over Vietnam. While Vietnam gives me a sense of raw adventure and meaningful travel experiences, it does have a long way to go in the following areas:
Bangkok has the best value for apartment rentals of all of Asia — hands down. No question. Any debate about this is ultimately dead on arrival. If you’re trying to look for the same value in Ho Chi Minh City or anywhere in Vietnam as what you’d pay for in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, you can stop now. You’re wasting your time because you won’t find it. Trust me on this. Many apartments are quite decent in Vietnam — you’ll simply pay more for them.
Cheap air travel
Bangkok is a major airport hub with hundreds of routes to just about any city in Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Europe, Africa and dozens of smaller cities scattered in Thailand. Finding a cheap flight is one-two-click easy. Coming from the U.S., I find air fares ridiculously cheap out of Bangkok. Other cities in SEA won’t have similarly cheap airfares to the extent that Bangkok does. Flights out of Manila, for example, are at least twice as expensive.
Girls and partying
For partying and plain ol’ fun with girls, Thailand is the place. It’s all sabai sabai, if you want to get down and lose yourself, Bangkok will gladly have you. While there are plenty of places to party in Vietnam if you know where to look and go with the right people, Ho Chi Minh City is definitely not known as a party city like Bangkok and with good reason.
Convenience and public transportation
There is no match for the convenience Bangkok provides with its modern BTS skytrain infrastructure. Taking the BTS gets you to places fast — minimizing the need for a taxi or heaven forbid, a motorbike. Unless you are an experienced rider with freakish control over his bike, or have a death wish, I would never recommend riding a motorbike in Bangkok (other cities in Thailand are fine to ride). But I digress. No other city in Southeast Asia offers the first-world convenience that you can find in Bangkok.
In Vietnam, I put on a face mask. Everyone does. There’s simply too much exhaust and fine-particle pollution in Ho Chi Minh City and I have not yet heard anything being done about it. The air is horrible to breathe. Bangkok’s air is not the cleanest, but it is miles better than the air at Ho Chi Minh City, which is is ranked 12th in the world for highest air pollution levels as of 2017, beating Beijing, New Delhi, and Manila. Bangkok is ranked at #100 on the same list.
I’ve only heard second-hand about the healthcare systems in Thailand and Vietnam. I haven’t had to use a hospital or a clinic yet, but other expats have said healthcare in Thailand is top-notch and cheap. In Vietnam, the picture is not as clear. I’ve heard that many locals would rather travel 500 miles to a well-known hospital in a major city than visit a local clinic in their hometown, so they overcrowd the major hospitals by sleeping on the floor. I have not seen or experienced this firsthand, but if I do, that will be quite the story to tell.