Becoming An Expat In Saigon

I never thought I’d be one of those people who said “I moved across the world for a guy,” but in August I moved to Ho Chi Minh City AKA HCMC AKA Saigon AKA somewhere in Vietnam – for a guy. The guy being Handsome or “that guy that Risa’s been dating for 6 years but I think she made him up because I’ve never met him and they’ve never lived in the same country.”  That guy. 

In a moment of frustration after working two months at the worst job I’ve ever had*, Handsome finally convinced me to join him in the city he’d been calling home for the past few months. I agreed because

  1. Anything was better than cleaning a cruise ship kitchen every 5 days with dental tools
  2. Even if I wasn’t working, the cost of living would be low and I could try my hand at being a Real Housewife of Saigon.
  3. I suppose 6 years is a long enough time to be in a long distance relationship. 
*15 hour average days, no days off, 3 people cooking for 100 guests and crew eating in two separate shifts, working for rhymes with Gashional Neographic.


So with a little persuasion from Handsome, about $60 for a 3 month visa, and a suitcase loaded with American hot sauce and candy, I joined the thousands of foreigners that call Saigon home. 


Becoming an expat in Saigon has been a process.  Living in the Caribbean for 5 years I never considered myself an expat because I didn’t want to live there in the first place, and I would leave as soon as we hit the off-season.  Now not only was I in a city I wasn’t super enthusiastic about, but I also had to pay rent for the first time in 7 years while simultaneously being unemployed for the first time since I was twelve.  I wasn’t sure if this qualified as adulting, or regressing.

Thankfully Handsome was already set up in Saigon, and we didn’t have to look for an apartment as soon as I arrived.  So that was one less problem.  Within a week of being there however, I quickly learned a few things:

  1. Having no friends sucks.
  2. Having no friends and an ant infested kitchen that I can’t cook in sucks too.
  3. Having no friends, ants in my kitchen and no job makes my life really suck.
  4. Being my boyfriend while I have with no friends, an ant filled kitchen and no job makes makes YOUR life really suck.

Sorry Handsome.  Apparently housewife life is not for me.  After much discussion about the aforementioned issues, we decided that I needed to find things to do before we murdered each other. 

The view from the apartment in Binh Thanh District

Mission 1: Learn How to Cross The Street in Vietnam

The first step to getting out of the house was learning how to cross the street.  This isn’t a euphemism.  I’m sure you’ve seen videos of the traffic in Saigon by now and if you haven’t…it’s a source of great stress for a lot of first time visitors to the city.  I see people almost get hit by motorbikes pretty much all day in the main tourist districts.  Myself included.


It’s kind of like, imagine you’re running through a field, where the White Walkers on your right, are about to be charged by the Dothraki on your left.  Except they’re all on scooters going 50 miles an hour, and some of them are running backwards and perpendicular to the flow of traffic – so there’s actually no order as to which way you need to look. As you start to cross, you realize Cersi’s army is coming at you from straight ahead and also needs to be avoided.  Somehow you make it across all that to the sidewalk, only to be hit by Ramsey Bolton on motorbike because Bolton DGAF and sidewalks are just another battlefield that has inconvenient pedestrians walking on it.  Welcome to the Game of Throngs (of Scooters). 

Theoretically I’ve been told you can cross if you walk in a straight line at a steady pace, and traffic will avoid you.  Personally, I downloaded Grab (Asian Uber) and hire scooters to take me across the street.  Or walk down stream from children and old people when they cross.  They make great shields. 

Mission 2: Find a Job

My next task was finding a job since with a job comes coworkers, and hopefully some that are bearable enough to go for a drink with.  While I would love to have stayed in yacht cheffing – there didn’t appear to be much of a market for that on the Mekong River.  A bunch of people suggested teaching English since I had the necessary qualifications, which involve being a native speaker and having a pulse.  But as someone who can’t avoid sounding like a sailor with Tourettes, I didn’t think being around children all day was the job for me. 


So with English teacher being out I started responding to random job postings on the Saigon Expats Facebook group, which is basically the craigslist of Saigon.  I found a job doing some writing for websites on topics that I know nothing about, which I absolutely hate, but hey – five dollars is five dollars.

Mission 3: Learn Vietnamese

Seeing as I have an affinity for getting drunk and suddenly being able to speak random languages, I’ve been asked several times how learning Vietnamese is coming along.  The answer is, it’s not.  As a shitty Chinese person, I have absolutely no ear for tones, and everything in Vietnamese either comes out perfectly, or goes horribly wrong.  For example, “I can’t hear you,” with the wrong tones can come out as “I’m an idiot!”  Which, well, accurate.

There was also the time Handsome told our taxi driver to take us to “Pho Hue Street” which resulted in the driver laughing hysterically, and asking him to repeat address multiple times while slowly losing the ability to breathe.  Several days later we realized Handsome asked him something like “BRING ME TO THE PROSTITUTES!”  So yeah, “pho” – your favorite Vietnamese dish, when pronounced incorrectly can be hookers so, yeah, enjoy your whore noodles.

On top of all that, because I look Asian I get a lot more shit for not being able to speak Vietnamese than Aryan race Handsome does.  Whereas the blonde hair blue eyed guy “accidentally” asking for hookers is endearing, me butchering Vietnamese is met by anger and disbelief. 


Because I’m American.


I’m not.


At which point I’m not sure how to answer.  There’s some hostility between Chinese and Vietnamese stemming from territorial issues over contested islands. I’ve even seen signs that read “We reserve the right not to serve Chinese Tourists.” So I usually just say my family is from Hong Kong.  They don’t really like China very much either.  See, I’m trying to assimilate. 


Meanwhile, Handsome has conversations like this:

“How long you in Vietnam for?”

I live here

“Do you have girlfriend.”


“Where is she from?”


(long pause)

“America good!! China, Korea, no good!!! Very bad! America okay!” (goes on rant about how bad Chinese and Koreans are)

Truth be told, I now speak traffic horns a lot better than Vietnamese, so beep beep beeeeeeeeeep, bitches. 

Mission 4: Make Friends

Making friends when you’re moving to a place, and not backpacking is hard.  I remember when I first moved to the USVI people straight up told me they don’t have an interest in new people (beyond sleeping with them) because chances are a lot of people don’t stay there for very long (which is why they wanted to sleep with them). I think it must be similar in Saigon since there are lots of long term expats that just don’t have time for people that are passing through for a few months or a year.

The other things is, people are fucking weird.  I joined a few FB groups for meetups and, wow FB really brings out the best in everyone.  (FYI: Facebook is the world in which everything social exists here) Sexpats creeping on posts from chicks looking for help.  Hating on entitled expats.  Expats living in Vietnam and hating on Vietnamese people and culture.  And stuff like the guy who wanted to commit his friend to rehab immediately because she came to visit for a day and got drunk and threw up. That’s just Monday night dude.

Ultimately I ended up meeting some really cool people from activity based meet ups that I hang with out regularly,  but damn it’s hard being socially single.

My expat takeaways after my first month here are pretty simple.  Eat the amazing food. (Post to follow) Join a club or activity to make friends. Learn Vietnamese, if you’re white.  Don’t get killed crossing the street.



12 thoughts on “Becoming An Expat In Saigon

  1. A few take always:
    This post seriously made me laugh out loud several times
    You’ve always inspired me and continue to do so
    And – it’s good to read an update: I’ve been wondering about all the food IG stories & now I know.

    (Handsome is a lucky guy – remember to remind him just how cool you are)

    1. Ah I’m so glad you enjoyed it! If I can make you laugh while learning about new places/experiences I’m honestly just super happy to do that! I’ve been terrible about blogging consistently, even since I first met you guys. Going to try to do better to avoid the plot holes haha

      And I will show Handsome this comment so he knows 😉

  2. Hey, I’m sorry to hear that HCMC has been so tough, but it seems the experiences you’ve had to make up for funny stories after. About that last point on making friends, totally know what you mean (sadly). But there’s a group I know called Girl Gone International ( My experience with them (in Ottawa, Canada) has been really fun. Just a bunch of girls, looking to make friends and socialize while avoiding creeps. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they have a chapter in HCMC but looks like they do have one in Hanoi (or you can start one in HCMC). Hope this helps!

    1. Thanks for the support! It’s gotten a lot better over time, and I like it here now, it was just a rough start.

      I’ll definitely look into a chapter of that! There are tons of normal girls here too that want to make friends, it’s just hard to find the ones I have stuff in common with. Thankfully we have a good resource at least, which cuts out a lot of the bullshit and pervs lol

      And thanks so much for reading! 🙂

  3. Yass love the blog relapse! Keep it coming. Seems like u have ur priorities straight and ur adulting strategy is relevant and advanced. U need to make a cookbook mixed with travel blogging

  4. Risa! I was watching RHPS with my wife and brother in law and thought of you!! I can still sing every word and say things like “the banister is lucky” at the appropriate times, thanks to you. Then I read ur blog post. So awesome!

    Hope you’re well!

  5. I came across your blog because I was literally googling “how to meet people in Saigon”! Also a Chinese American woman and can definitely relate to the part about people being super confused that I can’t speak Vietnamese! Not sure if you’re still here but let me know if you’re down to get a drink sometime!

    1. Thanks for checking out my ramblings on being an expat haha I hope it’s able to give you some help adjusting when you arrive! I’m not in Saigon anymore unfortunately, but if I was I would definitely loved to have met up for a drink! Did you end up trying any of those saigon meet up groups?

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