Exploring Hanoi City: A Tropical, Colorful, Communist Tokyo (Part 2)

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Hanoi — my favorite city in Vietnam!

Since I published my introduction of Hanoi yesterday, I’m now going to be detailing my experience here in tropical, colorful, Communist Tokyo!  I only stayed in Hanoi for 2 days because I spent most of my time in Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island, but it actually ended up being my favorite city in Vietnam.  Hanoi is super condensed and has a lot to see, so backpackers will rejoice at how easy and fun it is to explore.  I made a lot of friends here that I hope to see again during my future trips!

Hanoi VS Ho Chi Minh

The biggest decision that first time travelers to Vietnam will make is what city they want to see the most.  All of my Vietnamese friends in Japan recommended Hanoi because they think it’s prettier, but Ho Chi Minh is cheaper to fly to from most Asian countries so I started there.  I researched both cities thoroughly and couldn’t pick a favorite so I decided I’d see them both!  Fortunately roundtrip flights between the two cities are only $40 dollars, so you can easily see them both during your trip to Vietnam.

Reasons to go to Hanoi:

  • The streets are condensed making it easy to get around on foot.  Ho Chi Minh has a lot more traffic and you need to take a taxi or motorbike to get to some places.
  • You can access the emerald waters of Halong Bay from Hanoi.  Halong Bay usually takes 2-3 days to fully experience but is one of the prettiest areas of the country.
  • I found it much more easy to make friends here.  Ho Chi Minh is more spread out so meeting people outside of clubs was difficult.
  • There are more parks and nature around Hanoi.  You can also reach Sapa, a beautiful mountain village with terraces, from here.

Reasons to go to Ho Chi Minh

  • HCM is a huge international business hub which is why flights into this city are less expensive.  If you have an international driver’s license and are not afraid of motorbiking through huge crowds, you might save money here.
  • Though HCM isn’t near any beaches or beautiful waters, Mekong Delta is definitely worth seeing.
  • HCM has a lot of international cuisine and upscale restaurants.  I ate some of the best food I had in Vietnam here.
  • If you are a history buff, you will enjoy seeing the Cu Chi Tunnels here!

I recommend a minimum of 3 days and 3 nights in each city if possible.

Main Points of Interest

Here are the main points of interest I explored in Hanoi.  For food recommendations, please check out my Aesthetic Food Finds article!

  • Hỏa Lò Prison – One of the most historic prisons used during the Vietnam War.  Tickets are around $10.  
  • Ngoc Son Temple – A beautiful white temple located on Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hanoi.
  • Chua Tran Quoc – A pagoda on an islet in central Vietnam.  I walked here from my hotel and reached it in 30 minutes.  On the way there you can see beautiful parks!
  • Cat Ba Island – A beautiful island in Halong Bay.  I did not visit it because I went to Phu Quoc Island instead, but I would love to go in the future!
  • Water Puppet Shows – Vietnam is famous for its water puppet shows and my biggest regret is that I didn’t book a ticket in advance to see one.  I recommend using a website like GetYourGuide to buy one before your trip because they will deliver it directly to your hotel.
  • The Obama Combo – You can eat at the same bun cha restaurant as Obama did and order the Obama Combo in Hanoi!

Honestly the highlights of Hanoi were just wandering around the streets and seeing the culture here.  This was my first time traveling to a tropical Asian country so it truly felt like an adventure to me.  I loved going for morning runs and watching people do yoga in the park.  I bargained for a scarf at the Đồng Xuân Market and ate a lot of fresh fruit.    Seeing all the different markets influenced by the doi moi policy was eye-opening.  This is what I imagined Tokyo would be like if it hadn’t radically reformed after World War II.

However, aside from a few people most residents I encountered in Hanoi seemed truly happy.  This made me happy as well!

The Toilet Club

Have you ever dreamed of throwing a Communist party in a toilet?  Because at the Toilet Club (formerly known as the IP Club) you totally can!  This is where I spent my last night in Hanoi before flying off to the tropical island of Phu Quoc for my 25th birthday.  I chose this club because of its meme-worthy name, but the variety of music the DJs spin here is pretty decent.  They have regular house and trance nights along with an international selection of artists.  You can expect to see a lot of foreigners here, but it’s still a high-class club.  Worth the experience in my opinion.

I can’t even remember what I drank here, but I remember coming here on a Monday night so the entrance was free.  I met a bunch of backpackers from Australia and we exchanged travel stories.  I had so much fun dancing!  The club closed around 1am so I ordered a motorbike through Grab back to my hostel because that’s what was most convenient.  It was my first time ever riding on the back of a motorcycle, but fortunately I didn’t fall off!  What a way to end my night in Hanoi.

Accommodation

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HANOI GOLDEN -HOTEL-

Most accommodations in Hanoi are extremely inexpensive, so I decided to book a private room in the center of the city at Hanoi Golden Hotel for $20 per night.  The neon sign outside of the hotel makes it look like the entrance to a brothel, but the rooms were extremely clean and the service was outstanding.  They upgraded me to a family room for free because they had extra rooms available which was awesome.  The staff called me beautiful (in a respectful way) even though I had been walking for hours and my hair was super frizzy.  I couldn’t help but smile even though I know that flattery is cheap.  I definitely felt good vibes during my entire stay here.

What I liked about Hanoi was that there was no strange cultural or language barrier here like there is in Japan, so temporarily escaping that was nice.  Though I could never live longterm in Vietnam because I’d get tired of all the attention and vendors chasing me down, I do see myself vacationing here.  The main advantage is that travel in Vietnam is much cheaper than in Thailand or Japan.  Just be sure to watch out for taxi meter scams!  And learning how to bargain at markets will also be helpful to you.  I’ve learned through trial and error, plus a lot of negotiation (while sometimes buzzed).

Another strong point is people have a lot less in Vietnam but seem happier.  Woman seem more liberated too.  There’s a lot that you can learn by observing the life style of people here.  In my next article, I will be writing about my experience staying in Phu Quoc Island.  Please anticipate it, because Phu Quoc is my favorite part of Vietnam!

Quitting English Teaching and going on a Job-hunting Adventure in Osaka (Part 1)

Downtown Osaka – a bustling metropolis full of delicious food and opportunity.

Year 2015

I had only been working as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in Japan for about a month when I came to the realization that teaching was not for me.  I was a introverted nerd that majored in IT and Japanese who honestly preferred desk work to talking in front of people for hours.  It took a lot of improvisation when my students were too shy to talk and I continually had to prompt them.  Not to mention the endless amounts of paperwork I had to fill out that could have been easily recorded with a spreadsheet.  I noticed the technology in Japanese classrooms was extremely outdated too.  Everything from the software to the textbooks was nearly a decade old.  Was it really okay to still teach with these?  A part of me felt it may be better to request new materials, but the Japanese teachers insisted that sticking to to the given curriculum was important and that everything was fine.  As a newly hired English teacher, all I could really do was grin and bear it.  There was nothing in my power that I could do to change things.  You could argue that a lot of things in Japanese society are like this, but I knew I could find a career more suited for myself if I gave it another try.  I had to get out and find something different.  So if I was so capable in my abilities, why did I take up English teaching in the first place?

The simple answer is: English teaching is the easiest way to get a working visa in Japan.  You could say this for almost any country (keyword: almost).  All you need is a bachelor’s degree, basic social skills (bonus points if you’re overly enthusiastic), and the ability to speak English.  If you speak Japanese then that gives you an even greater advantage, but if you don’t it’s not a huge weak point.  As an ALT you are only expected to speak in English and leave the rest to the Japanese teachers and staff unless otherwise instructed.  Most English teaching jobs also provide you with subsidized housing, assist you with getting cellphone service, and signing the necessary contracts to live here long term as a foreign worker.  Sounds like the perfect first job right?  Well, it’s really hit and miss.  I remember reading this thread on reddit as I was applying, and the mixed experiences are still very true today.

Some people will tell you that English teaching is a “throwaway job” because it wastes time you could have spent gaining experience in your field, but I would argue that that’s not entirely true.  Working in another country looks good on a resume, plus the connections and memories you make with people here are invaluable.  You life and perspective will also be changed in ways unimaginable.  I was planning on networking my way here since I had already met some people in the IT and gaming industry during my study abroad trip in 2013 at Michigan State University.  However, I found that most IT jobs required you to already live in Japan to be hired.  That is what led me to English teaching.  *I have met animators and artists that have been hired here from other countries, but they were extremely skilled and had much more experience than I did.  They had previously worked on films and games by famous companies, while I had only worked on indie stuff.

Before I left America, I did a ton of research on different teaching programs and opportunities in Japan.  I definitely wanted a full time job because I planned on living here long-term.  I applied to the JET Programme and passed the initial interviews—which were quite difficult and took months to hear back from—but due to lack of experience I passed but got wait-listed.  If other JETs resigned from their job I would have a chance of being randomly place somewhere, but I did not have the luxury of  waiting since my university job was ending and I would likely be unemployed.  I decided to look into applying at smaller English conversation schools and teaching jobs instead.  Some of the companies I applied to were: NOVA, Hello English School, various listings on GaijinPot, and Interac.  I ended up getting hired at some of these, but I chose another relatively new school that offered to give me a 5 year visa (most teachers start with 1-2 years unless they are highly skilled).

Due to the contract I signed when I quit the teaching company I worked with for 3 months, I cannot mention their name in this article series.  Interestingly enough, after I quit they shutdown due to lack of profit.  What I can do give others advice on what I’ve done career-wise besides travel around Asia, go to music events, and eat aesthetic food.

Quitting my job took a lot of guts and I was trembling as I handed in my letter of resignation, but I had a lot of support from my friends and had already been hired at another job so I felt secure.  In this article series I will be writing tips about job-hunting in Japan and what you should do if you feel unsatisfied with your career.  As much as companies here try to threaten you for quitting, they legally cannot blacklist from other companies in the same field unless you break a major rule.  It’s important to note that quitting your job will affect your housing (if the company pays for it), your healthcare, and how you pay your taxes, but your working visa will still stay active as long as you continue to pay your bills and living expenses each month.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me.  Since this introduction is long, I will get into the actual details of my job-hunting adventure in the next article.  It starts with taking a 2 hour bus ride to the city Osaka.

Helpful Resources:

  • Jobs in Japan – An English listing of current jobs in Japan that gives you an overall view of what type of careers are available.  I get occasional offers on LinkedIn as well.  I used to use Career Cross but it seems to be less active now.
  • ALT Handbook (by the JET Programme) – A detailed textbook on the activities an Assistant Language teacher is responsible for.  This varies from company to company, but JET hands down has the best guide.
  • Hello Work – Comprehensive guide on employment for those already living in Japan.  This company can also help you find employment if you live here.