In hindsight, I didn’t know much about Vietnam before moving here. Having spent time living in Europe I knew I wanted another similar experience. Asia, as I soon found out, is nothing like Europe. Vietnam itself is such a unique country. In hindsight I wish I would have researched more about the country I was moving to. In that way I could have better prepared myself for what was in store for me. I’m writing this article in hope that this information will help others prepare themselves for a year in Vietnam. What to pack? What not to? This usually is the first question anyone asks themselves before moving abroad. I remember struggling and debating on what I needed; what I would and wouldn’t be able to find. Before moving I had talked with someone who had lived in Vietnam before. He told me that I needed to bring bed sheets because they didn’t use them in Vietnam. I ended up allocating a good portion of my suitcase for bed sheets. When I arrived I soon found out there were bedding stores all around Hanoi. In light of this, my first piece of advice is don’t pack bed sheets! The larger idea though is don’t take my advice or anyone else's on face-value, do some research on your own.
I’ve found that Hanoi has pretty much anything I could ever need or want to buy. There’s shopping malls located all over the city with any western product you could ever want. There’s even some specialized food stores that cater to gluten-free and other more rigid dietary needs. In Old Quarter, the main center of Hanoi, you will find loads of North Face stores. Most of the products are “fake” but some are of very high quality to the point where you won’t be able to find a difference. Hold off on buying any expensive rain jackets, hiking backpacks, or any outdoor gear. The one thing that you must bring if you are medium to large sized is clothes. I’m a 5’9” average male, here in Vietnam I’m a XXL. I’m on the skinner spectrum and barely fit in the largest pants size. I’ve found large pant sizes to be the hardest thing to find here in Hanoi.
I was surprised to find that almost everyone in Hanoi knows English. Even if they can’t speak more than a couple simple phrases they can understand it. On the other hand, speaking Vietnamese has been extremely difficult for me. Their language has 6 different tones. You might think you’re saying “milk” correctly but if your tone is off, which is easy to do, you might be saying five different words meaning totally different things. I’ve found it easy to get buy with knowing simple phrases that makes daily life easier. How to order, ask for the check, and introduce yourself are good abilities to have. Although, if you can go beyond this and become conversational that really is going to change your experience here and allow you an better glimpse of the culture.
Lastly, maybe the most important advice I can give anyone, relax and stay present. You’re moving halfway across the world to a totally different culture... it’s going to be challenging. Culture shock happens many different ways but in the end you get used to life here and it becomes your home. Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.