Published: April 5th 2010April 1st 2010
Finding somewhere to live
For the first month of life in Ho Chi Minh City we lived in a hotel on the backpacker street of Bui Vien. It was perfectly comfortable but you can't live in a hotel for long. It's cheap enough here (you can get a hotel room with en suite, air con and cable for $12-20 a night) but two people in one hotel room is a bit much for your personal space and can get really boring. So our priority was finding somewhere more permanent to live.
We found a flat through an agent near our hotel. We wandered down a small alleyway to a glass fronted room with motorbikes blocking the entrance. It didn't look very promising, but when we climbed over the bikes and went inside three young smiling Vietnamese people with a good level of English listened to what we wanted, showed us some pictures and then took us by taxi to view some flats. They handled all the negotiation with the landlord (who does actually speak English too, which is helpful) and the contracts and they only take payment from the landlord, we don't pay them a penny. It's
View from the river
the tall pink and white buildings in the background are our buildings
a good service.
We originally wanted to be right in the city centre, in Districts 1 (the middle where the backpacker area is and the main posher tourist area) or 3 (just North of the middle - where most of the big language schools are). We thought it would be great to be able to walk to and from work and to be close to all the action at night. We saw a couple of flats in the middle of the city and they seemed ok. Big and light and airy, if a little old and run down.
Then our agent took us to see some flats slightly further away from the centre of the city. It was obvious of the trade off that you were paying to be in the middle. These flats were huge, bright and modern and cheaper. We decided that the trade off of distance was worth it for what we got. And perhaps being a bit further away from the action will mean we are less tempted to spend money all the time and indulge in western comforts. A month of living in a hotel in the backpacker area had shown us how
Vegetable stalls on Ba Chieu market
Check out the happy women in the corner there.
easy it is to go out all the time when it's right on your doorstep.....
So we now live in Binh Thanh District. It's just across the river from Districts 1 and 3 and we can walk into the centre of the city in 30-40 minutes. Whilst Districts 1 and 3 are very westernised and full of foreigners, the short walk across the river takes you to a very Vietnamese area. Narrow lanes, local stalls and shops, very few white folk and few people who speak English.
Do I eat it or play with it?
We live really close to Ba Chieu market. The whole area is full of stalls selling fresh fruit vegetables, tanks of prawns swimming around, more varieties of shellfish than I knew existed, buckets of live fish, women squeezing milk from fresh coconuts, women chopping up and selling big chunks of meat with no refrigeration, shops with huge bags of 20+ types of rice (again, more than I knew existed), clothes hanging up for sale in the street, piles of flip flops, bras and pants, stacks of old books and magazines... The road is full of potholes which fill up with
the water that slops over the side of the bowls as the live fish trash about and mixes up with bits of vegetable leaves. As the streets are so narrow, they are also completely packed with motorbikes doing drive-by shopping. It's really interesting.
The selection of live food that is for sale is quite mind-blowing, and we are never totally sure what is supposed to be a pet and what is for food. After a year in Haiphong where a dog and cat restaurant is advertised by a picture of a fluffy kitten and an alsatian, it's not surprising. We are assured that dog and cat eating is not so common in the south of Vietnam, so perhaps the cage of kittens on the back of the woman's motorbike is to sell as pets? I don't know. What about the frogs? The live crabs?
The other day we were walking into our building and an old woman was leading a live crab across the floor on a piece of string. She seemed to be trying to entice the toddler she was with into playing with it.
You see, you can never be sure.
flat is amazing. It's on the 10th floor of a big 18 storey apartment building. It has two bedrooms, one en suite. There is a huge living room with a kitchen, big sofa, tv, study area and another bathroom off it, complete with top loading washing machine. It also has a balcony with a city view which is lovely at night when the city lights up. On the ground floor there is a small supermarket, a cafe and a bar/restaurant with a pool table. As I said, it's an easy walk into the centre of the city, or a short taxi ride from the taxi rank right outside. We're close to work and can easily get a motorbike taxi - or xe om
there and back. Kris has a bloke who picks him up from work at night and nips through the city with Kris on the back in a Disney helmet complete with goggles.
Note to self: buy our own motorbike helmets without Disney characters on or we could spend a year looking like a right prat.
There are more photos below