After 9 months of living, working and falling in love with Vietnam, our time here has finally come to an end. Our last week soaking up Saigon has been a mixture of emotions ranging from nostalgia, nervousness, and pure glee.
We finished teaching on Friday 19th May but the reality of being unemployed hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It feels as though we’re on a brief holiday and we will be returning to teach some time soon. When we departed Hanoi for our first round of travels, we knew we’d be back in Vietnam earning money later on in the year, and that provided us with a source of comfort and stability. Vietnam has always been a safe place for us, a country that has become so familiar and grounded in routine. The idea of zero income is a little daunting but we’ve been working so hard since September 2016 that it’s about time we got to enjoy spending our well earned savings. It’s also liberating to be free from the daily 7am-4pm grind, the early starts, the sweaty classrooms and naughty children. Walking out of our final classes felt like a relief in many ways, but definitely tinged with sadness.
We’ve made a life in this country for the past 9 months and it’s really come to feel like a second home. It will always be looked back on as the beginning of this big adventure, the place we spent the longest time, the country we explored the most thoroughly, and the place we were challenged on a daily basis and learnt the most. It’s not been an easy ride and there have been days we’ve really struggled mentally with homesickness and the challenges with learning to be a teacher (a career we were thrown in to with no experience and very minimal training). But looking back it’s clear how much we’ve grown in confidence particularly with learning to be teachers. Regardless of the ups and downs, it’s been one of the greatest experiences of our lives, and we would encourage anyone who is thinking about becoming an English as a second language teacher to take the leap to go for it. Immersing yourself in a place is by far the best way of experiencing a new country, and understanding the culture in a more meaningful way.
Looking back, it’s also clear what a great choice Vietnam has been for us as travellers and teachers. We’ve lived like a King and Queen eating out every night since being here, indulging in delicious coffees and dirt cheap beers. Our teaching wages have remained the most competitive within South East Asia and the sheer number of teaching positions available has made applying for jobs here a breeze. It’s also such an interesting and varied country to have had the chance to explore while saving enough to travel beyond Vietnam.
Thankfully, Naomi’s Dad and Silvia were on hand to assist us with celebrating the end of our teaching careers and preventing us from spending the weekend moping around feeling heartbroken about saying goodbye to Vietnam. They spoilt us with roof top cocktails at various locations and we ate at a range of restaurants around the city. It was also nice to be able to show them around our home from home, taking them to our favourite places for the last time. Lawrence had a traumatising experience on the scales of the Liberty Central Saigon Citypoint Hotel bathroom as he peered down and read ‘55.5kg’ on the screen. Mark and Silvia were quick to address the issue, smothering us in packets of Toblerone, Mars bars and caramel nibbles. Lawrence gained an additional kilo after our first meal together.
Mark and Silvia had already visited HCMC a few years back so there were only a handful of sights left for them to see. The 75 mile long tunnels of Cu Chi were one of the main trips we’d arranged for their stay. This immense network of connecting underground tunnels is one of the most popular half-day trips from Saigon, located in the Cu Chi District of the city (a two hour bus ride away). Cu Chi Tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as hospitals, living quarters and food stores. The tunnels were of great importance to the Viet Cong in resisting American forces. It was quite humbling and also terrifying to crawl through this underground system ourselves, knowing that people lived, ate and cared for their children down there during the war.
Our tour guide explained that the tunnels had been expanded in order to be deemed suitable for a ‘tourist size’ and the passageways ventilated on a daily basis so as not to leave anyone unconscious. In spite of this, we still found ourselves squatting our way through the sweltering system of tunnels with our heads bowed, following flickering lamps along the narrow passageways. For the Viet Cong, air, food and water was scarce (they lived of tapioca; a breed of sweet potato) and the tunnels were infested with disease, insects and other vermin. The tunnels were also rigged with booby traps, deterring many American soldiers from searching the tunnels in fear of being skewered to death by bamboo sticks. The Viet Cong were full of innovative and creative ways of keeping the enemy off their tracks, for example wearing their shoes backwards to deceive the direction of their movements. It was a very interesting and informative visit, offering us one last sliver of Vietnamese history before we left.
After saying our farewells to Mark and Silvia (until we return to Singapore in July) it was time to start getting excited about our onward travels. Taiwan is the next stop for a ten-day adventure and we’re buzzing to visit another country. Vietnam will always be such a special place for us and somewhere we will be returning to without a doubt! But it’s goodbye for now. Thanks for being so welcoming, beautiful, friendly, delicious and fruitful Vietnam; we love you forever.