Tag Archives: Hanoi

Grab a Bike, Rent a Bike

The easiest way to get around Hanoi is by far on a motorcycle. Note I didn’t say “safest”, just “easiest”. I haven’t taken any pictures or videos of the traffic here, because there are a million pictures and videos online (seriously, just Google “Hanoi traffic”), but you can take my word on it: The traffic here is mental. Regardless, being on a bike is usually the easiest and quickest way to get from A to B.

For my first couple of weeks, if I was going somewhere, I was on the back of a Grab Bike. Grab, like Uber, is a taxi service made up of a lot of drivers. Anyone can apply to be a driver, and I’m not too sure what the hire criteria is. But there are a lot of drivers. I started using Grab instead of Uber (or Lyft) mostly on a whim, and whilst I was using a service like this, I was using Grab.

At the beginning, I was highly impressed and loved the service. I would use the app to say where I was and where I was going. The app would tell me the fare (no surprises, no haggling) and how long it would be until my driver was with me. Once I was dropped at the other end, I could pay in cash and rate the driver. Happy days! It seemed like a great service.

Until it wasn’t.

Too many times over the past week I have given myself an hour to get to a location just thirty minutes away and been nearly late. Not because of traffic, because of idiotic drivers. On more than one occasion I have had drivers (sometimes twice in a row) cancel on me after I had already waiting more than five to ten minutes for a driver supposedly only two minutes away. Worse, some of them refuse to cancel (there must be a penalty on them if they cancel too often), forcing me to cancel which bumps me down the priority list. GAH. One day this week their shenanigans meant I waited 40 minutes for a taxi to take me home… less than 15 minutes away. I was getting super frustrated and often sent rant-texts to Dan. Keep in mind that I was waiting either in the blistering heat (41c on day) or the pouring rain. Either way, not happy.

So, see you later (until I’m out drinking) Grab! I decided to speed up my plans to rent my own bike. Now this was an easy process.

Rent-A-Bike had come highly recommended to me, so I decided to check them out. I sent an inquiry telling them about me (especially my lack of experience on a bike!) and asking for recommendations. Thu got back to me in under an hour and had two bikes that she thought would work for me (a Honda Cub or a Yamaha Mio) and said I could pop by to try them out.

Two days later, I was in their shop. And just to underline that I was doing the right thing, the Grab driver that took me there 1) drove right past where I was standing to be picked up, and pissed around the block behind me for a good five minutes while I waited in the rain, 2) said he knew where he was going but stopped to ask directions five times – ignoring the map on his phone and mine, 3) stopped by the side of a random road and told me to get off the bike… to get his raincoat, 4) didn’t bother checking the address once we were close but rather just kept pointing at buildings until I finally had him stop in front of the right building, and 5) didn’t have any change, at all, and made me ask Thu for change. YARG.

Thu, Danny, and (I believe Chris?) were all in the shop when I arrived. At first, Danny said I should probably talk to one of the others, but when I said how much of a noob I was, he got up to help me. And help me he did!

We talked about which bikes would be best for me, dependent on my skill, usage, and budget. I was well-pleased that he kept my finances in mind because money is tight tight tight at the moment.

He thought it would be best if I started with the Yamaha Mio, an automatic bike that was in my budget. It isn’t really built to carry two people, but as I doubt Dan will be comfortable riding with me for awhile, I wasn’t too worried.

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My Mio!

Knowing that I was new, Danny (from the shop, not my husband – this might be confusing!) took me down to a quieter road. He talked me through all the controls. We went for a short drive while he explained how to drive. And then it was my turn.

I sat in front and him behind me. He had me start the bike but then he reached around me and took the handles. He got us moving and told me to take over. This was awesome, as I was most nervous about starting out. His way meant I could get a feel for the acceleration without spinning out from a dead stop. He was very calm and talked me through turning and how to deal with cars driving straight at me in my part of the street (that actually happened). I was feeling confident and comfortable after our lesson so we went back to the shop.

Danny then offered to have me try the Cub and any other bike I was considering, but I was honest and said I thought the Mio, being an automatic, was probably the best one for me. The Cub is a semi-automatic, but until I really get used to the traffic and riding in Hanoi, I think it is better if I have less to think about! Even though I declined trying the other bikes, I was told I was welcome to come back any time and give them a try, or to switch up the bike if I was so inclined.

We wrote up the paperwork, and although it made a mighty dint in my rapidly dwindling funds, I can’t say it wasn’t fair. To rent the bike is $55us a month, with one month’s deposit, if you rent for two or more months. So, two months plus a deposit. Additionally, Rent-a-Bike offers something that is nonexistent in Vietnam – insurance on the bike. For the cost of a month’s rent, I get a year’s coverage for loss, theft, and write-off. Instead of paying the cost to replace the entire bike (yikes), I only have to pay 30%. Hopefully I’ll never need it, but isn’t that what one always says about insurance?

Fees paid, I also purchased a phone holder (so I can get directions) which they installed. Thu went over the controls again and showed me how to lock the bike as well as where to fill the tank. I was given a printout about parking, police, and other exciting (read: scary) things about riding a bike in Vietnam as well as a rain poncho (having just bought one, I’m using their poncho as a spare/bike cover).

Overall, it was a great experience and I felt like they were really attentive. I also feel assured that should anything happen, they will be there for me whether I need information or assistance. If you are looking to rent in Vietnam, definitely check out Rent-a-Bike!

Raincoat on, borrowed helmet on, I walked the bike into position, hopped on, and rode home. Tonight I will be really riding out in it (my work tonight takes me into the very busy Old Quarter part of Hanoi) and I can’t say I’m not both nervous and excited. Adventure!

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Interviews, Demos, and Offers (Oh my!)

I promised in the job hunting post that I would talk a little more about the interview process, demo classes, and offer experience here in Hanoi. So here we go!

Interview Process

I would say that at least 75% of the times I sent out my CV I was contacted for next steps in the process. There is definitely a need in Hanoi for teachers who are qualified (this means you have a Bachelor in something, a TEFL Certificate or better, a clean police record, and ideally some experience) so the response rate on my applications was quite good.

I’ve only done a handful of interviews, and they have been interestingly different.

The first interview was with an individual who had found my CV on vietnamworks.com and wanted a private teacher to run classes for his team at work to help them improve their business English. We met at a coffee shop and had a chat. Arranged the class days and times, as well as pay. Talked about what they wanted to learn. That was it. Job sorted.

The second was with an agent. I didn’t realise it was an agent when I sent my details – it was a reply to a person posting on Facebook with a gmail account. When I realised they were an agent, I thought about backing out (you apparently do not want to go through an agency / recruiter here) but thought it would be a good idea to practice interviewing. There wasn’t really much of an “interview”. I filled out a form, gave a brief spiel about myself, and then we went on to the demo lesson (more on that below). After the demo she said that there was no way they could pay me enough. Upon asking about the hours and calculating the pay per hour for the job, she was right. So I left.

Next was a Skype “interview”. I use the term very loosely here. The guy asked me one question (“tell me about yourself”) and then the rest of the time told me what I could expect during the training week and what I would need to do to prepare for the visa process. It wasn’t an interview, it was an offer. It felt like they were just throwing teachers against a wall and seeing who stuck. Although the money and hours would have been alright, I felt as though I would go mad with boredom teaching their program (it was highly, highly structured), so I declined that job.

After that I met another individual who is in the process of building her school. It was more like a traditional interview, but it felt like we were already working together before even 15 minutes had passed. She asked about my availability almost right off the bat and was trying to work in a schedule, so I felt like I had the job before we even really started. I have accepted working with her as our teaching philosophies are well-matched. Right now I’m only scheduled for one writing class every Saturday with her students, but she’s trying to arrange more classes that fit with my schedule.

Another in-person interview with a bigger company that was a little more interview-like again. There were some interview questions, but often I felt more like I was interviewing them, and not the other way around. Afterwards I was invited to do a demo class (more on that below) after which there was more discussion about what my role there would be like. It is the company that I am currently in process of signing the contract with, as I’m very interested in the role that they are offering. More on that once it comes to fruition – I don’t want to jinx anything!

The last interview that I did was by far the most professional, robust, and difficult. It had more typical and expected questions (including the stupidest interview question in the world – “tell me your strengths and weaknesses”) in addition to some pretty tough questions about what you have done or would do in class. They were only tough because if you haven’t done your TEFL course, you would have NO idea how to answer as the answers were highly dependent on the TEFL lesson planning format. Such as describing your lesson using the TEFL lesson planning stages. I must have done well with the interview as I was offered a position (which I’ve had to decline as I’ve decided to take the other role). I thought it was strange that they didn’t ask for a demo lesson after how robust the interview was, but they didn’t.

So, as you can see, there is quite a difference in what you can expect in a job interview here. Seriously from “you’ve got the job, this is a formality” to some fairly tough questions in an interview lasting almost two hours.

The Dreaded Demo

I think demo lessons is what I was fearing most. Especially since I have never taught in Vietnam before. Would my style and experience from Korea fit? What kind of lessons would they be looking for?

First thing to know about demos – they are typically under 30 minutes. It is rare you will be asked to do more than that, unless it is with a very prestigious and well-established company. If a private individual asks you to do a three hour demo lesson (as one did with me, saying it was “usual”… um, no it isn’t) you should either a) insist on being paid or b) run away. Three hours (or even one) isn’t a demo. That’s a lesson. And you should be paid.

My first demo was with the agency interview that I mentioned above. I wasn’t expecting it, they didn’t mention a demo until after we had our brief interview. I thought about declining it (wasn’t very keen on working with the agency anyway) since I had been given no notice of a demo, but thought it would be good practice before I went on to other things. She gave me four flashcards (doctor, nurse, driver, singer) and told me to demo a 10 minute lesson on those cards. The “students” would be three years old with some basic English skills. I could have some time to think about how to do the lesson.

I thought about what I was going to do and made a quick plan. I ended up only demoing for the one interviewer. I simply ran through how I would teach those four vocabulary words – having loads of kinder experience it wasn’t too hard. She loved it. Immediately after she said that there was no way they could pay me enough and that was that.

The other demo was a 30 minute lesson. I was emailed a few pages of a textbook and told to choose one section to give my lesson on to high school students. I had a couple days to prepare. When I went in, there were five employees as “students”. I ran through the lesson I had prepared and they were very happy with it. This is with the company I am accepting the role with.

There really isn’t much I can say about doing the demos. If you are given the time, definitely prepare and write down your plan. Sure, you might be able to “wing it”, but having an outline will keep you right and definitely make you more impressive. The only other advice I would give is this: Treat the interviewers like you would students. At one point in my second demo, two of them were talking to each other after our pair work as I was trying to speak and move the class along. I spoke to them just like I would students to get them back on task. I think that may have impressed them more than anything else I did!

The Offers

What I’m finding most amazing about the whole process is how so many “interviews” are actually job offers. I’m getting the sense that really solid, qualified candidates are a rarity in Hanoi. There are a LOT of people here looking for work, but they aren’t always the people companies are looking for. So often if you are good on paper and then show up and aren’t a complete mental, you’ve most likely got the job.

For privates, you will probably agree there and then what the lessons and pay will be, so that generally is the offer. For the bigger legit companies, you’ll be emailed an offer with a contract to sign. I would highly recommend reading those contracts carefully.

In general, this has been my experience in Hanoi. It has been easy enough finding work, now the trick will be making work, well, work. The big company I’ve accepted probably won’t start being a paying job until August or September, as they place teachers with the public schools. The two small jobs I have are small. I need to fill up the rest of my schedule, but I am in limbo waiting on the big company and one of the privates to see what the schedule will be. I’m going to try to get it sorted by the end of this week so I can start bringing in the money. But more on that in another post!

Apartment Hunting

I am afraid my post on apartment hunting in Hanoi isn’t going to be dreadfully informative. Perhaps more illustrative of just how damned easy it can be to find decent housing in this city.

Like when job hunting, Facebook groups are the place to be when looking for new digs. But not always in the groups you would think. There are a handful of groups dedicated to housing, but posts for apartments and houseshares crop up all over the various groups dedicated to Hanoi.

Long before we moved to Vietnam, Dan and I had been watching the groups and various posts about apartments. We had a good idea of where we wanted to be, what we wanted to spend, and what we thought that much money should get us.

In Hanoi, foreigners tend to gather in just a few districts, with Tây Hồ and Ba Đình having the highest concentration of them. You can imagine then that an area like Tây Hồ also has the highest concentration of westernised shops and facilities. It also means that rents are often a little higher in these areas, but then again, the housing is also a little more modern.

Dan and I decided that we would focus mostly on Tây Hồ, not because we love other foreigners, but because we thought it would be nice to have a newer place and liked the idea of being close to the lake, even if it isn’t the kind of lake you would want to swim in (although I have seen some brave, brave souls swimming and fishing in it).

Our next consideration was price. We settled on an amount of $500(usd) a month. Which buys more than you would think in Hanoi. What you get for that amount varies, from bachelor-style places to two-bedroom flats, from everything included (except electricity, which is rarely if ever included) to little included, from fully kitted to sparsely furnished.

For our $500, we wanted at least one bedroom, everything included (except electricity, but a cleaner needed to be part of the deal), a balcony, and a washing machine in the apartment. Other than that, we were pretty open. So I began the search.

The first thing I did was post in a group on Facebook which is just for women in Hanoi.

::SIDE NOTE::

I also had joined a ‘ladies only’ group in Seoul, and let me tell you, that group and the one for Hanoi are by far the most supportive and helpful groups on Facebook.

::END SIDE NOTE::

I asked the group if they had the contact details of an agent that they’d used and trusted, so I wasn’t just going with randos that were posting apartments on Facebook. The group responded with a good handful of names and numbers, and a couple of people even sent private messages. One of these girls asked where I was looking and my budget. When I told her, she said there was a flat going in her building for that price, would I be interested. She said the building was all foreigners, and the landlord was a great guy. I said I was interested.

Long story short, Dan and I came and looked at the apartment. It was everything we wanted so we gave Dave – the Irish landlord who owns the building along with his wife – a mini hold-deposit (he said $100 would do, we had $65 on us, he accepted it) and asked when we could move in. That was a Monday. We moved in on the Saturday.

We are very happy with the flat, and still surprised at how painless it was to find a place with everything we wanted for a good price. We are even pleased that we are on the quiet side of the lake (more to the north west, the action is more around the east) and it isn’t too noisy down our little alley.


I suppose if I was to give any advice it would be this – reach out to people that are already here. Have an idea before hand your budget and what you expect and want for that money. It is possible to negotiate down a price here as well, and you’ll probably get a better deal (like in so many places in the world) if you deal directly through the landlord and not through an agent.

One last thing – prepare to pay a month’s deposit and at least one month’s rent (some places ask for two or three months in advance). Although we wouldn’t have agreed to three months in advance, there were lots of ads requesting it. Just a head’s up.

Waking Up in Hanoi

On my first full day in Hanoi, I got up fairly early and grabbed breakfast before I headed out for a massage. This is something I had been looking forward to for a long time. In the last decade I’ve probably had two massages, as I’ve not had the cash for real ones and my husband doesn’t like to give them (should be a divorceable offense, good thing he’s awesome in other ways).

Breakfast was at the hotel on the main floor. It includes eggs, toast, coffee (or tea) and fresh fruit. It isn’t a spectacular breakfast, but it is free and fills the spot. I’ve been pleased with it each morning. Belly full, it was time to head out into the heat (oh the heat!) to a massage place I had read about online. Unfortunately, I had awoken too early and the place wasn’t open yet. Not sure what to do with myself, I headed on to grab some “egg coffee“, a specialty in Vietnam.

I went to Cafe Giảng to give this a try. It is supposed to be one of the older cafes and still run by the same family. I was ushered upstairs to a small table and ordered my coffee. It came quickly and looked much better than it sounded.

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I gave it a stir and gave it a sip. I know it sounds strange, but it was honestly delicious. To me, someone who usually drinks their coffee black, this isn’t something to drink every morning. But I would definitely get another cup of it. And at just 25,000d (about $1.10usd), it was a reasonably priced treat.

From Cafe Giảng I headed back towards Van Xuan on Ly Quoc Su in the Old Quarter. I did some research and I wanted cheap but awesome. Which is what I got. My hour long full-body massage was only $9. It was definitely not fancy; there is no spa music and I was in a room with other beds and other people getting their massages, too. But the girl doing the massaging did a great job and I was happy with it. I think next time I would go for just a foot massage instead, as it looks like it would be just a thorough with more focus on the feet, which is always so heavenly.

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After the massage I went back to the hotel for a shower. To say the least, I have showered a tonne this week because I am the sweatiest person on the planet. I certainly hope I acclimatise to the heat and humidity here before it really kicks off next month.

I was met at the hotel by Zach, a friend of a friend from Korea. An American teacher having lived in Hanoi for nearly a decade, my Korean friend thought he would be a good person to be in touch with. She was right; Zach was awesome.

We went for lunch at Xôi Yến, which is apparently well-known for its sticky rice. It was a very tasty dish.

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Xôi Yến was extremely busy, so once we finished eating we went across the street to Cộng Càphê for coffee, which I have since found out is a chain in Hanoi. It is very cool inside, but I only nabbed one quick picture before we sat down with our coffees and started chatting about everything I could think to ask questions for, from sorting garbage to which district to look for housing in.

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Zach put up with me for over two hours and was an amazing source of information. I was very reassured after speaking with him about getting on in Hanoi. I was feeling guilty for taking up all of his day, however, so I said my good-byes. He offered to give me a ride back to the hotel, but I was happy enough to walk as I am still trying to get a map of Hanoi etched in my head.

I walked about the Old Quarter for a bit, looking for a pharmacy. I had woken up with a severe headache (no doubt brought on by travel, dehydration, and lack of sleep) and wanted some tablets. Pharmacies here are everywhere though, once you know what to look for. There’s not standard symbol so it took me awhile to recognise them. I bought my tablets (which happily I haven’t even needed since) and walked on.

I decided that I would get a manicure and pedicure. My nails were a mess as I hadn’t dealt with them all the time I had been travelling. I was hopeful for upcoming interviews, and I didn’t want to be a mess for them (what a great excuse!) so I did some quick looking online to find a decent place to get them done.

In one of my numurous Hanoi Facebook groups, someone had recommended Van Nguyen Hair Salon, so I headed there. When I saw the prices, I decided to get a hair cut (also desperately need) as well.

For a pedicure, manicure, sweet-ass head massaging shampoo of awesomeness, and a haircut I spent less than $18. With a tip. I’m enjoying this city!

Back to the hotel and grabbed another shower. Then out again to meet my friend Juu and her family, who just happened to be travelling through Vietnam and had arrived the day after I did. They invited me out to dinner, and had chosen Avalon BBQ Garden. It was delicious and the night views of the lake were amazing.


It was a great first full day in Vietnam. So much good food and good company.

Good-bye Korea; Hello Hanoi

It was a long trip from Korea to Vietnam. The flight itself was only 5 hours, but because I couldn’t get a bus early enough to get to the airport, my trip took much longer.

On the evening before my flight, I took the bus from Cheongju (where I had lived) to Incheon airport. It was a good thing I went early, as the traffic was super congested and it took ages.

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Once we arrived, I took the opportunity to weigh my suitcase even before I headed to the hotel. I had thought ahead enough to buy extra weight allowance – up to 30kg – on it, but I was still worried, so I hit those scales ASAP so I could redistribute if necessary once in the hotel. At 27.6kg, I had reason to be a little worried! There was definitely room for nothing else in there. After weighing my bag, I bought it some pajamas. It is a plain black bag, and I wanted to make it more recognizable on the luggage-go-round. The jammies definitely did that.

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Suitcase Space Jams

It was finally time to take me and my beast of a bag to the hotel. I stayed in the Darakhyu capsule hotel by Walkerhill in the airport. As in – legits IN the airport. It was only $60 a night because it was tiny. Tiny but nicely done and definitely comfortable. And 100% worth it.


What was amazing about staying at this hotel is that I was able to wake up at 7:30am for a 8:10am check-in. I’ve never appreciated having a hotel so much in my life! If you have an early check in (Note: 8am isn’t *that* early, but it is when you live more than 2 hours from the airport, like I was) I would really recommend staying at this place. It made my travel day a LOT less exhausting.

Check in and security were super fast and easy at Incheon. But before I headed to my gate (132 – the very last gate), I decided to see how much of my “funny money” I could exchange.

I have always hung onto my extra currency when I traveled, as a kind of souvenir. But as I’ve been reducing my belongings over the last year, I decided it was high time to switch that money to a currency I could use. When all was said and done, that three-inch stack of multiple currencies gave me about $75usd, which I was grateful to get for this part of my adventure.

Money in hand, I headed all the way to the other end of the airport to find my gate, which turned out to be the last possible gate. It’s in the basement. As I awaited my seriously “no frills” flight with VietJet Air, I kept trying to get a hold of my sleeping husband to say goodbye and to download a couple of films on Netflix before I boarded. Neither of those things worked out for me.


Seeing the back of that chair with no screen made me wish I had known that Netflix takes 20 million hours to download something. I would have started the night before. I had been spoiled on my flights to and from Canada, but for how wonderfully cheap the flight was, I should have known I couldn’t be expecting much.

The flight was absolutely uneventful. Not even food happened for me, because I refused to buy anything as soon as I realised they weren’t even going to toss some peanuts and water my way. The flight was five hours. I could wait.

The flight was good – we got to Noi Bai (the airport nearest Hanoi) earlier than expected and it was a smooth flight. I got off the plane and did the immigration thing.

::SIDE NOTE::

Some of the posts are going to be like this – nonsense ramblings about what each day was like so I can look back and remember how life overall was when I first got here. However, there will be other posts that I’m hoping may be helpful for others looking for information on coming to Vietnam, such as details about what to expect at immigration.

::END SIDE NOTE::

Once I had my visa (which took about 40 minutes) and bounced through immigration, I was able to pick up my pajama’d suitcase no problem and breezed through the nothing-to-declare line at border control. So far, so good. There was some sort of excitement going on when I came into the arrival hall, apparently some celebrity was walking out at the same time I was.

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Who could it be?

Once the crowd cleared, I looked around for some rando holding a sign with my name on it. Yikes. I knew this couldn’t all be this easy. Even though I had booked a ride with my hotel (I have read multiple times that if you are going to get ripped off in a taxi, from the airport is where it was going to happen), there was definitely no one there at A2 arrivals waiting for me. So I walked down to the other end of the thankfully tiny airport to see if my man was at A1. No such luck. Dang it!

With my spotty wifi connection, I was finally able to ring the hotel via Skype. They gave the driver a call and I had to call them back. When I did, I was asked to wait 10 minutes, as my driver had had a fight with the police and was running late. Of course.

I picked up a sim card for my phone in anticipation of further bungling, but the driver was there in the requested 10 minutes and we were on our way. He was a good driver and, other than his constant nose picking and then (gag) nail biting OF THE SAME HAND, it was a perfectly pleasant journey.

Traffic in Hanoi was mental, as expected, but there was no incident on the way to the hotel. I was looking around trying to see if I would recognise anything, but either the city has massively changed or my memory has faded more than I realised in the past decade. Probably both.

My hotel is lovely. It isn’t fancy, but for under $20usd a night, I don’t expect fancy. The people who run the hotel are a family and they are very kind.

 

After I had checked in and showered, it was time to finally eat. The hotel recommended I go to Pho 10, and they weren’t wrong. It was a delicious (and, at $3, cheap) first meal in Vietnam.

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Belly full, it was time to walk back to the hotel. On the way, I saw St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which was finally a familiar sight. My memory wasn’t completely shot and Hanoi wasn’t completely changed.

So there you go. My first day back in Vietnam, and the first day of Hanoi as home.

Decisions Made

Last week we had a quick meeting with the bosses. There was no “offer”.  We aren’t even sure why we had to meet with Mr. Money, he had nothing to add to the meeting. But we have come to a decision.

I will be leaving in May to move to Hanoi, Vietnam. Dan will follow when his visa is finished in September, as long as there is no monkey-business that prompts him to leave earlier.

I’m going to try and chronicle what we are going through a little with this transition. I was very curious what others in a similar situation (moving from Korea to Vietnam, moving as a couple, moving with pets) have gone through and there isn’t a lot out there. Or, rather, there is a lot, but trying to get through all the (often conflicting) information is a nightmare. So this will be our simple story about what we had to do.