Hoi An, Vietnam

Kevin and Jean

Kevin and Jean live in Hoi An, an old port town on the coast near Danang, about halfway between Saigon and Hanoi. The pair moved north to Hoi An about a year ago, after living for four years in Vung Tau – that is not far from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It was the sale of their business five years ago that prompted action. Kevin and Jean had two primary reasons for moving to Vietnam: adventure and cost.

‘Our move to Vietnam is pretty selfish, really,’ Jean said without apology. ‘Basically it’s a lifestyle choice.’ After they sold the business Kevin and Jean had some time to think about the rest of their lives. They had a friend living in Vung Tau who suggested they go over there and see what it was like. ‘That’s when we came over for the first five months,’ said Kevin. ‘Now we spend nine months near Hoi An and three months back in Australia, each year. We don’t know anyone else who does this. A lot of people see our lifestyle and say they’d like to do it, but they don’t.

‘We enjoy our life here. People say, “What do you do each day?” But every day is different. There’s always something different happening.’ Jean explained: ‘The thing is, if we lived in Australia we’d still need to work maybe twenty hours a week each, while here we can live on our investments and have a far better life than we possibly could in Australia.

‘We go back around the end of October through to mid February, to see the family and spend Christmas there. While we’re there, we probably do about nine weeks work. We used to own a post office, so we do relief work there. We run it while the new owners have a bit of a holiday. And there’s another post office in Southport that we manage in January to give the owners there a break.

‘We still have property in Australia; a house in Tassie and a unit on the Gold Coast. We rent out the Gold Coast apartment and eventually we’ll sell it, and probably move back to Tassie.’ Kevin and Jean’s living conditions are comfortable, but rather unusual. They rent the bottom floor of a four-storey house—the remainder of the house is occupied by swallows.

‘We share our house with about 200 swallows!’ Jean said. The Vietnamese landlord, who lives next door, built the house with the intent of renting out the bottom level and breeding swallows on the top three floors. Kevin explained that swallows live on a nearby island, but the landlord brought some of them over here and after three years he’ll be able to harvest the birds’ nests—a delicacy in the local cuisine.

‘The house is only seven months old,’ Kevin said. ‘It has many Western conveniences that a lot of other places don’t have. It has two bedrooms with two ensuites, an external toilet, a good living area, a good kitchen.’ Kevin and Jean have a three-year lease on the house. They pay A$275 a month in rent and that includes electricity and wi-fi. And they get on very well with their landlord.  Cost of Living/Vietnam

‘The landlord’s great. Last night we had a light dinner and next minute, little Bing, their son, comes racing in and says, “Kevin, Kevin, come, come.” They invite us over for a Vietnamese feed at least three times a week. ‘We get invited out a lot. The Vietnamese people are very generous and very giving and sometimes it can even get embarrassing. If you go out for dinner, they won’t let you pay, and you know you’re in a much better financial position than they are to foot the bill. But, nah, they won’t let you.’

There are cultural differences, though, and that requires a period of adjustment. ‘Vietnam is different. You know, the Vietnamese are lovely people but they work and live at their own pace a lot of the time. And a lot of people get very exasperated. Like you might organise people to come for dinner at six and then they rock up at 7.30, you know, that sort of thing.’

However, it is the local people and the friendships they have developed with them which makes Hoi An a better choice for Australian couples than Vung Tau, according to Kevin. 

Kevin and Jean left Vung Tau because it felt like they lived in a Western enclave. Now near Hoi An, they are the only Westerners in the fishing village. ‘That’s what Jean and I like,’ said Kevin. ‘Having said that, there is plenty of Western contact around if you want it because Hoi An is a pretty big tourist destination. We also do a bit of work with a friend of ours who heads up an English school that is run out of a hotel here.’

‘Vung Tau is a girlie bar, party town,’ said Kevin, who is in his late 50s. ‘Jean got on okay, there were a few partners of expats who were not from the girlie bars and she was friends with them. But she also got on well with a few of the local girls who had worked in the bars previously. They were lovely people and you can’t judge the girls because that is what they had to do to support their families.

 ‘When we were living in Vung Tau, Jean and I would have gone to the bars four times in total and that was generally after a night out at a restaurant with some friends. On those nights we might end up in a bar, say, like the Rainbow Bar, which is not a full-on girlie bar. And if you’re with other women, the girls who work there don’t bother you.’ But Kevin and Jean prefer Hoi An, where the pace of life is much slower and the cost of living is cheap.

Kevin said: ‘The nine months that we live here cost us A$30,000 and that includes a holiday to a different Southeast Asian country every year as well as an annual visit to Cambodia. This year we went to Laos. Last year we went to Thailand. Every year we visit Cambodia for a couple of weeks. And believe me, when we live here, we live extremely well and we don’t miss out on anything.

‘Most mornings Jean and I walk down to the beach, about two kilometres, and I swim about two kilometres, then walk back. Sometimes we have breakfast on the way back. Sometimes we have it at home. ‘The beaches here are good. The sea is fairly placid. There are also resorts about and we can use facilities there.

‘In Vung Tau, Jean and I used to swim each morning as well. I got used to swimming into plastic bags, jellyfish and turds. One day I had a clump of grease on my foot that was like a cow pad. But here in Hoi An the water is clean.

‘I like to exercise and do something everyday—at least an hour. I can then enjoy the life here. When we go out to a seafood restaurant, eat lots of seafood and drink lots of beer, it costs the two of us about A$20. You tend to live a bit excessively. It’s a good life, that’s for sure. Hopefully it’ll extend our life, too.’