Thailand vs Vietnam - Long Term Living Breakdown From an Expat

I lived in both countries for years, not weeks. Here is my thoughts on Thailand vs Vietnam.

Thailand vs Vietnam - Long Term Living Breakdown From an Expat

I've been a self employed expat for years, living abroad primarily in two different countries - Thailand and Vietnam.

So I'm writing this from the perspective of a man who's lived in both countries for years, not days, not a short 1 month trip, years.

If you want the hot take then I can say that I like Thailand but I love Vietnam. Everyone has their place in the world and for whatever reason, living in Vietnam, specifically Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon as everyone who lives their calls it), just felt like home.

Anyways, I'm going to break down everything I can think of from general day to day living, nightlife, dating, visas, language and so forth.

Let's get started.

Bangkok vs Saigon

Bangkok vs Saigon - both countries have their own respective major city.

Thailand really only has Bangkok which is a sprawling metropolis and dwarfs Saigon in terms of size. But Saigon still has that city feel to it, it's just not as huge as Bangkok.

Vietnam also has Hanoi in the north and Da Nang in the middle next to the ocean. So there is a bit more variety of places to live in Vietnam. Yea, Thailand has Chiang Mai and Phuket, maybe Khon Kaen if you're wanting to live in Isaan Thailand for some reason.

...but those places don't feel like cities.

Phuket is a vacation spot filled with Russians and Chinese now, and Chiang Mai has a burning season for 2 months of the year making the air pollution horrible, it's remote and it gets boring after a few months of living there full time.

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I personally would describe Saigon is all the best parts of Bangkok and the best parts of a Thai town combined into one place.

Saigon is a city like Bangkok, but unlike Bangkok you're still zipping around on a motorbike with some gorgeous Vietnamese girl on the back because Saigon is still small enough where you need a motorbike to get around day to day.

Bangkok by contrast you can use the BTS, Grab App or Bolt. You also won't want a bike in Bangkok because driving in that city is stressful, not fun at all, there are a lot of police checkpoints and parking is a headache.

Saigon is still a motorbike city so it's just a fun and convenient way to get around day to day.

Nightlife

Thailand (Bangkok and Phuket specifically) wins this by a mile for better or worse. Bangkok has world class nightlife, clubs, bars and rooftop bars that Saigon simply lacks.

Phuket also has these crazy nice beach clubs that are again non-existent in Saigon. On top of that, every Thai town I've been to from Ratchaburi to Buriram has it's own cool little bar and nightlife area with live music and a great crowd.

Vietnam?

Only Saigon has decent nightlife. In all other places (including Hanoi) everything closes early around 10 or 11.

Thailand

From sleezy places like Nana Plaza and Soi 11 (a street located in Nana - soi is the word for road in Thai) to higher end areas like Thonglor, to fantastic clubs like Route 66 at RCA and stunningly beautiful rooftop bars like Tichuca. There is always something to do in Bangkok and somewhere to go.

Vietnam, including Saigon and Hanoi have night clubs, but they really suck. Way too loud, the staff places you at a table which you're not allowed to leave and roam the club. They also always put you far away from any attractive girls so what's the point?

With Bangkok you can actually go out an meet girls organically and have a great time. By contrast, it's almost like Saigon and Hanoi clubs do there best to separate groups from interacting with one another.

Finally, there are a handful of rooftop bars in Hanoi and Saigon, but they are nothing to write home about.

Vietnam

Where Saigon wins is there wide range of expat owned breweries (Heart of Darkenss, Rooster Beer, Saigon Cider, 7 Bridges, Pasture Street, Winking Seal). That city for whatever reason has an excellent range of beer and places to drink and get silly.

Another aspect I really like about Vietnam is how there are cafes open at night. It's so nice to be able to roll up somewhere and sit outside and have green tea or whatever with friends on a Tuesday night.

In Thailand, the only places open at night are bars and clubs which can get frustrating if you're looking to go somewhere in the evening that does not involve alcohol. I also like that there are a wide range of cafes to take your laptop to and work till midnight.

Overall Vietnam, specifically Saigon and Hanoi, are more cities where you'll enjoy living in instead of visiting.

The dark side of Bangkok

It would be a mistake for me not to mention this.

If nightlife is non-negotiable for you, then Bangkok all the way. But I do want to mention that I was personally way more productive in Saigon simply because I was always going home around midnight.

Just get dinner with my then girlfriend most nights, get a few drinks with friends on the weekend and call it a night.

The plethora of bars, clubs and nightlife in Bangkok means it's possible to always stay out till 4am if you really want. Bangkok can be a bit of a black hole if you're not careful.

So while visiting, the nightlife side of Bangkok is far far superior, but I do find Saigon to be the better city for living and Vietnamese women better for long term dating (more on that later).

Kao San Road vs Bui Vien

Kao San Road is way more fun than Bui Vien.

First, it's much bigger with a wider range of places to go. Better bars, better clubs and you can actually meet girls naturally there.

It also has these little side roads off the main strip with additional places to go, some spots not being crazy loud and more chill if you want a break from the main stretch of road.

Bui Vien is crazy loud, to the point where you can't talk to anyone because it's so loud (a theme in Vietnam).

Bui Vien also has cars driving down the street at night so it makes that street even more packed. The clubs also suck as they are too loud and you can't meet anyone.

In short, I'm not a fan of Bui Vien. It's fine to go with a group of friends, you'll have fun. But compared to Kao San, well there is no comparison.

Dating

I wrote a whole blog post on this you can checkout:

My Thoughts on Dating Girls in Thailand, Vietnam and The Philippines
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Thailand has very beautiful girls who are fun and feminine. Thai people are a bit open sexually too (both men and women which I'll get to in a bit).
It's not uncommon for them to be talking to multiple men and for you as the guy to be just one of many.
Thai culture even has a word for friends with benefits before we had that term which they call "gik."

...and for Vietnam:

Vietnam has some of the most beautiful girls I've ever gone out with. If you're looking for a quality girl to actually date, something that is heading to marriage and famil,y, then you'll love Vietnam.
This is not to say Vietnam girls are not down to have one-night stands, casual sex type relationships.
My 22 year old FWB yoga teacher.
They most certainly are.
Its just that it's possible to find something long-term here as the women have good behavior. If they are dating you, they are in general not going out with or talking to other men the way Thai women do.

After living in both countries, Vietnam is way better if you're actually looking for a girlfriend and something serious.

Thai girls are strangely jealous and are typically talking to and sleeping with multiple men, but expect you to focus on them 100% while they keep their options open.

Mind you, not all are like this but it's been such a problem for me in Thailand I need to mention it.

...and no I'm not dating loud, tatted up bar girls. These are nice, normal respectable girls (as you can see in the video clips).

Vietnam girls are down for a casual relationship, but if they are dating you seriously then in general they are focused on you and only you.

They are also not as jealous as Thai women in general.

I know lot's of men who found and married a lovely Thai woman, but I'm just sharing my personal experiences. Thailand is for fun, Vietnam is for something serious.

Teaching English

You can get a job as an English teacher in both countries. With Thailand you'll be working at government schools and with Vietnam you'll be employed by private language centers.

Thailand

Thailand is better because you'll have normal hours of Monday to Friday, all national holidays off and paid vacation so long as you're not working for an agency and are hired directly by the school.

The only requirement in Thailand is that you have a 4 year degree from an accredited university, clean criminal record and to pass a simple health check at a local clinic.

Then you can obtain a temporary teaching license and you're good to go as a teacher for the next 3 years.

After which you'll need to obtain a degree in education if you wish to continue being a teacher. If you already have a 4 year degree in education then you can get a full teaching license immediately.

Pros:

  • Can teach with just a 4 year degree.
  • Normal working hours.
  • Paid holidays and vaction.

Cons:

  • Must obtain a teaching certificate to stay a teacher after your temporary license is used up.
  • Low salary of 35,000 Baht - barely enough to live off of today if you're based outside of Bangkok.

Vietnam

Most teaching jobs in Vietnam are at after school language centers, so think nights and weekends. The pay is decent and you can earn around $1500 a month doing this in Vietnam.

However you'll usually have to coble together multiple centers to get enough hours. As for the requirements, well with Vietnam things are always changing.

Currently the requirements are to have a degree, have a TESOL of similar certification, pass a health check, clean criminal record and complete a cultural course to understand Vietnam.

Once done, you can then obtain your work permit and temporary residence card (TRC).

Pros:

  • Can live and work in Saigon or Hanoi.
  • Paid by the hour so you're efficent with your time.
  • You don't need to work 40 hours a week, you can live off of 20 hours of teaching per week.

Cons:

  • Requirements are increasing for becoming an English teacher. Before the only requirement was to have a TEFL or TESOL and then pass a health check and have a clean criminal record.
  • You'll be working at private language centers. So expcet nights and weekends.
  • A lot of teachers have a bad experience with getting paid on time by these private language centers.

International schools

Both countries have their respective international schools. These are the top tier English teaching jobs and provide a high salary, professional work environment and are only open to those with a background in education.

Safety

Both countries are very safe. Vietnam you do have to be aware of petty theft like pickpockets and people snatching your phone out of your hand on a motorbike. But otherwise it's quite safe.

The only issue in Thailand is other foreigners that you need to watch out for. With regards to the locals in both countries, they are non confrontational unless you really push them - then it's on.

It will be you vs a group of Vietnamese or Thai men.

Honestly in my living in both countries I've only been in one physical confrontation in Thailand with another foreigner and I had my phone stolen in Vietnam.

Visas

Thailand has the better visa now. Vietnam used to offer Americans a 1 year tourist visa (yea it was so great), but have now reduced all their visas to either a 3 month tourist visa, a work visa or a marriage visa.

That's it, there is no long term visa option in Vietnam apart from getting married or getting a job. Yes you can technically do multiple 3 month tourist visas for Vietnam, but after 6 months you run the risk of being denied entry.

With Thailand, you have a wider range of options. The tourist visa if you want to stay 3 to 6 months, an education visa if you want to stay a year, a Muay Thai visa, the elite visa and various work programs for the self employed.

Finally, Thailand has a retirement visa and Vietnam does not. In short, if you have money, Thailand provides a way for you to stay long term.

Shopping

I love shopping in both countries. As a 5,10 170lbs guy clothes just fit me perfectly in both countries where in America is seems like everything is made for small 5,7 140lbs guys or big fat 6ft+ guys.

Each country has their shopping centers but lets be honest, Thailand is outstanding with their world class malls.

Emsphere, Emquatier, Siam Paragon, etc all have a wide range of options for clothing, tech and food.

Technology

Getting technology while abroad is also much easier in Thailand than Vietnam, this is particularly important if you're an expat.

If you need a high quality Windows laptop then it's impossible in Vietnam as everything is either an over-priced budget Windows laptop or an expensive over-priced Macbook.

With Thailand you simply have more options. Obviously, I do suggest you get your gear off Amazon before coming abroad but sometimes that's not always possible.

From high quality headphones, microphones, action cameras, camera lenses, Apple products and more, you'll have better luck in Thailand. Bangkok has official Apple stores while Vietnam only has 3rd party retailers.

Finally, both countries have Lazada and Shopee so it is possible to source high-quality goods. Thailand is just overall more convenient with a better selection and variety.

Apartments

Thailand

Thailand provides the best value for your money when it comes to apartments. With numerous modern high rise condos around the city, it's a common business practice for Thais to buy investment properties to the rent out to foreigners.

The process of renting an apartment is also fair and straight forward in Thailand. Sign a 1-year contract, pay a 1-2 month deposit, done.

Once you move out of your apartment/condo you'll get your deposit back once all repair costs are factored in. The rental rates are also fair and reasonable and not over priced.

In short, you get a lot of value for what you pay for.

Vietnam

Vietnam is a step behind Thailand with regards to property. It's harder to find a quality apartment to live in at a fair price.

Vietnamese also always over charge foreign renters and do not negotiate at all. It's actually quite annoying as they want top tier money for an average place.

There is also the issue of not getting your deposit back. To avoid this it's best to either rent a serviced apartment run by a company or hotel or to use an agency to rent place.

Finally, noise is a bit of an issue in Vietnam which is why so many like to live in Thao Dien (District 2). From chickens, to cart vendors with a mega phone rolling down the street, to cars beeping their horn.

This was easily the most annoying aspect I had when it came to living in Vietnam and trying to make videos.

Food

Both countries have great food and a lot of international places. The only big differences that come to mind are Vietnam with it's Banh Mi and excellent coffee culture which Thailand lacks.

Vietnam has three types of cafes. Your local morning spot with cafe den da, your larger chains which are ideal for working and then finally your evening spots as I mentioned.

Thailand has cafes obviously, but they don't have little local cafes like Vietnam does.

Apart from that, both countries have a wide range of food. Saigon is more international and you can find everything you want there, Hanoi does actually lack variety like Indian food, Korean food and so forth.

Convenience

Both countries are quite convenient. You can open a bank account in Thailand pretty easily if you have a long term visa. Vietnam is a bit more difficult now, the rule used to be having a 1 year visa.

Both countries have Grab and Bolt available so getting around is easy. There are also a lot of public transportation options to get around both countries at a good price.

I do like how Saigon is still small where you're zipping around on a motorbike. The feeling of being free to go wherever and stop wherever is quite nice.

Apart from that, both countries are convenient. Thailand a little more so as the banking system is better and it's easier to get a Thai bank account so you can send yourself cash via Wise more easily.

Expats

Thailand

Thailand has the gamut of expats. From your old sexpats in Nana looking for "boom boom mama san" BS to high quality wealthy expats, to young English teachers, families and foreign nationals from everywhere on Earth.

The expat community is very diverse in Thailand which is good and bad. Good because you'll meet a lot of really high quality individuals doing something with their life. Bad because you'll meet crazy expats who are simply trouble (violence, drugs, low IQ behavior).

Vietnam

When I lived in Vietnam, most expats I meet where decent people doing something interesting. Vietnam is still not as popular as Bali or Thailand so it attracts less of the crazy party type of person.

Vietnam also does not have a "pay to play" culture so you won't see dusty old men walking around with some farm girl.

So to sum up, both countries have their expat community. Thailand's is larger and more diverse which as I stated is both good and bad.

Language

Thai language is pretty easy to get to a survival level as I like to call it and to a conversational level if you so choose.

Vietnamese by contrast is incredibly difficult. The tones in Vietnamese are quite difficult and you have to change how you talk depending on the age of the person (a little bit older than you, older than you, much older than you and vice versa).

Vietnam uses letters for their alphabet so it's easier to read than Thai for English speakers, but Thai does use a phonetic alphabet. You just have to learn how to pronounce the symbols.

So Thai is easier to learn how to speak, Vietnamese is easier to read. You can learn both languages if you apply yourself.

Which one I like more

I like Thailand but I love Vietnam.

After writing this 3500 word post out, Thailand has way more compelling selling points. But for whatever reason, Vietnam felt like home when I lived there.

Maybe it's because I had a healthy, supportive relationship so I do wonder if I have rose colored glasses so to speak. But I just enjoyed living and being based out of Saigon.

The vibe, the energy, riding around on a bike, local cafes, being more productive. I just liked it despite Thailand being better on other fronts.

Saigon is more of a city to live in than visit if that makes any sense where Bangkok is both a great place to live and visit.

Till next time,

-David