North or South?
Regarding architecture and landmarks, parts of the north are a real throwback, and it’s unrivalled for its rich history and cultural landmarks. The south is much more westernized, and it can feel as if the only thing in common with the south and the north is the shared language splayed across shop fronts and billboards. Of course, if you’ve never visited Vietnam, until you arrive in the area you’ve no idea how how you’re going to react to this. Nonetheless, it can provide a good marker for many. If you’re looking for a strong, distinct culture with traditional elements, the north is an easy choice. If you’re more up for plentiful comforts of home and a very open, cosmopolitan vibe, the south is where you’ll want to be.
Where to locate to...
What comes to mind when you think of the north and south of Vietnam? No doubt you’ve at least heard of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (or its former name, Saigon), and maybe you’ve got a few preconceived notions about the cities and their respective regions. It might surprise you to learn that even for Vietnamese people, the north and south can be viewed as two different countries with their own cultures. As a potential teacher, how can you decide between the two?
We’ll offer just one opinion on the matter and would advise you to check out the internet for lots of informative and humorous differences on the north versus the south so that you can build up a picture of each area of this beautiful country, and make up your own mind about which would likely fit you most comfortably. There is no objectively better or worse region of Vietnam; it depends on your own preferences as to where you would most like to live and work. If you’ve not visited Vietnam before, it can be difficult to know which would sit best with you. Some people arrive in Hanoi thinking they’d love it and absolutely hate it because it’s not what they expected and they need to get out immediately. Perhaps you venture south and it doesn’t do anything for your markedly northern soul.
So, without further ado, let’s get cracking on the breakdown of the differences to help you make up your mind if there’s any lingering doubt.
Which is the most beautiful region?
An impossible question to answer! There are numerous areas throughout the whole country of beautiful natural spots, and you’re sure to find a gem wherever you’re based (if you’re not actually based in the gem itself, such as our centre in Ninh Binh, or Lao Cai city in the far north near the Chinese border)! Equally, we have a number of centres right down the coast, snaking from north, through the middle, and down the south. Check out our city profiles to learn more!
One thing to note would be few of the major cities, Hanoi or HCMC, are particularly green. While it’s worth mentioning that HCMC does have a lower AQI than Hanoi, pollution is pretty much heavy across the board, especially by western standards. Bike through traffic without a mask in Hanoi, and you can expect to suffer a cough and congestion. If you’re interested in avoiding the very real ill effects of pollution, you’ll want to look north on numbers of options alone, to the quieter, cleaner centres around the big cities and close to the coast where the sea air can carry away all that filth.
South: Ho Chi Minh City
Tell me about the food and drink!
Diabetics with a preference for HCMC and surrounding areas, you’ve been warned. No, seriously. The south is heavier on the sugar, in most food and drinks. For some, this is a delicious reason to head to the nether regions of Vietnam. Globally-famed and recently emulated Vietnamese coffee is typically of the condensed milk variety. It’s also said to be tastier. In any case, there are plenty of coffee shops throughout the country, and coffee is one of Vietnam’s largest exports. You can easily get a decent cup in most cities, and the strength of the coffee here will fuel any addiction to previously unknown heights.
In terms of the beautiful and renowned dishes, each region has its own tasty speciality. You can normally get a bowl of bun cha in both the north or the south, but the best is always from where it originated; the north. This is, after all, where Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate together. Likewise, if you’re a meat and rice kind of person, the south is a great option.
Vegans needn’t worry. There’s rarely a vegetarian middle ground here, and there are plenty of options across both of the major cities. It can be a little harder to accommodate this in the smaller cities, but by no means impossible with a bit of creativity. APAX employs a number of vegans and vegetarians who have had no issue with making it work.
What are the weather differences like?
Temperature is consistently warm in the south. It can dip in the winter by a few degrees, but generally there is no seasonality, and it’ll hover around the high 20s / low 30s (80-95F) year round. Showers come thick and fast even in the rainy season, typically in the afternoon.
In the north, drizzle is the norm during the rainy season, but there can be some heavy downpours. The autumn is lovely albeit short, the winter is cold and dry, and spring can be hit and miss. This seasonality may be attractive for some. For others, the predictability of the southern climate might be more appealing, especially if you’re interested in living and working in the coastal areas.
What about the cultural differences?
The north is often seen as the political centre, with the south as the economic centre. You’ll see this in the way people act, how they respond to you, and even the way they dress. Without doubt, the north will come with a conservative, traditional bent in all of these aspects of life and social interaction. The respect for elders is far more apparent in the north i.e. in the greetings, farewells, and speech patterns. In terms of language, most from either end of the country will generally understand each other, but there are some fairly key differences in pronunciation which you’ll learn once you’re studying Vietnamese. The south is often seen as livelier, chattier, and more gregarious. Make no mistake; the Vietnamese are friendly, warm, and accommodating across the board, but on a surface level, the south will appear more so at first glance.
Regarding architecture and landmarks, parts of the north are a real throwback, and it’s unrivalled for its rich history and cultural landmarks. The south is much more westernised, and it can feel as if the only thing in common with the south and the north is the shared language splayed across shop fronts and billboards. Of course, if you’ve never visited Vietnam, until you arrive in the area you’ve no idea how how you’re going to react to this. Nonetheless, it can provide a good marker for many. If you’re looking for a strong, distinct culture with traditional elements, the north is an easy choice. If you’re more up for plentiful comforts of home and a very open, cosmopolitan vibe, the south is where you’ll want to be.
North: Hanoi City
We like to party, we like, we like to party…
HCMC hands down wins for nightlife. Hanoi does have its main tourist area and associated “tourist / westerner street”, Ta Hien, but this is very much shorter, narrower, and thus significantly more crowded than HCMC’s longer, noisier, expansive Bui Vien. Ta Hien is part of the larger area called the Old Quarter, which contains some and much of this is touristic rather than buzzing with life during the nights. That’s not to say there aren’t all-night clubs and hidden gems across Hanoi, but if you’re looking to get messy on a regular basis, you’ll want to consider the south very seriously.
The smaller cities sometimes contain their own little hub, particularly in the south, but when it comes to the north and further afield than a large city like Haiphong, karaoke clubs are pretty much the name of the game. The north shuts up early, so you’re guaranteed to get a good night’s sleep. It’s also great for those looking for peace and quiet.
So there’s nothing to do in smaller cities?
Not at all! As well as being more likely to be within close proximity of beautiful natural surroundings or landmarks, smaller cities are the perfect escape. In APAX centres, the vibe is far more relaxed than it is in the larger centres across the major cities. You’re much more likely to develop real, deep, lasting connections with your students. There’s also a very special and unique possibility of being invited into the homes of your local colleagues and even the students’ parents, for dinner, drinks, and lifelong memories. Joint parent-teacher-colleague dinner out and karaoke events can also take place. This will almost certainly never occur in bigger cities. If you’re looking for the authentic Vietnamese experience, this is absolutely the best way to get it, and you’ll no doubt come out far richer in character and experiences than someone who opted for a largely ‘expat bubble’ lifestyle in a big city. Our leaving teachers have often said that what made their time with APAX so special and affecting were the relationships they developed with Vietnamese people.
On top of this, a number of our teachers have managed to make serious headway with their reading lists, pursue hobbies with a clarity and focus they’ve never had before, and even write novels. Along with the attractive bonuses offered in smaller cities, it’s easy to see why people spend the duration of their contracts there. If you’re looking to make more cash, you might find that in terms of private tuition, the competition is exceedingly low and you’ll end up as the best English provider in the city for older learners!
And if you do find yourself hankering for home comforts, even the smallest cities in Vietnam have a Vingroup Mega Mall which will indelibly contain a cinema, a pizza place, and a gym, as well as a wide range of shops you’d find in any developed country in the west.
What about the number of APAX centres around Vietnam?
When it comes to APAX, approximately three-quarters of our centres are located in the north, either in and around Hanoi, or within a few hours of the capital. Some are a little further afield, or develop around their own hubs (e.g. around the northeastern Quang Ninh region and Haiphong, with some very popular and fiercely selective centres in the central region of Da Nang and Hue). Given we have over 60 centres, chances are you’ll be working in the north if you’re keen on working with APAX.
There is a presence in HCMC and the surrounding areas such as Bien Hoa, Vung Tau, and Can Tho, but vacancies tend to come up less frequently (and with the middle, around Da Nang and Hue, the competition is at its absolute highest). There is a far greater number of applicants for a much smaller number of positions. By no means should this put you off from applying if you’re dead-set on living in the south; who knows? Perhaps you apply at just the right time and get lucky with a position.
With that in mind, if you’re keen on working for APAX, and you’re eagerly looking to start as soon as possible, looking into living and working in the north is a wise bet right now.
Apply now to find out more and make it happen!